This is one story in a short book that looks at visions of Heaven recorded in the Bible when prophets were actually in God’s presence. I can’t see why people at this time in earth’s history would not be interested in a vision of Heaven. Why concentrate on where you are stuck for the time being. Why look at the history of this world when you can look at the promise of the future.
Ezekiel and the Sanctuary Ezekiel 37
Ezekiel 37:1-14 NLTse The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. (2) He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. (3) Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” (4) Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! (5) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! (6) I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'” (7) So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. (8) Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. (9) Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.'” (10) So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet–a great army. (11) Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones–all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ (12) Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. (13) When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. (14) I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!'”
Ezekiel ministered among some of the first exiles from Jerusalem and Judah. Those people needed help and encouragement. It pained God to give up His people and city. Judah needed a new beginning. Judah drifted so far away, it was humanly impossible to bring back the nation. There comes a time when too many people with too many poor influences effects a nation in such a negative way, the few people God has left can become a far greater influence when everything is taken away, and people have no where else to turn. Ezekiel was a living testimony showing God still had people in Judah, and they were willing to work along side God, and suffer with the population in a effort to rebuild one nation under God.
Ezekiel experienced a number of visions. The exiles he lived with needed those stories to help them through the day to day toil, misery, the shock of losing everything, and finding themselves as nothing more than slaves. That wasn’t supposed to happen to them. God made a promise. What happened? Why did God chose their generation to turn them over to Babylon?
The dreams Ezekiel received centered on rebuilding. Ezekiel had the task of not only teaching Judah how they were placed in that spot, but why. They had to experience a rebirth. Visions Ezekiel received dwelt with that rebirth.
Before this vision, Ezekiel was told how God planned to redeem Israel, cleanse them. And teach them what they did wrong. It was not going to be an easy process. God needed their cooperation. People may ask, “why do we have to follow God’s laws?” Here we see the choice. We can either fight against God and His laws, or one day face the consequences. The education and rebuilding process was not much different than any education system on earth. It required time, dedication, and cooperation. The higher the cooperation level, the quicker and less painless the process with be.
For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. “And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior. I will give you good crops of grain, and I will send no more famines on the land. I will give you great harvests from your fruit trees and fields, and never again will the surrounding nations be able to scoff at your land for its famines. Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did. But remember, says the Sovereign LORD, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done! “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When I cleanse you from your sins, I will repopulate your cities, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The fields that used to lie empty and desolate in plain view of everyone will again be farmed. And when I bring you back, people will say, ‘This former wasteland is now like the Garden of Eden! The abandoned and ruined cities now have strong walls and are filled with people!’ Then the surrounding nations that survive will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted the wasteland. For I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do what I say. “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am ready to hear Israel’s prayers and to increase their numbers like a flock. They will be as numerous as the sacred flocks that fill Jerusalem’s streets at the time of her festivals. The ruined cities will be crowded with people once more, and everyone will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 36:24-38 NLTse)
God didn’t give up on his people, He promised to gather them up, and return them to their land, after they reviewed the sins they committed, and saw the damage it did. Some people prospered in sin, but most of the population was destined to suffer. Eventually it seemed the only way to get ahead in Judah was to join the dark side. That seemed to level the playing field for a time, ut Judah was running out of victims, and God was running out of patients.
The change required a new heart, a total change on how people looked at themselves. The change required a deep examination and searching of one’s soul. Israel was lost because they confused the world’s standards of success with God’s acceptable standard of success. The rich and successful people made the poor worth more in God’s eyes than all the riches and wealth Jerusalem could flaunt. The change God needed was 180 degrees away from what Israel coveted and worshiped. How could God stand by and do nothing about the millions who were suffering and continue to allow the top 2 percent of the population to believe their blessing came from Heaven? It was a religion that had to be extinguished.
Ezekiel looked out over a valley covered with bones. They were easily identified as human bones. Ezekiel could identify skulls, arm and leg bones, rib cages, and smaller bones that looked like they were from hands and feet. It was the first time Ezekiel saw every bone in the body and was amazed how many there were, and the shape of each.
