Ezekiel 31:1-14 | Dry Bones
Part 1. Death.
Ezekiel is placed in a valley of dry bones. Very dry bones. They are the house of Israel. God asks Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?" The answer seems obvious. No, they cannot. They are bones, scattered through a valley. The context for this vision is that Judah has been sacked by Babylon. The story of God's people, which began with Abraham, seems to have run its full course. Israel was destroyed in 722 BC. Judah is now destroyed in 586 BC. What is left is a valley of bones.
The image of bones reminded me of a trip I took to Rwanda. We visited a museum that tells the story of the Rwanda Genocide. In 1994 over 100 days, nearly 900,000 people were slaughtered. Our student group visited a site where room after room was full of bones. Skulls sat on shelves like books. On the ride back to our hostel that night, one of the students said to me, "tell me about your God after that." It was a jarring question. I had been pondering the same sort of dilemma she had. I was speechless.
I imagine this is how Judah is feeling. "Tell me about your God, now," Babylon seemed to say with their swords and dominance. "Tell me about how great your God is, about His steadfast love, about how His mercies are new every morning." Judah is hopeless and they need a vision. They need to believe that God is still God.
Part 2. Prophesy.
"Prophesy to the bones," God instructs Ezekiel. He begins to speak to them and as the Word of God goes forth from him mouth, the bones begin to move. The text tells us what it sounds like...they begin to rattle. Soon they are coming together. Bones that were broken in the heat of battle are mended and put together. Wounds that were caused by the sword are healed by the word. The Word of God goes forth and reverses the effects of violence. God's word breaks the cycle of violence. In Ezekiel's vision, God's people are restored, not by sword or strength, but by the Word of the Lord.
Next, Ezekiel prophesies to the Spirit. The Spirit of God (or breath of God) moves in the dusty remains and brings life. Just as the spirit breathed life into dust at creation, so God's spirit brings life again. The God that created in the beginning would create once again. God is not a static deity stuck in the past. He is the living God whose breath would continue to create and would constitute a people once again.
Part 3. Life.
God causes life to flow into the bones of Judah. There had been no cause for hope. What is more helpless than a pile of dry bones? Nothing. Judah is done. The people of God, their story, is finished. They are like the disciples on the evening before the resurrection. They are in some dark room. The windows and doors are locked. They keep their voices down in order to not be discovered. Their head rests in their hands. There is no reason to be optimistic. But God's stubborn love, his steadfast faithfulness is more resilient even than death. God had made a covenant promise to Judah, that they would be his people and dad-gum-it if God wasn't going to see His promise through. Even if that meant breathing life into dry bones. Even if that meant making the Word become flesh and dwelling among us. Even if that meant taking on the form of a slave and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. God's steadfast love had to be satisfied.
God's love does not give up on His people. Can these bones live? The answer is no...unless there is a resurrection. Unless God can create again. If God can make life come out of death, then perhaps, yes. Perhaps these bones can live.
Prayers of the People
God of peace, we continue to pray for those affected by the violence in our city. For those who have lost friends or family members we ask that you would comfort your people and provide your presence to them. We ask that people would react with love and not with revenge in the wake of tragedies. We thank you for organizations who work every day to eliminate gun violence in our city. May they continue to be beacons of hope in communities who need your transforming presence.
Discerner of hearts, you look beneath our outward appearance and see your image in each of us. Banish in us the blindness that prevents us from recognizing truth,
so we may see the world through your eyes and with the compassion of Jesus Christ who redeems us.
Lord in your mercy...Hear our Prayer