Ez 37:1-14March 26, 2023 / Metropolitan United Methodist Church, Indian Head, MD
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 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. 2 He 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. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I 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.’”
7 So 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. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then 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.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then 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.’ 12 Therefore 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. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I 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.’”
These verses, often referred to as the vision of the valley of dry bones, are arguably the most famous in all the book of Ezekiel. Their importance for Jews and Christians is indicated by the signal periods when they are read liturgically. They accompany the Torah reading, Exod 33:12–34:26, on the sabbath of Passover week. The Revised Common Lectionary associates it with the fifth Sunday in Lent (year A), the Easter vigil (years A, B, and C), and Pentecost (year B).
This is the third of Ezekiel’s four visionary reports (the others appear in 1:1–3:15, 8:1–11:25, and 40:1–48:35). Elsewhere in the book, oracles are routinely introduced with the word event formula “the word of the LORD came to me.” Here, as in the other three vision accounts, Ezekiel states that “the hand of the LORD came upon me.” Transported by the spirit of the LORD to “the valley,” Ezekiel is astonished to see that it is filled with a multitude of disconnected and thoroughly desiccated bones. The image is of a battlefield whose slain never received proper burial, but were left to decay (and be ravaged by birds and beasts) where they fell. Having led Ezekiel around these piles of bones, Yahweh asks him a question: “Mortal, can these bones live?” (v. 3). The prophet’s response is enigmatic (see Commentary): “O Lord GOD, you know.” Yahweh then orders Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones (as if they had ears to hear!). In response to the prophet’s words, the bones are re-membered, bound by sinews, refleshed, covered with skin, and animated by the spirit.
Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “The Book of Ezekiel,” in New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, vol. 6 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004), 1497.