God lead Ezekiel from one end of the valley to the other. There were bones everywhere. Ezekiel had to be careful not to step on any. There was a certain amount of respect Ezekiel had to show for the dead, and didn’t want to find out what happened if he became unclean by touching any bone in God’s presence. It was a difficult task for Ezekiel to observe and remember everything he saw while looking out where he stepped.
Ezekiel was an experienced prophet. He knew how God delivered messages, and how he was expected to remember and deliver those messages. Ezekiel also knew the questions people would ask, and the look of doubt in some of their eyes. Ezekiel thought that was strange to stand among so many empty skulls while thinking about looking into human eyes.
All the bones were bleached white by the sun. Then Ezekiel noticed something. Not a single bone showed any signs of being disturbed by any animal. Not a single bone was broken, cracked, or chewed on. None of the bones seemed to be in order. None of them lay on the ground in the form or shape of a human. It appeared like some force, the wind, maybe a flood dumped all those bones in the valley and this is how they settled.
After reaching the other side of the valley, God asked Ezekiel a question. “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” That was the last thing Ezekiel would have thought about. How could life return to those dried out bones? Not even an insect was seen in the valley. No signs of animals or any birds. Grass grew between the bones. Ezekiel thought, maybe when they break down, the bones will somehow nourish the soil. But that wasn’t the question. God asked if those bones could become living people again. In other words, turn back to their previous form. Ezekiel replied, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know the answer to that.”
God didn’t waste any time getting directly to the message. “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD!This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'”
Ezekiel knew God created life from the dust of the earth, but to hear God talk about recreating life was something else. Ezekiel knew God could put new flesh on those bones if He wanted to, but to hear God talk about such a thing was rather unexpected. It seems creation, and now recreation were the best witnessing tools any prophet could ask for. How to properly use them, when, with whom, and why, were other questions. If people had the wrong heart, all of God’s creation, and all the recreation He would perform would not make a difference to people who just refused to believe. But this was something new. Ezekiel knew how God brought light, plants, birds, fish, and animals into the world with just a word. Now God wanted Ezekiel to talk, and those bones would transform into human beings. Why would God want to give Ezekiel the power to bring life to those bones?
Ezekiel had to hesitate for just a minute to gather his thoughts, and repeat the message just as God gave it. With such an awesome responsibility, Ezekiel didn’t want to take the chance of making a single mistake. As soon as Ezekiel began speaking, the earth shook, the bones began to move around on the ground, coming together in the shape of a human. How did those bones know where to go? That showed how God remembers every detail about us, where every bone is, and where every bone belongs.
As soon as the bones were together, red flesh began to cover them as if it came from the air around them. The flesh formed into muscles in front of Ezekiel’s eyes as thousand of skeletons took on the shape of men. Soon they stood in front of Ezekiel, all of them red flesh. Then skin began to form over the bodies as they took on individual features. Ezekiel began to see how alike we all are. Only a thin layer of skin differentiates one of us from another.
God wasn’t finished, and neither was Ezekiel. Next Ezekiel had to bring life to those bodies. “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.'”
What a privilege Ezekiel was receiving. All he had to do was repeat what God said, and life would return to those bodies. Why didn’t God do it Himself? Why did God want Ezekiel to bring life, or at least play a part in bringing life to those bodies? There had to be a lesson in that.
Ezekiel did what he did best, he followed instructions, spoke the words God told him to say, and the winds began to blow. First from one end of the valley to the other, then back again. Then one side of the valley, up the hill on the other side, then back down again. The four winds swirled around those bodies for a while, then they all stood up at attention. An army ready to serve the LORD.
Ezekiel stood amazed at what he saw happen in front of him, still wondering why he had such an important part to play. Before he could give it another thought, God told him what the scene represented. “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones–all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!'”
