Dem Bones, original version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVoPG9HtYF8
Eighties version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLg-v4CS4nQ
Modern version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCEK-ZdOggU
The spiritual, Dem Bones, written in the 1920’s, first recorded in 1928; so it does not go back to slave days like most spirituals. It is not a folk song, but rather a spiritual because of the solid reference to Ezekiel in today’s reading.
Verse 4 gives us a key verse: Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. KJV
The most important message is that God alone can bring the dead back to life. To prove his point to Israel, God had Ezekiel experience the valley of dry bones. He watched as the bones assembled themselves and flesh grew on them.
But notice that they were not yet alive. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. KJV The same Hebrew word is used for breath here as in Genesis 2:7; And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. KJV
And, it is the word used for the Spirit of God. The Spirit brings life.
The Gospel story of Lazarus is Ezekiel come to life. The bones were not sun-bleached, but the stench of death was all over the body.
We see some strange things as we read the story. When Jesus receives word that Lazarus is ill and his sisters fear for his life, Jesus remains two more days near the Jordan River. The reason is simple, Jesus listened to the word of the Lord.
Just as God gave a visual lesson to Ezekiel, God planned to give one to the followers of Jesus. He did not tell Jesus to move until Lazarus was already dead and buried. It took all day for Jesus and his disciples to walk up the mountain from the Jordan to Bethany, just a stone’s throw east of Jerusalem.
In chapter 10, the Pharisees chased Jesus out of Jerusalem, so his disciples tried to talk him out of getting as close a Bethany. His answer? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him. Phillips
Remember that last week’s lesson was about walking in the light, and that light equals life. If we walk in the Light of God, all is well, but to walk in darkness will lead to death eternal.
Jesus chose this obscure statement to answer his disciples exactly to connect the idea of Light with resurrection. He knew he was going to command the dead body of Lazarus to take a breath, stand up, and walk out of his earthly tomb. He needed his followers to make all the connections.
Lazarus is not a moment of magic. It is not an illusion. He does not appear where there was once a tiger. Lazarus was dead. The Breath of the Spirit of God made him alive again.
Life comes from God alone.
Be righteous and do good.