1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. 3 Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” 4 He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. 6 I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army. 11 Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. 13 You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of the Lord.
Thesis: There is always hope when God breathes new life into the dry bones of our lives.
Lenten Series: Reflecting, Repenting and Returning to God
The Lenten Season is a time for reflection, repenting of our sin and returning to God.
Tracy and I often watch crime dramas. We like to guess who shot whom. 48 Hours is interesting because the detectives only have 48 hours to solve the case. After the first 48 hours clues are harder to find and figure out.
The series is based on forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology. The episodes are always about FBI cases concerning mysteries regarding human remains in the investigation of crimes.
Special Agent Seeley Booth is the FBI guy and he teams up with forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan. They, along with the other cast members are a quirky and entertaining bunch who are always up to their elbows in human remains.
A recent episode involved attempting to identify the victim after seven pairs of feet washed up on a beach on the U.S. – Canadian border. Six pairs of feet belonged to research cadavers from a nearby body farm… but to whom did the seventh pair of feet belong?
I wonder what Ezekiel thought when God set him down in the middle of a body farm of sorts in our story today.
I. Sometimes God shows up in unlikely places
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. Ezekiel 37:1-2
The story begins with the “hand of the Lord” taking Ezekiel and transporting him to a valley strewn with dry bones. God is the initiator of the action and the implication is that in bringing him “by the Spirit,” God was giving Ezekiel a vision.
In his vision, God did not take Ezekiel up onto a high mountain overlooking a valley strewn with bones, thus giving him a panoramic view of things. God took Ezekiel down into a valley and had him walk among the dry bones. That says something about the way God works. God made sure Ezekiel got an up-close and personal view of things. Then God took Ezekiel on a walking tour back and forth so he could see just how desiccated and disjointed the bones were.
Between the years of 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge regime under the leadership of Pol Pot killed and buried upwards to 2.5 million people in Cambodia. There are at least 20,000 identified mass grave sites. If you saw The Killing Fields you may recall the vivid images of skeletal remains exposed by heavy rainfall along the path of Dith Pran as he walked to escape the murderous Khmer Rouge.
Nearly every day we hear of another mass grave discovery along the U.S. – Mexican border region. The Christian Science Monitor reported that 60 bodies were discovered by authorities about 80 miles south of Brownsville, Texas… evidence of the ongoing conflict between Mexico’s violent drug gangs. (Sara Miller and Nacha Cattan, Staff Writer and Correspondent, Mexico mass graves add fuel to public’s anger over drug war, The Christian Science Monitor, April 7, 2011)
Recently the remains of dozens of Jews who were killed by Romanian troops during the holocaust were discovered in a mass grave. On April 6 the victims were reburied in a Jewish cemetery. (JTA, Holocaust Victims Reburied in Romanian Jewish Cemetery, April 6, 2011)
On April 9 the Herald Sun reported, “Mass Graves Discovered in Ivory Coast.” UN human rights investigators have found more than 100 bodies in the past 24 hours in western Ivory Coast… evidence of ethnically motivated killings. The story is repeated in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the African Continent.
In his vision, God took Ezekiel to just such a scene of horrific death of catastrophic proportions. The bones of the dead were strewn across the floor of a great valley. The victims were never buried. They were simply left where they fell to be picked clean by buzzards and for their bones to bleach in sun.
This is truly an unlikely thing for God to do. Ezekiel had been a priest in back in the day before Judah was carted off into exile to Babylon. Now he was a priest turned prophet. The time was around 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament Law of Moses was all Ezekiel had ever known… and God takes him to a valley strewn with the remains of the long dead.
The fact that God took him to a a plain or an expansive valley must have been shocking to Ezekiel. The place to which God took him was obviously not Israel and by all appearances it was ancient Mesopotamia… it looked very much like modern day Iraq. This had to be off-putting to Ezekiel and to any good Jew who believed God made his home in Jerusalem. What was God doing in a pagan place.
It was also troubling and unlikely scene in that in Leviticus 21:11 the law stated that a priest must not enter a place where there is a dead a dead body. In Numbers 19:10-20, in reference to someone dying in a tent, Anyone who enters the tent and someone is in it, i.e., a corpse, will be unclean for seven days. Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed or someone who has died a natural death or a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. Surely God would not take him into such a defiling place in such a pagan land.
Perhaps we might find some comfort in knowing that despite how far away and alienated we might feel… God shows up.
In our story, God asked Ezekiel an unlikely question.
II. Sometimes God asks unlikely questions.
He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.”
The question was not only an unlikely one, it was a leading question. Somehow it seems like the right answer would be to take a big leap of faith and say, “Yes! These bones can live!” But sometimes the answer to a question does not lie within us. Only God knows this one and Ezekiel knows it.
In Genesis we read the story of how God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into man the breath of life and man became a living being. We can buy into creating life. We can imagine bringing into being what has never been.
On December 13, 2009 60 Minutes did a special report on engineered ears. Scientists took healthy cells from a person and placed them in an ear mold and began to feed the cells. The cells grew into a fully engineered ear that the body would recognize as its own. In the future people who need an organ replacement may have their own organs regrown in a lab from their own cells.
