Summary: As God brought new life and hope to the dry bones scattered across Ezekiel's valley, God can do the same for us. When there seems to be no way forward, God knows our future. And as we trust him, we get to know God better in the process.
New Life for Dry Bones
When I became a “new cadet,” in basic training at West Point, I had to memorize various items and be willing to recount them at will. One was a paragraph from the 1962 speech of retired 82-year-old General of the Army Douglas MacArthur to the Corps of Cadets, in accepting the coveted Thayer Award. The paragraph goes like this: “Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
Did you catch that last phrase? “To create hope when hope becomes forlorn.” We all have those moments in life when “hope becomes forlorn,” when all seems lost, when we do not know how to keep going. MacArthur challenges the Soldier to find hope in duty, honor, and country. For the Christian believer, we can go even higher, to God. Today’s story offers hope for the hopeless, life from death.
Ezekiel’s prophecy is apocalyptic in nature. The word “apocalypse” is Greek for uncovering or revealing. In apocalyptic writings, the prophet of God experiences a vision and helps interpret it for God’s people. So even today we can ask, “What is God saying to us through this vision?”
Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones, and God had him prophesy to them until they came to life. When God gave this vision to Ezekiel, the Israelites had been and living in captivity under Babylonian rule for ten long years. They were taken to foreign lands, away from their homes, their jobs, their loved ones, to work as slave labor in another country. Through Ezekiel’s vision God let his people know that he knew of their plight and that he would indeed “bring them back to life,” that he would rescue them from their captors.
God fulfilled these visions in part in 538 BC, some years later, when he softened the heart of the Persian King Cyrus to allow the refugees to begin returning home. You’ll find these events in the first two chapters of the book of Ezra. Ezekiel’s visions gave the Israelites hope to hang on when there seemed to be little cause for hope. And they can do the same for us. Please consider these points. First,
1. When we are out of hope, God knows the future (verses 1-3). Ezekiel sees a bunch of very dry bones scattered across the valley, likely the site of a terrible battle. The descriptive words “very dry” tell us these people have been dead for a long time. In other words, they have no hope. They are out of options. But fortunately for them, God is not. In fact, God is just getting started. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Now if anybody else besides God asked that question, you would say, “Of course not! There is no possible way they could live again.” But it’s not anybody else asking the question. It’s God. So Ezekiel wisely replies, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
We’ve talked about this word “sovereign” before. In today’s passage, Ezekiel uses it to describe God, and God uses it to describe himself. It means, “God is large and in charge.” God is in control. Nothing happens without God’s knowledge nor even his permission. And no matter how evil it is, God can use it for his perfect plan.
When you find yourself at the end of the rope, take heart; you are ripe for a miracle! Your Sovereign God is just getting started! Instead of looking down in defeat, look up to the heavens, for your redemption is near.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the classic trilogy, “Lord of the Rings.” Tolkien was a strong Catholic believer who had the honor of leading to the Lord his friend and colleague C.S. Lewis. Tolkien’s trilogy contains strong themes of good and evil. And one epic character of good was the Christ-like Gandalf the Great. Towards the end of the second book, “The Twin Towers,” the good guys are losing miserably in a battle for the Keep at Helm’s Deep. When all hope seems lost, they recall Gandalf’s words a week previous: “Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East.” As the sun dawns on the battlefield, they look up and see him glowing white, along with a large army of friendlies coming to their rescue from the east. When all hope was lost, new hope was gained.
Civil Rights Activist Ralph Abernathy first coined the popular statement, “I don't know what the future may hold, but I know who holds the future.” When you are out of hope, give your future to God. Take your problem to God and say with Ezekiel, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” And there’s another thing we can learn from Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones: