Breath of Life

Desert, sand, rock, sky...all the same drab yellow

As our mentor team gathered recently for training and preparation for the upcoming session season, we worked through a passage of Scripture together. This is what was shared:

As I was growing up in the church, this passage in Ezekiel 37 is one that was not often preached about, but when it was, it always stuck out to me as strange. As time progressed, I’ve heard other messages about it and have come to understand it a little more, however, I still found it a bit odd. And, yet, it’s a passage that God has continually set before me and laid on my heart over and over again for the last few months. So, I began to pray about it, read the words in different translations, and study commentaries and devotional responses on it - all to try to understand it, to grasp the meaning. As I did, God had much to show me about who He is, about my own life, and about the ministry He has called me to. So, we are going to look at this passage together, and I ask that you allow me to share with you all that I have been learning.

As we dive into Ezekiel 37, we first need to consider the context for this passage, because as our pastor often says, Context is Everything. Ezekiel is one of the Hebrew prophets writing during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC. This is the time of the Diaspora - when the Hebrew people were scattered and displaced from their homeland. They are far from home, and they feel far from God - and, as we will see in this passage, they felt dried up, dead, cut off, and without hope.

In the beginning of chapter 37, Ezekiel is in the middle of a valley full of bones. It was a valley of death (a literal Death Valley) as the bones covered the entire floor of this valley. The bones were “very dry” - meaning, they had been there for a while, exposed to the elements and bleached white by the sun. So, these bones were not just dead, they were VERY dead. Any life had long since passed, and normally, when we see bones like this, we don’t believe there will ever be life in them again.

Yet, in verse 3, we see God asking Ezekiel, “Son of Man [or Mortal in the Message paraphrase], can these bones live?”

Can you imagine Ezekiel standing in the middle of this valley floor, surrounded by piles of dried up bones, and being asked this question by God? How do you think he would have felt? What would you have said back to God? I think I would have been like, “Ummm, really not sure here, God. Those bones look pretty dead.”

However, Ezekiel’s response in verse 3 is brilliant! He says, “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.” Another translation says, “You alone know the answer to that.” It’s such a great answer to God’s question, because while it looks like something impossible - these dry, brittle bones to live again - this is the God of Noah, of Moses, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He brought plagues upon Egypt and parted the Red Sea. He led the Hebrew people to the Promised Land by pillars of cloud and fire. So, clearly, the impossible is completely possible to God. Yet, would He? Would God bring life back to those bones? Ezekiel was correct in saying that only God knew. Ezekiel had no hope in the bones, but he did have hope in God. And, he did not presume to know what God wanted to do with the bones, but he was confident that God did know.

So after the brief question and answer session, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and tell them to “hear the word of the Lord.” In verse 5, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

If Ezekiel had any doubts, we don’t know. The text doesn’t share any of those types of details here. However, we don’t see any hesitation from Ezekiel in this passage as he obeyed and did what God commanded. Ezekiel began to prophesy as God told him to do, and there was a rattling noise all across the valley as the bones of each body came together. Can you imagine the sound? Can you feel the ground shaking with all that movement as the bones began to assemble? Verse 7 in NIV says, “They came together, bone to bone.” Another version says, “The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons.” 

{I can hear the song in my head right now: The foot bone is connected to the ankle bone...the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone...}

This coming together of bones brings songs to my mind and questions in my head. What do these bones look like as they are reattaching? The text does not specifically say, but it can be assumed that the bones assembled themselves properly, as skeletons, and not as a weird combination of bones. Because, when God restores, He puts things together in the right way - He is a God of order, not disorder. 

Then, In verse 8, after the bones are assembled together, tendons and muscles and flesh form over and cover the bones. I love the sequence taking place: The stirring of the bones, the assembly of the bones, tendons and muscles appearing on the bones, and skin covering the bones.

{at this point, all I can see in my mind is an image from The Walking Dead tv show, yet, I don’t think these bones were covered with decayed and rotting flesh. While again the passage doesn’t describe specifically here, we can assume that the sinews and skin covering the newly connected bones was fully restored and complete.}

So, here we have all these bodies - these restored bones covered with flesh - now covering the floor of the valley. Yet, they were not alive. As the end of verse 8 points out, there was no breath in them.

And, in verse 9, the Lord God tells Ezekiel to prophesy again. Only this time, Ezekiel was commanded to “prophesy to the breath” - for the breath to “enter into these slain, that they may live.” 

