I wrote this for the 8am communion service at church.
Right, is there anyone here who’s seen the Lion King? Anyone? Yup, a few… Ok. Well, maybe you’ll remember that there’s a place that Simba is told NEVER to go …the Elephant Graveyard. A massive desert, scattered with bones, where nothing grows.
It’s a Disney image, but maybe it’ll help us picture where Ezekiel is taken at the beginning of our passage: a valley strewn with “a great many bones” verse 2, and the bones are “very dry”.
Something huge and terrible has happened here. In the context of Ezekiel, this valley is probably the remains of an old battlefield. The slain, are ‘the whole house of Israel’ (verse 11) and most likely this is a picture of the aftermath of judgment prophesied in Ezekiel chapter 6. It’s a judgment that has come because, despite warning after warning, Israel have refused to give up their idolatry and turn back to God.
So this valley of bones is the result of God’s righteous wrath against a people whose hearts are unfaithful to Him.
It’s a bleak picture. The bones are very dry. Nothing moves. There is absolutely no life.
And yet, into this dead silence, God speaks:
“Son of man,” v3, “can these bones live?”
How would we answer that question, I wonder?
It looks pretty hopeless for these bones. They have no heart to shock with a defibrillator, no veins to give a blood transfusion into. Even our 21st century medicine could do nothing for them. They’re just bones, and they’re very dry.
But this is not ultimately a question about the bones. Not of what they can do, or of what we as human beings could do to them. It’s impossible for these bones to resurrect themselves, or for any human effort to resurrect them. They’re just bones.
But this isn’t a question about the nature of the bones. This is a question about the character of Israel’s God. The only way these bones will live is if God does a miracle, and chooses to give them life.
And so God asks Ezekiel “can these bones live?”
“Am I a God who can bring life, even to bones as dead as these?”
The rest of our passage is God’s answer.
So let’s look at what happens.
In this place of silence and death, God breaks in and brings life. He commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and in His mercy uses Ezekiel’s prophecy to ‘put tendons and flesh on them’ (verse 8), to make ‘skin cover them’.
And then He has him prophecy again, but not to the bones this time, but to the breath (verse 9) – the Hebrew word is the same as that for ‘spirit’. Ezekiel obeys and, finally, when the breath – when the Spirit – comes into these dry bones that have become bodies, they ‘come to life’ (verse 10).
So here we have a God who turns bones into bodies, and makes those bodies live. A God who speaks into the stillness of death and brings unimaginable life by His Spirit.
Ezekiel’s prophecy was given to Old Testament Israel, but we still worship the same God today. His character hasn’t changed. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection are what ultimately make this life-from-the-dead possible. Jesus took our spiritual death on Himself, and God raised Him to life again. And, ever since, Jesus has been sharing His resurrection life with His people by the Holy Spirit.
So Ezekiel’s message is for us today. And, in many ways, we stand in a valley of ‘dry bones’ too.
For some of us that may be what our own spiritual lives feel like. As dead and dry as old bones. And there could be different reasons for that. But even if, like the people of Israel, you know this dryness is because you’ve turned away from Jesus, the call today is to turn back to, and trust in, our God who brings life to the driest bones.
For others of us, the dry bones we see might be in the church. We can feel overwhelmed by the church’s problems: disunity, or liberalism, or lack of love. But again, our call is to trust our God who brings life to dry bones, and pray He would do it again in His church.
Finally, on this Pentecost Sunday, as we remember the first Pentecost, let’s be encouraged that even the dry bones of non-Christians can live. Perhaps you have non-Christian friends you’ve known for years and have given up hope that they’ll ever turn to Jesus. As the disciples found that day when they preached and thousands were saved: even with the spiritually dead, we are called to trust in our God who brings life to dry bones, and in His Spirit to pray for them and tell them about Him.
Lord God, we want to thank You, on this Pentecost morning, that You are a God who brings life to dry bones. Lord, You know the places in our lives where we can only see death – in ourselves, in the church, in our non-Christians friends and relatives. But You are great and very merciful. Please bring Your new life to these places, by Your Spirit. Amen.