Summary: God promises to bring new hope to his people by breathing his Spirit into them. This is our hope as well.
By Roy Hamer
Have you ever watched a Horror movie? You know, I’m not big on horror movies, in fact most movies I get a little bored. It’s easy for me to go to bed midway through a movie if I don’t like it. If it’s a Horror movie if I don’t go to bed I’m sure to leave the room once or twice during it. Jo and I once went to the drive in with some friends and we managed to sit so low in the car that when the scary bits came on we couldn’t actually see the movie, it was just too scary. Even before that when I was younger my older brother use to watch a show called Deadly Ernest. Some of you might remember the show on Friday nights. By today’s standards it wasn’t that scary but he used to come and ask me to get up and watch them with him. I’d usually fall back to sleep. But for me the worst of those movies were the ones about Zombies, the walking dead. Boy would they scare me! Anything with death and dying would scare me.
I guess this led to me being very scared of dying in my teens. Partly because I couldn’t see myself living past my 21st; some might say that the way I was living, that was pretty realistic. Death was one of the things that drove me to think about my life: where it was heading and it was around then I met a guy who had no fear of death. In fact for him it was like it couldn’t come quick enough. He was a Christian and whilst he loved life, death meant meeting Jesus and he actually looked forward to death.
What I didn’t realize around that time was that in effect I was already dead, the one thing in horror movies I had dreaded the most I had become.
Let me explain by looking at today’s reading in Ezekiel 37 and Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. For me it’s a bit like a scene from a horror movie, Ezekiel arrives at this valley - we don’t know if he is actually taken there or if it’s a vision - whatever it is isn’t important. But the scene and what happened must have really disturbed Ezekiel.
You see at the time Ezekiel was a captive with the rest of his people Israel in far away Babylon. Israel and Judah had been completely destroyed; the land that God had promised is now populated by foreigners. Even the temple Solomon had built to honor God, the God Israel had rebelled against, was ruined. It was all gone; everything. Israel had been crushed beyond repair, and everyone knew it; the Israelites, the Babylonians, the foreigners (later to be known as "Samaritans"), the Egyptians, and everyone else in the ancient world. Israel was gone for good.
Even Ezekiel probably thought his nation was dead. Remember that in this part of history we read of nations that have died: The Canaanites, the Midianites, the Philistines, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, these nations that no longer exist. Sure Ezekiel must have been thinking that Israel was going to face a similar fate?
Well God had a message for Ezekiel in the form of this vision. Imagine for a moment how Ezekiel would have felt being placed in such a gruesome valley, surrounded by this scene of death. Notice the description of the dead: their bones were very dry (v2). These are bones of a people who have been dead for some time and he’s asked: ’can these bones live?’ My response would be an emphatic ’Nope’. But a lot of things have happened to Ezekiel and so he has a bit each way with "you alone know". Ezekiel is told to prophesy over the bones, encouraging them to "Hear the word of the Lord."
What’s the significance of all this? Is God just trying to scare Ezekiel out of his wits? I don’t think so! There is a reason for all this, and it goes beyond merely teaching about God’s power to raise the dead.
Notice what happens: the bones rattle and join up; the sinew forms then they’re covered with skin they’re rebuilt, put back together, but it’s only a physical body. It is only after the bodies are reformed that breath is put into them. What is the point? Is God pointing to a two stage return to His plan to make a people for himself? First a physical return, then a spiritual return?
Lets look at Ezekiel and compare it to how the history of Israel panned out. In verse 7 Ezekiel prophesies and the bones rattle back together and sinew forms and skin covers the body. Well history tells us that in 538 BC a small group returns to Jerusalem. They’re given back their land and they start rebuilding the temple. The people of God are physically back, remade complete but there was no real spiritual life.