Ezekiel 37-Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones!
Bible Background: Ezekiel was a priest/prophet who was taken to Babylon with the first group of exiles from Jerusalem, about 597 B.C.E. His writings are strange, vivid, and complex. (We identify the genre as “apocalyptic” literature, like much of Daniel, and like Revelation.) The first 33 chapters of Ezekiel are mostly scorching words of judgement on Judah and Israel. When Jerusalem (and the Temple) are destroyed in 587 B.C.E. and a larger group is taken into exile, he turns to a message of hope. His vision of a valley of dry bones is perhaps the most memorable part of the book. It is ultimately a message of hope, and a promise that God will supply his Spirit to a despairing people.
Digging Deeper: 1. When we think of the desperation of the exiles, it wasn’t just their physical suffering. It was that their entire world had fallen apart. No more beloved land/city. No more temple! No hope of freedom. And even this: Has God abandoned us? Or is the god of the Babylonians stronger than YAHWEH? When has it felt like your world had fallen apart?
2. “Bones” are often a reference to our innermost being in scripture. Adam is thrilled that Eve is “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!” Several of the Psalms talk about “my bones-are wasting away; shaking with terror; burning like a furnace.” This is a vision Ezekiel reports, not an actual old battlefield full of dry old bones, but the imagery is powerful. “Can these bones live?” Well, of course not….except that with God, all things are possible, right?
3. It’s interesting that, though God could indeed raise ‘dem bones’ to life, God doesn’t act without Ezekiel’s help! Ezekiel takes a leap of faith and speaks to the bones-which come together; and then to the ‘wind’-which breathes life into them. The Hebrew word ruach, used frequently here, can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit”. It’s like God is breathing into these bones the breath of life! It’s like the risen Jesus “breathing the Holy Spirit” on his surprised and fearful disciples in John 20.
4. The explanation to the vision is that the dry bones represent the “whole house of Israel”, who feel ‘dead’, ‘cut off’ from God and from life. The promise, the hope is that “I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live!…And you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act!” It’s partly about giving people the hope of a new future, and it’s also about God demonstrating that He is still God! (And that the god of the Babylonians is nothing in comparison to YAHWEH!)
5. This story in Advent invites us to take a good, hard, look at those places in our lives where all hope seems lost-is it a relationship? Health? A troubled friend or family member? Addiction? Depression? Guilt? Shame? Fear? And we’re to imagine that there is a real possibility that the Spirit could ‘breathe’ new hope and possibility into that hopeless situation!
This is also for those things in the world that seem so far gone, as to be out of the realm of possibility: Peace on earth? Justice and wholeness for all people? Reconciliation between races and religions? Between people on the ‘left’ and those on the ‘right’? Hopes for addressing some of the world’s more difficult problems like the pandemic? The health of the planet? The needs of refugees?
6. This story need not be a scary story to younger kids, if you teach them the great old song about: “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone; the ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone…” (Dem Bones, you can find on YouTube.) Talk about how with God, all things are possible!