A photograph of a desolate desert landscape, with a skeletal tree standing tall amidst the aridness, symbolizing the concept of spiritual revival and resurrection found in the biblical reference to dry bones.

What Does ‘Dry Bones’ Mean In The Bible?

The haunting vision of a valley full of dry bones is one of the most memorable images in the Bible. But what exactly does this strange scene represent, and what is its significance?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: In Ezekiel 37, the vision of the dry bones symbolizes Israel in exile, lifeless and without hope. God revives the bones to show His power to redeem and restore His people.

The Vision of the Dry Bones

The Valley of Dry Bones

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet Ezekiel has a vision in which God brings him to a valley full of dry bones. This valley represents the nation of Israel, which at that time was in exile and had lost hope. The bones scattered across the valley are a metaphor for the Jewish people, who felt abandoned by God and unable to restore their kingdom.

Ezekiel describes the scene: “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.”

(Ezekiel 37:1-2). The bones are completely lifeless, having been exposed in the hot sun for a long time. Israel feels lifeless and without hope, unable to see how their nation could ever be restored.

God’s Command to Prophesy

God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, telling them to hear the word of the Lord. Ezekiel does so, and as he speaks there is a great rattling noise as the bones come together and are covered with flesh and skin.

However, the bodies remain lifeless until Ezekiel prophesies a second time, commanding the breath or Spirit of God to enter them.

The Lord tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.

I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'” (Ezekiel 37:4-6). Ezekiel obeys, and the breath of God revives the bodies into a vast army ready for battle.

The Bones Coming to Life

This vision powerfully demonstrates God’s ability to bring new life even to something long dead. The exiled and war-torn nation of Israel feels utterly decimated, but God promises to restore and revive His people in miraculous fashion.

Though Israel feels cut off from God’s promises, He will put His spirit in them, bring them back to the land of Israel, and make them into a mighty nation once again. This is fulfilled when Jerusalem and the temple are rebuilt after the Babylonian exile.

The vision shows that Israel’s hope lies not in human ability but in relying on God’s life-giving Spirit. God can resurrect great things from even the most hopeless situations. As Ezekiel proclaims after seeing the army of revived bodies stand up, “My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them” (Ezekiel 37:12).

The story offers comfort that God has the power to bring new life to the most desperate of circumstances.

Interpreting the Vision

The Meaning for Israel

In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, God carries out a dramatic sign act depicting Israel’s present state of exile and diaspora as like unto death itself (Ezekiel 37:11). The dispersed bones represent Israel’s current condition – disjointed, disunified, displaced, and void of life.

God posing the haunting question to Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” (v.3) illustrates Israel’s hopelessness and despair amidst Babylonian captivity. However, God’s power to resurrect the dry bones foreshadows Israel’s national restoration.

The reviving of the corpses and God’s promise to return His people to their homeland (vv. 12, 21) symbolizes Israel’s future deliverance, renewal, and reunification.

The dry bones vision offers consolation, reassurance, and hope to Ezekiel’s exiled audience. Though Israel languishes in Babylonian captivity – as good as dead and buried – God has both the power and the intent to raise them up in might and glory.

His life-giving breath will place Israel on her feet again (v. 10) and rouse her back to spiritual life and covenant relationship. The sovereign Lord Yahweh vows to open Israel’s graves of exile, lead them out, and bring them back into their homeland (v.12).

Hope Beyond Despair

For Christians, Ezekiel’s vision speaks powerfully about hope shining through even the deepest despair. When we face situations of utter loss, ruin, and devastation – when our hopes have been crucified – God’s mighty Spirit can resurrect life from death (Rom 8:11).

Just as God revitalized Israel’s dry bones, He specializes in bringing new life to our most hopeless places (Isaiah 43:19).

Ezekiel’s vision ultimately points ahead to resurrection life through Christ. Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:1-44), Himself (Luke 24:1-12), and promises to raise all who believe in Him to eternal life (John 11:25).

God can even revive and restore what seems irrevocably dead – relationships, dreams, ministries. He breaths new life through His Living Word (Hebrews 4:2). As we align our vision with God’s redemptive purposes, we gain perspective that what looks lifeless to us remains full of hope and new possibilities with Him (Jer 29:11).

God’s Sovereignty and Power

A key lesson from Ezekiel’s vision is God asserting His supreme authority and unmatched power as the only One able to give life. Four times God emphatically declares “I will” in promising to resurrect Israel’s bones, portraying His sovereign resolve to fulfill His covenant promises in His timing (Ezek 37:13-14).

