Our reading for this Tuesday, February 12, 2019 is Ezekiel 37. 1-6.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 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. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'” –NIV
Oh I hope you remember this vision from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. It was from this passage the Negro Spiritual, “Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones” comes from. The slaves found within this passage the hope their dried up and defeated lives could yet live. The prophet applied the passage to the circumstance of his day when he saw the decay of Jerusalem and the Jewish culture. He lived to see the destruction of the city of God and suffered with his people in their exile to Babylonian Empire. This vision given to Ezekiel while in exile was intended by God to provide his prophet and the people hope that God would one day restore the nation and the capital.
Historically we can study the battles of history from a distance and recognize concepts and principles while neglecting the cost in actual human suffering. Each of the bones of Ezekiel’s vision represented a real human life. We know that with faith in Christ all those die will yet live, being raised at the coming of Christ.
Whether the prophet understood each life would eventually be physically raised from the grave we cannot be certain, though we can be fairly confident he interpreted his vision as a promise God would restore the nation. It is our Christian belief that while all shall be raised each person will judged for what they did in life, the unjust sentenced to a second death and the redeemed raised to everlasting life.
The message transcend this historical situation to other resurrections, we face many deaths during our lives – the death of loved ones and the death of dreams and expectations for life. We can be led by circumstance and consequence to an existential death and discover depression and despair. We may arrive at the place where we lose hope for anything redemptive or some reversal of fortune. Faith in Christ provides us with hope, not only of our physical resurrection after death but the resurrection of opportunity to make healthier choices and life more productive lives.
While this is true the vision also gives us some guidance regarding how this comes about. First, the vision of real redemption comes from the promise of God appropriated by faith. God gives the vision to us; it is not self-produced. Most hope based on our human effort leads to defeat and despair while those who hope in an all-knowing and all-powerful God are assured the promise will come to reality while we live out our hopes with God.
Second, realistic hope requires our participation. The prophet is asked by God if the valley of bones he saw could live. The prophet responded with weak trust, saying, “only you know God!” well, we can also know whether a dream or a hope is realistic. We choose to accept hope and live hopefully.
Third, the bones come together bone upon bone. They do not just appear. Similarly we have to work with the bare bones we are given. With God’s direction we may structurally put the pieces of our lives together, yet this is only the beginning. We have the power to define our plans but even when we have thorough our dreams will not to life. The bones of Ezekiel’s vision require sinew and flesh. Some people stop at building the foundation for change but our plans guided by God must followed upon. The energy to do so must come for God for the pull towards return to old ways is powerful.
Our efforts, even those guided by good intentions will fail unless the breath of life is breathed into them. The Spirit of God is the breath we need. He breathed into the first humans and they came to life. We can go through the motions and still miss success because of our limited understanding and power. In God we find limitless understanding and power. Make our plans as best as we can we most likely are doomed to defeat without God infusing them with his power. Getting and staying close to God, following the directions his Spirit will reveal is the only way we can confirm the sentiment of the Apostle Paul when he said, “I can do all things through Christ who is my strength.” (Philippians 4.13)