Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in Babylonia, probably when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 597 BC. These exiles were the upper levels of society; the rank and file were left behind under a king appointed by the Babylonians. The fact that there were still Israelites living in Jerusalem and worshipping in the temple gave the exiles hope: they believed God would never let his temple be destroyed, and that they would soon be allowed to return. Ezekiel warned them that God could not tolerate all the evil going on in Jerusalem, and that the city and its temple would end up being destroyed. This happened ten years later, in 587 BC, and most of the rest of the people joined the exiles in Babylonia.
When Jerusalem finally fell, the tone of Ezekiel’s prophecies changed. He no longer had to warn the people not to assume everything would be all right. They were now in utter despair, and saw no hope of return to their country. The message of Ezekiel 37 addresses their hopelessness, with its vision of the valley of dry bones. The point is obvious: God is able to bring life out of death, and to make happen what the people believe impossible.
This reading is one of those set for ‘Passion Sunday’, when we begin to focus on the events leading up to Easter. The readings anticipate resurrection. ‘Can these bones live?’ The obvious answer is, ‘No.’ But God had a different answer. He wants us too to have hope where others see none.
What situations are you in despair about – both personally, and in the church? What is God saying to you?