A promise is an assurance of faithfulness, looking toward the future. We receive some promises moment by moment and other promises span generations. On the one hand, Moses’ final words to the children of Israel spoke of a “real-time” trust in God.
“The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8 NASB).
On the other hand, many of God’s promises are threaded through the ages, to be fulfilled in a day of His choosing. Immediately, I think of the return of Jesus and the promise of eternal life.
In contrast, Ezekiel the prophet and his contemporary, Jeremiah, spoke of promises that were of a more intermediate term. The nation of Israel and the Tribe of Judah had wasted generations, wavering between serving God and worshipping the gods of other nations. The Lord sent judges, kings, and prophets, but all to no avail. Idolatry thoroughly polluted the collective soul of the people.
The Hard Promise
As God raised up the Babylonians to discipline Israel, Ezekiel was one of the first to be carried away, along with Jehoiachin, king of Judah and many other leaders of the land, (II Kings 24). Ezekiel prophesied from captivity in Babylon while Jeremiah prophesied from Jerusalem. False prophets arose that claimed God would save Jerusalem and bring peace, (Ezekiel 13). Ezekiel and Jeremiah preached against the idolatry of Israel and spoke of both the wrath and the faithfulness of God. Jeremiah foretold seventy years of exile, (Jeremiah 25:11-12).
Seventy years is a lifetime. Psalm 90:10 says, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years.” Many of those who were carried away into captivity never saw their homeland again. Some who were born in Babylon never set foot in Jerusalem in all their days. As the captives realized Jerusalem had fallen, and the words of Ezekiel and Jeremiah were true, they were crushed. The Psalmist prophesied,
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4 NASB).
The heart of man struggles to discern and believe the intermediate promises of God. The captives of Babylon couldn’t imagine waiting seventy years on God. The gap was too great; the thought was too hard. There was a dryness that could only be made alive by the breath of God’s Spirit.
The Dry Bones
In Ezekiel the thirty-seventh chapter, we read as the Spirit of the Lord brings the prophet to a valley filled with dry bones. God says, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3). With remarkable wisdom, Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, Thou knowest.” God says to Ezekiel,
“Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.’ ” (Ezekiel 37:4-6 NASB).
Ezekiel prophesies. There is noise; there is rattling. Bone comes together with bone. God adds sinew and an army stands in the place where only death had lain. Nonetheless, the army is inanimate; there is no life. Finally, it is the Spirit of God that gives breath to these lifeless bodies. God proclaims to Ezekiel,
“I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:14 NASB).
The Dry Bones Promise
We are thankful for our immediate and “daily” bread. We hold fast to the eternal promises of salvation; but what about faith for those in-between answers that take months, years, and decades? It is in these promises that seem just out of reach, that our emotions are displaced by a deep and abiding faith in God through the breath of the Holy Spirit. Abraham waited twenty-five years for a promised son, and he’s known as the “father of all who believe,” (Romans 4:11).
As God’s people were carried from Jerusalem into captivity, Jeremiah prophesied,
“For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10 NASB).
The verses that immediately follow may be surprising. This passage is one of the most commonly quoted promises of God. In context, it is a promise made at the very beginning of seventy years of sorrow.
” ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NASB).
Context makes the promise no less powerful than we might have ever imagined. If anything, it is more reassuring than ever. In spite of time and contrary to the unfaithfulness of humankind, God has a long-view perspective on our lives that will always and eternally deliver a future and a hope through our Redeemer, Christ Jesus.
“For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” (II Corinthians 1:20 NASB).
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