Dry bones rattle and snap together with a tendon, then cover in flesh. Dust forms skin and waits for life-giving breath. When the life comes, there stands an army. Two sticks with names etched in them are held in hand. Together they represent a nation.
What holds you and I together is the breath given us by God and kept in us by His mercy. What holds you and I together is the Spirit he gives us, to unify a diverse people. When His Spirit is poured out and fills the people of His Kingdom, we stand as a holy nation, a royal priesthood, even the army of God.
The Dry Bones
Dry bones and sticks that have fallen to the ground are in a category of dead things. Dry bones have been dead a very long time and assuming the stick fell from an already dead tree, the stick likewise is in a category that could be classified as “very dead.”
There are things, let’s call them dreams, within each of us that might be dead, or they might be dying, they also might be alive, but there are also things within us that are very dead. Very dead things are things that I would suggest have no hope left in them; they have been written off and buried, relegated to the realm of forgotten impossibilities.
This realm is the valley of dry bones. No one wants to go to that creepy place. I mean think about how creepy or uncomfortable it can be when you talk to someone you care about and they want to discuss with you something that they plan to do, but you are 100% convinced they will not do what they are describing to you, or they will try it but you know it’s not going to work out. You might even tell them, “Bro, Sis don’t do this, it’s not going to work,” or you might get real honest and say, “you know you do this a lot, you plan something and you don’t follow through or you give up and what you are left with is usually nothing to show for it.”
Those conversations are difficult, they are sad, they are honest. They are usually grounded in reality and find consistency with the normal ebb and flow of life. Some people fail and don’t follow through a lot or most of the time. Those people need our/my mercy and grace. If and when it is me, I need my own mercy and grace though it is limited; I need your mercy and grace and I need God’s.
But those conversations and those situations that are a guaranteed failure lie in the same realm in which the Valley of Dry Bones exists. And this is the reason why this valley is a place that is often frequented alone. In Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel is in the valley alone and God asks him if the bones can live and Ezekiel replies, “You alone know the answer to that.”
God gives a message that requires Ezekiel to speak formation and life into the bones, into very dead things. But it’s not a message that is spoken to any old dead thing, it is the dead thing that God wants to be alive and well and thriving, and sometimes that is not the dead thing that we want to come back to life. Sometimes it is a dead thing we have no recollection of ever wanting.
The Two Sticks
People carve into wood to memorialize things whether they be names or romances. And some people see them and think, “oh, that’s sweet,” and other people think “that’s so dumb”. I think it’s silly; even if you frequently visit that carving, it’s still silly. The second half of this chapter, Ezekiel holds two sticks together. It is one of the simplest and in some ways lamest prophetic acts of any prophet. I don’t know why anyone would even care about someone holding two sticks in their hand.
But that’s also the point of the prophecy. Unity should be simple. Bringing people together is only hard because of sin, not because of the intrinsic benefits of diversity. To be closed off from diversity is rooted in idolatry. We make a god of that which looks the most like us. Deconstructed, we might say we are making a god of our self. The thread that is woven throughout Scripture is one of every nation knowing and worshiping God. He alone is worshiped by a diverse people in every nation.
The Living Stones
1 Peter 2:5 gives us a New Testament rendition of what God is doing in chapter 37. Living stones, built together, offering ourselves to God and trusting in Him to be able to live out dream filled lives that make Jesus famous. The only way this happens is through the God that resurrects the dead.
Jesus, come resurrect the very dead among and within us.