God Pictures a Future Hope (pt. 2)

The Gospel Project® for Adults   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  42:05
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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 15, Session 6
© 2019 LifeWay Christian Resources. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser. Edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A., March 2023.
Summary and Goal
As the nation of Israel lay in ruins, its homeland plundered and many people either dead or scattered, God spoke a word of hope through His prophet. Ezekiel, an exile in Babylon, received a vision in which he witnessed a valley covered with dry bones. He spoke God’s words to the bones, and as he did, the bones took on flesh and the Spirit breathed new life into the corpses.
The imagery of this dramatic vision pointed to Israel’s future hope as they would experience physical and spiritual restoration under one King from the line of David. We are reminded by the vision of God’s mercy toward the undeserving, His desire for unity among His people, and His plan to bring complete restoration to all Israel through the New Covenant, paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ.
Session Outline
++God gives life to a people who are dead (Ezek. 37:1-6 [Only God can bring life to that which is dead]).
++God restores a people who are scattered and divided (Ezek. 37:16-17,20-22 [Only God can bring full unity for His people]).
++God dwells with a people who are in rebellion (Ezek. 37:23-28 [Only God can bring full harmony to His creation]).
Background Passage: Ezekiel 36–37
Session in a Sentence
God promised one day to give life to His people, to restore them, and to provide a [the promised] King so He could dwell with them.
++God promised that only He could and will restore full harmony to His people through unity in the work of Christ that provides life to all who are otherwise dead and without hope.
Christ Connection
God gave Ezekiel a vision of the power of God to bring life out of death and to restore a broken and scattered people.
Ezekiel’s vision will be fulfilled ultimately in the restoration of Israel. Jesus as Messiah, took upon Himself God’s wrath and provided remission of sin through the shedding of His own innocent blood, to ensure that God could keep his attribute of justice intact and yet fulfill His promised New Covenant with Israel in the future.
Ezekiel 37 is a vision of God’s fulfillment of the New Covenant (Jer. 33) with Israel, yet future even to us.
Missional Application
Because we have been given life in Christ, we are to share with others that life, unity, and harmony with God is sourced only in God Himself and people accepting Him in faith as LORD and Savior.
DDG (p. 121)
CPR, short for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, finds its origins in the mid-1700’s with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation used for drowning victims. The first successful use of chest compressions for human resuscitation was recorded in 1903. The technique used today for CPR was developed in 1960. CPR is attributed with helping to save millions of lives. Immediate application of CPR after a cardiac arrest can double or triple a person’s chances of survival. CPR is, without question, an amazing gift from modern science to humanity. 1
What conditions are required for effective performance of CPR?
(a hard, flat surface upon which the victim lies face up; a clear airway; a recommended ratio of 30:2, compressions to breaths; proper placement and orientation of the hands on the victim’s sternum; a living body)
As incredible as CPR is, it is doubtful that any medical professional would perform CPR on a skeleton. Bringing dry bones back to life defies all scientific and medical logic, but that is exactly what God showed in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel ministered to the exiled Judeans suffering in Babylon during a time when depression hovered over God’s people. They mourned not only their current circumstances but also the destruction of Jerusalem. Even their cries were filled with hopelessness. Responding to their cries, however, the Lord delivered a message of optimism.
With Ezekiel as His mouthpiece, God instilled hope with promises of restored land, rebuilt cities, and unity between both Israel and Judah under one King.
God’s message to the suffering Israelites still speaks to us today. Hope and restoration exists through the redeeming power of the one King, Jesus Christ. He alone is able to restore both our relationship with God and with one another.

Point 1: God gives life to a people who are dead (Ezek. 37:1-6 [Only God can bring life to that which is dead]).

