(Read once to be introduced to the series. After that skip this to go right to the good stuff!)Â
Welcome to my Devotions Series. This series features devotions based on the Scriptures of the Common Lectionary. The series is being prepared for eventual and hopeful print publication.
By going to my Main Article List you can also find the complete collection posted on Gather, including the additional readings not posted to any groups.
The series is also posted and regularly updated on myÂ official blog: http://www.cedwardsellner.blogspot.com/
You can find a host of additional information, online resources and links to my other work there. This includes a cross-referenced Archive that lists the various Sundays, but then also lists all currently published Devotions by their sequence in Scripture as well as a Topical Index.
You can go directly to the Devotions: Archive by clicking here.
Each Scripture is also hyperlinked to the online Bible at Bible Gateway in the NIV version I used in preparing the series.
As I mentioned this series is being prepared for print publication, so I of course would welcome any and all feedback, either through Gather, or directly to email@example.com
Lectionary Series Year A: Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Read it on Bible Gateway)
This passage is a classic of Scripture and perhaps one of the most intense prophetic visions recorded in the Hebrew Testament. First, let's get a little bit of the historical context so we can fully appreciate this story.
Ezekiel was a prophet who began his ministry around 593 BCE and preached and prophesied for 22 years, until 571 BCE. His message was one we see in other prophets in Scripture, a split message of Judgment from God, followed by hope and promised redemption, also from God. However, Ezekiel was also somewhat unique amongst prophets as that his very life often became a reflection of the prophecies God gave him. For example, when he was to prophecy the loss of Jerusalem, Ezekiel personally suffered the loss of his wife who died. He was then instructed to not mourn her publicly, to show the people they should not mourn the loss of the city (Ezekiel 24:15-27). Many other times, Ezekiel lived his prophecy and we find in him and his writings a tragic, yet powerful testimony.
The time Ezekiel lived was a significant time in the history of Israel. There was a tremendous amount of political and social upheaval taking place, which was redrawing the lines of kingdom and empire, land and nation, people and culture on many levels. Israel as a kingdom was wiped away, the people were put in exile and during Ezekiel's life, as mentioned above, the city of Jerusalem was lost and the Temple was destroyed. For a people who had spent generations striving to make a home for themselves and who had labored hard to bring the Temple into being, a place which became their holy center of worship, it was a spiritually and emotionally devastating period.
The first several years of Ezekiel's prophetic life was focused on warning of the impending fall of Jerusalem. Ezekiel bore the difficult job of sharing God's judgment and wrath against the people which would lead to the destruction of all they had built. However, once that loss took place, Ezekiel's message quickly shifted into one of hope and promise of deliverance. This passage falls fairly close to that transition that takes place in chapter 33.
So we come to the Valley of Dry Bones.
With our brief historical overview, perhaps we can now better appreciate the depth of meaning in this passage. This vision was sent to Ezekiel as a way of confirming what God could accomplish. The people were facing a spiritual, emotional, and deeply personal, yet cultural tragedy. As a whole, they would have been shattered. Imagine losing your home, not just the home itself, but your community as a whole, your place of worship, your favorite places to eat, shop, relax, and what if everyone you knew had lost the same and all of you were transplanted into a strange place? Then imagine learning that not only had you lost those places by being forced to move, but now that they had been utterly destroyed and were left to ruin?
In this passage, we learn that indeed, the people, while literally still alive, most likely could easily identify with those dry bones. They no doubt, by this point, felt dead inside, destroyed, broken, shattered, ruined and left to rot. The powerful images of these bones show us not just someone dead, but long dead. Its not just one, but many, indeed, thousands, all left to utter ruin, their breath taken out of them, all they held sacred and special, wiped away.
But then, with God's intervention, they are brought to life.
Ezekiel is first shone the full extent of the loss. He describes being brought to the valley, and then moving through it, in order that he might grasp the extent of this loss, both in numbers, as well as time dead. He repeats in various ways the numbers in the thousands, that the bones were not fresh corpses, but instead, were dry, left long enough that all flesh were gone from them. There is an image here that God wanted to make a point...not only are they dead...they are REALLY dead. This was to show the depth of loss the people were feeling, a numbness, a total loss of hope and life. However, it was also to show the power of God to overcome even this decay to bring new life.
In the vision God works the miracle not through direct action, but through Ezekiel. This is important in the vision on two levels. First, it provides instruction to Ezekiel, this is the message you must take, this is what you must share and the very act of your prophesying the coming redemption and healing will ensure it will come to pass. Second, it was no doubt a re-enforcement of the message to the people that these words and the deeds that would spring from them were just as much of God as the prior prophesy had been.
Christians might trip over the 'Son of Man' reference in verse 3 and think, wait, isn't that Jesus? Well, yes, in the Gospels, Jesus is often referred to as the Son of Man, but the term itself is a term used to refer to, well, any human who is a... son of man. The term predated Jesus by several centuries and was applied to others. However, it would be agreed by most that when the term was applied to Jesus, it took on a specialized meaning.
On a final note, we see here an image which parallels the very creation of humanity in Genesis. God first reforms the bodies of the dead, giving them tendon, muscle and flesh, just as Adam is first given form from the dust. It is a separate act of healing that brings the four winds to give them breath and ultimately life. The two dimensions in the context of the vision are the restoration not only of the body, but of the spirit. In terms of its interpretation, it could be seen to mean that God would restore the people of Israel physically, in other words, return them to their promised land, as well as spiritually, as in restoring the Temple, as well as, perhaps, their very spiritual being, which may have seemed 'dead' to them literally.
All in all this is a powerful message of hope, of promise and of restoration and healing. Hopefully in it, we can also hear the promise of God even when we may feel that we have been reduced to dry bones.
For the complete listing of our Devotions, see our Devotions Archive