The Valley of Dry Bones

Let's Talk About Ezekiel

I’m going to be honest. I have always found Ezekiel to be incredibly strange. Perhaps for that reason, I tend to only read the parts of Ezekiel that I am familiar with. The parts that make sense to me. The ones that move me in some way (for example, Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones–more on this in a moment). But the truth is that Ezekiel is not strange or weird (okay, maybe he is a little bit). Truly, he is simply burdened with the message that God has shared with him. He is dedicated to the one who has called him. God gives him something to say, and Ezekiel cannot help but to be faithful and obedient. 

In Ezekiel 2 and 3, God shares his word with Ezekiel. It is to be the word that Ezekiel then takes to God’s people and gives to them. It is a word of rebuke and one in which God seeks the repentance of the people–that they would turn back to him. Ultimately, this is God’s message to the people in all of the prophets, and yet it is often misunderstood, neglected, or flat-out ignored. But in Ezekiel 2:8-3:4, God shares his word in a little bit of a strange way. 

Ezekiel encounters the voice of God, and God tells Ezekiel to eat the scroll that he sees before him. This scroll has the words of God on them. Words of rebuke for the faithlessness of the people and the idolatry of the people. Words that desire mercy and justice for those who are poor and on the margins. Words that desire relationship-repairing-repentance. And Ezekiel eats the scroll! He digests it, and he says that the message of God is as sweet as honey to him. 

Now, I am guessing that this is a bit of metaphorical language. Whether Ezekiel ever literally ate a scroll that appeared to him from an almost disembodied hand, I do not know, and frankly I don’t think it changes the main thrust of the story. Because the story isn’t really about the hand, the scroll, or the eating. It’s about the words that are on the scroll. The words that Ezekiel will speak to the people who God is sending him to. The words that show God’s innermost desire for the created world and the people of Israel. 

Which brings me to Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones. Of course, this is probably the most well known passage from Ezekiel, and one that I do tend to gravitate toward when I think of this book (rather than some of the other, more “obscure” passages that are contained in this book–which, by the way, are only obscure because I don’t read them very often). 

In Ezekiel 37, God asks Ezekiel to prophesy to bring a valley of bones back to life. As Ezekiel prophesies, the bones begin to rattle and join together. Muscles, tendons, and skin begin to miraculously reappear on the skeletons, and eventually, Ezekiel also prophesies for the wind, the breath, to return to these newly reformed bodies. It’s a miraculous story (and also, to go along with my theme of thinking this book and Ezekiel’s prophecies strange, utterly weird)! I have no frame of reference for anything like this happening in my life or in history outside of this book. And yet, this story, just like the one of Ezekiel’s calling, reveals God’s heart and innermost desire, I think. 

God is recreating and rejoining the people whom he has created to himself. The very same people who have turned away from God. The ones who have trusted in themselves or in foreign nations to do what only God could truly do: provide life abundantly. And here, in Ezekiel 37, we see that God takes what is dead–what has no life in it–and restores it. He gives the bones of the nation of Israel new life. And not only that, but God also promises to provide for this newly formed and recreated people. The land will be fertile (v.14) and God will bring peace (shalom) to them (v. 26). There will be completeness or wholeness to this people. There won’t be want for anything. God will dwell with the people, and they will be his. He will be theirs. 

It’s a beautiful image. An image that is at the heart of God. It is the innermost desire for God with the creation–for all to be well. 

Today, we pray for the same. We join with God’s heart language, the words that were on the scroll that Ezekiel ate and tasted as sweet, and the words that brought new life where before there was only death. The words that say, “With God, all shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”*

* (These words are taken from a prayer of Julian of Norwich and adapted for this blog.)