Despite Israel feeling abandoned and referring to themselves as “dry bones” (v. 11) – cut off from God’s life – Yahweh affirms His Lordship over even death and the grave. God alone holds power over existence and non-existence, sickness and health.

The same divine breath that hovered over creation’s primordial chaos (Genesis 1:2) is breathed into the slain bodies. Just as nothing restricts God’s ability to create something from nothing, so can He summon life even from death.

Thevision highlights God’s might in redeeming and transforming hopeless situations (Jer 32:27). Believers can take great comfort that no situation lies beyond the reviving reach of the Holy Spirit’s renewing breath.

He specializes in imparting life, hope, regeneration, and a future – no matter how depleted we feel (Psalm 71:20). With resurrection power, God turns graves into gardens.

New Testament Allusions

Imagery of Resurrection

The New Testament contains several allusions to the “dry bones” passage in Ezekiel 37. This prophetic vision is applied as a metaphor for the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of spiritual life through Christ.

In John 5:25, Jesus declares that the hour is coming when “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” This parallels Ezekiel’s vision, where God commands the prophet to speak to the dry bones so they may come to life.

Just as God raises the dead in Ezekiel, Jesus claims authority to raise and judge the dead.

Paul similarly draws on Ezekiel 37 when he writes about the future resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. He proclaims that “the dead will be raised imperishable” at the final trumpet call of God (1 Cor 15:52).

Ezekiel’s dramatic portrayal of lifeless bones becoming “an exceedingly great army” (Ezek 37:10) powerfully conveys this miracle of resurrection.

The book of Revelation also contains visions of resurrection modeled after Ezekiel 37. In Revelation 11, the two witnesses are killed and left unburied, but are raised to life after three days. Their resurrection vindicates their prophetic message and demonstrates God’s power over death.

The Holy Spirit Giving Life

The New Testament also applies Ezekiel’s vision to teach about regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Just as the dry bones are given new life through God’s breath, the Holy Spirit imparted new spiritual life to those who believe in Christ.

In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). This parallels the valley of dry bones, where dead bodies are given new life through the breath of God. The Spirit is the agent of spiritual rebirth and renewal.

Similarly, Paul reminds Titus that “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

The language of regeneration echoes Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones becoming living bodies again.

Applications for Today

Trusting God with Dead Situations

When we face seemingly hopeless circumstances in life, it can be difficult to have faith and trust in God’s plan. However, the account of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 reminds us that nothing is impossible for the Lord.

Even when situations appear completely dead and beyond reviving, God can still breathe new life through His Spirit.

A 2022 Barna survey found that 84% of practicing Christians say they draw hope from their faith even during difficult times. Trusting God requires surrendering our limited human understanding and believing that He can redeem any circumstance for good (Romans 8:28).

Though we may not see the full picture, we can find encouragement that God specializes in resurrecting dead things.

Dependence on God’s Spirit

Ezekiel’s vision underscores our dependence on God’s Spirit to revive and renew us. Just as the bones came to life only by the Spirit’s breath, we too need the Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives for spiritual growth and transformation.

Jesus emphasized this reliance on the Spirit when He said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). A 2022 Pew Research study found that 77% of U.S. Christians say they feel spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week.

As we walk in step with the Spirit through practices like prayer, Scripture meditation and worship, we can experience refreshed vitality and direction in life (Galatians 5:25).

Gospel Hope

Ultimately, Ezekiel’s vision of resurrection points to the power of the gospel and Christ’s defeat of death. The Bible connects the image of the dry bones coming to life with resurrection and the hope we have because of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:42-57).

Though we may face loss or devastation in this life, Christ offers eternal life to those who put their trust in Him. A 2021 Gallup survey found that 72% of Americans still say religion is important in their lives.

As Christians, we can cling to the promise that God will one day resurrect our mortal bodies to live forever with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). No situation is beyond redemption, and we can have confident hope that His purposes will be fulfilled.


The vision of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 remains a profoundly meaningful passage for both Israel then and believers now. More than just a prediction of Israel’s restoration, it declares the sovereignty, power, and desire of God to resurrect, redeem, and fill His people with His Spirit.

As much as the image itself, Ezekiel wanted us to grasp the life-giving work of God’s Spirit to revive what is truly dead and breathe new life.

More than physical bodies, God is concerned with our spiritual deadness because of sin. But wonder of wonders, He sent Christ to rescue and restore us. Truly, the God who resurrects dry bones can bring the dead to life, by the power of His Spirit, through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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