The quintessential imagery of arid conditions is dry bones. The skeleton of a long-dead animal lying in the desert speaks of the harshness of the climate and of the lack of life-giving water. The contrast is the imagery of a tree surrounded by lush grass. This picture declares an abundance of water, either from rain, or from a river or stream. Both images are found in the scriptures and they teach a valuable and timeless lesson.
In Ezk. 37:1-14 God brought the prophet to a valley that was full of bones. In v. 3 the scripture says that the bones were very dry. These bones were from a great army that had long ago perished on the field of battle. The bodies of the dead had been left exposed and over time had become nothing but bones. They had been there so long that it was not possible for them to live again. God, however, demonstrated His power to the prophet by bringing them back to life to symbolize that He would one day restore Israel to the promised land.
The contrasting imagery is in Psa. 1:1-4. Here the unknown author said, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
Both of these images are timeless in their application. Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2), and, being dead in sin, we are like the valley of dry bones. We have no hope of life by our own power. We are dead and will remain so until God brings us back to life by our obedience to the gospel. When we are baptized into Christ we become alive again by the power of God to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).
At the moment of our obedience we become like a tree firmly planted by streams of water (Psa. 1:3). So long as we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate upon it day and night, we will be alive and fruitful in the Lord’s service. So long as we give first place to God and to His word, God will provide all we need (Mt. 6:33). So long as we continue in the word of the Lord, we will never be in spiritual want (cf. Jn. 8:31-32). This is the promise of Psa. 1.
The common factor in both of these examples is the power of God. The dry bones that Ezekiel saw had no life within themselves. Until God acted upon them, they would remain dead, dry, and lifeless. Only when God commanded them did they return to life. In a similar way, the tree firmly planted by streams of water is only there because of the power of God’s word. The psalmist correctly declared that dependence on God’s law is what turns one into such a tree.
This is the timeless lesson from these two images. If we seek to go it alone, devoid of God’s word, or in contradiction to it, we will be like the dry bones Ezekiel saw. We will lie, parched and dry, and lifeless, with no hope in this life or in eternity. If, on the other hand, we take delight in God’s word, and avail ourselves of it day and night, we will indeed be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. We will be spiritually nourished and need not fear anything life may cast in our path. When we acknowledge the futility of our striving, and turn in humble submission to God, then we truly begin to live. Our life on earth will be blessed in ways the lost cannot imagine, and our hope for eternity will be secure.