That’s where the Jewish people were when the Prophet Ezekiel brought the Word of the Lord to them in about 580 BC. Their armies had been wiped out, their land had been ravished, the walls of their fortress city Jerusalem had been leveled, their awesome Temple had been ruthlessly torn down and all their leaders had been led in chains to live the rest of their days as slaves in a foreign land.
Ezekiel experienced a series of ecstatic visions which he shared with the people to let them know God hadn’t given up on them. He still stood behind the promises he had made to them during the days when he called Abraham, when he gave the Law through Moses and when he led them directly through the glorious Kingdom of David. But those who heard his pronouncements had trouble seeing any future for themselves and their families. Their hope was at zero.
So zero hope is where Ezekiel starts in sharing his vision of the Valley of Dry Bones:
The Lord set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:1-2)
How dead can people be? How hopeless can they be?
Ezekiel describes the Lord turning to him and asking, “Can these bones live?” He responded respectfully, “Lord, you alone know” (vs. 3), but the voice inside of him said, “No way!” God didn’t let him off the hook, challenging him to become personally involved:
“Prophesy to these bones and say to them,’Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…I will put breath in you, and you will come to life’” (verses 5-6).
Talking to dry bones: that wasn’t Ezekiel’s idea of how he’d spend the afternoon! But he obeyed:
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them…(verses 7-8)
God directed Ezekiel to prophesy again, and this time the breath of life came into those inert bodies:
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. (verses 9-10)
Dr. Leslie C. Allen is a world-renowned Old Testament scholar, and he’s also a longtime part of our ABC family, now residing at Atherton Baptist Homes in his retirement. He writes this in his very thorough commentary on Ezekiel:
“Ezekiel discharges his strange commission, and the ensuing silence is broken by a rattling sound as the bones realign themselves into skeletons. Then before his wondering eyes, they turn into bodies, in step with the stages of his oracle. First sound, then sight: Ezekiel’s senses are bombarded with an overwhelming experience. However,…these bodies lack the essential element of breath, and it requires a further oracle to achieve the renewal of life.” *
Dr. Allen compares this two-step revival of the dry bones –first the physical restoration, then the breath of life — to the two steps of God’s original Creation of humans in his image (Genesis 1:27).
The conclusion of Elijah’s vision makes his vision’s application to that moment in time:
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’” (verse 11).
If you, living in this moment of time, 2,700 years later, feel as if your life is hopeless, like a valley of dry bones, bring your sad story to the God who is the dry bones specialist!
We believe you will be encouraged by our continuing sermon series, DIMENSIONS OF HOPE.
*Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary (1990), Vol. 29, p. 185.
– Pastor George Van Alstine