Today, on the fifth Sunday of Lent, we’ll be exploring Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones).
Before we get into the text, let me set the context a little. The prophet Ezekiel is speaking to the Southern Kingdom of Israel (Judah). At the point of his prophecy, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had already been completely destroyed by the Assyrian army. Judah was all that remained of the people of Abraham, but they, like the Northern Kingdom, had turned their back on God and found themselves enslaved to Babylon. With the Northern Kingdom destroyed and the Southern Kingdom enslaved to the most powerful empire in the world, hope was lost. Ezekiel describes the emotional state of Judah with these words: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone, we are cut off (v. 11).”
Israel believed that God had abandoned them. For generations, their ancestors placed hope in the idea that the God who made an everlasting promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) would follow it through to completion. Their circumstances, however, seemed to tell a different story. Death surrounded them on every corner, and hope was lost. From their perspective, God was angry and had abandoned them, but the story doesn’t end there.
God calls the prophet Ezekiel to a valley, but not a lush valley. It was filled with the dry bones of his fellow Jews. God had Ezekiel walk back and forth, throughout the valley of death, taking in the eeriness of what the place represented. In verse 2, we read that the bones were “very dry,” meaning that death has defined that valley for quite some time. These were not the remains from a battle that was fought last week, but the by-product of a travesty, or travesties, from long ago. The more time that passed, and the dryer the bones became, death was increasingly reinforced as the victor.
God turns to Ezekiel and asks him a critical question. “Can these bones live?” Stop for a second and think about this question. On one hand, death is perhaps the most final thing we know. According to natural rhythm’s, that which is dead cannot become un-dead. So, no, these bones cannot live. At least that’s how I’d be tempted to answer the question if it came from my child.
When God is the one asking the question though, it forces you to contemplate where life comes from in the first place. If I say yes, on what ground do I stand on, and if I say no, have I forgotten that God is the source of all life? Caught in the weight of this tension, Ezekiel wisely responds to the question, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know (v. 3).”
God takes the prophet’s faith and partners with him to bring the valley to life. At the words of Ezekiel, the bones rattle and take form. The valley is now taking the shape of Eden, as God once again is forming life. The bones moved, the tendons were formed, and flesh put back into place. Then, God had Ezekiel speak the Breath of God into the scattered corpses, and they came to life.
In seasons of despair and trial it can grow increasingly challenging to experience God as a faithful provider. The feeling of being “cut off” or of being neglected “dry bones,” left to linger in death’s valley, is a legitimate feeling. It can feel isolating, or that God has abandoned his promises that we’ve placed so much hope in.
Ezekiel reminds us that God is in the business in making all things new. With unrelenting perseverance, God pursues his children, looking to breathe a breath and life into our pain and chaos. We are a people of hope, who cling to a future promise where pain and suffering will be no more. Until then, I encourage you to pause, take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. Meditate on where your breath comes from. You are a totally unique and beloved part of God’s creation, and His breath is in you. You are a Christ bearer, and the breath of life you extend to others is indeed the breath of Christ!
Some Questions to Consider: