April 10th: “Speak to the Bones”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Ezekiel 37:1-14

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for 5th Sunday in Lent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 Might Ezekiel have been given spiritual eyes to see the community in which he lives as the valley of dry bones rather than having been physically taken to another physical place to learn about the spirituality of the community allegorically.

2 Unlike Lazarus, God has to put flesh back on the bones as well as breath life into the flesh.

3 Is God asking is it possible or does Ezekiel have faith that it is possible? Ezekiel seems to answer with humility of who is he to tell God what is possible rather than affirming that with God all things are possible.

4. God does not speak to the bones directly, calling forth life as at the creation, but puts words in Ezekiel’s mouth. What will we do with the life giving words we have been given?

4. Like the street preacher who calls out to anyone to no one, having faith that through the sound of his voice the Word of God may be transmitted.

5 Accepting the breath of life is not a choice we have.

6. The renewal of our spirit is not of our doing, but God’s alone.

7. But yet we do have a task to do. We have to share the Word of God that has been made known to us with those around us. It is not that God needs us, but rather that God chooses to work through us!

8-9 Sometimes our meager efforts fall short of what we hope for, so we have to try a second time.

10 When God is with us, miracles are truly possible beyond our imagination. Picture the transformation from dried bones to fleshy bodies to a standing multitude. Picture the transformation of our communities from dispassionate about God’s church to a standing multitude singing praises to God and love kindness, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God!

11 Not only Israel but also our churches!

12 The worst kind of graves are spiritual rather than physical. Spiritual graves keep us from living to the glory of God.

13-14 What does it feel like to have God place his spirit within us, to set us up right, to open our spiritual graves?

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Amid a series of prophecies to/against Israel.
  • The book’s own chronology places Ezekiel’s prophetic call in Babylon during the fifth year of the Exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah (1:2), and the latest dated oracle in the book is assigned to the twenty-seventh year of the Exile (29:17).

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Other passages parallel only in the theme of resurrection to new life in Christ. This passage is particularly significant as it is a recreation of a people from their own bones.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • 6 “And you shall know I am YHVH” — know I am the Becomer/Creator.
  • 6/8 flesh arises upon the bones.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • No where does it say that the people asked to have their graves opened and to be put back on the land. God simply does it.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Is there a parallel between the dried bones of Ezekiel’s valley and the unchurched? If the dry bones are Israel, then they are also those who have dried up from the Gospel. Will they ever have flesh on them? Will they ever come to church again? Ezekiel says to prophesy to the bones and he does and they have life! Similarly we are to speak the Gospel to the unchurched and when we do they will hear the Word of God through us and they will live! But it is not only the unchurched who will breath again, it is also the members of the church itself that shall be renewed for God’s service.
  • This is a ghost story;

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Donald Gowan (Knox Preaching Guides: Ezekiel, John Knox Press, 1985) contrasts what is popularly known about this text through the African Spiritual “Dem Bones,” with life and death of the church. Principally interpreted by Christians as the resurrection of the dead in the last days; and restoration of Israel to the promised land. Gowan asserts that Ezekiel does not hedge on answering God’s questions, but admits that God can do whatever God wishes.

Eugene March (Presbyterian Outlook, October 26, 1998, p. 28, “God’s Vision for Exiles”) asks: In the dry bones times of your life, what did you do? How did you find help from God? Why is hope so important? What is the difference between wishful thinking and biblical hope?

Katheryn Pfisterer Darr (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon, 2001, “The Book of Ezekiel”) reflects that Ezekiel’s fellow deportees lame as good as dead and, without hope they might as well be dead. Ezekiel’s response to God’s question (“Can these bones live?” “Lord God, you know.”) is intentionally ambiguous. Psalm 88 answers this question rhetorically in the negative, as would any sane person. She describes Ezekiel’s prophecy and the exile as a zero moment from which God provides. She cites Elie Weisel who noted that this vision, unlike Ezekiel’s other visions, is undated for every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live again.

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