God spoke to the great prophets of the Old Testament in some rather unique ways, most of them deeply visual. Ezekiel had wonderful visions that would grasp his hearers’ imagination, causing them to pay attention and think profoundly. In one of those visions he saw a great valley of dry bones bleaching in the sun. Visualize that scene with me for just a moment. Before us is a wide valley, filled with bones as far as the eye can see in every direction. A great army or a mighty people have all died, and their bones lie exposed to the weather. Ezekiel stands “in the midst of the valley,” when the Lord enters the scene and causes Ezekiel “to pass by [the bones] round about . . . and, lo, they were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:1–2). After Ezekiel makes a circuit of the valley, the Lord addresses His prophet with a question: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel responds in a purely human way: “O Lord God, thou knowest” (Ezekiel 37:3). In other words, “Why are you asking me?”
The Lord then continues, “Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, . . . I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:4–5). Ezekiel prophesies, and the Lord’s words come true.
Giving Breath to Dry Bones
Ezekiel describes a quite dramatic moment, complete with sound. Now, along with our visualization, we need to listen and we’ll hear “a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone” (Ezekiel 37:7). We can visualize this; we can hear it—all those bones rattling and clacking together, the ribs lining up, the skulls reattaching. We see this great army of skeletons gathered there, but they need the clothing of flesh. While Ezekiel watches, “Lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above” (Ezekiel 37:8). But there is still no life in them. They’re just assembled there, waiting.
With that unbelievable question still fresh in our minds, “Can these bones live?” the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy again: “Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9). And Ezekiel prophesies! Ezekiel calls the four winds. Let us see this moment in our imagination. The winds sweep down from the four cardinal points of the compass and pass through the lifeless men. Then—you can hear it—that great army draws in breath and lives, “and [stands] up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).
What is the purpose of this remarkable vision? Is it a witness of the Resurrection? Perhaps the Lord has something else in mind. He teaches Ezekiel what his wonderful vision of the dry bones was about. It has a powerful meaning, necessary for all of our lives. The Lord says, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost” (Ezekiel 37:11; emphasis added).
The Lord desires for us to realize, through that powerful vision Ezekiel experienced, that though our hopes may be dead and dried and bleaching in the sun, we are to anticipate the breath of God. Then there will be a great noise and a shaking, and our hopes will come together again, stand up, and draw in breath. We will know that moment in our own lives when the great army stands and steps forward boldly into the future.
Much of this depends on us. It will happen if we only know where to look. Hope is a creation as well as a gift!
One Word Missing from the Bible Dictionary
I was preparing a talk on faith, hope, and charity. I decided I would start in the Bible Dictionary and see what I could find there. I searched for those three words alphabetically. I started with charity, looking up what the Bible Dictionary said about charity, and collected some scriptures on that theme. I found much that was helpful.
Then it was on to faith. I found good information and references about faith, which I searched and consequently harvested some wonderful ideas. Last, I turned to hope. What do you think I discovered? It wasn’t there! Hope is not in the Bible Dictionary. I was amazed! Just to make sure it wasn’t only my Bible Dictionary, I asked a friend, “Would you please check your Bible and see if hope is in the Bible Dictionary?” It wasn’t in hers, either. I had to work a little to find stories and verses about hope around which I could construct my talk.
Perhaps this little experience is indicative of our lives. We have to look for hope! We have to create it!
Lead image from Getty Images
When life's challenges seem overwhelming, where can you turn for help? Using powerful stories from the scriptures, S. Michael Wilcox teaches that hope can be found in looking beyond obstacles and moving forward with faith, in looking back at past experiences that may have prepared us for future challenges, and in looking for times when the Savior walks with us.