This past Sunday a woman in my congregation told us her story about struggling with health and feeling dead inside, disconnected from God. Have you ever experienced something like that?
This is exactly what Israel was feeling. Turn to Ezekiel 37, and you’ll see what I mean, as we study verses 1-14 in a five-part blog series this week.
In verse 1 Ezekiel we read, “The hand of the Lord was on me.” God doesn’t have hands. God is a spirit. That means God doesn’t have any body whatsoever. What Ezekiel is referring to is the power of God at work in his life in a special way.
When I think about the power of God, we know that God is always at work in our lives. But you cannot measure the level of the power of God, like a thermometer measures the temperature. In fact, when God is at work, most often you might not feel anything. That it is what we might call the normal work of God. We believe as act of faith that God is at work.
Sometimes, though, God is at work in an elevated way, and we might feel it, or sense it. It seems to me that God was at work in Ezekiel’s life very often in that elevated way. When Ezekiel would receive prophetic words from God, he would say “The word of the Lord came to me.” That indicates an elevated level of God’s work in Ezekiel’s life. He heard from God. We read that phrase “The word of the Lord came to me” a lot in Ezekiel.
Then there are a few times in Ezekiel, so far five by my count, where the power of God is working at an even higher level. Ezekiel tells us that the work of God gets extra intense when he says, “The hand of the Lord was on me.” That’s when things gets wild. That’s when the visions come. That’s when Ezekiel gets transported to another time and place, when God’s power is at work in him in a rare and deep way. Ezekiel 37 is one of those times.
As we continue in verses 1-2, we read that the power of the Spirit of God brings Ezekiel to a valley full of bones. We’ll learn later in the passage that these are human bones. How often have you seen or touched human bones? In ancient times, it was likely that people saw human bones more often than we do. We’re used to seeing depictions of human bones as skeletons at Halloween, or maybe in the movies or on TV. But our personal contact with human bones is usually quite rare. In school maybe you took an anatomy class, and you got to touch some bones. Maybe if you are in the medical profession or an archaeologist, you’ve handled human bones. Beyond that, very unlikely.
Human bones can be very freaky, right? At the Holocaust Museum in Washington, there are numerous pictures and displays with bones of people who were killed in the death camps. When I was in Cambodia with Michelle, we visited Tol Slang prison, which was part of the Khmer Rouge genocide, and there, too, we saw displays of bones of people that were killed in that very spot. In the Killing Fields, where the Khmer Rouge dug shallow mass graves, there are bones sticking up out of the ground. It is hard to look at.
Some people might think that allowing human remains to stick out of the ground is disgusting or inappropriate. I respect Cambodia for choosing to leave them. Sometimes we need to be disgusted, to be appalled. The Khmer Rouge genocide was certainly one of those times. When one group of people slaughters millions of other people, we should be appalled, and we need to see it, look at it, to know, with horror, what we humans are capable of.
I think something like that is happening when God brings Ezekiel to this valley of dry bones. It looked to Ezekiel like a mass grave, with bones as far as the eye could see.
That must have been a ghastly sight. Can you imagine being surrounded by a sea of human bones? I wonder if Ezekiel was thinking he was having a nightmare. You can imagine him pinching his arm and saying urgently, “Wake up! Wake up! This isn’t real. You’re just dreaming.”
But he wasn’t just dreaming. He was surrounded by mounds of human bones. Also, they were very dry bones. These people had been dead a long time. Here’s the thing, though; this valley of dry bones wasn’t real. It wasn’t a dream either. It was a vision in which it seems Ezekiel felt as though he was in a real place. But God’s purpose wasn’t to give Ezekiel a nightmare, walking him through the bones, grossing him out. Instead God has a question for Ezekiel, which we read in verse 3. “Can these bones live?”
Check back to the next post, and we’ll learn about Ezekiel’s curious answer to God’s question.