“Can these bones live?”
That’s the question God posed to Ezekiel. God had just taken Ezekiel, through a prophetic vision journey, to a valley filled to the brim with human bones.
The obvious answer to the question is, “No!” Dead things do not come back to life. When you’re dead, your dead. It could be that God made the valley full of very dry bones to make sure Ezekiel knows that these are not recently dead people. There is no amount of CPR that will resuscitate them. These people have been dead so long that their flesh has rotted away, and it is gone. The bones are dried out. You could pick up a bone and easily snap it in two like a dry twig. Ezekiel can answer, “No, there is no coming back to life here.”
But Ezekiel doesn’t answer that. He makes a surprise move, and one that just might reveal to us a bit about Ezekiel’s heart and faith. He says, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Isn’t that a curious answer? In that answer, Ezekiel could simply be hesitant or nervous. In this world some people have strong opinions and are not afraid to share them. Sometimes those people have lots of opinions, and they let you know it. You also probably know people who have opinions, but they might struggle a bit to share them. Maybe that was Ezekiel. Maybe he was feeling shy or scared. Or maybe he was demonstrating trust and faith in a God who has the power to make those bones come to life!
God’s response to Ezekiel in verses 4-8 is that he wants Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones! From all we’ve read so far, this is a new one for Ezekiel. God wants him to prophesy to dead people. Very dead, long dead, people.
On the surface, this prophecy could seem to be pointless. Prophesy to inanimate objects that cannot hear, see or think? As we know from so many of Ezekiel’s other prophecies to objects like mountains, God has a deeper meaning he wants to convey. What is that meaning?
God says that the whole point of the prophecy is to miraculously make the bones come to life. He is not thinking of making walking skeletons like the pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean. God says that the prophecy will result in a miraculous resurrection of the people. Tendons, flesh and skin will grow on the bones, and most of all, breath will make the people live.
Ezekiel does what he is told; he prophecies to the bones. There is a noise of bones rattling together to form skeletons, and then tendons, flesh and skin grow to cover the bones. That must have been astounding to witness. Modern medicine can do some miracles of its own, but nothing like total regeneration of dead skeletons into living bodies. As Ezekiel is almost certainly watching wide-eyed, the process of making the new bodies stops short of the most important step. There was no breath in them. They were not living. They were just piles of corpses.
But that is about to change. Look at verses 9-10.
God asks Ezekiel to prophesy again, to call the four winds to breathe life into the people, and that is exactly what happens. A word is used here that we’ve heard numerous times already in this passage. Breath. Wind. God says that he will make breath enter the corpses. In verses 9-10 the four winds arrive, through a miracle of God, enter the corpses, and the people come to life.
You might have a text note at verse 5 saying that this word can mean “breath, wind or spirit.” If you glance back to verse 1, you read that the Spirit of the Lord carried Ezekiel to this valley of dry bones. Spirit. Same word as the word used for wind and breath. Do you see the symbolism here? God the Spirit is making the dead corpses come to life.
Last week in chapter 36 verses 26-27 (which we discussed here), God said that he would give the people a new heart and a new spirit, and his Spirit would live in them and empower them to follow God’s ways. Now in chapter 37, God continues that thought, the thought that God wants his people to be filled with his Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that brings the dead back to life.
The vision depicts symbolically what God wants to happen in our lives. The valley of dry bones has become the encampment of a vast army. The image we get is that of a battlefield, like that of Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg, during which thousands upon thousands of soldiers were cut down, died, left to rot and dry out, leaving nothing but brittle bones. The remnants of a battle lost long ago. But in Ezekiel’s vision God steps in miraculously and brings the people back to life, by his Spirit. Why? What does this mean?
God explains it to Ezekiel in the next section. Check back to the next post and we’ll see what God has to say.
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash