One of the most popular television programs ended last March after a 12 year run— Bones. For the uninitiated, in this program Emily Erin Deschanel’s Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan and her crew of forensic anthropologists and forensic archaeologists could take a look at a bone and solve an entire murder case. To that God in the Ezekiel 37:1-14 text under consideration this week would say, “…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”!
Unfortunately our lectionary tradition seems to reduce the entire book of Ezekiel to this one macabre tale— magnificent as it is in its imagery.
God begins Ezekiel 37 with a riddle for the prophet as he looks out over a vast valley filled with dry bones— “Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3) The prophet’s rather understated, if not exasperated, response is “O Lord God, only you know.”
David Garber, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA, challenges us to wonder why the prophet’s response is so resigned and says we have to consider “Why is the valley full of bones? What caused the visions of death that the community faced? What has brought Ezekiel to the point of near speechlessness and despair?”
Because our weekly snippets from the scripture allow us to skip “the rest of the story”, we miss the desperation and the plight of the community to which this story attempts to give hope. We miss the fact that Ezekiel was taken into exile in 597 BC. And now devoid of a promising career as a future priest in Jerusalem he has neither position nor even a temple.
Also overlooked is the death of his wife and God’s command for him not to mourn her as an example for his people in exile not to mourn the loss of the temple (Ezekiel 24:16-24). Missing, too, in our mini-look at the book are the torture and destruction visited upon Ezekiel’s people by the Babylonians during a two-year siege that led to famine, disease, despair and eventually the destruction of the temple. Elsewhere in the book of Ezekiel we hear him offer imagery that testifies to these multiple traumas.
The miracle of Ezekiel’s vision in this week’s text does not lie in its theatricality. The real miracle is that it occurs after the community has faced such devastating losses. As such, the real value of this text may be that it can serve as a metaphor for God’s commitment to renew and inspire new life in the darkest valleys— even in our day.