One of the toys I loved playing with as a kid, and still do now that we have our own children, is Mr Potato Head. If you’re not familiar with this toy, it has a potato-shaped body with a lot of different arms, legs, eyes, ears, noses, ears, hats and other body parts or items which you can mix and match. The idea behind the toy is that you can make a huge number of different potato people using all the different body parts.
Can you imagine what it would be like, though, to be able to bring Mr Potato Head to life? What would your reaction be if someone told you to speak to the wind and tell it to breathe life into your Mr Potato Head so it could come alive?
People who love the Toy Story movies might think that would be awesome! Others might think I’ve gone a bit crazy. Whatever your reaction might be, I wonder if we would react like Ezekiel when God asked him if the dry bones God showed him could become living people again (Ezekiel 37:3)? I know that there are some significant differences between a Mr Potato Head toy and dried-up human bones, but the principle is pretty much the same – can something which has no life in it become a living, breathing being?
As Ezekiel’s story continues in chapter 37, God does something miraculous. God tells Ezekiel to speak a prophetic message, which he does, and the bones reconnect and are covered with muscles, flesh and skin. However, there is still no life in the bodies. Then God tells Ezekiel to speak again, to tell the four winds to breathe life into the dead bodies. When Ezekiel speaks God’s message, breath enters the dead bodies, they come to life and stand up on their feet.
When we read this story, it helps to know that the Hebrew language of the Old Testament has one word which mean breath, wind and spirit – ruach (pronounced roo-ach with the ch sounding like it does in school). It might be a good idea to read the story again, taking note of all the times it mentions spirit, breath or wind. Each time, this one word ruach is used. It is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 when God’s Spirit, or ruach, was hovering over the waters. In the Ezekiel story, God’s Spirit worked through the word God gave to Ezekiel to create new life where there had been death.
We can read this story in the light of the resurrection of Jesus to hear how God can raise the dead and will raise us along with all believers to new life when Jesus returns at the end of time. That is the ultimate hope we have in Jesus as God’s people.
However, God originally told Ezekiel to bring this message to his people who were exiled in captivity in Babylon. They were the ones who were saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones – all hope is gone’ (v11 NLT). This story isn’t just about eternal life in heaven. It is God speaking hope to people who were in exile, isolated from their homes and loved ones, who had lost their national identity and sense of community.
This is where this story can speak to us as well. We are facing a time which could be thought of as a kind of exile. As more people self-isolate because of the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are at risk of becoming like old, dry bones and losing hope. I have seen how destructive fear and isolation can be to people’s well-being and mental health. However, I have also seen how powerful hope, and especially the hope that comes from faith in Jesus, can be as the antidote to fear and isolation.
As we self-isolate to protect ourselves and others from the threat of the virus, what will prevent us from becoming like old, dry bones is the life-giving breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God, which God gives to us through his Word. In the Old Testament times, prophecy was more about bringing a word from God that foretelling the future. The prophetic message God gave to Ezekiel and the other prophets was to speak his word into a particular circumstance. In this story, the word God gave Ezekiel to speak filled the dead with new life as God breathed his Spirit into his people. God’s life-giving Spirit, working through the Word God gave to Ezekiel, brought the dead back to life and gave hope to God’s people in exile – that God would bring them through the exile, give them life, and they would return home again.
As we face an uncertain future and the possibility of our own, personal exiles in our homes, this story becomes God’s prophetic message to us. COVID-19, and the fear and isolation it brings, has the potential to rob us of life. But God’s Word is stronger and more powerful than a virus. No matter what happens, the Holy Spirit will continue to work through God’s life-giving Word to breathe the life of Jesus into us so we can live in the hope that God will get us through this, we will return to our families and communities of faith, and we will live again.
Please consider putting a bookmark in your Bibles at Ezekiel 37. If there are times during the coming months when you begin to feel like you are becoming like old, dry bones, please read this story again. The Breath of God, his Holy Spirit, will continue to work through God’s prophetic Word to breath the resurrection life of Jesus into you, so you will be able to live in the hope that God will bring you through this time and we will be united again as a community of faith in Jesus.
I might not be able to breathe life into Mr Potato Head and make it live, but God can do that for us and for others through us!
More to think about:
- What questions do you have of this story, or what doesn’t make sense to you?
- What do you think your reaction might have been if you were Ezekiel and God asked you if a valley of dry bones could become living people again? Why might you have reacted that way?
- What do you think about this story being more about hope for the future than the resurrection of the dead? How might that change the way you understand the story?
- As we face time when we will effectively be in exile from each other, what do you hear God saying to you through this story?
- What scares you most about the spread of the COVID-19 virus? What in this story can give you hope?