Read: Ask a volunteer to read Ezekiel 37:1-6 (DDG p. 122).
1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of 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.”
DDG (p. 122)
The bones littering the valley represented the whole house of Israel: she was dead (v. 11). The people of Israel considered themselves beyond resuscitation as a nation. For too long they had rejected the Lord and His messengers, and as time passed, their hearts became increasingly hardened. The people’s rebellion ultimately led to God’s punishing them by means of exile. In short, their disregard for God’s word, as preached by the prophets, led to their death as a nation.
· The number of bones in the valley was vast, enough to constitute any entire army (v. 10). The Lord led Ezekiel back and forth among the scattered bones to see that no life or flesh existed in or upon them. The unburied condition of the bones would have added to the prophet’s discomfort because, as a priest, he knew any contact with a corpse would render him unclean (Num. 19:11).
· The temptation is for us is to look at Israel with disbelief, as if we were not capable of similar behavior. The truth is that everyday, men and women, regardless of their spiritual maturity, fall into destructive patterns of sin.
More often than not, a person’s spiritual stumble does not happen in an instant but rather as a gradual fade marked by a gentle pushing away of God’s Word and God’s people. The spiritual bones of Israel did not dry up overnight, nor do ours.
Ezekiel, the son of a priest, was part of the deportation of Judeans in 597 BC, the second of three waves of Judeans deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:10-17).
While being a contemporary of Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, Ezekiel’s ministry was unique among the Old Testament prophets in that it took place entirely in Babylon, though some of it was still prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC.
Similar to Jeremiah, Ezekiel faced incredible discouragement in that he proclaimed God’s message with little positive response.
How does a rejection of God’s Word lead to decay and a falling away for believers?
(rejecting Jesus, of whom Scripture speaks, ensures God’s judgment for sin upon you; violating God’s commands in Scripture is sin, which is deadly serious in light of God’s holiness; God’s forever linked sin with death in His prohibition and warning to Adam in the garden of Eden; life comes from God and is found in God, so rejecting His Word is rejecting life)
DDG (p. 122)
God asked Ezekiel if those dry bones could live. Now, the Lord had already raised the dead to life on several occasions (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37; 13:21), but in this scenario, God would have to resuscitate dry bones instead of corpses shortly after death.
Rather than discount God, Ezekiel replied in submission to the sovereign knowledge and power of God. God then channeled His divine power through Ezekiel’s words and the bones came to life, covered with flesh and filled with breath (Ezek. 37:7-10).
· New Testament Christians cannot read these verses without instinctively jumping ahead to the idea of bodily resurrection, specifically Jesus’ resurrection. There is no question the concept of bodily resurrection was present in the mind of Ezekiel. In the context of this vision, however, the resurrection imagery has to do with God’s restoring, both physically and spiritually, a specific people—the nation of Israel (vv. 11-14).
· Here we must recognize the power of God’s word to bring life. The idea of preaching to dry bones seems like a waste of time, yet Ezekiel spoke the word of God, and it brought life to dry bones. What a beautiful reminder that God’s Word has the power to bring restoration to all aspects of life that has been corrupted with the curse from sin.
There is no crevice or crevasse in our lives that God’s Word cannot reach, fill, cross, and redeem. In our weaker moments, we may doubt God’s power to make a situation or relationship whole again. We may question whether God could change a loved one’s hardened heart. But we would be wrong in our doubt because a God who can raise dry bones to life can restore marriages, heal diseases, and save the worst of sinners.
Illustration: In the Mission Impossible movies, Ethan Hunt—Tom Cruise’s character—and his team have now completed a total of six “impossible” missions since the franchise began in 1996. One might wonder, “How many more missions have to be completed before the franchise is renamed Mission Nearly Impossible?” The truth is that all the missions were possible. God alone is able to do what is humanly impossible.
How have you seen God’s Word bring restoration to your life or to the life of someone you love?
(be prepared to give an answer of your own to jump-start the conversation)

Point 2: God restores a people who are scattered and divided (Ezek. 37:16-17,20-22 [Only God can bring full unity for His people]).

