Ezekiel: A Revivalist Preacher
Preaching is an exercise in raising people from the dead. The preacher speaks life into dead men. This is no magic show. It is the work of God’s Spirit.
Ezekiel was a prophet of Israel, during the Babylonian Exile (586–516 B.C.). He was a contemporary of Jeremiah, who was raised up and remained in Jerusalem. In Babylon, Ezekiel was called to be a preacher (Ezek 2). His commission was to devour the Word of God, go to the people, and preach the Word of God to them (Ezek 3).
In Ezekiel 37, we have a graphic picture of the spiritual state of Israel. Ezekiel was in the Spirit, “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord (37:1).” The work of the Spirit is a prerequisite for the man of God. In fact, the preacher is not a man of God, unless it is the Spirit who has made him this way. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Preachers are born, not made. This is an absolute. You will never teach a man to be a preacher if he is not already one (Preachers and Preaching, p. 119).”
The Spirit brought Ezekiel to a certain location: the valley of dry bones. The preacher does not have a choice in the location of God’s placement. The man of God must go where the Spirit leads. Some preachers are not far from home, while others are positioned on the other side of the earth. In one respect, every location for the preacher is a valley of dry bones. This is the spiritual state of humanity. The apostle Paul calls it being, “dead in your trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).”
The Spirit gave the prophet a survey tour (37:2). He found many dry bones on the surface of the valley. The great mass of humanity is spiritually dead. There are even many in our churches who are spiritually dead men. This is detected in conversation and in worship. There is added emphasis when Ezekiel gives his evaluation, based on his observation, “they were very dry.” Desolate is the state of man.
The preacher is not exempt from a walk of faith. His ambition is to please God (2 Cor 5:9), and it is impossible to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). Faith must be tested for a man to see who he really is in fact. The Spirit of God queried the prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
First, the title “son of man” is a proper identification. Flesh and blood is weak from the fall of the first man, Adam (Gen 3; Rom 5:12–21). To be a son of man is to be a son of Adam. It is a humble title, and yet, we are reminded of Adam’s origin, being made in the image of God. Jesus, being the son of God, did not balk at taking the title, “son of man,” for Himself. Jesus was flesh and blood, albeit, without the sin of Adam (Heb 4:15).
Second, the word “can” suggests a possibility. Can these bones live? All things are possible with God, especially when it comes to bringing life from the dead. This is a specialty area reserved for God and His glory. Jesus clearly demonstrated this in His earthly ministry. Raising people, like Lazarus (Jn 11), from the dead was a demonstration of the Spirit and power. The Spirit of the living God is a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:45).
Third, the test question is for the benefit of the prophet. It is a test of His faith in Yahweh, the God of Israel. Being all-wise and all powerful, the only one who could answer the question posed to Ezekiel was God Himself. Therefore, the prophet answered, “O Lord God, Thou knowest (37:3).”
Paul wrote to Timothy, “The Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim 2:19).” God knows who He chose for salvation before the foundation of the world (1 Thess 1:5; 2 Thess 2:13), which is why He predestined them to election (Eph 1:4–5), having written their names in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 13:8; 17:8).
Jesus Christ came into the world to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). He preached, “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me (Jn 10:27).” In the same way, the Spirit knows the elect ones for whom Christ died, and at the appointed time of conversion, He brings the preacher to the place where the unregenerate elect can hear the preaching of God’s Word (Acts 10:42, 44). Ezekiel called it, “the valley of dry bones.”
“Prophesy over these bones (37:4),” is the command of the Spirit to Ezekiel. The prophet preaches God’s Word by God’s command. What is the message? “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord (37:4).” New life is the product of the Spirit and Word (Jn 6:63). This is clearly stated by the Spirit to the prophet, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life (37:5).”
It is God’s Spirit who raises men to spiritual life from spiritual death (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13). Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).” Men do not birth themselves physically, nor spiritually (Jn 3:1–8; 1 Pet 1:3). The cause of their birth is in the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor 1:24). He has chosen the times and the boundaries of our habitations (Acts 17:26).
