Ezekiel 37:1-14

Fresh Beginnings

Dr. Keith Wagner


Last weekend Lin and I took several hikes in the Smoky Mountains. One particular trail led us to Ownby’s cabin, located in Fighting Creek, deep in the woods. Around the perimeter of the Ownby farm there were some rocks piled. At one time they stood as high as six feet, marking the boundary of each landowner. The cabin was dark and I commented to Lin that life in the 1800’s must have been difficult. To keep warm and have enough food for the winter had to be a great challenge. There is no way we could live like the pioneers of the past.

It was interesting to hike through the settlement. One could only imagine them growing corn and catching fish in the streams. No doubt they spent hours chopping wood. Just a few hundred yards away was a road. You could hear cars passing by. It wasn’t there when the Ownby’s worked the land in the foothills of the Smokies. The road was built when the park opened in 1934. The project was one of President Roosevelt’s contributions to the American people.

The Ownby’s and all the other pioneers are long gone. But their home is now part of a nature trail of the Smoky Mountain National Park. Trees still grow and wildlife still flourishes. The settlers came with axes, plows and guns and changed the forest scene, interrupting the pattern of forest growth. Now people come with backpacks, maps and water bottles as they hike the trails, leaving behind the scenes of stone fences, tilled cornfields and log cabins. They have been replaced with new trees, plants and flowers. Lin and I paused and took a picture of some daffodils, one of the first signs of Spring, just a few yards from the trail. New life had been breathed into the mountains. The wind of God continues to blow fresh air so that life can continue.

God is a God of resurrecting power. God breathes new life into the lifeless. God can make dry bones live and God’s spirit has the power of infusion, to bring people together. In this passage we have an account where God breathed new life into the faith community in the valley of dry bones. In a totally lifeless place God told the prophet, Ezekiel, to preach to the bones and say to them,

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…
Behold, I will cause breath to enter you,
and you shall live.”

Like the Ownby’s farm, which no longer exists, the nation of Israel had ceased to be a viable, living community. The Ownbys probably died off or moved to another location. The Israelites, however had turned away from God. They had become arrogant and filled with righteous indignation. Consequently they collapsed and their community became a land of dry bones. All seemed hopeless as their nation was in ruins.

Their only hope is in God and Ezekiel becomes God’s agent for new life. God tells Ezekiel to preach to the bones and say to them,

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…
Behold, I will cause breath to enter you,
and you shall live.”

Ezekiel prophesied as commanded.

“There was a noise, and behold, a rattling;
and the bones came together
and flesh came upon them.”

God then told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath (or wind, or spirit) that they might live. Ezekiel preached to the breath and the bones lived and stood up and God promised they would be raised from their graves.

Our land is anything but a land of dry bones — or is it? We live in a land of abundance and we are a people who are free. Opportunities abound and we are blessed with a myriad of possibilities. Why then is there so much depression and despair? Why is their conflict in relationships? Why are so many people unhappy and feeling empty? Why isn’t God breathing fresh air into our lives today?

I believe that part of the problem is the fact that we want newness but we are reluctant to change. We perpetuate old habits, and like Israelites, we are so filled with ourselves we don’t give God a chance to breathe life into our souls. Our bones are dry because we too have turned to other gods.

God will breath new life into us too when we are willing to turn away from those things in life that consume us. You may have heard recently that Jack Nicklaus’s grandson drowned in a hot tub. His seventeen month grandson, Jake, died last week. The Nicklaus family is devastated. The tragic death of a child is too much for anyone to bear. You wonder why these things happen.

If you know anything about the game of golf the timing couldn’t be worse, since the Master’s tournament is coming up soon. Jack Nicklaus announced that he has decided not to play. He said his family is more important at the moment. It’s a sad time for the family, but the wind of God prevails. Jack’s daughter-in-law is three months pregnant. In the midst of their hopelessness God’s spirit of new life is breathing new life into their family.

God also breathes new life into us when we are open to change. I understand that the Sidney YMCA is on land that used to be a junk yard. An area that was once an unsightly mess is now a popular recreation and physical fitness center in the community. The same transformation can happen in our lives when the spirit of God breathes fresh wind upon us. We can’t make it happen, but we can at least expose ourselves to the word of God and “listen.”

Perhaps your life is like a land of dry bones and all seems hopeless. Who are you listening to? Are you exposing yourself to the word of God and creating a crack in your stubbornness so God can get through? Are you trying to hold on to the past out of fear which is like a wind breaker that keeps the spirit of God from penetrating your soul?

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…
Behold, I will cause breath to enter you,
and you shall live.”

What I find truly amazing about this story is that God continued to breathe new life to Israel in spite of their sinful ways. They may have turned away from God, but God didn’t turn away from them.


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In 1980 Mount Saint Helens erupted, and the Pacific Northwest shuddered under its devastating impact. Forests were destroyed by fire. Rivers were choked with debris. Fish and other wildlife died. Toxic fumes filled the air. Reporters ominously predicted that acid rain would develop from the ash-laden clouds. The future for the area seemed bleak.

Nevertheless, less than a year after the eruption, scientists discovered that despite the fact that the rivers had been clogged with hot mud, volcanic ash, and floating debris, some of the salmon and steelhead had managed to survive. By using alternate streams and waterways, some of which were less than six inches deep, the fish returned home to spawn. Within a few short years, the fields, lakes, and rivers surrounding Mount Saint Helen teemed with life. The water and soil seemed to benefit from the nutrients supplied by the exploding volcano. Even the mountain itself began to show signs of new vegetation. (from God’s Little Lessons for Graduates, Honor Books)

Challenges in life can enrich us and make us stronger. Trouble may only be the means to show us a different way to go, a different way to live. It may even be an opportunity to start afresh. Perhaps your life feels like the valley of dry bones Perhaps you are filled with despair and have no hope of recovery. Ezekiel’s story reminds us to listen to the word of God for God’s spirit can breathe new life into our emptiness.

God breathed hew life in the Valley of the dry bones. God breathed new life in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and Mount Saint Helens. God is constantly breathing new life where no life exists. We may have to accept the fact that times are changing, therefore making some changes in our lives. We may have to walk away from those things in life that consume us. God wants us to turn to God as the source of our hope and acknowledge that we need to depend on the breath of God for newness and fresh air.

––Copyright, 2005, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.