March 22, 2009
Background Scripture: Ezekiel 37
Devotional Reading: Romans 6:1-14
Recently, while traveling, we attended another church. The minister’s sermon was entertaining – lots of humor, well done – but we came away feeling that entertainment was not what we were looking for. While I have no problem with sermons that use humor as “the sugar to help make medicine go down,” I think people need more than just sugar.
Chapter 37 alone makes the book of Ezekiel worthwhile. There is nothing sugary about the medicine of the Valley of the Dry Bones. It captures and unites the book’s recurrent themes: Israel’s unacknowledged sins that brought destruction and exile, the spiritual sickness unto death of the exiles and the incredible offer of God to free the people of exile and restore the nation. In the midst of the death of hope, there is also, by the grace of God, the offer of new life.
We need to understand that Ezekiel, the priest of Israel turned prophet, was a man of ecstatic prophecies. He dreamed vivid dreams, saw visions and was in touch with a level of mystical experience that is foreign to many of the rest of us. But just because we cannot put his dreams and visions in a test tube or demonstrate them by closely-monitored research, doesn’t give us license to disregard them.
A man of dreams
From the dawn of human existence dreams have been valued for their ability to reveal verities that elude normal consciousness: Joseph warned in a dream to flee with Mary and the newborn Jesus into Egypt; scientist Friedrich Kekule solved the problem of benzene atoms in a dream; Elias Howe dreamed the invention of the sewing machine; and Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In Ezekiel’s dream he saw a valley of dry bones. Some scholars think that it might have been an actual battlefield scattered with the bones of Israel’s defeated warriors. Whether it was an actual place or merely the medium of the prophet’s dream, it symbolized a whole catalogue of defeats and vanquished hopes.
Professor E.L. Allen asks: “Who among us has not stood at some time or other by the grave of his hopes? Who has not faced a situation in which any possibility of recovery seemed to be ruled out in advance?” God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” (37:3).
Perhaps on any Sunday morning God asks worshippers: Can you survive your great loss? Can this church be turned around? Can this marriage be saved? Can you find another job? Can I forgive you?
Breath of God
That is when, as individuals and as congregations, we need to see with Ezekiel the Valley of the Dry Bones, both as a symbol of our hopeless failures and God’s promise that these bones, by the grace and power of God, can live again.
Understand, Ezekiel is not saying to have patience because things will be all right by and by. Things do not just “look hopeless” – without the breath of God, they are hopeless. Only God can raise our dry bones from their graves.
Looking at the dry bones, Ezekiel saw that “there was no breath in them” (37:8). God will supply the breath, but Ezekiel will need to respond on behalf of his people: “Prophesy to the breath, son of man, Thus says the Lord God: come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (37:9).
The Dry Bones must want to live again so that “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host” (37:10).
Ezekiel and the exiles had their Valley of Dry Bones and we have ours. God gave them back the gift of hope, and He offers us the same gift.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.