The Valley of Dry Bones

Reflection on Ezekiel 37:1-14

In South Sudan rebels and the government are blocking aid so people are fleeing their villages to camps where water is still scarce and cholera is rampant. With experts predicting droughts this year in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria, we will soon be seeing more and more starving people, 20 million who are nothing but skin and bones. All these places have been profoundly impacted by armed conflict. War and hunger go hand in hand.
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones has always been popular with both Jews and Christians. Now more than ever, we can see why. Ezekiel must have been as disturbed as we are when faced with so much death.

The fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC was catastrophic for the Israelites. God had resided in the temple in Jerusalem. Now that the temple was no more, where was God?
Imagine being an exile in a foreign land. All your hope is placed in returning to the land you loved, worshipping where your ancestors worshipped. And suddenly, your home is no more. The city and temple have been utterly destroyed. Hope is lost and replaced by grief. Soon despair begins to set in. You are trapped. You can never go home.
Imagine being a refugee from Damascus. Daily you hear reports of death and destruction reducing your beautiful city to rubble. Or imagine being a refugee from South Sudan whose village has become a dust bowl. What now are you to do?

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesied, “Thus says the Lord God: As I live, . . . I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and its proud might shall come to an end; and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that no one will pass through. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed” (Ez 33:27-29).
Then they shall know that I am the Lord. This phrase is frequently repeated in Ezekiel’s prophecies. God wants for the people to know God. The leaders have corrupted the land and there are consequences, but ultimately the purpose of God’s actions are that “they shall know that I am the Lord.” More than anything, God desires relationship with God’s people. God wants them to remember the covenant they made. God promises, “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
We cannot understand the valley of the dry bones without understanding the situation of the Hebrew people when Ezekiel was given this prophesy.

Then the spirit of God came upon Ezekiel and set him down, “in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. . . . And they were very dry.”
Image a flat dusty expanse. Imagine walking around thousands of bones. Scattered, fleshless, bleached.
Then God asks, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel simply replies, “O Lord God, you know.”
God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, to speak God’s promise of new life to them.
“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
With a rattling noise the bones came together and were covered with flesh.

Ezekiel then speaks God’s word to the breath. “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” This multitude is the people of Israel who were cut off completely and whose hope was lost.
God says to them, “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”

Spirit, wind, breath.
They all translate the same Hebrew word, ruach. God’s ruach is the source of life. It is our source of hope, our source of joy. God’s breath is as close to us as our own breath.
For this reason the most basic form of meditation is to simply sit quietly and observe your breath. If you do this 10 minutes a day it will change your life, bringing peace by connecting you to the divine breath.
We are facing an ever-growing world crisis of refugees caused by famine and war. Perhaps God is setting us down in our own valley of dry bones.
Will we be able to speak and act God’s word to them?
“O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”

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