In the book of Ezekiel there’s a remarkably vivid description of a place that’s come to be called “the valley of dry bones.” The story reads:
The hand of Jehovah came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of Jehovah, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (37:1-3)
The image here, like many pictures and stories from the Old Testament, is unsettling and unbeautiful. Why would the Lord bring His servant to a valley of dry bones? To force us to recall the inevitability of death? Of course not—the Lord never rubs the truth in anyone’s face. I think there’s a very simple reason why the Lord includes so many grim images in His Word: they’re there to remind us that the Lord sees even the darkest things, even the lowest ebbs of our spiritual lives. Even the driest, most lifeless valleys within human experience—places in which we wouldn’t elect to spend much of our conscious time—are places He understands.
The question He asks Ezekiel in this story is a fascinating one: “Can these bones live?” That question could mean a lot of things. It could be rhetorical: “Are these dead things indeed dead?” It could be a question about Ezekiel’s faith: “Do you believe that I have the power to make what is dead come alive?” It could be a question about bones in a valley, or it could be a question about something much more personal, something within Ezekiel, something within us that we recognize altogether too well. “Do you have hope for these dead, dry things?”
Ezekiel’s answer is this: “O Lord Jehovah, You know” (v. 3). Is that really an answer? Is Ezekiel trying to dodge what the Lord is asking? What is he really saying here?
I think that Ezekiel’s answer echoes the Lord’s very reason for bringing him to the valley of dry bones. The Lord shows us that He sees even the bleakest places in us—He knows even these valleys. He asks us if it is possible for life—for breath, for growth, for joy—to take hold even in these places of death. And the small voice of faith within us—the voice of innocence—answers, “Lord, You know.” He knows the dryness and the darkness, even the worst of it. During His life on earth, in a body like ours, He went there. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). If He, the Lord, stands with us in the valley of dry bones and says that it is still possible for us to live… He knows.
Thus says the Lord Jehovah to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am Jehovah.” (Ez. 37:5, 6)
—Rev. Jared Buss, March 2019