Ezekiel 37 – Hope in Hopelessness
This past Sunday the Gospel reading featured Jesus raising Lazarus after Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days. Perhaps the most significant statement in that account was Jesus’ affirmation to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” That means that Jesus’ Life power over-rules death!
The Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel 37 actually had a similar message in a lived-out parable kind of way. Ezekiel was a prophet at the time – in about 590 B.C. – when Jerusalem and Judea had been conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and most of the people of Israel had been taken captive to Babylon. They were distraught and full of despair. Their attitude is echoed in the words of Psalm 137 – “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion… How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” God, God’s people and God’s land were so intimately tied together that the people felt that they couldn’t even praise God while they were in captivity in Babylon.
Ezekiel’s vision had the same kind of tone. God’s Spirit set Ezekiel in the middle of a valley full of bones – dead, very dry bones. God’s question to Ezekiel was stunning, even ridiculous: “Can these bones live?” Any person in their right mind would answer, “God, these bones have been picked clean by the vultures. There is no life in them!” But God told His prophet to prophesy to the bones, and, lo and behold, the bones began to come together – bone to bone, and then tendons and flesh and skin covered them. But they were still dead. God told Ezekiel to prophesy again, this time to the breath. The Hebrew word is ruach, which can be translated as breath, or wind, or even spirit. So, in essence, Ezekiel spoke to the Spirit and called on that Spirit of God to breathe life into those lifeless bodies. The Spirit did breathe life, and all the people came alive – a vast army. No foolin’!! (It’s April Fool’s Day today!!)
A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In Ezekiel 37, the earthly story is the new life imparted to this valley of dry bones. But God explained for Ezekiel the heavenly meaning: the people of Israel feel hopeless in Babylon, like a valley full of dry bones, but God will breathe new life and hope into them AND He will bring them back to the land of Israel where they can once again praise Him as they ought and as He deserves.
What a great story for us in these days! What a great message for us in these days! We may feel like the world is a valley of dry bones, lacking hope. God’s promise to us is that He will breathe new life and hope into us and into our world once again AND that one day – OH, and hopefully it’s not 70 years like the Israelites in Babylon – that one day we will gather again to praise Him as we ought and as He deserves. God IS a God of mercy, and hope, and like Jesus in the story of Lazarus, His power of life over-rules death! Take courage from that good news, and keep singing the songs of the Lord!