Read Ezekiel 37:16-17,20-22 (DDG p. 123).
16 “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17 And join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.
20 When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, 21 then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22 And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.
DDG (p. 123)
Next, Ezekiel was commanded by God to perform a symbolic act involving two sticks, one representing the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the other representing the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Joining the sticks together as one symbolized God’s plan to reunify the two kingdoms following their split after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 12). The Lord longed to see the tribes of Israel reconciled and unified under one king, a reality that would come to pass in His timing and by His doing.
Voices from the Church
“God wants our churches—whatever specific forms our gatherings take—to be focused on active discipleship, mission, and the pursuit of unity.” 2 –Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle
· “God is a God of second chances.” This statement is true, but it fails to address the issue of the sinful heart, as if to say, “God forgives but now the rest is up to you.” God is also the God of unity. The truth is that both the second chance and unity itself remains only in the hands of God who can accomplish them both.
In God’s promise to restore the nation of Israel, He did not simply offer the people a second chance. He told them that their redemption would not be contingent on their own merits or power but solely on His (Ezek. 37:21-22).
· Ezekiel knew that a peaceful reunion between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms would require an act of God. The kingdoms had long been separated. They had developed their own way of life, and Israel had even set up their own separate centers of worship, not to mention both Judah and Israel had been exiled from the land. Establishing unity between the kingdoms seemed unrealistic in Ezekiel’s day.
· God’s desires unity with all of His creation and especially among His people, including within the body of Christ. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for oneness among all the believers who would follow His ministry (John 17:20-23).
John 17:20-23 “20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
The fragmented state of the church today reminds us that this is not how it ought to be. One of Satan’s best tactics against the church involves fracturing Christians into different camps with pride and enmity for the purpose of weakening unity and witness. If the church is to be marked by greater unity in the decades to come, it will only be possible by the power of God and through our submission to Christ.
DDG (p. 123)
God told His people that His plan for restoration extended beyond those involved in the Babylonian captivity; it included the Israelites in all the nations where they had been scattered, bringing them all back to their homeland. This greater gathering speaks of a future reality that goes beyond the returns from exile that happened in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. God also reiterated His commitment to unite His people forever under one future King—Jesus Christ.
· How Ezekiel interpreted this message we cannot fully know, but from our present-day vantage point, we clearly see that the vision finds its fulfillment in the promised Messiah—Jesus Christ. From a political standpoint, Israel would never again be ruled by a king. This historical fact lends greater credence to the truth that God’s people would only find their full restoration in Jesus, the promised, eternal King.
· Ezekiel the prophet trusted in a day when Israel would be unified under a new covenant with new hearts (Ezek. 36:24-27; see Jer. 31:31-34).
Ezekiel 36:24–27 NASB95
24 “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Jeremiah 31:31–34 NASB95
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
This new covenant that would purify Israel from sin and unify them into one kingdom would be inaugurated by King Jesus, initially in the Millennial Kingdom and for eternity.
What do you think is an important message to God’s people and the world today, from this ancient, yet future vision of Ezekiel’s?
(God’s heart is for humanity to be unified around His truth; God longs for unity both among and with His people; God’s desire for unity for His people demonstrates the reality of God’s righteousness and of His love for humanity; God’s desire is for fractured relationships and divided people to find belonging and unity with Him)

Point 3: God dwells with a people who are in rebellion (Ezek. 37:23-28 [Only God can bring full harmony to His creation]).