It is one thing to create life and to make new life from living cells but how do you make what was once living and is now dead, live again?
Scholars believe they have determined the identity of the person who posed for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. They believe she was Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural Italy who married wealthy merchant. They believe she died in a convent in Florence, Italy and they plan is to begin searching for her bones later this month.
When they find her bones they plan to exhume her skeletal remains and using skull fragments, DNA analysis and forensic techniques, reconstruct her facial features to see if indeed, she is the Mona Lisa.
We can understand reconstructing facial feature from skeletal remains but that would just be a computer generated face shaped into a clay mold. There is not thought that in reconstructing her facial features that Mona Lisa would ever live again.
“Can these bones live again?”
If they could it would be called revivification. It would mean giving new life. It would mean returning to consciousness. It would mean the restoration of a life that was once very, very dead.
Perhaps we might find some comfort in that question as well. If God shows up in unlikely places then maybe God can being life into situations in our lives that appear to be too long dead to live again.
God sometimes shows up in unlikely places and asks unlikely questions and even asks us to do unlikely things..
III. Sometimes God asks us to do unlikely things.
Then [God] said to me, “Prophesy to these bones…” Ezekiel 37:4
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath…” Ezekiel 37:9
“Therefore prophesy and say to them…” Ezekiel 37:12
When i was younger, I attended a church in Monroe. The pastor had some health problems and he would often call on me to fill in for him on Sunday Morning. There were times that I was not quite prepared for this. However, I cannot imagine what Ezekiel must have thought when on the spur of the moment, God said to him, “Preach to these bones!”
I have often spoken to people who were dying about their relationship to God and their preparations going to be with the Lord. But I have never spoken to a dead person inquiring about their hope of heaven.
I’m sure Ezekiel thought something like, “You’ve got to be kidding me, God! What do you say to a bunch of bones?” Fortunately, with prophesying, God does the talking through the prophet, so Ezekiel just said what God said.”
The word “prophesy” can have either of two meanings. One, to prophesy may mean to “foretell” or predict what will happen. Or, to prophesy may mean to “forth-tell.” To forth-tell means to peach. So Ezekiel is asked to preach to the bones three different times.
A. Preach to the dry bones and the skeletal remains, i.e., the bones, began to rattle around and reattach themselves forming complete human skeletons which were then restored as flesh and blood bodies, but lifeless.
And he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin.’” Ezekiel 37:4-8
B. Preach to the breath of life and life was breathed into the lifeless bodies that then came to life and stood up.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; say to it, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breath into these slain, that they may live.’” Ezekiel 37:9-10
C. Preach to the Israelites and tell them that God is going to free them from exile and return them to their homeland.
“Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says, ‘O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.’” Ezek. 37:11-12
Of course we understand that when God pulled Ezekiel aside and gave him this vision and asked him to preach to a valley strewn with dry, dry bones that the bones were not really bones.
The bones symbolized the people of Israel who had been exiled and living in captivity in the land of Babylon for so long that they had lost all hope. They were separated from their God, their nation was essentially non-existent and would never be again. It was not that they were literally dead but they felt dead to God. The felt lost to God. They were spiritually dried up and the life had gone out of them.
So God sent Ezekiel to tell them, that despite the fact that they were feeling cut-off and without even a smidgen of hope, God would breath new life into them and they would live again and they would return to their homeland.
Perhaps it is good that we understand that God sometimes shows up in unlikely places, asks unlikely questions and then tells us that he is going to do something pretty spectacular and do an unlikely thing in our lives, giving us a new hope.
And why does God do this? “Then you will know that I, the Lord have spoken and I have done it,” declares the Lord.
I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”
IV. Sometimes God asks us to have unlikely hope.
“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. They you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
If this story was of encouragement to those people back then, I wonder if it might be of encouragement to us here and now. If their bones could live again maybe our bones can live again. Maybe God can breath new life into the barrenness of our lives and we can restore what once was by the grace of God.
Gary Williams discovered a Beetle cat in an old boat yard in the village of Stonington, Maine. It was amidst the clutter of many other long abandoned boats left to rot. The Beetle cat was a small day-sailer, 12’6” long and 6’ wide. It was perfect for learning to sail and it was a thing of beauty to see cutting across the waves. But this Beetle cat was in ruins and the question was, “ Can this Beetle cat live again?”
Gary Williams restored the Beetle cat from stem to stern and eventually the Beetle cat took shape and when finished was actually better built that when she was new.
But before the Beetle cat could sail, there had to be wind. It took wind for the Beetle cat to live again. And it takes the breath of life… it takes the wind of God’s Spirit to blow into our lives. It takes the wind of God to beathe the breath of life into our dry bones to make us live again.
The Lenten Season lesson for us today is to reflect and ask the searching question, what in my life is dry and desiccated? What in my life makes me feel cut-off from God? And then we bring our dry bones to God and we ask, “Can these bones live again?”
And we hear God say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breath into these dry bones that they may live.”