Can These Bones Live?
Serving the Lord who brings new life.
German artist Käthe Kollwitz was best known for her emotion-filled depictions of the poor and suffering. In her piece, The Battlefield, 1907, Kollwitz shows us a woman, dressed in black, hovering on a dark and dormant battlefield with a simple torch light. She is a mother searching for her son among the corpses and all you can see are her hands as she reaches towards the bodies beneath her. In that moment, she is surrounded by death and despair.
The scene Kollwitz depicts in her art piece is strikingly similar to a scene we find in the book of Ezekiel. In the early 500s B.C. the Jewish people were living in exile in the land of Babylon and deep in despair. Five years into their captivity, God calls a priest named Ezekiel into the role of a prophet who would speak truth to God’s people with the hope of bringing about revival.
For many years Ezekiel steps out in faithful obedience, but he continues to mourn the depressing state Israel finds itself in. Then one day, God gives Ezekiel a supernatural vision.
In Ezekiel 37:11, God tells Ezekiel about the despair the people of Israel are in as he describes them crying out: “our bones are dried up and our hope is lost.” Spiritually speaking, they’re not dying; they're dead and the very bones their hopes once hung on are dried out and scattered all about. This is the visual God gives to Ezekiel. Like the mother searching for her son in Kollwitz’s Battlefield, Ezekiel finds himself transported to his own battlefield graveyard.
But as Ezekiel stands there looking out at the carnage around him, God asks him an intriguing question that shifts the spotlight away from the Israelites' despair and onto Ezekiel’s relationship with God: “Can these bones live?” he asks.
Ezekiel knows more than most people that resurrection is real — after all, he is the one God has chosen to usher in revival. But in the middle of that graveyard where hope has gone to die, Ezekiel just can’t bring himself to say it. Instead he replies, “O Lord God, you know.” As one commentator writes, Ezekiel had the knowledge not to deny God’s ability, but in that moment, he lacked the faith to believe in it.
How many times in our lives do we find ourselves in that place? We know what God has said and that his promises are true and yet, as we are surrounded by disappointment and despair, we can no longer bring ourselves to speak his truths out loud.
As the scene goes on, God commands Ezekiel to speak a word of truth over these dry bones — that God will bring new life into them and they shall live. God is softly pushing Ezekiel to step into the dissonance he feels, the same dissonance we all feel as believers when we find out life isn’t everything we ever wanted.
Ezekiel obliges God’s command mostly out of deference. But as he speaks truth over those dead bones, something Ezekiel doesn’t expect begins to happen. The bones begin to shake and slowly piece themselves together. “Bone to its bone,” Ezekiel describes. But not just bones, flesh — and soon… breath.
Ezekiel tells us that right before his eyes, those bones lived and stood onto their feet (Ezekiel 37:10). In the midst of his deep despair, Ezekiel is given a vision of hope by God. He reminds Ezekiel that he is a God who keeps his promises — a God who brings new life.
What would it take for us to allow God to take up our dry bones: our disappointments and our despair and bring about revival in our hearts? Isaiah 55 teaches us that God’s word does not return to him empty, but it accomplishes exactly what he desires and achieves the purpose for which he sent it.
For the Christian, Christ isn’t just alive, but he’s alive in us. When we submit ourselves to his will and his way, we put ourselves in position to have our hearts renewed and strengthened so that we may speak his words of truth to a hostile world. Through the work God is doing in us and through us, we can rest in the assurance that even today, he is making all things new.
Dominique McKay is a Women's Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.