“Can these bones live?”
The words of the vision were thundering through his head, and the images were ones that would stay with him as long as he lived. He paused in his writing to turn it over in his mind, to consider the meaning. He still felt, almost physically, the sickening jolt that came when the reality in which you lived and moved and had your being was turned upside down and inside out. It took a while to feel as if your mind and body were on solid ground again. But then, that was what it meant to be a prophet of the Lord, it was like being a creature who inhabited land and water at the same time, to find yourself switched (at God’s timing, never your own) between the visible and invisible worlds, between the things which all men saw and felt and knew, and this other perspective, the perspective of eternity, which saw and felt and knew things so differently.
He shook his head as if to clear it, then realised that was something that never worked. He was a prophet, not a man who had had a strange dream, it was his responsibility to relive the vision in his waking flesh, to record it, to ponder it, to grow in understanding. Son he let it fill his mind – that huge valley filled with bones, dry bones without a single scrap of flesh left on them: as dry, as dead, as nearly nothing as the old bones a farmer might turn over with his plough from some battlefield in a forgotten century. He had looked at them, lying their helpless, beyond breath or help or hope, and, in the presence of God, he had known that this was Israel herself, idolatrous, foolish, disobedient Israel, exiled and rootless among the nations. Did she have a hope or a future, or were the promises made to Abraham so long ago rendered null and void by her faithlessness? Could those bones live?
But then, in the vision, he was commanded to prophesy over the bones, to tell them that it was God’s decree that they would live again – that he would give them the breath of his spirit, that they would be re-joined with sinews, and that flesh would form again, and skin would cover them once more. They would no longer be a rattle of bones, they would be human, and this time they would know their God.
So he prophesied, and the bones became bodies, and they lay there, in that great valley, like the piles of the slain on the day after battle. But, like the piles of the slain, there was no life in them, just the pretence of living.
Then, in the vision, the Lord commanded him to prophesy to the winds, and, as he spoke the words the Lord had commanded, the winds came, and breathed life into the empty bodies, and they rose up a living army. The Lord is the God who brings life to the dead. He would take the crushed hopes of Israel and restore them; he would bring back life from their national death. Exile was not an end, but a turning point.
But as he wrote down the words of the vision, and turned over in his mind the majesty of the restoration he had seen, the thought teased at his understanding that there was something even more. God was a God who kept all his promises, right through to eternity. God brought blessing out of defeat, and made the grave a place of victory. Perhaps, in the not-yet, there was a deeper grave and a greater victory, and death, not just symbolically, but actually, would be overcome. But that was a chapter not yet written.