Summary: Israel was recalled to her faith by Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones, where God breathed his Spirit into lifeless forms, which came to life.
THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES
Some people are keen on doing crosswords. There were two people sitting on a park bench discussing a clue to a crossword. There were 7 letters to enter in two words - one of 3 letters and the other of 4. The clue was "The beginning of the universe". What do you think was the answer? A Christian person was sitting nearby and overheard the discussion and listened carefully to what was said. One was thinking aloud, "’In the beginning...’ Well, what about ’Big bang’." That’s the well-known theory of the beginning of the universe. "Yes" said the other, "it would do, but in doesn’t fit in with the other words. I know, it must be ‘God Said’." I think it’s quite possible that the universe began with a Big Bang in which the starry galaxies were flung into space, but there must have been Someone who caused the Big Bang to happen - and who could have done it but God?
In that little story we have a parable to understanding the world as we find it in its chaotic state on so many levels. It’s because mankind has rejected the Biblical solution of "God Said". They’ve gone along with Frank Sinatra’s song, "I’ll do it my way" with disastrous consequences. Mankind is God’s masterpiece of creation, made in the moral likeness of his Creator, and yet our first parents fell into a sinful state that robbed them and the human race of the priceless possession of the intimate presence of God through his Spirit. As a result man is now only a pale shadow of what God intended him to be.
Thinkers down the ages have puzzled over the place of mankind in this immense universe in which we find ourselves. Perhaps you, like me, in a quiet moment have wondered, "What am I? Who am I?" G K Chesterton summarized it rather well when he said, "One thing is certain: man is not what he was meant to be." Down the ages mankind has constantly sought to reinstate its lost glory but because of the inherited bias to sin, has failed repeatedly, bringing disaster and further suffering on the world. But God hadn’t given up on his creation. God so loved the world and he wanted to bring about a restoration of fellowship with his fallen creation.
God’s revelation to mankind was focussed on the nation of Israel that had sadly departed from its calling to be the people of God. His people had turned their backs on their great benefactor who had given them a beautiful and fruitful land. They had persistently ignored his entreaties, ridiculed his warnings and abused his blessings. They had spurned his love and rebelled against his authority. Nothing short of the most severe discipline would restore the situation. It came in the form of the Babylonian army! It was a dark day in the life of the nation that had been given the mandate by God to be a light to the nations.
But time after time he attempted to recall them to their spiritual heritage - and he’s doing it to us today. Let’s see what "God said" to Ezekiel and through him to us. If ever a man had a call to preach it was Ezekiel: "Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel ... and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord’" (2:3,4). It’s a message to which we must pay careful attention.
Ezekiel didn’t have an easy time. The people to whom he ministered were thoroughly depressed. They’d been defeated in battle, permanently removed from their homeland, mocked by their heathen conquerors, shot through with guilt and overwhelmed by the incredible wealth and strength of Babylon. One of the psalms conveys their feeling of shame, hopelessness and humiliation: "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion" and they moaned "How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (137:1,3).
It was in this miserable situation that God spoke to Ezekiel in a vision. He showed him a valley full of heaps of dried-up bones. It was hardly a vision to cheer him up! That’s how an ordinary person would see it. But have you noticed how this passage from the book of Ezekiel began: "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord" (37:1). It’s the Spirit of God that makes all the difference. He is the key to knowing God, as the apostle Paul would write: "No-one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit" (I Cor 12:3).
As the Spirit came on Ezekiel he was no longer fully himself but somehow detached from his physical environment. It was rather like when we watch a film on television where the story goes into a flashback and the picture is transformed into another scene. The dry plain in which Ezekiel stood was suddenly turned into a battlefield of yesterday. The vultures and the elements had done their grisly work and nothing remained but disintegrated skeletons scattered over the ground. What a bizarre sight - the Valley of Dry Bones - a valley which turns out to be a vast slaughterhouse in the open countryside. The Jews were careful about burial, so the scene spoke of pollution and the curse of God.