Today we will conclude our look at the prophet Ezekiel. Like all the other books we have covered we will leave so much more to be discussed. We have looked at the judgement against Israel and Judah and discovered the reasons for the judgement. One of the main points in most, if not all of these books of the prophets is that God is very angry. But, along with the judgement comes a promise of hope. Chapters 25-48 deal with Judah's hope and restoration. There are several speeches found within these chapters that were delivered against Israel's enemies. These oracles reaffirm God's justice. Chapters 33-39 illustrate that God is the good shepherd who will rescue his sheep from disaster. Today, I want to look at one of my favorite passages from Ezekiel.
"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. 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?" (Ez. 37:1-3)
The visual here is fantastic and for me a very real one. Most of us have walked through a graveyard at one time or another. When I go home to Missouri I always try to visit two particular cemeteries. There is the cemetery in Thornfield about three miles from my home. I walk around the monuments and remember the folks buried there with great fondness. There is one grave in particular that I visit and that is the grave of Rhonda Donley. Every year on my birthday I think of her. It is with great humility that I celebrate each birthday, and realize that so many, just like Rhonda never reached the age of twenty. She was the first of my classmates to die. And way too soon. Then I go to the cemetery in Lutie, Missouri. It's a little village not far from another little village called Theodosia. It is there that many spend days and weeks camped out by the lake. I walk around this cemetery not necessarily reminiscing about friends, but honoring my family. This is our family cemetery. All my grandparents are buried here, and so is my Dad. Long ago I helped my grandmother mark off some graves so that more family could be buried in this location.
Graveyards are, for me, peaceful places. But, they are also places where the dead have been buried. Ezekiel is not necessarily in a graveyard, he is in a boneyard. He walks around this boneyard just as I would a graveyard. Imagine all these bones laying around. Ezekiel is asked: "Do you think these bones can live again?" Now, later in the New Testament Jesus arrives at a graveyard near Bethany. His friend Lazarus has been dead for four days. When he arrives, the sister of Lazarus whose name was Martha confronted Jesus for being late. This is where Jesus says the very well known words: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) In each case God/Jesus asks a similar question: "What do you think?" He asks Ezekiel: "can these bones live?" Jesus asks Martha: "Do you believe what I am telling you?" (paraphrased)
Years ago, when I was just a little boy I attended the funeral of my great-grandmother Cora Swearengin. I still remember standing by her grave as she was being lowered into the ground. (Usually the family is escorted away now before internment) Standing beside me was my cousin Lana who said, "There goes Grandma." Now, if someone would have asked me, "Do you think she will live again?" I would have probably answered: "No." But, Ezekiel leaves it all to God: "O Sovereign Lord, you alone know." (Ez. 37:3b)
Picture in your mind this scene. Bones are lying everywhere. We are told that there are many of them and that they are dry. The fact they are dry indicates to us that there is no life in them at all and their is no marrow. It also tells us they have been there for a long time. But, with this perhaps we can realize something else. I grew up on a farm where we raised cattle. Every so often a cow would die for whatever reason. My dad would pull the cow to the top of the hill out of the way. Over time this area became the "cow graveyard." Except we didn't bury the deceased. Bones collected through the years of many cows who met their demise. We also had coyotes, and other critters. The bones of a cow would not necessarily be all together. They would be scattered. So, the bones of Cow #1 might be mixed in with the bones of Cow #2, 3,4,5, etc. They were not just dry, but scattered. I can picture these bones being the same way.
The situation that Ezekiel views is hopeless. There is no way that these bones can live! This is used to illustrate the hopelessness that the people in exile are feeling. "They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off." (Ez. 37:11b) However, God says to Ezekiel; "Prophecy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!...I will make breath enter you and you will come to life." (Ez. 37:4) God promises to give every bit of life back to the bones; skin, flesh and tendons...everything! God is telling the people through the prophet that they will return home and will settle the land. This is almost like what takes place in John's gospel at the gravesite of Lazarus. There Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. But, here in Ezekiel I think that what we see is also reminiscent of the Creation story in Genesis, chapter two, where God breaths into the nostrils of Adam and life enters his body.
So, this is a promise of hope. The book continues with more promises including a new temple to be made that will be in the center of the nation, both physically and spiritually. In other words God will be in the middle of the people. There is also the threat that comes from Gog and Magog (chapters 38-39). These forces have been the topic of many modern "books on prophecy" as "experts" try to tell us who they are and just how everything is going to happen. And, they usually try to tell us when it will happen, which is news that God didn't even release to his Son, Jesus. Who are Gog and Magog? Well, they are certainly the incarnation of evil and are caricatures of all Israel's enemies combined who come from the North seeking to wipe out Israel. God, however, will be victorious.
Monday we will begin looking at the Book of Daniel. Then, after we finish Daniel we will look at the "minor prophets." (minor simply because of their length) We have a great deal of ground left to cover in the Old Testament, but I am hoping to get to the New Testament by Christmas. Join me Monday, but until then have a great weekend. God Bless! -Pastor Rick