The hand of the Lord was on 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. 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. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: 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; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 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, but there was no breath in them.
Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
- Ezekiel 37:1-10
Have you ever wondered what went through the minds of the people of the Bible? I do. As they stood in the presence of God, what was running through their minds? The story above is an excellent case in point. The Lord led Ezekiel to a valley full of bones that were so old, they were dried out, and then He asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones lives?” Just to be perfectly frank, if I were standing there, I know I would have thought, “Well, Lord, I am really glad there’s life after death because those are sure enough some seriously dead bones.”
I know I would have thought that because I often think it now. We find ourselves living in times of change – change not for good but change that destroys. People choose sides, and conflict and alienation increase across the nation, indeed, around the world. Though I find it encouraging to hear so many rational voices in the public square, one has to search for them, for many of our best and wisest thinkers have been pushed to the periphery of prominent discourse. They are the dissenting voices of truth and reason, while the chaotic powers of darkness appear to be strengthening, encompassing more and more, with little awareness by those being subsumed. With almost gleeful blindness, wrong is called right, dark is called light, and false is called true. Sometimes, I think we are moving into Orwell’s dystopian reality in which “War is peace; freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength,” – maybe moving rapidly. So, we retreat.
Knowing who to believe and where to take a stand is hard. Retreating to small enclaves of like-minded and trusted friends and family is a safe choice, one that will assure us the least betrayal and the greatest security. When everything else is tumultuous, havens of welcome and agreement where we are free of the dangers beyond seem obviously necessary. But my inclination is to think that what appears to be a haven may in fact turn out to be a valley where our souls curl up and die, and only dry bones are left behind.
Ezekiel lived in a time of turmoil, a time of transition and change, when the people maintained the semblance of religion, but had compromised their covenant with God repeatedly. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen, and Nebuchadnezzar was bent on decimating Judah and hauling the Jews to Babylon. In return, Ezekiel was uncompromising in his faithfulness to God and in the faithful proclamation of God’s word to His people.
For far too long, we Christians have floated along comfortably in society, agreeing to keep our beliefs to ourselves, accepting revised versions of what we know to be true, not challenging the removal of Christianity from our schools and our public life and work, and allowing our churches to become places of therapeutic study and group counseling cloaked in the language of Jesus. Oftentimes, we did this under the earnest guidance of our trained church leaders in short, little steps of compromise with worldliness and godlessness. However we got to where we are now, we find ourselves wholly unprepared to proclaim the Gospel amidst the forces of society around us. As John Wesley feared would happen, we have become a people “with the form of religion but not the power.” Across huge swaths of American Christianity, churches are filled with dry bones, and too many of us suffer from a “dry bones” faith. Where is the power of the Gospel today? Where is Jesus Christ glorified in our society? Where are the barren throes of cultural death giving way to abundant life? Simply put, we have a cookie cutter pattern of the Gospel with only the memory of the content and flavor.
Yet, we have not lost anything that God would not give us again – if we truly want it.
When the Lord asked His question, at least Ezekiel had enough sense not to tell God that the bones were too dry to live. We need to pray daily that we also have enough sense not to decide what God can and cannot do. Instead, we need to answer with the same faith Ezekiel had. “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.” Our God is sovereign, and we need to remember that fact. Moreover, we need to embrace His sovereignty personally. Whatever we see, whatever we hear, nothing compares to the power and goodness of our sovereign God. History is littered with the stories of people who sought supreme rule and dominance over others. Yet, every single contender to power fades before the One, True God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and He alone knows what life and good He can bring forth.
We don’t need to go to church and pray that our preferred political party wins. We don’t need to gather and reassure one another that our God wants our favored cause to win. What we need is to trust with Ezekiel that God alone knows what He can do. More importantly, we need to know that whatever God offers, it will be better than anything we would choose or even dream.
With our permission, our culture has made Christianity small, and we have acquiesced, expecting little of our little god. But that is not the God Who set Ezekiel in the midst of the valley of dry bones, and that is not the God Who conquered death in Jesus Christ. God is only as small as we expect Him to be, limited by our desires and our imagination, because He is a gentleman like that. If you don’t want much of God, then you don’t get much of God. This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost – the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon His people and throughout the earth, the birth of Christ’s church, the inauguration of Christ’s reign that will one day be complete. Do we really think the God Who did all of those things is outmatched by the assumed brilliance of those who claim power and authority today? I do not, not even for a second!
When Ezekiel prophesied as God told him to do, God restored bodies to those bones once more. Then, God asked Ezekiel to prophesy again, saying, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”That is you! The prophecy is for you, and you, and you, and me, and you, and you! We are the vast army called to life by the breath of God that moves across the earth, and we should never settle for anything less.
God alone knows what is possible. God alone knows what can be done, what He can do. If there’s a dearth of Christian life in our churches today, then we need to check to see if we are just dry bones of belief instead of living testimonies to Jesus Christ. God would do amazing things if we let His breath give us life. I don’t know what He would do. I only know that what He will do is infinitely better than anything we imagine.
Most of Ezekiel’s ministry was spent in Babylon because the vast army was not raised among the Jews, and Judah fell. David’s kingdom was not restored, at least, not as the Jews expected. If we lose the grace of God that covers us, it will not be because God is not able. Rather, if we lose the freedom of Christian life and worship, it will be because we believed God was not able. If we focus on the dry bones, we won’t remember that God is sovereign, and He alone knows what He can do.
Pray for Pentecost to bring new breath to you, for God’s Spirit to breathe life into you again and into all His people, until we are a vast army of goodness and godliness, an army of servants filled with compassion for a world lost in the darkness of vanity, until we are the army of peacemakers known as the children of God.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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