Dry Bones

Sometimes you can be flicking through the pages of your bible, and the name of a particular book will fly by, and you find yourself thinking, “What’s that one all about? I can’t remember anything, just at the moment…” You know you must have read Obadiah, and you know it’s the shortest book in the Old Testament; but if anyone asks you to tell them about it, you’ll have to fall back on “The Bluffer’s Guide To The Bible”...

That’s a good question, but, the thing is this: Obadiah is one of a number of prophets who are known as ‘prophets of the Day of the Lord’ and it wouldn’t make much sense to talk about him in isolation; so, what you need to do is to read through a couple of the books in the same section of the O.T., and then get back to me, and we’ll take it from there.

This will buy you some time, and the ‘prophets of the Day of the Lord’ bit might well impress them, and the chances are good that they won’t bother you again. They will go in search of a guide who will give them an accessible overview of the book in a few well-chosen words, and thus set them on the road to a fruitful study of the scriptures.

And it’s not just Obadiah, is it? Take Ezekiel, for instance: all those signs and symbols and prophecies - how are we meant to understand them in the context of the bible as a whole? 

Since I’m no great scholar, I would suggest that you consult someone who knows rather more than I do, and someone who can write clearly and concisely for the common man, if you’ll pardon the expression. May I recommend to you Rodger Crooks’ “One Lord, One Plan, One People”, published in 2011 by Banner Of Truth? This is what the front cover looks like.

The subtitle reads “A Journey Through The Bible From Genesis To Revelation”, and the back cover suggests that it “will show you how the bible is not a collection of random stories, but that all its sixty-six books focus on Jesus, the one Lord who is the terminal point of God’s promises. It is the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and return which is the bible’s big theme. As you view the bible through that lens, you will grasp how its individual parts interlock.”

Since we’ve mentioned Ezekiel, what does our author have to say about chapter 37, and that famous vision of the valley of dry bones?

Restoration is seen in terms of a valley full of dry bones coming to life again (37:1-14). This giving of new life to the dead goes far beyond a mere return from exile. It anticipates the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit who gives spiritual life to the spiritually dead. When Jesus speaks of regeneration to Nicodemus in John 3, he expects him to be familiar with the concept through understanding Old Testament passages such as Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Ezekiel 36:24-28. Chapter 37 also points to the hope of a bodily resurrection, seen as a return to the land in its fullest sense. As Ezekiel’s last symbolic act highlights, restoration also brings about the reunification of God’s people (37:15-28). How can reunification happen when the northern kingdom has been absorbed into the Gentile world and obliterated as a separate entity? Paul sees its realization in the calling of the Gentiles, by the grace of God, into union with his favoured people (Romans 9:23-28). Restoration will see the final victory of God’s purposes (38:1-39:29). The bible itself cautions us not to take what Ezekiel is saying in a literal way. Since the names of the nations attacking God’s people crop up in the ‘Table of Nations’ in Genesis 10, this struggle mirrors the broader conflict between the descendants of Japheth and Ham and the descendants of Shem, which goes back to the ancient battle between the woman’s seed and Satan (Genesis 3:15). The powers of darkness will never ultimately defeat God’s people or thwart God’s purposes (Matthew 16:18).

What? You’re not sure about the last three sentences or so? Well, you’ll just have to buy the book and read it from the beginning in order to see them in context, then!

Of course, none of this will help you if your spiritual life currently resembles the dead, dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley of vision. In that case, may I turn you to verses 3 to 5 of chapter 37, and then to the words of Edwin Hatch’s fine hymn, and suggest that you make them your earnest prayer?

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what Thou dost love,
and do what Thou wouldst do.