The prophet Ezekiel ministered to the exiles in Babylonian captivity between roughly 592-571 BC. One of his more famous visions, recorded for us in Ezekiel 37, is that of a valley full of dry bones. He’s told by God that the dead, dry bones, are God’s people, Israel. He’s asked, “Can these bones live?” His response, “Lord, I don’t know – you know.” God tells him, “Prophesy to the bones and tell them that I will cause breath to enter them and they will live. I will make flesh and skin appear and the dead bodies will breathe and live again.”
So Ezekiel prophesies to the bones and the bones reconnect, the tissues and sinews reform, flesh covers the bodies, but there is no breath of life in these corpses. So Ezekiel is told to speak again, and as he speaks, breath, or spirit, from the four winds enters into the dead bodies and they live and stand up on their feet. The message for Ezekiel and the exiles is that though Israel is dead and buried in exile, God will raise them up from their graves and bring them back to the Promised Land. When this occurs, they will know that YHWH has spoken and will do what he says!
This vision had a profound impact on the Jewish people for many years to come. Though clearly metaphorical in its original context, the idea that God can and will raise up his people from the dead was one of the most important doctrines in first century Jewish theology. The idea was that when God finally acted to deliver his people from pagan oppression, the faithful dead of all ages would be resurrected to enjoy life with God in a renewed and restored creation. After the resurrection of Jesus, the early Christians continued to affirm that the final victory of God’s people would include the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of all things. A poem I wrote several years ago incorporates these ideas.
Lying in the dust the corpse rots through and through.
There’s no more life to live, there’s nothing left to do.
Then the bones begin to rattle, the bones begin to shake.
The sinews and the flesh, new life begins to make.
Gasping deep, lungs expanding, Spirit’s wind, life’s breath.
The living God’s the giving God and life has conquered death!
His body hangs limp, beaten, broken, his side dripping blood.
On the faces of the women, tears stream down in a flood.
He was the one who’d redeem his people, but the cause is now lost.
None could imagine the pain and suffering, no one could count the cost.
And the tomb stands ready to receive his lifeless body dead.
But it’s Sunday morning now and resurrection wins instead!
She’s heard of resurrection, but it seems too good to be true.
Yet in faith her heart believes, so there’s nothing she won’t do.
Her dead body is buried; the grave of water sucks her in.
She’s covered in his blood, and she rises free from sin.
Her old life is behind her, in her new life she looks ahead
To the time when he returns and her body will rise again!
If we ever feel like we’re dead and buried, spiritually speaking, or otherwise, let’s remember Ezekiel’s vision and know that just as God acted on behalf of his people in exile, he can and will act on our behalf, no matter where we find ourselves. Ask God to fill you with his Spirit so that you can breathe and live again! - Shay