We have several houses in our neighborhood that really get into the Halloween spirit. Every year they’re decked with all kinds of scary things—witches, ghosts, goblins, giant spiders, black cats, and pumpkins carved to illustrate what a psychotic dentist could do to you if he wanted.
And, without fail, each yard has its own supply of skeletons. Now I can understand how most of those other things would be scary. But skeletons? What exactly is a skeleton going to do to you? They don’t have any muscles, so I’m guessing they can’t run very fast. (Actually, without muscles they shouldn’t be able to move at all, making them even less scary.)
And, if they did somehow manage to catch you, what are they going to do, poke you with a finger? Those bony hands can’t be very good at holding onto things, so good luck using a knife or any other weapon. And they don’t have any special powers. I’ve never heard of skeletons suddenly being able to fly, cast spells, or shoot fireballs from their empty eye sockets. They do have teeth, but they’re generally not very sharp. So I suppose your worst-case scenario is that the skeleton would catch you napping and start gnawing on your leg. Unpleasant, but not terribly scary.
So why are skeletons supposed to be scary? I think it’s because skeletons represent a human person without life—no flesh, no spirit, no warmth—an empty person. And that’s scary.
Now imagine that you’re standing in a valley with the hills rising all around you. Shifting your weight a bit, you hear a crunching sound. You assume at first that you’re standing on some dry leaves, but that impression flees as soon as you look down. Bones. Dry, brittle bones all around your feet. Slowly you raise your eyes again and see that the entire valley is filled with skeletons—jumbled piles of blanched bones blanketing the valley floor. And imagine that these aren’t just any bones, these are the bones of your people—your families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, all turned into dry bones and scattered uselessly across the ground. Not a very pleasant feeling, is it?
That’s what Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 37:1-4). God showed Ezekiel the nation of Israel as a valley full of dry bones. Because that’s what Israel had become: a people separated from God, sapped of life, scattered among the nations.
Walking among the bones, Ezekiel is struck by how dry these bones are. At first glance, that seems odd. Of course the bones are dry. Why wouldn’t they be? The point, though, is not simply that the bones weren’t wet, but that they were without Spirit. The Bible routinely associates the Spirit of God with water and life (e.g. Jeremiah 17:3; 31:12; Ezekiel 47:9). So the fact that these bones are terribly dry suggests that these bones are without Spirit, without the life that only God’s Spirit can provide. The bones are God’s people without God’s Spirit.
Notice the stark contrast between the Valley of Bones and the Garden of Eden. The Valley is dead and dry, but the Garden contains life, water, and Spirit. In the Valley, God’s people are separated from him, cut off from the source of life. In the Garden, God’s people walk intimately with him, bringing him glory throughout creation. The Valley is east of Eden. And God’s people are in the Valley.
But God offers more. The coming one, the one that God has been promising since the Garden, he will also bring with him a new spirit for God’s people. He will be the one on whom God puts his Spirit (Isaiah 42:1). And, when he comes, God will pour out his spirit “on all flesh” (Joel 2:28). All of God’s people will receive God’s spirit again.
And, when the promised one brings the promised Spirit and pours it out upon God’s people, the Valley of Bones will again be filled with life! “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon 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” (Ezekiel 37:5-6).
Think back to the Garden. When God created Adam from the dry dust of the earth, he breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). But Adam rejected the God of life and was separated from the source of life. Here God demonstrates his faithfulness to his people. He will not allow them to remain trapped in the Valley of Death, but he promises that he will again restore them to life.
When the promised one comes, God’s people will live again. What an amazing promise.
[This is an excerpt from a book that I’m writing about the gospel, Good News for the Living Dead: A Fresh Take on the Gospel Story. You can read the other excerpts and keep track of new ones as they become available on my blog.]
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.