Easter in the Valley of the Dry Bones
To read the prophet Ezekiel is like walking into someone’s hallucinations. Once he introduces himself in the first chapter and tells us who he is, when he lived, and where, he then wastes no time in introducing us to a God who completely disorients him and us too. Although it might be helpful here to describe what Ezekiel saw in his vision of God, it would be simpler if you simply picked up your Bible and read it for yourself (Ezekiel 1:4-3:15). (It’s worth the effort, by the way; the passage vividly reminds us that God is way beyond our understanding!)
Fortunately, the same God who disorients Ezekiel, then re-orients him by calling him to be a prophet: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). If the God who revealed Himself to Ezekiel is beyond our understanding, He reveals His purposes in language we can understand—and obey.
Ezekiel’s visions are gripping and vivid, even if you don’t completely understand what he sees. But, for me, one of his visions stands out above all the others for its vividness, oddness, and powerful encouragement, and that is his vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. If there is an apocalyptic vision for Easter, this is it.
The vision begins with God taking Ezekiel “in the Spirit” to a valley that is filled from one end of the other with dry bones. God asks him, “Can these bones live?” And Ezekiel replies, cautiously and wisely, “O Lord God, you know.” God then tells him to “prophesy over these bones” so that God will cause his Spirit (or breath) to enter them and cause them to live again. Ezekiel obeys, and the bones join together “bone to bone” in a great rattling sound, and flesh covers the bones, but they are still not alive. God calls Ezekiel to prophesy again, this time to the breath, or wind. Again, Ezekiel speaks, “and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).
What makes this vision such a powerful encouragement for us is God’s explanation of it:
“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live . . . “(Ezekiel 37:11-14)
This vision vividly illustrates the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection for us. In Ephesians, Paul reminds us “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-6).
Paul’s words come alive in Ezekiel’s vision. In relation to God, we are dead; we have no hope of making ourselves live with God’s life. But, God, who is “rich in mercy,” causes the Spirit of His risen Son to blow upon us, so that we live. Rather than a prophet prophesying to the dead, dry bones, we have One who has conquered death and risen from it, “so that we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
What God did in Ezekiel’s vision, He did in Jesus. Where there was no hope, God gave hope. Where there was nothing but death, God gave life. Because Jesus is the same, “yesterday, today and forever,” that hope is ours, and it’s no hallucination, either.