Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. (Ezek. 37:12)
Whenever I hear this story of dry bones, images from the great old Westerns flash across my eyes. I see a desert with a dusty brown floor with fissures created by the ground separating itself in searching for water. I look up and there are no clouds, only the beating rays of a harsh sun which burns the just and the unjust. Scanning for anywhere to hide, I see no vegetation, no plants at all. It is as dead and lifeless as you can imagine.
As Ezekiel wanders on with God leading him, the images change to include the scorched skeletons of Israelites long ago butchered by seemingly more powerful foes. Ezekiel had to have done a double take. Most assuredly we would have, for it’s one thing to see the dry and cracked skull of a bull in those westerns, it’s quite another to meander among a maze of calcified remains.
But God has a reason to bring this ritually pure priest into a compromising situation. These bones are all of Israel, for they are a people crying out “‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’” They are a people who would long to be in the spiritual doldrums for there one still has the hope of wind. They are sapped of all the faith marrow which gives them life.
Even after God causes sinews, muscle, and skin on those bones, they are not alive. They have the appearance of life, but they more wander around like zombies without direction. That’s because they don’t have breath/wind/spirit. Ezekiel plays with the Hebrew word ruah here because it can mean any of the three. It’s the same word used to describe God’s Spirit hovering over the waters of chaos before time began and again when God breathed life into the first of us. God’s Spirit gives us life beyond simple physicality.
God is the one who gives us life. That is what the Divine One is saying to Ezekiel. God offers him and his people hope that even when they are in a hopeless place, God’s Spirit breathes life again. Even when they feel like giving up and throwing in the towel God’s Spirit breathes life again. Even when they feel cut-off from everything they know and death seems like a foregone conclusion, God’s Spirit breathes life again.
Can these bones live? Yes! Because God’s Spirit breathes life again, even in the valley of the shadow of death.