The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "Sovereign Lord, you alone know." 4Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, "Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord." 7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live." 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army. 11Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone, we are cut off". 12Therefore prophesy and say to them: "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord."
According to "Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible" Ezekiel was the younger contemporary to Jeremiah. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army, King Jehoiachin of Judah along with, "10,000 men - statesmen, soldiers, craftsman" (Eerdman's), were carried into exile along with Ezekiel. On the plains outside Babylon, Ezekiel felt lost and his dream of becoming a priest dashed. Jeremiah did not go to Babylon though he was offered a position at court. He stayed in Judah and advised those in captivity to enter the city and flourish, but not to take on the trappings of Babylon. His message was not received well by the exiles and he died in Egypt. Ezekiel finds his calling as a prophet who will exhort his people to repent and to essentially be resurrected from their present existence.
There is a lot of imagery in today's verses. Though some might be inclined to take them literally, most study Bibles and commentaries, including notes in the Jewish Study Bible, describe these verses as metaphors. The exiles are like a vanquished army, nothing but dry bones littering a valley. But Ezekiel bursts on the scene proclaiming, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord."
Life will come again. All of this reminds me of John MacLeod Campbell Crum's hymn:
"Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain; love lives again, that with the dead has been; love is come again like wheat arising green."
It's Lent and the world is beset with a pandemic. Dark times, and in these times we can commiserate with the exiles in Babylon. But hope is not lost. God is always with us! Life and love will come again like wheat arising green.
Prayer: Father, we know that you are always with us. In the dark times we turn even more to you. Now more than ever, banish our fears, put away out anxiety, and give us peace. Strengthen our hearts with the knowledge that Easter reminds us, "Love is come again like wheat arising green." Amen.