A Modern Day Ezehiel

Reflections on Ezekiel 37:1-14

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14 for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a promise that Israel as a nation, though dead in exile, will live again in their land through God’s life-giving spirit. Three times Israel is assured that through this vision they will know that “I am the Lord.”

1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore 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. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Introduction to the Book of Ezekiel (NRSV)

Ezekiel, a priest, preached to the Jewish people during the first part of their exile in Babylon. He was among the thousands of Jews who were deported from Jerusalem when the Babylonians defeated Judah in 597 B.C. His message, at least to begin with, was not one to comfort the exiles. Even the tragedy of their exile had not brought them back to faith in God. They felt sure they would soon be returned to Jerusalem, whether or not they turned to God.

Ezekiel told them their exile would last a long time, and that Jerusalem would be destroyed. In part, Ezekiel's message was an explanation of why God had allowed his people to be conquered. He pointed out that God had repeatedly withheld punishment the people deserved. They had finally been destroyed because they were guilty of all kinds of sin.

Later, Ezekiel encouraged the exiles to look forward to a time of restoration.  When some, believing they were helplessly suffering for the sins of their ancestors, became discouraged. Ezekiel preached the doctrine of individual responsibility.  God would deal with them on the basis of their own actions and not on the basis of what their ancestors did.

A long section, chapters 25-32, contains prophecies against the nations. The judgment on his own people will be followed by a reckoning with the world powers.  Justice will be done because God is both just and ruler of the earth.

The concluding section, Chapters 33-48, is Ezekiel's vision of the future with God in full control. God will give his people a change of heart so that they will abide in holiness. And God will set them on a cleansed land, in a new community centered on the temple, rather than the royal palace.

The Book of Ezekiel is full of unusual and often puzzling elements: visions, allegories, parables, proverbs. His language is similar to that of the Revelation to John. His messages are also very similar to those of Jeremiah, who probably had an influence on Ezekiel. In the face of impending judgment, both prophets hold out the possibility of hope because of the mercy of God.

(New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

Pastor Stover’s Notes and Commentary

    —with our current predicament in view

Ezekiel 37:1-14 would be considered a part of the concluding section, “Ezekiel’s vision of the future with God in full control.”  As we consider our current predicament and the rise of novel Corona Virus COVID-19, we would likely think that God is not in control. Does not God grant blessings and not curses?  The thought that God is not in control, however, is usually what people of faith think when it is they themselves, along with the whole human family, who are not in control. (I'm not sure I understand my own sentence, but I am leaving it alone.)

Suppose for a moment, we are the people of Ezekiel’s future: therefore, God is in control.  Then a very frightening thought follows: COVID-19 is God’s doing.  There have been modern and historic times when tragic events filled churches and other houses of worship with prayer and confession, the masses seeking God’s favor, protection, and restoration, more simply, mercy.  Yet, in our present need of mercy, help, and restoration, we are not able to enter sanctuaries ‘en masse.’  A prophet might see this as God preventing prayers for mercy, so as to allow God to judge the people, until the day comes when God’s wrath has burned out.  And, who can say when this may be?

In the story of the Flood, all humanity is destroyed, except for a remarkably few number, for the repopulation of the earth.  Animal species were reduced even further, to one reproductive couple, with some exception, those associated with modest temple sacrifices, as I recall.

If I may, let me carry this out then a bit further.  Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled in the here and now, as we are Ezekiel’s future. God is in control.  COVID-19 is of God’s doing and humanity is in a scramble, looking to their own understanding in order to regain control and avoid Covid’s illness and related death, not to mention the destruction of the economy.  See Tom  scramble. See Sally scramble. See Tom and Sally scramble!

In the final movement of today’s text, Ezekiel offers an imagine of resurrection: “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves.” 

The timing of this reading is now apparent: we are five Sundays into Lent and are being pointed to the death and resurrection of the Son of Man, Christ. 

Digression: My use of the phrase/name Son of Man here is sort of the sum total of all humanity, in other words, the whole of humanity.  Biblically, Son of Man is the “all in all,” residing and resonating in Christ. The crucified Jesus, is simply not the crucifixion of Jesus, but the crucifixion of Christ, Son of Man, All in All.  Paul writes, “When we were baptized into Christ Jesus we were baptized into his death.”

37:12 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. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord…

The death of all, and the bringing up from the grave, with restoration to the Land of Promise offers hope, not the hope of avoiding death, but hope that resides in knowing the LORD. I think this requires trust that God is in control, as Ezekiel proposed. 

That God is in control, here stated as “And you shall know that I am the Lord,” seems to be the point of the vision of dry bones coming to life. Having seen this restoration of bones, Ezekiel can with confidence speak the second part of God’s word for the nation and its resurrection.

While thinking how I might end this peace, let me tell you what just happened.  Needing time to think a bit more about what a still small voice within me has been saying, I decided to clean an upstairs bathroom, just across the hall from my home office. Cleaning bathrooms is a necessity, and also an irritation since my childhood!  It is humbling work, which sometimes, I do after great successes, just to humble myself before God has to humble me.  Silly, isn’t it.  But the roots of this peculiar practice is in my childhood.  As children, my brother and I had the putrid duty of emptying the “thunder pots” each morning.  I was in 8th grade before our household had a modern toilet and bath. That is a long time ago.

So, I finished cleaning the bathroom and decided to try to write the still small voice out of my head, but was interrupted by a phone call from Blandon Johnson regarding an email I had sent to him about a selling a pickup that has come into my possession. The sale of the pick up will offset the repair of Ingrid’s Jeep that allowed her to continue working, well, until COVID-19 shut down her place of work.

I’m not sure how the pickup conversation turned to prophetic interpretations of the virus, but Blandon shared a Facebook post offered by a friend who owns a business “across the street.”  Let me share it with you for your consideration.

“In just there short months, just like he did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, 'You want to worship athletes? I will shut down stadiums.  You want to worship pop musicians? I will shut down civic centers.  You want to worship actors and actresses? I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money? I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship me? I will make it where you can’t go to church.  If my people called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their ways, then from heaven I will hear them and forgive and I will heal the land.”

He concludes, “Maybe we don’t need a vaccine so much as time of isolation, isolation from the distractions of the world to experience a personal revival, where we focus on the only thing in the world that really matters, Jesus.”

In these words, this modern day Ezekiel speaks prophetic words affirming humility over hubris, reverence over self-glorification, and gratitude over impertinence.

Well, that is enough for today.

Pastor Kim Stover


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