(Today’s post by James Rooks)
Two college football teams claim the name “Death Valley,” each staking a different historical claim to the nickname.
Clemson’s stadium gained fame with the nickname “Death Valley” for Memorial Stadium, derived from the location of the Clemson University cemetery on a hill that once overlooked the field—before the upper decks were constructed. In the 1940’s a coach commented about an upcoming game with Clemson that he had “to take his team up to Clemson and play in death valley” where teams rarely scored or gained a victory.
LSU, one of the toughest places for opponents to play (especially on Saturday night), also calls its home field Death Valley. Legendary stories of dramatic victories for the LSU Tigers run over the course of 60+ years on their home field. Their claim to the name is traced to a gas station near the stadium called “Death Valley” back in the 1920’s.
Then there’s the death valley from “Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This writing is narrative about a battle that took place in 1854 during the Crimean War. As the story goes, a British military commander sent 600 light infantry troops (the Light Brigade) to chase after a retreating Russian artillery battery. Lines got crossed and the Light Brigade walked right into what would be considered a terrible ambush. Instead of over taking their foes, they were beaten badly and had to make a hasty retreat while incurring heavy casualties…hence the name “Valley of Death”.
Though the above mentioned Death Valleys and Valleys of Death are pretty interesting and compelling, the original “Death Valley” can be found in today’s reading in Ezekiel 37. The thought of playing football in death valley might be troubling for an opponent and the memory of those that perished with the Light Brigade is tragic, neither compare to the despair of an entire nation of people that existed in the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. Captive, along with the rest of the Jews in Babylon, Ezekiel could see that the glory days of King David and King Solomon were becoming a distant memory. Then in chapter 37, we can see a glimmer of hope and redemption for Israel.
Ezekiel is taken by the spirit to a valley completely filled with dry bones. This valley of dry bones is a picture of the nation of Israel as it had fallen from greatness and wasted away in captivity. In this famous chapter, we see God breathe life into these dead bones and resurrect the dead back to life. A scattered kingdom is reunited, and an eternal King from the line of David takes the throne, never to be unseated again. Ezekiel sees that as God is able to bring back the dead bones to life, He would one day again bring to life the physically and spiritually dead people.
There are at least four forevers (depending on your translation) used by God referring to a covenant that He will make with his people from verse 24-28. First, they will live in the land that I gave Jacob forever. Second, His servant David will be enthroned forever. Third, God Himself will make His sanctuary with them forever. And fourth, all the nations will know that the Lord makes Israel holy when He is with them forever. You can see these references also in Rev 17:14; 19:16; 21:1.
Imagine the hope that filled Ezekiel as he had this amazing God encounter! Israel was at one of its historic low points, yet here was this message for God’s people that they would be brought back. Even in the valley of dry bones, there is hope for life and victory again when God is present.
So now a key question. Have all these promises been fulfilled yet? I would say no. Are they still yet to come? Yes. As believers we should be putting our hope in several elements from Ezekiel 37. That God’s resurrecting power is real and not an idea. If we have the promise of life after death, we had better find assurance in God’s ability to breathe life into us. The next is that His Anointed One will come again and reign.
Just as there seemed to be no life and no hope of victory in the valley of dry bones, “death valley,” God’s promises bring life and hope to reality then and still today. We serve a God who is both Creator and Savior, King and Healer. This is the same God who gave Adam his first breath in Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” If God says it’s going to happen, then we can bank on it.