Then he said to me, "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, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:11-14; ESV)
Ezekiel's famous vision of the valley of dry bones captures the heart of the entire Bible. The story of the Bible is the story of God's solution to the greatest of all human problems: death. Those familiar with the Scriptures know that the Bible addresses more than just this one issue, but this is the theme that drives everything else. Its early chapters reveal to us how we got into this predicament in the first place. Human beings were not designed to die, but due to our first parents' rebellion against God, death and everything associated with death entered the human experience. We later read how God called Abraham to be the channel through which life would be offered to the nations of the world. The family that God purposely developed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was God's chosen vessel to make himself known to the world, that in the end death would be eradicated.
Israel was not chosen because of superior moral or spiritual qualities, but rather to demonstrate the depths of the predicament in which we all find ourselves. Over and over again Abraham's natural descendants illustrate the human race's need of deliverance. The foundational event in Israel's history that is the most vivid picture of this is Pesach (English: Passover), which is celebrated this week. The chosen people of God, having been led by God to Egypt to save them from starvation, eventually find themselves in oppressive bondage in their adopted land. Helpless and oppressed, God powerfully rescues them in order to lead them to possess the land of promise.
In spite of this, the history of Israel continued to demonstrate human beings' inability to free ourselves from the greater oppression, death, which is fundamentally a spiritual problem, since it arises from rebellion against God and our resulting alienation from him.
By Ezekiel's day Israel had lost hope. The nation was scattered and exiled. The symbol of God's presence, the Temple, was on the brink of destruction. Israel had miserably failed to be the kingdom of priests that God called them to be.
Ezekiel's vision of Israel as a pile of old dry bones was an appropriate description of Israel's condition – a people not just dead, but long dead. Yet the vision was not given to describe their final condition, however, but rather as a message of hope.
God's intention for Israel was not to leave them in this state. He promised to do the impossible: gather and restore a lifeless nation. But even though Israel has been miraculously restored to the Land twice since Ezekiel's day, the nation has yet to experience the fullness of this and the other prophetic visions of Hebrew Scripture. While Israel's survival and return to the Land is truly remarkable, there is still more to come. The picture of resurrection in this passage is a foretaste of the overall Jewish and biblical expectation of the eventual eradication of death.
Next week, God willing, we will look at how the Messiah confirms this expectation.