April 1, 2014

Dem bones

By Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion
SCRIPTURE: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord.” It is one of the most powerful and enduring of all biblical images. The prophet Ezekiel is plucked from his station among the exiles in Babylon and taken up by the power of God on a visionary journey. Through his poetic description we see the piles of bones covering the valley floor. We hear the rattling as they reconnect and become reconstituted bodies. Then Ezekiel prophesies to the breath in the wind and the bones come alive.

Our imaginations are held captive to this image and we dwell upon it. But the interpretation of the vision follows, and should not be neglected. These bones are the house of Israel, those living in exile, mumbling to themselves that their bones are dried up, their hope is burned out, life as they knew it – over. Once a people, now No People. Survivors whose fate seems death-like. They might as well be lying in their graves.

But, like the reconnected and revivified bones, they too may come to breathe again, to believe again, to live again. Plucked from their tombs of despair, these exilic zombies receive God’s breathy resuscitation. They are no longer grist for the boneyard but living signs that God is with them, has never abandoned them.

All of us will die someday. But while we live, we should live as living, breathing beings, with all the rights, privileges and obligations pertaining thereto.

SCRIPTURE: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)

The Valley of Dry Bones

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on 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.’So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”



Comments (6)

  1. This gives me a new vision of an old Bible verse that iremember from Childhood.

    Mary Hughes April 1, 2014 |
  2. The thoughts and scripture are good ones. liked the last phrase, Paul, rights, privileges and obligations………

    Randy Springer April 1, 2014 |
  3. I greatly appreciated the attention you gave to the interpretation of the vision and the wonderful reminder that our God is not a God who abandons. Thank you, Paul!

    Leanna Teodosio April 1, 2014 |
  4. Thanks, Paul, for taking us beyond “dem, dem bones, dem dry bones”. Wilma

    Wilma Shank April 1, 2014 |
  5. Amen to the thought that God does not abandon……..even when drained of all strength and the desire to go on. God is….

    Randy Springer April 1, 2014 |
  6. thanks dr. keim for reminding us of that amazing story behind the spiritual we all know so well.
    be well, vyg

    vance george April 1, 2014 |