In an instant everything became clear to Ezekiel. It was only a vision. A vision God used to show Ezekiel how important the message is. Israel was lost, broken, forgotten, nothing more than slaves in a distant land. They were torn away from their homes, friends, family, everything they had. Their lives changed in a flash, now they had to learn why. God didn’t want them to suffer. God’s compassion told Him to comfort His people. Ezekiel had to see how important the message was, how much God depended on him, and how much God trusted him. Everything had to come together like those bones did, also the muscles, and skin. Then there had to be breath, the Holy Spirit to give them life. God knew the sequence, there was no doubt, God could do the job, but there had to be that union between God and man to accomplish what needed to be done.
Two Pieces of Wood
Ezekiel 37:15-28 NLTse Again a message came to me from the LORD: (16) “Son of man, take a piece of wood and carve on it these words: ‘This represents Judah and its allied tribes.’ Then take another piece and carve these words on it: ‘This represents Ephraim and the northern tribes of Israel.’ (17) Now hold them together in your hand as if they were one piece of wood. (18) When your people ask you what your actions mean, (19) say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take Ephraim and the northern tribes and join them to Judah. I will make them one piece of wood in my hand.’ (20) “Then hold out the pieces of wood you have inscribed, so the people can see them. (21) And give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered. (22) I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms. (23) They will never again pollute themselves with their idols and vile images and rebellion, for I will save them from their sinful backsliding. I will cleanse them. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. (24) “My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. (25) They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. (26) And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. (27) I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (28) And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the LORD, who makes Israel holy.”
The wooden sticks Ezekiel used reminded him about the staff Moses used to perform all those miracles. As Ezekiel sat down to carve the names into the side of each piece of wood, Ezekiel could see Moses walking into Pharaoh’s court, and how Pharaoh hated to hear the sound of that staff on the marble floor every time Moses tools a step.
When Israel complained, Moses had the leaders of every tribe carve their name on their staff, then placed all the staffs inside the Tabernacle over night. To show God chose Aaron and his family to serve as priests, Aaron’s staff budded. It came alive just like those bones. Israel had been divided for generations. Now God was promising to put them together when He calls all His exiled people together.
A lot of thoughts went through Ezekiel’s head as he sat down to carve those names in those sticks. All they were, were sticks. Dead pieces of wood. But God was about to use them as a sign in his hands to remind Israel, God was still with them.
God made David a promise, his kingdom would last forever. That dynasty lasted one generation past David. His son Solomon decided to forge a stronger nation by marrying hundreds of woman from every nation known to Israel. Instead of forging an alliance with the God who gave Solomon all that wisdom, Solomon misused that wisdom to come up with a better plan of his own. That plan backfired big time. Although all those women had much less power, authority, and wisdom than Solomon, their bits and pieces of influence proved to be more than Solomon was prepared to deal with. Dark forces working in the back ground banded together in unholy conferences to plot Solomon’s demise. Solomon’s son had to pay the price.
Like his father, Rehoboam thought he could change the course of history by his own hand, and the strength of his army. He collected his army to march on Israel and take back what he felt was his. God stepped in and stopped Rehoboam in his tracks. That didn’t stop all the battles between Judah and Israel. Many men died in a futile attempt to alter God’s decision.
Common sense would have told anyone, Jeroboam should have been thankful when God handed him the majority of Israelite tribes to lead. Jeroboam had a disagreement with Solomon and had to flee the country. Ezekiel couldn’t be sure what Jeroboam learned in Egypt, but he carried that influence with him back to Israel. Unlike Solomon who knew he was not qualified to lead Israel, then prayed to God for guidance, Jeroboam leaned on his experiences in Egypt for direction, leading Israel straight into idolatry, worse than Solomon ever did. The people sucked it up faster than Jeroboam could produce idols, temples, and alters to sacrifice on. No one wanted to listen to God. They couldn’t see how God was offering them anything they wanted, which was their freedom to lead the way they wanted to lead.
Rehoboam wanted more money, more control, more taxes, his people under his thumb, following every order without question. Jeroboam wanted to do everything his way, no questions asked. He used to be a supervisor overseeing the construction of Solomon’s temple and palace. Solomon had the habit of making constant changes. Rehoboam disagreed with some of those changes, and didn’t appreciate any of them. Rehoboam looked at Solomon’s changes as a form of disrespect for the work Rehoboam completed. A fight between them broke out, and Rehoboam had to flee for his life.
