26 July 2011

"Mortal, can these bones live?" (v. 3)


The prophet Ezekiel is taken hold of by God and is transported in a vision-like experience to a valley full of bones. The dating of this visionary experience can only be done by inference: the utter despair expressed in verse 11 might indicate a time not long after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC). God takes Ezekiel on what we would call 'a guided tour' of the valley. All around are bones and the prophet recalls that they are "very dry" (v. 2). In today's reading no explanation is given. It is a picture of total devastation and total hopelessness. God's question is therefore challenging in the extreme: "Mortal, can these bones live?" This question reminds the prophet that his fate is the same for he is mortal. A contrast is therefore set up between dry bones, a mortal prophet and God.

Ezekiel's response could be seen as either an evasion of the question or an acknowledgement of his own impotency in the face of such a sight. Within Ezekiel's answer lies the assertion that it is a state that only God can deal with; only God knows the answer; only God can address it. Any future depends upon the gracious action of God. Then there is a fascinating twist in the narrative - when God invites Ezekiel to speak the prophetic word he is invited to share in the action that only God can perform. The challenge for Ezekiel is whether to respond to the divine invitation and speak the prophetic word or to remain lost in the hopelessness of it all.

To Ponder

Where are the dead and hopeless places in our world, within your community, and within your life? In order to appreciate what it felt like for Ezekiel now imagine God saying to you "Mortal, can these bones live?" Wrestle with what it would entail for these bones to live.

Where and how might God be asking you to participate in the divine act of grace by speaking prophetic words or undertaking prophetic action?

Bible notes author: The Revd Peter Barber

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