The week from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday must have been an emotional rollercoaster for the disciples, Jesus’ friends and family, and Jesus himself. Together they experienced the triumphant celebration of Palm Sunday, the poignant fellowship of the Last Supper, the deep despair of the cross, and the amazing joy of the resurrection. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ezekiel has a vision that takes him on a similar journey from a place of deep despair to a place of incredible hope.
In Ezekiel 37, the Lord brings Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones. He has Ezekiel prophesy over the bones that the Lord will put breath in those bones and they will live and they will know that he is the Lord. Ezekiel does so, and the bones come together with the sinew, flesh, and skin restored. But there was no breath in them. Then the Lord has Ezekiel prophesy again, this time to the breath that it might breathe on the slain that they might live. Again Ezekiel does so, and the breath came, and the bones lived, standing on their feet as an exceedingly great army. What a remarkable and astonishing vision!
The Lord then reveals to Ezekiel that these bones are the whole house of Israel. They are in a place of profound despair because of their exile, dried up like the bones and completely cut off. All hope is gone. But here the Lord restores their hope, promising to open and raise them from their graves, bringing them back to the land of Israel so that they will know that he is the Lord. He has spoken and he will do it.
Numerous questions have arisen for scholars out of this account. Does it teach the doctrine of resurrection from the dead? Does it imply that Ezekiel or those of his time held a belief in a general eschatological resurrection? But the question that the text itself seems most concerned with is the question that the Lord asks of Ezekiel in verse 3: “Son of man, can these bones live?” I imagine this question posed quite a quandary for Ezekiel. On the one hand, as he looked at the situation from a human perspective, the answer had to be a resounding no. These bones were not just dry, but very dry. On the other hand, Ezekiel had been in relationship with the Lord long enough to know that the Lord was capable of anything. The Lord had performed some astonishing feats to this point, so causing these bones to live wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
So Ezekiel answers, “O, Lord God, you know.” This answer contains few words and is relatively simple on the surface. But it seems likely that a whole cacophony of thoughts and emotions were roiling around in Ezekiel’s mind and heart. The situation looked hopeless and bleak, but God is a fount of hope and promise. Ezekiel knew that the idea of these long-dead bones coming to life was impossible, but he also knew that with God all things are possible. The struggle between despair and hope wells up out of Ezekiel in his answer.
The emphasis in Ezekiel’s answer is on the Lord. He not only addresses God as “Lord God,” but he also includes the second person masculine singular pronoun “you” in his answer. Since the person, gender, and number of the subject of the verb is inherent in the verb form in Hebrew making the pronoun redundant, when the pronoun is included it is done to give express emphasis to the subject. Ezekiel’s answer then focuses on the fact that a positive answer to the question can only come as a result of an infusion of the omnipotent power of the Lord God into the situation. Ezekiel himself cannot make the bones live and in his realm of knowledge and experience, dried-up old bones do not come back to life.
Yet the Lord does not do the impossible without the participation of Ezekiel. The prophesying of Ezekiel is a key element in the Lord accomplishing his plan and purpose of restoring life and hope to this desolate landscape. Ezekiel must walk forward in faith into the vision of hope and renewal that the Lord has offered. And doing so will increase his commitment to the vision and his sense of joy when it comes to pass.
All of us at times find ourselves in places that seem dark and desperate, bleak and hopeless. We know without a doubt that we cannot bring life to the situation ourselves; the impossibility of reanimating the dead bones in our lives seems certain and overwhelming. And when the Lord asks us if these desiccated bones can live, the best we can do is, with feeble faith and desperate hope, say with Ezekiel, “O, Lord God, you know.” Then God in his mercy unleashes his power, and life and hope spring up anew in the desolate valleys of our lives. We may have a part to play in this resurrection story, but the purpose and the power is all God’s. And we know without a doubt that he is the Lord.
May this Holy Week culminate for all of us in a great celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and of the resurrection of hope out of despair in the valley of dry bones in our lives!