God gave Rehoboam what he wanted, total control. Rehoboam’s idea of total control didn’t include God. So Rehoboam took the lifeless gods from Egypt and introduced them to Israel. Those idols made of metal, stone, and wood represented freedom to Rehoboam and all the other leaders in Israel. God let them have their way for a while, but eventually Israel had to fall.
Assyria showed Israel how far idolatry will go. Millions of people were slaughtered. Woman and babies were sacrificed to their gods on their alters. Israel knew those gods of stone had no powers, no way of answering, no way of hearing, or seeing what was going on. Idols were nothing more than a way of controlling people, man made rituals invented in the imagination of men so far away from God, all they knew was how to flee further away.
God waited a few generations to see if Judah would learn the lesson when she had to see her sister carried away as a slave, and sacrificed on altars. Eventually Babylon showed Judah how far idolatry will go to gain control of every aspect of life. Idolatry wants to control the sun, moon, rain, wind, temperature, life, and death. Idolatry thrives on an after life that does not exist. Idolatry takes the war between God and the devil, turning it into a promise of an after life that does not exist beyond legends, stories, and fables in man’s imagination.
Those fables distorted human minds to such an extent, God had to find ways to present the truth to mankind in a way they could accept and appreciate it. After seeing the full effects of idolatry, neither Israel, nor Judah were willing to leave it all behind. They both wanted to follow the example of Jeroboam and carry pieces of idolatry with them into a new life. That was not what God wanted. God had to use some of the symbols of idolatry to show Israel what a useless, lifeless system it is, and will always be.
Idolatry used dead bones to see the future. Much like God used plagues in Egypt to show He is able to control the elements people thought idols could control, God used symbols and messages to show, He is still in control. Magicians used bones to see the future, produce curses, cast spells, and a host of other superstitions. God went a step further, taking an entire valley of bones and creating a living, breathing army from them. People should have seen the point God was trying to make, but as usual, they wanted to merge what they thought was the best of two worlds. That was not going to fit into God’s plans.
Those bones showed the people, God has the power to raise anyone from the grave. David died a long time ago, but that didn’t matter to God. He made Adam out of dust, a pile of bones was no problem for God. He knew the design, and had the breath of life. No idol could do that, or ever attempt to do such a thing. All idols delivered was death.
Who did the people really want as their king, David, or one of those who followed him? God was offering Israel more than what they asked for. Israel was praying to get their lives and land back, for things to return to what they considered normal. Israel was so far gone, they had no idea how much better life could be. To Israel, the day to day toil and struggles to survive in the promised land was like Heaven. Taxes, laws, crooked laws, judges who took bribes, officials taking more than a fair share of taxes, thieves, liars, and adultery were all a normal way of life. Broken hearts and dreams were expected, and to one degree or another appreciated. They could not see what God was offering them. And they couldn’t see the other side of God’s plan, to bring pagans into the land God was preparing for them. Israel was stuck on a short sighted view that placed them inside of some sort of exclusive club membership, a ticket to Heaven. Israel was so blind, they couldn’t see there was little of no difference between themselves and the world around them. Ezekiel thought about those bones and muscles. Nothing distinguished one from another until a thin layer of skin was added. Israel was like that — only a thin layer made them any different than all those pagans. Israel had a much better view of God, more knowledge about God, but how were they using it? The hand is covered with flesh and skin. Fingerprints are unique, but what really separates one person from another is how they use those hands. That was what God was looking for.
God offered Israel much more than land, a king they respected, and of course protection. God invited Israel into His Sanctuary. God offered to relocate His Temple to this planet, after making a few changes. What does it mean to you when someone invites you into their home? It is a show of trust. A form of friendship that extends into a type of family experience. Opening a home to someone is much more than opening a door to see the inside. It is a sign of sharing meals, conversation, company, meeting new friends, the warmth of a home, an introduction to the entire family. God told Ezekiel to use simple symbols everyone should have the ability to understand. Symbols from life people have used to and experienced. Symbols reminding us whose image we were created in.