Pentecost • Ezekiel 37:1–14 • May 27, 2012
By Robert W. Weise
New Life and New Hope in Christ
General Comments: During my tenure as a parish pastor and currently serving as an interim pastor, I hear, “What’s the use? This world is turned upside down. The economy is in a tailspin, gas prices are going up along with many food items, power companies are charging more, and political correctness is king. This world is going to the ‘dogs.’” Hopelessness abounds in this sin-filled world. All seems to be lost in such a sin-filled world. Despair, desolation, and depression appear to be on life’s agenda, even for those who seem to be doing financially well, making ends meet. One person recently told me, “We need to pump some new life and some new hope into this church!”
All is not lost, and new life and new hope is on the way, says Ezekiel. For all Christians living in this world driven by greed and the ongoing moral necrosis of society, this Pentecost text brings the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit as one who restores and sustains by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now comes Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones. It’s not a horror movie; it is about the restoring and uniting power of the Spirit of God through the means of grace.
The people of Israel were at their wits end. Suffering in their captivity from arrogance, pride, self-conceit, and, in general, their refusal to believe in their Creator God, they appeared reluctant to hear the words of the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel; words that would bring them from their death of despair and hopelessness to a new life and new hope by the power of God’s Spirit: the power of the gospel to bring the dead in their trespasses and sins to the new life in Christ Jesus. He restores and he reunites! His grace in action!
Since I am not an Old Testament exegete, I will not presume to present an exhausting verse-by-verse explanation. As a parish pastor, I have always found this text to be the quintessential Pentecost text. Obviously, verses 1–10 contain the vision, and verses 11–14 give the interpretation. Ezekiel is taken from his home to a valley that contains a myriad of dead bodies. These bodies have decayed into nothing but bones. They were lying on the surface, scattered everywhere, all around. Everywhere he looked and stood, there was nothing but dry bones. Yahweh asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
The power of God’s word brought these dead bones together with all of the physical identification needed to identify them as living human beings: sinews and flesh. His divine breath brought them to life and they stood. These dry bones were reanimated to life together in fellowship, again.
Dr. Horace Hummel writes regarding the use of “breath” in verses 8–10: The Holy “Spirit” is not appropriate as a translation in 37:9–10, but must be in the picture implicitly. As a person’s body is “dust from the earth” (Gn 2:7), his breath is the same element as the wind or air that covers the earth. But no combination of the two will produce life without God’s Spirit providing the life (see Job 33:4). “Breath” resonates with the verb וּפְחִ֛י (Qal feminine singular imperative of הפנ), “breathe, blow” (Ez 37:9), the same verb used for God “breathing” the breath of life into man in Genesis 2:7.
Those dry bones were restored to new life and new hope. When Israel believes that it’s the end for them, that all is lost, and that they are cut off from the Lord (v. 11), God speaks his words of restoration and hope. He will put his Spirit within them, and they shall be restored to their land and live in hope and joy. He united and he restored the whole house of Israel. All hope is not lost in their hopelessness. God speaks and his word accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it (see Is 55:6–13).
Application: We hear and see that people who believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, are laughed at, persecuted, and murdered. His church is under constant assault from Satan and his demons. With all of the political correctness permeating theological language, I recently heard a television commentator say that the Christian community better get with the times. And so, we take a bite from the world and the sinful flesh, cutting off ourselves from Yahweh Sabaoth. We all know hopelessness and despair and, being cut off from Jesus in our sinful lives. Yet, he reunites and restores his church on earth.
As the people of Israel were dead in their trespasses and sins, so we, too, who are dead in our trespasses and sins, are brought back from death to life in Christ Jesus. The Valley of the Dry Bones reminds me of Psalm 23, especially verse 4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
As I said earlier, his grace gives us new life and new hope in Christ whose dead bones and body were resurrected to life so that we have the sure and certain hope of eternal life with him in the new heaven and the new earth. Our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought us from death to life. Through Holy Baptism, we are all relatives of one another in Christ. We do not stand alone; we stand together in Jesus Christ for fruitful labor and service. “Then you shall know that I am the Yahweh; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares Yahweh” (Ez 37:14).
Horace D. Hummel, Ezekiel 21–48, Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 1068.