The life imparted from God to His chosen ones is the life of God. It is called, “eternal life.” He who has the Son has life, but he who does not have the Son does not have life (Jn 3:36; 1 Jn 5:12). It is God who puts sinews onto the dry bones. It is God who promises to make flesh grow back. It is God who covers the flesh, sinews, and bones with skin, “that you may come alive (37:6).” This, of course, is a beautiful picture of the resurrection from the dead on the last day, too (Jn 5:28–29; 1 Cor 15).
The outcome of preaching and the resulting new life is, “you will know that I am the Lord (37:6).” Knowing God is everything to the Christian. To know God is to know one’s salvation, for God is our salvation. Salvation belongs to God (Ps 3:8; Jon 2:9; Rev 7:10; 19:1). He is the Lord, the giver of life (2 Cor 3:16–17). What joy there is for us to know Him and the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:10).
Next, Ezekiel was able to bear witness to the power of the Spirit to give the life He said He would give to dead men’s bones. The preacher preaches the Word of God with expectation of the same. Woe to the preacher who does not believe in the dead being raised to life. His unbelief means he will never see it. It is the believing preacher who mounts the wooden podium to declare the Word of God with power. He expects the rattling of the bones coming together (37:7). He marvels at the spiritual formation of a sinner becoming a saint (37:8).
There was a missing element in Ezekiel’s revival preaching, “Prophesy to the breath…breathe on these slain, that they come to life (37:9).” Preaching without the Spirit gives life to nothing. The Spirit works where the Word is faithfully preached. The Word is faithfully preached where the Spirit is carefully sought in prayer. It is the will of God for dry bones to live again. His Word declares it, and His Spirit facilitates it. The prophet preaches and bears witness to the miracle of new life. Who are these dry bones in the vision given to Ezekiel?
It is the whole house of Israel (37:11). In hopeless despair, the children of Israel, held in Babylonian captivity claimed, “our bones are dried up,” and “our hope has perished,” and “We are completely cut off.” Here is the spiritual state of those who have tasted the good things of God and who long for something they are unsure of. Men and women live their lives in quiet desperation and occasional road rage. They have no meaning in life. There is no significance to anything. Death is all around them. They self-medicate to ease the pain of vanity and futility. What is the message of hope from God through the preacher?
“Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people (37:12),” is the message of new life. This promise is to, “My people.” It is exclusive. God’s chosen people Israel are predestined to have life. In the midst of death, there is a message of hope and life for true Israel, the remnant of Jews and the remnant of Gentiles from every nation (Gal 6:16; Rev 5:9).
“I will bring you into the land of Israel (37:12),” was the hope of Abraham. It was the hope of Moses and the Israelites. It was the hope of the exiles in Babylon. It is the hope of every Christian, who looks to the New Jerusalem as her home (Gal 4:26; Rev 21–22). The land of Israel was a temporal promise of blessing for ethnic Israel, but it is a type for believers in God’s Word, who look for a better country (Heb 11:16).
The grand climax to this revival of knowing Yahweh is Lord is stated for Ezekiel and for us, “And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life…(37:14).” Here is the promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31–34). It was first fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost following Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement (Acts 2). The prophet Ezekiel was an early witness to the spiritual revival of true Israel, some five centuries before it first began to occur.
Christian theologians refer to this miracle of spiritual life as “regeneration,” or “regeneration by the Holy Spirit.” This doctrine of the Christian faith is integral to the doctrine of salvation. The Spirit-filled preacher is anointed to preach Good News. He preaches to dead men, and some of them come to life. As natural men, they could not receive the things of the Spirit, including salvation (1 Cor 2:14). When the Spirit fashions them together as spiritual people, they come to life. It is the will of God. It is the work of God.
The purpose for us to see these things, as did the prophet Ezekiel, is so we might know the truth of God’s identity, “Then you will know I am the Lord.” Why am I a Christian? I was spiritually dead, but now I live. I also observe those beside me with the same life afforded to them. We share in a common faith given to us (2 Pet 1:1).
Christians gathered in churches should be wise to these matters. What must be done for revival in our churches? First, pray for the Spirit to come. Second, pray for the preacher to be sent, who will believe in the power of God to raise men from the dead. Third, the preaching of the Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, should hold primacy in the activity of a local church. Fourth, we must live expectant to see God do His work of revival. Finally, we should honor and praise Him for the great work of revival that bears testimony to His being the Lord of the harvest. Got revival? Got a revival preacher?
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 29, 2021