What is Your Spiritual Epistemology?
Reading: Ezekiel 37
“What is your spiritual epistemology?” is just another way of asking, “How did you come to know the Lord?” Ezekiel speaks a lot about knowing the Lord. This book reveals two ways to know Him. Ezekiel 37 points us to the second way we can know the Lord.
Making Dead Bones Live
Ezekiel is brought by the Spirit to the middle of a valley full of bones—dead, sun-bleached, dry bones. They covered the surface of the valley. He is asked a question by the Spirit. “Can these bones live?”
One might quickly answer with an obvious, “No.” However, Ezekiel has already been brought by the Spirit of the Lord into a valley, and given his history with the Lord, He wisely answer, “Lord God, only You know.” This is followed first by a description of what the Lord is going to do in making them alive.
The Lord makes them alive in two phases. Ezekiel speaks to the bones, prophesying that they will be made alive. As He does, the bones come together, tendons and flesh grown on them, and skin covers them. Now Ezekiel stands before a valley of very nice looking dead people. They no longer look like the dead dry bones they were, but they are every bit as dead as before.
Then Ezekiel is told to speak to the wind, or breath. The Hebrew word for wind, breath, and spirit are all the same. Here, an allusion to all three is evident. Breath comes from the four winds, that wind is clearly the breath of life (as Adam received in the garden), and that wind is a work of the Spirit of God bringing new life, new birth, as He blows on these “corpses”. The once dead dry bones covering a valley floor is now a vast army standing on its feet.
Resurrecting the People of God
I’ve described the scene, but what does all this mean? We are told.
(11) Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ (12) Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. (13) And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. (14) And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:11-14)
At the time of Ezekiel’s experience in this valley of dry bones, Israel was scattered to the ends of the earth. Note the expression in 37:11, “the whole house of Israel”. This is not merely a reference to the southern kingdom of Judah which was in captivity in Babylon, but also to the northern kingdom which had long before gone into captivity into Assyria, and never returned when Assyria fell. This is a promise to bring back to life what is obviously very dead. God is going to resurrect a people for Himself, gathering them from the four winds of the earth.
I cannot help but think this is the background to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:7-10. There Jesus speaks of being born again (coming to life again), and how it will happen as the wind (spirit, breath) blows where it wishes. Sounds like the wind of Ezekiel 37. If this is so, it may also explain why Jesus expresses that as a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should understand these things. Nicodemus should have known Ezekiel 37 and the new birth it pictures.
Two Ways to Know the Lord
There is something else that stood out to me as I read through this chapter. To this point in Ezekiel, we have been told more than 40 times that people will know the Lord as a result of His wrath (expressed in one form or another) because they had forsaken Him. Here however, we are introduced to another way that one might know the Lord: The Lord will make dead people alive and they shall therefore live and know the Lord!
(5) Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. (6) And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:5-6)
(12) Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. (13) And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. (14) And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
Note the order: God makes them alive, putting breath in formerly dead people. Then they know that He is who He declares Himself to be—the Lord. It isn’t that they finally figure out who God is and submit to Him and they are made alive. Rather, in their dead state (think dry bones scattered across a valley) God has someone speak to them (speak to the bones) and pray for them (speak to the Spirit/wind), and the Spirit blows where He wills and gives them life and then they know Him.
This reminds me of something else Jesus said in John 3.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Again, note the order. It does not say, “Unless one sees the kingdom he cannot be born again.” Rather, “Unless one is born again (made alive by the Spirit of God) he cannot see the kingdom.” Dead people don’t see.
There are then, two ways to know the Lord. Left to ourselves, we will know Him when He gives us what our deeds deserve—judgment. This is not the way I want to know Him. Rather as believers, we rejoice that He gave us life even while we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-6). Because of that, we now know Him. Oh the riches of the grace of God.
Like Ezekiel, we are called to speak to dead bones, and pray and ask the Spirit to blow life into people. God resurrects the dead before our eyes and they know Him. This is our confidence in evangelism: God desires to make Himself known.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,