Ezekiel stood in the middle of the valley looking at the human bones strewn everywhere. According to the narrative, the Lord had brought him there “in the Spirit of the Lord” and “He caused me to pass all around them, and behold, there were very many [human bones] in the open valley; and lo, they were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:1-2, AMP). As he surveyed the scene in the vision, the Lord asked him a straightforward question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (v. 3a). One would think a simple yes or no would have been enough. However, as the question lingered in his ear, his attention was fixed on the realities before him – the exceeding great number of bones and their condition. Whomever or whatever the bones represented had died a long time ago.
In context, the dried bones reflected the state of the Israelites, God’s people, who were at this time exiled in Babylon. Earlier God had told Ezekiel that “they were scattered because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered” (Ezekiel 34:5, KJV). They were nationally dead with seemingly no hope of restoration. The prophet, Israel’s watchman (Ezekiel 33:7), had contemplated this situation for quite some time. God would later explain to him, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts'” (Ezekiel 37:11, KJV), but at that moment he had a question to answer: “Son of man, can these bones live?” The best answer the man of God could up with was “O Lord GOD, thou knowest” (Ezekiel 37:3b).
Ezekiel’s response is that of an individual who wants to believe and trust God but finds it difficult to ignore the realities of what is before them. It is the inner struggle between faith and doubt; the “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” moment. Latin Christian apologist Marcus M. Felix was right when he said, “God is beyond our ken–infinite, immense, and His real greatness is known to Himself alone. Our mind is too limited to understand Him.” According to the Expositor’s Bible, “The prophet’s hesitating answer probably reveals the struggle between faith and sight, between hope and fear, which was latent in his mind. He dare not say no, for that would be to limit the power of Him whom he knows to be omnipotent, and also to shut out the last gleam of hope from his own mind. Yet in presence of that appalling scene of hopeless decay and death he cannot of his own initiative assert the possibility of resurrection.” This is a crossroad with which most of us are familiar.
It is instructive that the Lord did not chide Ezekiel for his uncommitted response. Though He requires faith from us and does not excuse our not exercising same, He understands our inherent weaknesses. Through a series of instructions from the Lord God, the prophet prophesied to the bones and saw them coming back together, “the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above . . . and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (vv. 8-10). God had come through again at a time when things seemed impossible. As He was then, He is still the same today. His power has not diminished, His authority over all things has not waned. It is up to us to believe.