There are times, whether during a new startup, during rough economic times, or during periods of peak productivity, when efficient teams are described favorably as “lean and mean”. These groups accomplish more with less, work with intensity and teamwork, and manage to produce more results even than larger teams doing the same team.
However, there are limits to the human condition, even when paired with others having a similar goal. Whether as part of employment, or in school, ministry, or just life sometimes, we may feel so stretched out so thin that we’ve gotten well past the point of feeling “lean and mean”. We’ve been pulled so far – whether mentally, physically, or emotionally – that we don’t really feel like we have much left to give.
It is in these times that it may seem that we’ve gone from being “lean and mean”, to “scrawny and ticked off”! At some point, we’re operating beyond our capabilities (referring to times when we do so through human effort, not the days when God’s power supercharges us), and it’s easy to get frustrated and angry (not always directed at what is causing our problems, though).
Now, I was a little excited to teach about Ezekiel 37:1-14, since it includes a prophecy that might not be as well-known as some others in the Bible, but still has some cultural ties. For instance:
- There’s an old song called Dry Bones (or “‘Dem Bones”, sung by the Delta Rhythm Boys, among others – Delta Rhythm Boys – Dry Bones – YouTube) about this story. We might recognize the phrases like, “The toe bone connected to the heel bone. The heel bone connected to the foot bone, and so on…” from that song.
- In fact, I saw a clip of the Cathedrals Quartet where they introduced this song by pointing out that a couple of them felt in the morning like they were dry bones being put together (Cathedrals Quartet – Dry Bones – YouTube). I don’t know about you, but I can kind of relate to that feeling, sometimes.
- There are newer songs called “Come Alive”, subtitled “Dry Bones” (Lauren Daigle – “Come Alive (Dry Bones) (Live at the CentricWorship Retreat) – YouTube), and “Rattle” (RATTLE! | Official Lyric Video | Elevation Worship – YouTube).
Here are the first couple of verses from that chapter in Ezekiel:
The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.
Ezekiel 37:1-2 NIV
So, Ezekiel is having a vision – I’m not sure how much of this was physical and how much was spiritual – and God takes him to this valley of bones. Peeking ahead to verses 9-10, that these bones appear to be the remains of a slain army.
I’m not sure if you’ve studied the events of the invasion of Normandy, or seen Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movies, but after a great battle, the reality is that there are many casualties. Now, not all casualties are beyond hope, and the wounded will often be cared for by the side that won the battle. If the victors are merciful, they may take the wounded opponents and imprison them. While there is hope for the wounded, though, the dead are lost. For the dead, when the victorious side has the resources and will to do so, they will bury the bodies out of respect.
However, when those that remain (after the battle) are unable or unwilling to bury the dead, we might expect that – especially in the desert – after a while, scavengers and the elements would take their toll, and all that would be left after a while would be dry bones. In fact, these bones might even be scattered by animals and wind, so that they weren’t even where they had fallen.
In this vision, there weren’t just a few bones, but “a great many bones” according to the NIV (v2). The NASB says that the valley “…was full of bones.” (v1) It is as if a great slaughter took place in this valley, and the dead bodies were left. These weren’t soldiers who had been hurt and needed some help, or those who had taken some cuts and stabs from the enemies’ swords and could limp off to tend to their wounds. They weren’t even bodies that had been given the dignity of being buried with honor. They were slain, and their bodies had lain out in the open for a while.
In fact, I imagine the classic picture of a desert in the American Southwest, with the bones of some animal sticking out of the sand.
So, do we feel like this, sometimes? Has life gotten to the point where it seems that there is no hope. We tried being “lean and mean”, but now we’re exhausted and bitter and angry all the time. There is good news as we continue in this chapter of Ezekiel. If you need some encouragement today, won’t you read all of Ezekiel 37:1-14, to learn about the power of God to breathe life where there is no human hope of recovery?
From Sunday School lesson prepared for September 18, 2022
- The Lookout, September 18, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.