One of the best-known stories in the Old Testament concerns a vision that came to the prophet Ezekiel. It was a vision of a valley of dry bones—dead people. But when Ezekiel prophesies to the bones at God’s command, “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezek. 37:9) they become living men again. God then explains the vision’s meaning.

Behold, [the Israelites] say,… ‘Our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’…Therefore prophesy, and say to them…‘I will bring you home…and I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.’” (Ezek 37:11,12,14).

What an encouragement this vision must have been to the exiles when Ezekiel shared it with them. They thought they had lost everything, but God promised that he would restore it all to them. And more—he would put his Spirit within them all (not just upon certain select individuals), something which he had never done before.

There’s a connection between this passage and John 20:19-23. It’s a week after Easter, and Jesus’ disciples are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish authorities. But locked doors don’t stop Jesus. He appears among them and greets them in the usual Jewish way. Then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

It’s not difficult to imagine how the disciples must be feeling at this moment. They know that Jesus is risen from the dead. But he’s no longer physically present with them, and they don’t know what that’s gong to mean. He led them during his ministry, but how can he protect them from the Jewish authorities when he isn’t there (they don’t yet have his promise that he’s with them always)? Will he expect them to continue his mission? If so, how can they? No wonder, then, that, as John says, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).

It’s the idea of breath and Spirit that connects these two passages. The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma both include the meanings of “wind,” “breath,” and “spirit.” In both passages God breathes new life into his discouraged people by his Spirit, previewing Pentecost.

As it was for the exiled Israelites and the fledgling Church, so it is for us today. For many people, these are uncertain times. They’ve lost jobs, homes, and relationships. They’re afraid and ready to give up. But God can, and will, blow away our fear and discouragement by the power of His Spirit. If we keep our focus on him rather than our circumstances, he will strengthen and renew us.

Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God, so shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.
Edwin Hatch, 1878