28 July 2011

"I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live" (v. 14a)


These few verses are fraught with interpretive complexities, arguments and dangers that take us to the heart of the national and political problems of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the space of a few words it would be impertinent to try to address such complexities but the reader needs to be aware that they exist and that the arguments rage on.

Prior to this passage we have a visionary experience that offers hope and the possibility of life in the midst of what appears to be utter devastation and hopelessness. Now the vision is interpreted as being about the "whole house of Israel" (v. 11) and ends with a promise "I will place you on our own soil" (v. 14). The dead bones are equated with the "house of Israel", not dead Israelites, but the people, many of whom were in exile. They had regarded Jerusalem as the ultimate guarantee of their security and survival as a nation but now it had fallen and with its fall they were as dead dry bones. Their captivity is seen in terms of being entombed, like dead corpses in sealed graves, and the action of God is portrayed as the one who will "open your graves, and bring you up from your graves" (v. 12). The imagery is powerful and evocative. It hinges upon the action of God who alone can address the desperation voiced in verse 11. The sole basis for hope lies in what God can do: "I am going to open your graves ... I will bring you back ... I will put my spirit within you ... I will place you on our own soil ... I, the LORD (Yahweh), have spoken and will act" (vv. 12-14) - we are left in no doubt as to who can do this but it is Ezekiel who is to speak God's word.

Life, a future, and hope lie in the action of God who says "I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live". The divine word is part of the divine action and God chooses to invite mortals to share in it.

To Ponder

In what ways does this powerful and evocative imagery speak into your circumstances?

How is God active and through whom in your context?

Bible notes author: The Revd Peter Barber

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