Ezekiel, author of the book that bears his name, was a married Levite preparing to serve as a priest in Jerusalem, which typically happened at the age of 30 (Numbers 4:3). However, in 597 bc, when Ezekiel was around 26, King Nebuchadnezzar sent an army into Judah to deport 10,000 of the most elite Jewish people, including Ezekiel, into Babylon. At the age of 30 and separated from the temple, Ezekiel was denied the opportunity to serve as a priest, so God called him to be a prophet instead. Ezekiel began prophesying visions of the complete destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, a result of God’s judgment on the sin and rebellion of the Jewish nation. Ezekiel not only prophesied with words, but also with his actions, acting out the prophecies in ways that served as memorable symbolic object lessons. In 586 bc, the prophecies of the prior seven years came true as Jerusalem was burned to the ground and the majestic temple built by Solomon was leveled.
After this, the Lord gave Ezekiel a new set of visions to proclaim over the next 15 years, a vision of hope. One such vision depicted a valley of dry bones, representing the state of the Jewish nation after the fall of Jerusalem. “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37:5, 14a). In 538 bc, 48 years after the fall of Jerusalem and 33 years after Ezekiel’s final prophecy of hope, these prophecies were finally fulfilled when Persia defeated Babylon and released the Jews to return to their own land once again.
We, like the Jewish nation of Ezekiel’s day, are guilty of sin and deserve God’s punishment. However, God gave Ezekiel a vision of the coming Messiah, “I Myself will be the shepherd of My sheep and lead them to rest, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the injured, and strengthen the sick” (Ezekiel 34 15-16a). God, in His grace, offers us His Spirit to breathe new life into our dry bones so that the Good Shepherd may lead us into our eternal Promised Land.