|Valley of the Dry Bones
Author: Brian Lawrence PM
Ezekiel has been having visions from God and now he's on his way to the Valley of the Dry bones, where God has told him go to. What he can't figure out is why the sandal maker is with him.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Spiritual/Adventure - Words: 2,895 - Published: 05-12-12 - id: 3021878
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Valley of Dry Bones
An Interpretation of Ezekiel 37:1 - 14
By Brian Lawrence
Ezekiel stopped short of cursing God. He bit back his tongue to avoid invoking the wrath of his Lord, who had been paying particular attention to the prophet of late. Swirling sand stung his face. If only he could protect it, but after his wife's death, the Lord had commanded him not to cover the lower part of his face. Grit crunched between his teeth as he bobbed along atop his camel.
To his left, nearly lost in the blowing sand, though only a few feet away, his traveling companion, Simeon, a simple sandal maker from Babylon, rode with turbaned head bowed and fingers entwined in the camel's shaggy mane. Of his face, only his eyes were visible above his wrap. Again, Ezekiel thought of cursing God for his dry, cracked lips and mouthful of sand.
This was their seventh day of travel, and the worst so far. The only consolation, it was cooler than the previous six days. Like dead sinners burning in agony, the wind moaned as it carved a path along the wide plain. He figured they must be close to the place his vision had shown him, for the mountains in the distance looked familiar.
Again, he glanced at Simeon. The man was asleep, Ezekiel realized. Why had the Lord commanded him to bring this lout along? A tradesman, and not a very good one at that, judging from the man's own worn sandals. Simeon had recently married a woman of questionable repute, who had been a widow only seventy days, and was many years his senior. Ezekiel figured Simeon had married her out of greed, for she had money, as her deceased husband had been a respected and successful clothing merchant.
Ezekiel turned his thoughts away from Simeon and back to the vision he'd had weeks ago. He'd been so sure of its meaning. The vast army raised from the dead he interpreted as the salvation of Israel, her coming to power once again. So certain was he of this meaning, he'd preached about it to his people whenever given the chance. But nine days ago, God revealed more, and now Ezekiel puzzled over the vision's meaning. Never before had he been commanded to actually participate in one of his visions, like he'd been commanded to do this time. Was God sending him to the Valley of the Dry Bones so that he could raise a real army and lead it to Israel's victory? He felt a flush of excitement, like he had over the last nine days every time he thought about being the commander of a supreme army, marching into Babylon to crush the pagan horde. Finally, his years of faithful service to God were to be rewarded, and in such a way as he'd never imagined.
But why Simeon? What did he have to do with Israel's salvation? Though the sandal maker had been brought to Babylon with the other captive Jews, he'd fallen into the pagan's ways. Several times during their trip, Ezekiel had spied the man praying to a little golden calf. Always early in the morning, Ezekiel feigned sleep to watch the idol worshipper. Now, he shook his head, lamenting how easily his fellow countrymen had given into the temptations of the pagans.
As soon as he raised the mighty army, he would destroy the Babylonians and their false gods. Possibly God would even put Ezekiel on the throne as his anointed one.
A shrill scream pierced the howling wind, freezing Ezekiel's blood and chasing away all thoughts of the kingdom to come. He glanced sideways at his traveling companion. Simeon was granite-stiff, staring forward, one arm raised, trembling finger pointing ahead. His mouth opened and closed in an attempt to form words, but no sound issued forth. The man's eyes were as wide and round as the harvest moon.
A frigid wind blew through Ezekiel's body, chilling him to the very core, and bringing with it the odor of rotting flesh. He heard and felt a low rumbling, a vibration in the earth itself, increasing in intensity by the second. An intense sense of dread washed over him as he forced himself to face forward.
At the sight, Ezekiel felt his face blanche and his heart fall to his feet. Ahead of them, black clouds boiled in the sky. Tendrils of darkness tickling the ground formed a curtain of evil that advanced toward them at a supernatural speed, too fast for them to outrun.
Instead, Ezekiel waited, confident that God had not brought him all this way just to be consumed by an evil storm. Simeon also waited, but apparently did not share Ezekiel's confidence, as he trembled so violently, he nearly fell from his camel.
When the first clouds reached them, the temperature plummeted. Ezekiel's teeth chattered, his breath wafted in clouds of condensation. Above and ahead, an even darker shape separated from the black backdrop, a sinister entity rising from a tar pit. Tiny pinpoints of red pierced the gloom. As the form coalesced, Ezekiel realized the red circles were eyes belonging to a massive winged beast.
