WEEK 7: “Can these dry bones live?”
Ezekiel 37:3: “He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘Sovereign LORD, you alone know.’”
Devotional song: Michael Card, Valley of dry bones — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrP7raJI5zg
Within this beautiful promise to resurrect a broken nation, God provides man with an encouraging reminder — that He is not only a God of the mountains, but also a God of the valleys! This story of the valley of dry bones shows us a sequence of events that took place: 1) the Lord placed Ezekiel in the middle of a valley, 2) God spoke strongly to two of Ezekiel’s senses (his sight and his hearing) by a) showing him the valley and allowing him to see it from different angles (vs 2: “He caused me to pass all around them…”). The whole passage is very descriptive, describing each process in detail, e.g. “sinews on the bones,” “flesh grew”, “skin covered them”, etc. and b) making him prophesy to the bones and hear the thundering noise as bones rattled and joined together. 3) Lastly, God commanded him to prophesy that new life blow into the cadavers’ lungs and only then do they rise to their feet and are considered an “exceedingly great army”.
I would like to highlight four important things that some of us often overlook when reading this passage:
Firstly, God’s chosen setting: Ezekiel lived during the ‘Babylonian Captivity’ on the banks of the Khebar river, in Tel Abib (not to be confused with modern day Tel Aviv) together with other exiles from Judah. The valley that God shows Ezekiel in a vision, is called a qeber קֶבֶר ‘grave.’ Mass graves often point to large-scale massacres and to a sense of shame and defeat. When an army was conquered in battle in Biblical times, the victors would often strip the valuables from the slain and leave their enemies’ bodies unburied. This image of a valley covered with bones was not merely an abstract concept: Ezekiel lived at a time when one could find literal valleys of bones where the slain enemy had been overwhelmed and there was no one to bury them. In the Bible, a corpse not properly buried was considered to be accursed by God. Furthermore, to be buried outside one’s homeland, was also a terrible reality: burial with one’s own family and in one’s own land was important to the Israelites. To die and be buried far from one’s homeland was considered a divine punishment. Burial also relates to prophetic action, e.g. when Jacob refused to be buried in Egypt and was buried in Canaan instead, it “testifies to the fact that he believes Canaan will once again be his family’s home” (Genesis 50:5, 13; cf. Exodus 13:19; Mounce 2006).
Secondly, when God shows Ezekiel the valley, Ezekiel considers it an important addition to refer to these bones as very dry: “…and lo, they were very dry” (lit. יבשות מאד yiveishot me’od “very dry/much withered”). This tells us that these bones must have lain there for a very long period of time; that the place in which they lay was arid and dry and thus pointed to the spiritual hopelessness and barrenness of the situation. According to the Blue Letter Bible Commentary, “…apart from their presence in a living body, bones are dead. Dry bones are not only dead; they have been long dead […] If something never had life, it will not leave bones. Yet when something has been dead so long, we normally give up hope it will ever live again.” This arid valley of death creates the perfect setting and platform on which God could base His question and test His prophet-servant: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Thirdly, no one hopes that scattered, detached bones might live. Admirably, Ezekiel responded to God’s question with the only hope that could be found, saying “O Lord God, You know.” Ezekiel had no hope in the bones, but he placed his hope in his God. This is a beautiful testimony to Ezekiel’s faith in his God whom — he knew — could resurrect those bones. Do we continue to fix our eyes on a God high above the seemingly impossible? Do we look beyond what we can see and listen beyond what we can hear?
Fourth, and lastly, God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the four winds to breathe into the cadavers. The important thing to note is that, without any life-giving breath, we remain dead. Even though we might ‘look’ like humans with flesh and bones intact, we should not be fooled into thinking that this is enough. This army could only arise with the life-giving influx of God’s Spirit. We as the Church also need to guard against this state of ‘false existence’. Are we simply an empty shell, a religious institution or a lifeless cadaver thinking that we are God’s army when we have no life-giving breath inside of us? May we not be satisfied until the ‘four winds’ blow over us and give us life-giving breath! This was not a work of creation (making something from nothing), this was a work of revival (restoring life to something long dead). However, both actions require the essential: the ‘breath of God’. In the Hebrew language, breath and spirit are embodied in the same word ruah רוּחַ. Therefore, God is not only speaking about reviving the physical body to life, but He is referring to an even deeper spiritual revival, of a nation, a global Church, an individual to a higher life and a higher call.
May God open our ‘graves’ and ‘resurrect’ what has ‘died’ in us and urge us to — as Paul and Isaiah commands — ‘strengthen your limp hands and weak knees…’ (Hebrews 12:12; Isaiah 35:3)
“Awake, O north wind, and come, south wind; make my garden breathe out fragrance [for the one in whom my soul delights], let its spices flow forth.” (Song of Solomon 4:16 AMP)
O, dearest Father, come and open the graves inside of me and revive what has grown cold and laid dormant and dead for too long. I pray that the four winds of Your Spirit will blow over this body and over this Church and may we arise to serve You with rejuvenated vigour and passion. Thank You for a valley of promise and that Your Spirit is our life-giving medium. Amen.
Batchelor, D. Reviving Dry Bones. [Online]. Available at: https://www.amazingfacts.org/news-and-features/inside-report/magazine/id/10732/t/reviving-dry-bones [2020/01/19].
Guzik, D. Blue Letter Bible: Study Guide for Ezekiel 37. [Online]. Available at: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Eze/Eze-37.cfm [2020/01/19].
Mark, J.J. 2009. ‘Burial.’ Ancient History Encyclopaedia. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/burial/ [2020/01/19].
Mounce, W.D. 2006. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.