Read Ezekiel 37:23-28 (DDG p. 124).
23 They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their lands and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”
DDG (p. 124)
Ezekiel did not know the specific details surrounding the messianic King’s arrival, but as verses 23-24 suggest, he knew the coming of this King would correspond with the permanent cleansing of the people from sin. God was going to place over Israel a King from the line of David, and under this King, God’s people would turn from their idolatry, be saved from their apostasies, and experience spiritual cleansing like never before. Furthermore, this King would lead them to obey the word of the Lord.
· God’s people would soon experience a measure of renewal in the land with a rebuilt temple, yet Israel’s dry bones would not begin to experience the fullness of life until Christ ushered in the new covenant with His blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:27-28).
Matthew 26:27–28 NASB95
27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p. 124)
Christ as King: To restore His broken world, God promised a King who would deliver His people and restore all of creation. The promise of a coming King finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and looks forward to its perfection when Jesus returns for His bride, the nation of Israel.
The chapter concludes with God proclaiming a permanent covenant with His people. Five times in verses 25-28 we find the same Hebrew word translated “forever” or “permanent.”
God promised to restore the people to their land forever, to construct a sanctuary that would last forever, and to dwell among the people permanently. No longer would sin separate and exile; rather, God’s people would be sanctified, cleansed, and pure, forever at peace with God. This is the promise of the New Covenant, paid for in the blood of Jesus Christ spoken of in Matt. 26.
· When Jesus came, He referred to His body as the temple that would be built up (John 2:19-22), a permanent dwelling of the Lord as He is God the Son.
Furthermore, not only in there a permanent dwelling of God with Israel, but the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to dwell permanently in those who believe in Christ. Both individually and corporately, believers become the permanent dwelling place of the Lord, for the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16-18).
1 Cor. 3:16 “16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
2 Cor. 6:16-18 “16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.”
· It is clear in our modern eyes that the promises spoken of by Ezekiel did not find their complete fulfillment in the people’s return from Babylon. Old Testament prophecies often had a short-term, limited fulfillment followed by a long-term, complete fulfillment. As it relates to Ezekiel’s vision, the return to Jerusalem after the exile was only a forerunner to the full restoration God’s people would experience through the promised King, Jesus Christ.
And with His coming and dwelling with His people through the Holy Spirit, the gospel is now shared among the nations that they may believe and find unity in the one people of God led by the one King of God. This was always God’s plan, Israel just missed it or chose to ignore it.
God’s blessing through Abraham was always intended to impact a broader community than just Israel.
Isaiah 49:6 NASB95
6 He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Isaiah 55:5–8 NASB95
5 “Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you.” 6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
Daniel 7:14 NASB95
14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.
Amos 9:12 NASB95
12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name,” Declares the Lord who does this.
Hosea 2:23 NASB95
23 “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’ ”
1 Peter 2:10 NASB95
10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
What should it mean for us that we worship a God who is never changing and who always keeps His promises, even as it relates to His healing of the nations and unity for His people?
(our salvation in Christ is secure and eternal; we should be a people of our word who tell the truth and keep our promises; even when circumstances seem against us, we can know and trust that God is for us and will never forsake us; we can participate in the gospel mission without fear)
My Mission
Ezekiel 37 conveys a message of hope in that God extends mercy to the undeserving. He did it for the Israelites living in Babylon and He is still doing it today. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision were without hope and unable to save themselves. Sinful humanity finds itself in the same position. Fortunately, God has taken the initiative to engage people who are dead in their sin and offer them life through the one King—Immanuel, “God with us”—and one day Jesus will rule over a unified people made up of every nation, tribe, people, and language.
DDG (p. 125)
Because we have been given life in Christ, we are to share the hope of the gospel with others and invite them to become part of God’s one, unified family in Christ.
· What steps of faith should we take in light of God’s character and actions on display in this passage and in the gospel of Jesus?
· How we help those experiencing a spiritually dry season to move toward greater spiritual health?
· With whom will you share the gospel of Jesus, who frees from sin and gives eternal life to those who believe?
Voices from Church History
“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh! Precious is the flow That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” 3 –Robert Lowry (1826-1899)
Session in a Sentence
God promised one day to give life to His people, to restore them, and to provide a [the promised] King so He could dwell with them.
++God promised that only He could and will restore full harmony to His people through unity in the work of Christ that provides life to all who are otherwise dead and without hope.
Close in prayer:
1. American Heart Association, “About CPR & ECC,” January 30, 2019, https://cpr.heart.org/AHAECC/CPRAndECC/AboutCPRECC/UCM_473210_About-CPR-ECC.jsp.
2. Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2011) [eBook].
3. Robert Lowry, “Nothing but the Blood,” in Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: LifeWay Worship, 2008), 223.
4. Mark F. Rooker, “Ezekiel,” in CSB Study Bible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2017), 1301, n. 37:1; 37:2; 37:3.
5. “Ezekiel,” in Africa Study Bible (Oasis International, 2016), 1198.
6. Marion Ann Taylor, “Ezekiel,” in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, eds. Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary J. Evans, and Elizabeth Kroeger Elliot (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011) [Wordsearch].
7. David J. Reimer, “Ezekiel,” in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1560, n. 37:21-22.
8. Tewoldemedhin Habtu, “Ezekiel,” in Africa Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1003.
9. Marion Ann Taylor, “Ezekiel,” in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, eds. Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary J. Evans, and Elizabeth Kroeger Elliot [Wordsearch].
10. David J. Reimer, “Ezekiel,” in ESV Study Bible, 1560, n. 37:27-28.
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