A creature with the unnatural black body of a lion and the wings, talons, and head of an eagle dove straight down. The two men watched, frozen with fear, as the creature leveled when only a man's height above the ground, and arrowed toward them.
Ezekiel started to wheel his camel around, to make distance between the two men, but the creature came at such incredible speed, that before he could even get his beast turned, it was upon them. Both men shrieked loud enough to be heard above the screaming of the monster bearing down on them. But just when impact was imminent, the creature's wings passed through them, chilling Ezekiel's heart, and nearly knocking him from his mount, but otherwise leaving him unhurt.
The wind ceased. Silence cloaked them. The only sound Ezekiel heard was his own labored breathing. He felt the hot sun pummeling the back of his neck as he hung his head, catching his breath.
He could have stayed that way for some time, maybe long enough to take a quick nap, but Simeon roused his attention.
"Ezekiel, sir, look."
Something in Simeon's tone drove a shudder through Ezekiel, like a steel spike through his gut. He raised his head.
Picked clean by scavengers and bleached by the harsh sunlight, bones carpeted the vast plain for as far as Ezekiel could see. Skulls devoid of eyes, collapsed ribcages, arms, legs, fingers, and toes, the bones were scattered haphazardly.
"We're here," Ezekiel said quietly, afraid a loud noise might disturb those at rest.
"Where?" Simeon asked.
"The Valley of the Dry Bones. Three hundred years ago, the Assyrians routed our ancestors on this plain. And the pagans left them unburied, exposed to the ravages of nature." He glanced at Simeon, who had a disgusted expression on his face, his wrap now down around his neck. "This is the place God has directed us."
"For what purpose?" An edge lined Simeon's voice. "I allowed you to drag me out here without telling me why. I think it's time to let me in on your secret."
"We're going to raise the dead."
Simeon gaped at Ezekiel, but said nothing. The prophet climbed down from his camel to prepare for what he'd been called to do.
Ezekiel paced the perimeter of the bones, while Simeon waited by the camels. An acrid odor clung to the still and heavy air. Heat shimmered above the sand animating the bones in a spasmodic dance. Beads of sweat trickled down Ezekiel's temples and neck. With each footfall, the dull scraping of his sandals died in the void of the valley.
A distant hawk screeched. The prophet stopped, raised his gaze to the heavens and in a booming voice said, "Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones." He lowered his gaze and looked out over the valley, then spread his arms wide. "I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord."
Ezekiel dropped his arms and waited. For several moments nothing happened. Then, a soft sound permeated the stillness, like a distant game of dice. The sound grew, tens, hundreds, then thousands of die being rattled in their cups. The noise grew to a cacophony. The bones vibrated, no longer a heat-induced mirage. Ezekiel turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"What is happening?" Simeon yelled into Ezekiel's ear.
"The Lord is raising the dead."
"We shall soon find out."
The rattling noise became so loud both men covered their ears. The bones skittered across the sand, drawn by an unseen force to a single small area. They piled upon each other, creating a mound many man-heights, all the while vibrating against each other, the chattering of thousands of dead teeth.
The instant the last bone joined the pile, the noise and movement stopped.
Both men uncovered their ears. Silence so complete, Ezekiel swore he heard the beating of Simeon's heart.
Neither man moved. Ezekiel stared at the pile of bones for what seemed to be hours. Nothing happened. When the waiting became unbearable, he knitted his brows and started to turn away.
The earth shuddered so violently, both men nearly lost their balance. The ground heaved below them, tossing them into the air. They both landed on their behinds and watched in fascination as a wave of sand careened toward the pile of bones. When the wave reached the mound of remains, it exploded, bones catapulting upward and outward. The two men cringed, prostrated on the ground, and covered their heads, expecting bones to rain down upon them.
The sound of hail on a wooden roof filled the valley for many seconds, then silence again settled upon them.
The men stood.
Before them were at least a thousand complete skeletons, balancing precariously, swaying, though there was no breeze. All the empty eye sockets were trained on the two men.
Ezekiel felt compelled to raise his arms.
A snap echoed through the valley as tendons locked joints together. Then, like pink and red snakes slithering up a drain pipe, sinewy muscle crawled up the skeletons, starting at the toes, wrapping themselves around the calves, bunching at the thighs, spreading to the hips, chest, shoulders and finally the neck and jaws. Once all the musculature was completed, flesh, yellowish, fatty tissue, like bloated garden slugs, spread across the muscled bodies. The sound like a thousand men slurping new wine reverberated all around them.
