April 5, 2015

​Vital Signs

My husband and I visited southern California at that time of year when its parched earth has been revived and all that was brown, brittle, and apparently dead suddenly looks a lively green. As I took in the different shades of green I was reminded of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. Listen yourself to the prophet: “The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. . . . And indeed they were very dry.” This is followed by the critical question: “Can these bones live?” (Eze. 37:1-3).*

This passage is poignant and repulsive in a physically visual sense. Yet it is rich with God’s love and ideals for His people. This makes it one of the most beautiful and compelling of scriptural illustrations.

Initially, from the human viewpoint, these bones communicate an obvious message of loss and hopelessness. They have fallen into a state of total confusion that renders them of no use to God. But we can be thankful that God is neither bound by human perspective nor constrained by human regulations. These dry bones do not illustrate the whole story.

Symbolic Deception

Perhaps you too have noticed the proliferation of skull images in the past several years. It is used in an artistic way in home decor, culinary design, clothing (including infants’ garments), toys, jewelry, and more. Most of us are familiar with the skull-and-crossbones banner flown above old pirate ships or pasted on bottles of toxic substances. Generally we accept these uses. But why this reappearance of an old symbol in general usage on seemingly harmless items?

God has taken dominion here, and He is active, turning despair into optimism, death to life.

Historically the skull-and-bones emblems have been a type of visual allegory denoting mortality. In cultish and mystical societies they indicate human decay and, ultimately, death. Some have believed they give death the victory in a reverse of eternal life. So why this fascination, even among Christians, aligning under this emblem of death? Why would anyone label themselves and their possessions with this symbol? This is nothing less than the enemy’s deception to focus us on human frailty and to draw our attention away from Ezekiel’s powerful message of certain hope.

In Ezekiel’s visual allegory we find the same symbols—skulls and bones—but not the same power at work. God has taken dominion here, and He is active, turning despair into optimism, death to life. That’s the message for us today. Ezekiel shows us that even when we as a body are fractured and rendered seemingly helpless, God is able and willing to resurrect and reconstruct us for His purposes.

Our Almighty Father assures us that He can and is anxious to restore life, strength, and unity to the body. His promise of divine breath transforming dead bones from death to life is real, even today (verse 5).

So the bones came together. They adhered bone to bone, and God’s Word says the body was rebuilt (verse 7). Then “breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army” (verse 10). We serve a mighty God!

A Life-and-Death Message

This is one of the greatest lessons presented in Scripture. It does not portray the comfort of the Sermon on the Mount or the delight of the vision of the Holy City, but its vivid representation of God’s power to revive and transform His people is greater than practically any other. Here the people are not only dead—dry dead—they are broken apart and scattered. There is no apparent hope of their ever coming together again, of living and acting on God’s behalf. Yet God calls them His people, even in their broken, scattered, dead state. We are told that the dry bones are the “whole house of Israel,” God’s people, and that they recognize their dead state, hopelessness, and estrangement from each other and from God (verse 11). What are our vital signs?

Today God promises that He will put His Spirit in us and we shall live (verse 14). If we trust Him, differences that divide will serve to unite us, and bones of contention will serve to strengthen the body. One of the most beautiful and encouraging messages here is that God could have revived only the skulls or heads, or perhaps only hands or feet. But He chose to revive all the varied members and reunite them as one body. We are all precious to our heavenly Father, and all are needed in the body of Christ.

Invariably, differences will arise among thinking people who exercise rights of free choice, but these differences should never shatter relationships to the point of destroying the body. In human relations, all things ultimately fall apart; but in God all things hold together. He rejoices in restoring marriages, parent-child relationships, friendships, congregations, and covenant relationships with Himself.

When we fall apart, God will re-form us, not just to hobble along, but to thrive in the fullness of life as an exceedingly great army. We simply must respond to His voice as those dry bones did. He will do all the work. Can you see bones reattaching to one another with precision and the muscles forming perfectly on newly restructured frames? That’s an image to behold! That’s an illustration to ponder.

* All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.