"The hand of the Lord was upon me
And He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord
And set me down in the middle of the valley
And it was full of bones.
And He caused me to pass among them round about
And behold there were very many on the surface of the valley
And lo, they were very dry." Ezekiel 37:1-2
I have never experienced the horror of the battlefield. I have been blessed to have been born in a time of relative peace and in a land that has known peace and security within it's borders. I can't begin to understand the carnage of war and the devastation of a battlefield.
But I have read the accounts of those who have. In many cases the horror of the devastation left those witnesses choking on words in a vain attempt to describe the indescribable.
A fifth century Roman historian described the scene of a Roman city that had been sacked by the armies of Attila the Hun.
"The stench of death was so great the we could not stay within the city. We camped outside and away from the city walls to escape it."
Eyewitness accounts of the siege of Stalingrad during the Second
World War explained how the poorly equipped Russian army sought to slow
the advance of the superior German invaders. The Red Army's strategy
was to force the German army to use up valuable time and resources
slaughtering wave after wave of Russian soldiers and civilians sent out
to face the German guns. In many cases Russian soldiers had to share a
single rifle between 2 or 3 men. When the one with the gun fell, the
one behind would pick it up and advance. Those were the fortunate
ones. Many were sent to assault German artillery positions armed with
only wooden rifles or pitch forks and other farm tools. The carnage of
that siege was so great that the German advance was bogged down by the
process of the slaughter. Tanks and mechanized machinery got stuck
trying to wade through mountains of corpses.
I know a man who went to Rwanda recently with a ministry team. Their goal was to facilitate healing and reconciliation among the survivors of that terrible holocaust. He told me that he has never experienced anything that could compare with the emotional stress he encountered hearing the accounts of survivors and visiting sites of mass graves and massacre memorials.
I can't imagine how I would cope if I found myself standing in the midst of a town square where the stench of death so permeated the still air that I could almost feel it penetrating my skin.
I don't know how I would deal with the experience of walking down a shattered city street ankle deep in the mud of pulverized flesh.
I don't know how I could keep from emotional collapse standing in a room full of bones and having my gaze fall upon a skull no bigger than my hand that bore the deeply embedded evidence of the machete's deadly work.
If you were to come face to face with such terrible scenes you might feel the same things as those who have. You might feel like despair could overtake you and that your life itself may succumb to the horror and grief of that moment.
So what kind of cruel joke is God playing on Ezekiel to take him to a place of such devastation and "cause him to pass among them round about"?
The sanitized Sunday School version of the story has the prophet watching cartoon skeletons dancing around as the "right bone is connected to the left bone".
But what if it was a real valley of dry bones? What if God had the prophet get down and dirty in the midst of such an awful, place picking his way gingerly through those ghastly remains?
Did Ezekiel see signs of the sword's deadly contact as he wandered through the skulls and severed limbs? Did he see the jagged evidence of bones snapped and crushed like shattered branches after a storm?
What kind of heartless trick is this that would cause the living to pass through such a spectacle of death?
What kind of twisted humor is it that would turn to one sick with the revulsion of slaughter and ask a question like; "Son of man, can these bones live?"
One has to marvel at the answer of a man standing in the midst of such hopelessness; "Oh Lord...You know."
Of course we understand that the whole scene was a vision. But we would be glib to assume that it was a vision that beheld anything short of the full measure of the ghastly scale of a real field of slaughter.
Why would God pull so violently on the prophet's emotional strings? Was God getting some cheap thrill watching the man's stomach convulse with nauseous pain?
Or could it be that God was (is) trying to make a point about the very essence of hopelessness itself? Is He addressing the kind of hopelessness that creeps into our lives when we encounter situations and circumstances that threaten to completely snuff out our last flicker of faith?
What can be more devastating than witnessing your family fractured by dysfunction?
What can be more hopeless than seeing the hollow eyes of the living dead.......those who have no knowledge of God and who have been broken and tempered hard by the cruelty of religion?
What can be more desperate than feeling the weight of the pressing darkness over communities, regions and nations?
What could be more lethal to hope than these things?
Perhaps only a valley polluted with the remains of the slain. As a metaphor of hopelessness, there are not many images more devastatingly effective.
So the prophet with chin quivering, fighting back the tears and choking on his words replies; "Oh Lord! You know."
And perhaps the Lord does know. Maybe He does know what is truly hopeless.......and what only appears overwhelmingly hopeless.
Maybe God has what it takes to see through the spectacle of massive destruction and behold the place where hope still stands.
"Prophesy over these bones and say to them.......Oh dry bones......."
Oh you fruit of destruction.......
Oh you the gorging of the grave.......
"Hear the Word of the Lord!
I WILL cause breath to enter you that you may LIVE!
.......and you WILL know that I Am the Lord!"
Oh lost child.......hear the WORD of the Lord......."I will cause breath to enter you and you will LIVE! And you will know that I Am God!"
Oh shattered marriage.......hear the WORD of the Lord......."I will cause breath to enter you and you will LIVE! And you will know that I Am God!"
Oh dark land.......hear the WORD of the Lord......."I will cause breath to enter you and you will LIVE! And you will know that I Am God!"
Can a nation be saved in a day?.......hear the WORD of the Lord......."I will cause breath to enter you and you will LIVE! And you will know that I Am God!"
What situation is more hopeless than the valley of dry bones?
What place is darker?
What individual is more lifeless than those among the slain?
The Lord of Hope would say;
"Lay hold of that person,
Realize in your heart that, "Oh Lord, YOU know!"
I KNOW.......and I have SPOKEN!
Oh dry bones HEAR the WORD of the Lord!
Oh dry bones receive breath and ARISE!
Oh dry bones come ALIVE.......and KNOW the I Am Lord!"