What is this breath? And why is God telling Ezekiel prophesying about it? The Hebrew word here for breath is ruah, and we see the word ruah over 389 times in the Old Testament. It means “spirit, wind, or breath,” however, this ruah is no ordinary breeze, no ordinary breath. This is the Spirit of God. It is the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters at creation as God spoke order and light and life into the world (Genesis 1:2). This is the very breath that God breathed into humans at our creation (Genesis 1:7). It was the same wind that parted the seas and allowed the people to escape from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 14:21). This is the breath of God that brings life and restoration.

{side note, how interesting that God breathed life into a pile of dust to breathe life into man, and here Ezekiel stands, asking God to breathe life into a pile of bones}

So, in verse 10, Ezekiel prophesied again as God commanded, yet this time around, there is a change in the approach. It was interesting to me that several commentaries point to the differences between the first and second sections. In the first section, Ezekiel is basically preaching, and in this second section, he is praying. He is calling “on the Spirit to come upon those upon whom the word of God has worked.” As Ezekiel prophesied (or prayed), breath enters into the bodies, and they come to life and stand up on their feet as a vast army. The life that was lost was restored, and dry bones got up and walked!

What? GOD BREATHED LIFE INTO A BUNCH OF LIFELESS BODIES! These now living, breathing beings were once dried up bones on a valley floor and empty shells of bodies.. But, God didn’t leave them as piles of bones or sacks of flesh. He reconnected them, covered them, raised them up, and gave them life. This is what I once found so strange but now see as so amazing! It’s only the breath of God that gives life, that heals, remakes, and transforms. It blows me away!

After this awe-filled moment, God then describes this all in context to Ezekiel in verse 11. Remember how context is everything? It applies here too. And, it’s also important to remember who the audience was at the time when this was written. Those Hebrews in exile? Those are the ones God brings back into focus as He explains this vision. The dry bones represent the people of Israel. In their captivity, the felt forgotten by God, distant from their homeland, divided amongst the nations, dried up, cut off, dead, and without hope. At the end of verse 11, it says they felt that “all hope is gone.” So, God was equating how the Israelites felt with the dry bones in the valley. And, just as He breathed life back into those bones, He could and would restore the people of Israel. “I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live” - all so that God would receive the glory (verse 14). 

Our pastor often says that the Bible wasn’t written to you, but it was written for you. Meaning, we weren’t part of the original audience/readers, but the Word of God is living and active and applies to our lives today.

So, how can we apply Ezekiel 37 to our lives today? Glad you asked!

This passage is about restoring Israel, but it also points to the God who makes all things new. There are hurting and broken all around us who have experienced so much pain and so much injustice that they feel like dried up bones. They feel like they are bound in captivity or buried in a grave. Perhaps you’ve been through a season in life yourself where you could relate to the Hebrews in exile when they say, “all hope is gone.” Yet, there is a God who can breathe into any situation and rekindle our hope and bring life to lifeless things. He has the power to renew, restore, and revive. And, “if dry bones can dance in the desert, anyone can.” 

And, God could have brought life to the dry bones completely on His own, yet He invited Ezekiel to join in His work. And He invites us to partner with Him too on this mission to restore dry bones to life. He has given us the power of the Holy Spirit and His Word so that we can share life and hope to others. “He prompts us to speak life into dead situations, truths into the face of deception, and hope into seeming impossibilities.”

The same power that gave these dry bones life, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is at work in us, and we get to share that with others. 

And this session season at Bright Side? I want us, as mentors and leaders, to go into this new season feeling renewed and restored and brought to life, so that we can speak truth and love to the kids and teens that are coming to the ranch looking for help and solace. They are so like the scattered Hebrews during the time of Ezekiel. These kids and teens also feel lost and distant and cut off, from those around them and from the God who created them and desires a relationship with them, and they need to know that there is One who never abandons, never forsakes. They feel dried up, like a pile of dusty bones on a valley floor and need to know that healing and transformation is possible. They are held captive by their situations and circumstances and need to know that they can be fully set free. And, in their pain and difficulty, they are without any hope and need to know that there is One who renews and restores.

As mentioned before, God invited Ezekiel to join in His work. And, we get to be a part of the same invitation - to join Him in His work in the hearts and lives of these kids and teens coming to the ranch. We get to be His hands and feet as He breathes life into the next generation. We have the beautiful opportunity to share with them that there is a God who can bring those dry bones back to life, restore all hope, and help them dance in the desert.

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