As I have been reading in the Psalms, I’ve noticed an interesting theme: The sorrow of sinners (and those suffering from the sins of others) affects their bodies. More specifically it afflicts their “bones.” Take a listen to some of the laments offered by David and others.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. (Psalm 6:2)
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. (Psalm 31:9-10 ESV)
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah (Psalm 32:3-4 ESV)
All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?” (Psalm 35:10 ESV)
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. (Psalm 38:3-4 ESV)
As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10)
The bodily effect of sin traces it origins to Genesis 2:17, when God said to Adam, “On the day that you eat of this tree you shall surely die.” And for most Christians the connection between sin and death is well-understood: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). But what is so striking about these Psalms is the way it speaks of “bones.”
Bones in the Bible
Scripturally, bones are not an uncommon theme. The term “bones” show up some eighty times in the Bible. The Patriarchs are known for the way their faith requested the burial of their bones in the Promised Land. Jacob asked his sons to return his bones to Canaan when he died (Gen 49:28-32), and Joseph too, trusting in God’s future blessing to Israel, requested his bones to be taken with Israel in the Exodus (Heb 11:22).
Likewise in the Passover, the bones of the lamb were not to be broken (Exod 12:46; Num 9:12). In time, the reason for this became plain. Jesus Christ, the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), would not have any of his bones broken when he was crucified—something that often happened to victims of the cross, in order to speed asphyxiation. John makes note of Jesus unbroken bones in his Gospel. In John 19:36, he cites the Law of Moses saying, “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
Interestingly, in the midst of a section of the Psalms which speak of troubled, rotting, broken bones, Psalm 34 reads: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” The juxtaposition between “broken” bones of the sinner and “unbroken” bones of the righteous is striking. And in the full light of the canon, we can see how God reconciles the broken and the unbroken.
While Jesus bones were not broken to fulfill Exodus 12:46; his body was broken in order to take the afflictions of the unrighteous. Substituting himself in the place of sinners; Jesus retained his righteousness as evidenced by his unbroken bones, but died a criminals death because he was in union with his unrighteous bride. The result was what we call the “great exchange.” Christ died in the place of sinners, and those sinners received his righteousness—first in their legal pardon, but eventually (at the resurrection of the dead) in their bodies too.
Your Broken Bones and Mine
The significance of bodily affliction is a common feature of life and ministry. Sinners suffer the effects of their lifestyle choices and God uses their broken bodies to lead them to repentance (Psalm 32). Likewise, believers bones cry out with the Psalmist, “All my bones shall say, ‘O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him'” (35:10).
In our fallen world, mental anguish induces physical ailment. Our bones waste away because of unconfessed sin or because of decisions we made years before our new birth. In a fallen world, our bones ache, break, and reveal our indwelling sin and the weakness of our flesh. Indeed, the world medicates themselves to strengthen their bones, but the Christian takes their breaking bones as an invitation to receive God’s mercy.
Indeed, this approach to our dry bones harkens back to Ezekiel 37 when the Word of God brought life to dead Israel. It calls our attention to the empty tomb when the lifeless body was resurrected as the firstfruits of the coming kingdom. And it calls our attention to Proverbs 15, when God’s word tells us that the “good news” not only redeems our soul but strengthens our bones.
“The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones. (Proverbs 15:29-30 ESV)
In God’s goodness, the gospel cleanses away the sin and guilt of our conscience (Heb 9:14), but more than that, it also makes good on the promise that God will make all things new. God’s gospel refreshes our bones today, and promises to one day to raise them from the grave, renew them with vigorous flesh, and sustain them for eternity. Indeed, this is just part of what it means for us to be married to Christ—we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone; he the life-giving husband, we the undeserving but beloved bride.
Until that day, let us continue to confess our weakness and trust God for his strength.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss