We have several houses in our neighborhood that really get into the Halloween spirit. Every year they’re decked with all kinds of scary things—witches, ghosts, goblins, giant spiders, black cats (any of kind cat would work for me), and pumpkins carved to demonstrate what a psychotic dentist could do to you if he really wanted.
And, without fail, each yard has its own supply of skeletons. Now, I can understand how most of those other things would be scary, but skeletons? What exactly is a skeleton going to do to you? They don’t have any muscles, so I’m guessing they can’t run very fast. (Actually, without muscles they shouldn’t be able to move at all, making them even less scary.) And, if they did somehow manage to catch you, what are they going to do, poke you with a finger? Those bony hands can’t be very good at holding onto things, so good luck using a knife or any other weapon. And, they don’t really have any special powers. I’ve never heard of skeletons suddenly being able to fly, cast spells, or shoot fireballs from their empty eye sockets. They do have teeth, but they’re generally not very sharp. So I suppose your worst case scenario is that the skeleton would catch you napping and start gnawing on your leg. Unpleasant, but not terribly scary.
So, why are skeletons scary? I think it’s because skeletons represent a human person without life—no flesh, no spirit, no warmth…no life—an empty person. And, that’s scary.
Now, imagine that you’re standing in a valley with the hills rising all around you. Shifting your weight a bit, you hear a crunching sound. You assume at first that you’re standing on some dry leaves, but that impression flees as soon as you look down. Bones. Dry, brittle bones all around your feet. Slowly you raise your eyes again and see that the entire valley is filled with skeletons—jumbled piles of blanched bones blanketing the valley floor. And, imagine that these aren’t just any bones, these are the bones of your people—your families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, all turned into dry bones and scattered uselessly across the ground. Not very pleasant , is it?
That’s what Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 37:1-14). God showed Ezekiel the nation of Israel as a valley full of dry bones. Because that’s what Israel had become: a people separated from God, sapped of life, discarded among the nations. East of Eden.
Walking around among the bones, Ezekiel is struck by how dry these bones are. That might seem a little odd. Of course the bones are dry. Why wouldn’t they be? The point, though, is not simply that the bones were not wet, but that they were without Spirit. The Bible routinely associates the Spirit of God with water and life (e.g. Jer. 17:3; 31:12; Ezek. 47:9). So, in the vision, the very dryness of these bones shows that they are without Spirit, without the life that only God’s Spirit can provide. The bones are God’s people without God’s Spirit.
Notice the stark contrast between the Valley of Bones and the Garden of Eden. The Valley is dead and dry, but the Garden contained life, water, and Spirit. In the Valley, God’s people are separated from him, cut off from the source of life. In the Garden, God’s people walked intimately with him, bringing him glory throughout creation. The Valley is east of Eden. And, God’s people are in the Valley.
But, God offers more. The coming one, the one that God has been promising since the Garden, he will also bring with him a new spirit for God’s people. He will be the one on whom God puts his Spirit (Isa. 42:1). And, when he comes, God will pour out his spirit “on all flesh” (Joel 2:28). All of God’s people will receive God’s spirit again.
And, when the promised one brings the promised Spirit and pours it out upon God’s people, the Valley of Bones will again be filled with life! “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon 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” (Ezek. 37:5-6).
Think back to the Garden. When God created Adam from the dry dust of the earth, he breathed into him the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). But, Adam rejected the God of life and was separated from the source of life. Here, God demonstrates his faithfulness to all of humanity by again breathing into his people the breath of life. He will not allow his people to remain trapped in the Valley of Death, but he promises that he will again restore them to life.
When he comes…God’s people will live again.
[Read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel Book page.]