Jesus has become famous for His parables. Yahweh, not so much. This just shows how foolish we Christians can be, for Yahweh is not only a Master of metaphors, but He also likes to present His parables in 3D. Jesus just spoke His parables, but Yahweh presented His in a wide variety of forms. To many of His prophets, He presented His parables through vivid visions and hands on experiences that made them totally unforgettable. Once you experienced one of Yahweh’s parables, it was permanently lodged in your mind.
In this post, we’ll look at just one of the many fantastic parables that Yahweh told to His prophet Ezekiel. It begins with Ezekiel being suddenly whisked through the air by the Holy Spirit—a common experience for this particular prophet—and then being set down in the middle of a valley. But this wasn’t just any valley—it was a valley that was filled with dry, human bones. Creepy.
This is one of Yahweh’s interactive parables in which the metaphors come alive and are actually seen by Ezekiel. The prophet has been physically pulled into a fictional world where everything he sees and experiences is a metaphor for something else. First Ezekiel tells us how the Spirit has set him down in this creepy place. Then it sounds like the Spirit whisks him off his feet again, for Ezekiel is given a quick aerial tour of the whole valley floor.
He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. Then He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I replied, “Lord Yahweh, only You know.” (Eze. 37:2-3)
“Son of man” was Yahweh’s personal nickname for Ezekiel and it was like saying, “Hey, human.” When Yahweh asks if the dry bones can live, the prophet wisely avoids giving a logical answer. A bunch of dry bones bleaching in the sun seem about as dead as you can get, but here in Yahweh’s world of the fantastical, nothing is impossible. Ezekiel has had many wild visions by this time, and he’s learned to let God lead.
He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh! This is what the Lord Yahweh says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” (Eze. 37:4-6)
Yahweh is now telling Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones as if they could actually hear him. This isn’t the first time Yahweh has told His prophets to preach to inanimate objects. Ezekiel does as he’s told, telling the bones that God would build them back to life from the inside out. Yahweh says that He will wake the bones to life, then surround them with sinews, muscles, veins, organs, and finally skin. Then He’ll put the breath of life into them so that they will become conscious beings who know that He has brought them to life. What a wild thought!
So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. (Eze. 37:7-8)
Wow, what imagery! The valley fills with the sound of rattling as bones bump into each other in the search for their mates. Wrist bones want finger bones; thigh bones want knee caps; skulls search around for a handy spine. Once skeletons complete themselves, the rather graphic regrowth process begins, with the internal components of each body appearing right before the prophet’s eyes. Skin is the final step, and now Ezekiel is standing in a valley full of fresh looking corpses that are lying on top of each other. The bodies are fully formed, but not yet breathing.
He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord Yahweh says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet: a vast army. (Eze. 37:9-10)
This time Yahweh tells Ezekiel to prophesy to something he can’t even see: breath. Ezekiel does, and suddenly the breath of life—God’s breath—comes into all the corpses at once. They all stand up and there’s thousands of them. Ezekiel is suddenly standing in a massive army of zombies. This is more than a little freaky. It’s like being in a mannequin factory and suddenly having thousands of plastic bodies come to life all around you. No doubt Ezekiel’s pulse is racing very fast. Hopefully this parable is going to end on a positive note. Hopefully the next plot twist won’t be that all of the zombies suddenly turn and attack Ezekiel. But with Yahweh, nothing can be ruled out.
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’” (Eze. 37:11)
Every culture has its idioms. One of ancient Israel’s sayings was “Our bones are dried up.” That was their way of saying “Everything is hopeless.” At this point in her history, the nation of Israel has been utterly destroyed, her territory has been absorbed into the Babylonian Empire and her people have been dragged off to foreign countries throughout that empire as a way of preventing them from trying to take back their homeland. All of this happened because Yahweh was fed up with the unceasing rebellion of His chosen people. He warned them for centuries to repent, but they just couldn’t be bothered. He predicted in great detail just how terrible His punishment would be if the people didn’t repent, but they just didn’t listen. Now Ezekiel is stuck living as a slave in the city of Babylon–the capital of the empire that destroyed his nation–and he’s in a community of other Jews who were also survivors of their nation being destroyed.
To properly appreciate what Yahweh is doing with the vision, you have to understand how rebellious these Jews are even now. They’ve seen Yahweh make good on all of His threats to trash Israel and scatter her people. But is anyone repenting? No. Instead, the snarky rebels are going around griping about Yahweh, mocking Ezekiel, and throwing a perpetual pity party about how tough their lot is. They whine, “We have no hope. Yahweh has cut us off. He’s so mean. We’re such victims.” Blah, blah, blah, these people are impossibly defiant, and it is utterly astounding that Yahweh doesn’t just annihilate them all right then and there. But instead, He actually takes the time to give Ezekiel this vision and encourage the little snarkers that things won’t be this depressing forever. In seventy years, He’ll take them back to their homeland. Meanwhile, He’ll ensure that they don’t all get killed. Because you see, even though Israel has treated Him abominably ever since she began, He’s still offering her a chance to repent and get back into a right place with Him. Wow, talk about gracious.
Here in this vision of dry bones, Yahweh has made the saying that these Jews are using come to life. The Jews were saying to each other “Our bones are dried up,” so Yahweh has shown His prophet a literal pile of dried up bones. Then He gives His prophet a message of hope to pass on.
“Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord Yahweh says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Eze. 37:12-14)
We find the fulfillment of this promise in the book of Ezra when Yahweh inspires a ruler named Cyrus to let the Jews return to their homeland to rebuild. That’s all going to happen a long time from now. Meanwhile, here in Ezekiel, we’re getting a stunning picture of Yahweh encouraging souls who don’t deserve any encouragement at all. So why does He? Well, there are always a few good apples in the mix–guys like Ezekiel who really do care and who find their current situation very disheartening. When you’re sitting around in a foreign land feeling depressed, it’s easy to feel like God is going to be punishing your nation forever. But then Yahweh pipes up and inspires His people with dramatic imagery that gives them new reasons to hope. What a wonderful God.
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