We turn this week to the prophet Ezekiel, who was a priest and prophet in ancient Judah, a contemporary of Jeremiah during the time of the Exile. But while the later remain in Judah, Ezekiel was among the elite taken from Jerusalem, who walked an ancient 900 mile trail of tears to captivity in Babylon in the First Exile 597 BCE. He prophesied judgement of Judah from then up until and through the 2nd exile in 587 BCE, when the Babylonian Empire destroyed both Jerusalem and the Temple. Towards the end of his prophetic book he shifts to begin talking of a new hope, as we see in today’s text.
What transpires is a vision, not a literal experience. The initial insistence upon the hand and the spirit of the Lord indicates that. Bones were part of the poetic vernacular used by the Israelites to talk about their despair, loss, mourning: They most called it lamentation. It’s highly likely that Ezekiel has been hearing his fellow exiles speaking of how their “bones are shaking with terror” Psalm 6:2 ; “or are out of joint” Psalm 22:14, “or waste away”; Psalm 31:10 or even “burn like a furnace” Psalm 102:3.” Ezekiel’s dramatic easily imagined vision of bones being transformed would speak directly to their loss, turning it upon its head, raising them upon their lamentation.
The vision happens in three moments. The resurrection of the dead bones isn’t complete until the third time. It calls to mind the healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-25 in which the man’s eyes are opened, but a second healing touch from Jesus is required before the man’s vision is whole. There is more happening then just a returning to how things used to be.
Here the first prophetic resurrection (verse7) is incomplete without the breath or spirit (ruach in Hebrew) of God, the dead are more zombie-like than living images of God. The second (verse 10) transforms the decomposed corpses, not just resuscitating the dead. The third (verses 12-14), speaks of the way in which the whole people shall be resurrected, not merely returned to their homeland from their captivity in exile; they shall return not to make Israel great again, but to be something wholly new and different.
The vision speaks to us today in our own exiles as individuals, as the church, as the people of God.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What shimmers for you in this passage?
- What word, phrase or image touches your life today?
- What do you find hopeful?; hard to believe in the vision?
- How do you hear this vision speaking to you in your life’s journey?; to us as a church in a post-Christian world in which the Church is struggling to grow, maintain and/or find its way?
- How does this story bring you hope in the season of Advent: the coming of Christ?
Download a PDF study guide of the text at CAPCOakland.org HERE.