Once fat covered all the bodies, skin clothed them, again from the toes upward. Eyes popped into the sockets, sounding like thousands of pebbles dropping into the Sea of Galilee. Tunics materialized out of the fetid air and draped over the bodies. Swords appeared in one hand of every undead man, a shield in the other.
Once all were completed, they remained standing, but their shoulders sagged, heads drooped, sword points rested in the sand. Ezekiel stared, wondering what would happen next.
A cool breeze touched the back of his neck and he remembered what he needed to say.
Feeling exalted, a rush of pride racing through his veins as he faced what he now considered his army, Ezekiel stretched his arms toward Heaven and shouted, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may live."
He dropped his arms.
A violent gust of wind came from all sides and blew over the army. In unison, the soldiers straightened, came to attention for a moment, then marched toward the two men, all eyes trained on them, expressions of malice on their wan faces. Untrained in military operations, Ezekiel was unsure what to say. He looked over at Simeon, who had recovered from his retching.
"Were you a soldier, by any chance?" Ezekiel asked.
Simeon nodded, gaze transfixed on the approaching army, now only fifty paces away.
Ezekiel raised his voice. "Suggestions?"
Finally, Simeon ripped his attention away from the army and looked at Ezekiel. "Tell...command them into formation. Say 'Halt' and then 'Formation'."
Ezekiel shouted as loud as he could to be heard over the thudding of thousands of feet. "Halt! I command you."
Nothing happened except the determined surge forward of the thousands of men.
Ezekiel decided to emphasize his command. "Halt, in the name of the Lord, I command you."
The soldiers were less than twenty paces.
"Well?" Ezekiel appealed to Simeon.
"Run!" Simeon turned and ran.
Ezekiel did the same, but ran away from both the approaching men and Simeon, deciding it would be better to split the army. After about a hundred paces, his age caught up to him. He stopped and bent over, his breath heaving. The thudding of the marching men seemed more distant. At least he'd bought some time. When he'd recovered enough to straighten, he surveyed the scene. The entire army was following Simeon.
Ezekiel trotted back in the direction he'd come, but stopped when he saw Simeon stumble on a stone and land face-first in the sand. The sandal maker struggled to his feet, but one of the soldiers had reached him and shoved him to the ground.
Ezekiel started running again, but had covered only half the distance when hundreds of soldiers reached Simeon. They formed a circle around the downed man, now lost to Ezekiel's view. By an unheard command, they all raised their swords, then closed the circle.
"Stop!" Ezekiel shouted and started running again. "Stop, I command you in the name of the Lord."
The orders went unheeded. In unison, the soldiers brought their swords down, then up, then down again. Ezekiel swore he heard a wail above the clanking of metal on metal. The soldiers continued to hack at the poor man until bits of flesh and sprays of blood flew from the points of their swords.
When the butchery stopped, Ezekiel had drawn close to the circle of undead soldiers. They parted and allowed him to see the bloody, unrecognizable mass of flesh that had been Simeon. The soldiers moved away, back toward where they'd come from. Ezekiel turned from the mangled corpse and watched the men. They spread out over the plain. When they'd reached what Ezekiel assumed was their original positions, they all looked at him, malicious grins on their pale faces.
The swords disappeared, then the shields.
For a moment, everything stopped. The wind held its breath and so did Ezekiel.
In the distance, a hawk screeched. The tunics disappeared to reveal only skeletons again. With a thunderous rattle, the bones collapsed into dry heaps.
For many minutes Ezekiel just stared out over the valley at the gleaming bones, wondering if everything had been a vision. But when he did not awaken back in Babylon, he realized this had been real. And when he turned to find his camel and saw the lump of flesh that had been a sandal maker, the point was driven home. And when he realized that the shining object atop the bloody body of Simeon was his golden calf idol, Ezekiel fell to his knees and prayed for forgiveness.
In his prayers, he asked God to clarify the meaning of this journey. Why had He brought him here to witness the butchering of Simeon? In the still heat, God sent several visions to him and his questions were answered. The first was of Simeon stabbing a man in the back. The man, Ezekiel realized, was the dead first husband of Simeon's new wife.
In the second vision, God spoke to Ezekiel. He said, "Tell the people this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. There will be one king over them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.'"
The final vision was of a bearded man in a white tunic and worn sandals, standing before a group of people. This man had an aura surrounding him. And the man said, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
Ezekiel thanked the Lord for the visions and for the lessons learned, then climbed to his feet, his old bones creaking, and rounded up the camels for the long trip back to Babylon.