Ezekiel 37 may be most famous for the quaint song it has spawned: “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…” However, the meat of this passage does not lie in the order of construction of a skeleton, but instead in its revelation about the grace of God applied to a human dilemma. The context of the passage is one frequented in the Old Testament prophets: corrupt leadership, ungrateful people, selfish ambition, and a widespread forgetting of the grace and guidance of God.
In a vision, Ezekiel found himself witness to a scene resembling the slaughter of a battlefield. Surrounded by bones that were “very” dry (and obviously incapable of forming living beings again), Ezekiel was asked if these bones might support life once more. His answer defied human logic while crediting to God the power to overcome even the finality of death: “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones, then to the breath of life, and before his eyes the valley of dry bones was transformed into the land of the living.
Since the early days of Christianity this passage has been interpreted as proof of bodily resurrection. While this meaning is certainly present in the text, there is more to be found here. With God’s forming together bodies and then sending breath into this cadre of zombies we see a reenactment of the primal act of creation, when God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). This act of creation is applied here to a community, bonding a people together and giving them a future.1
Even the fate of death and its disruption of the life God gives to his people cannot withstand the power of God’s grace. When the “people of the dry bones” realize their hopeless state, lament their lack of hope, and admit that they are powerless to change the situation, God’s grace reaches down, all the way into the grave if necessary, and gives life through the gift of God’s Spirit.
1. Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel, from the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 173.