So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. 2 Kings 13:20-21. (ESV).
Elisha was a great prophet for ancient Israel. Unlike Elijah, whose death was spectacular--being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind--Elisha’s death seems rather unceremonious: “so Elisha died and they buried him.” It turned out to be quite a break for the man that was tossed into Elisha’s grave—simply touching Elisha’s bones caused the man to be revived. Interesting, but what conclusions should we draw from this story? The man who experienced this remarkable revival remains nameless. The story is not about him, but the greatness of Elisha. Even Elisha’s bones had power, and of course this power came from the God of Israel.
Bones. Why should bones be used as a symbol of God’s power? Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible reveals that there are 114 references to bone or bones throughout the Bible. Our forensic investigation of some of these biblical “bones” will take us on nothing less than a whirlwind tour of the Bible (sorry Elijah, no pun intended).
The very first reference to bones is found in Genesis 2:22-2:23:
And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
A human bone—a rib—is used by God as an instrument of creation. Adam responds with a phrase—“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”—which is repeated often throughout the Bible. For example, in 2Samuel 19:12, David is sending a message to the elders of Judah: “And say to Amasa, are you not my bone and my flesh?” Another example is Judges 9:2 where Abimelech says to his mother’s relatives “Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.” This powerful phrase indicates strong, ever-lasting relationship; bonds that cannot, or must not be broken. We are studying something important.
In Exodus 12:46 instructions are given by the Lord to Moses regarding the Pascal Lamb, the feast of the Passover: “It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.” The reasons for these instructions may not be immediately obvious, but we will not be surprised if we discover there is indeed a very good reason why the bones should not be broken.
In Psalm 34-19-20, we read about the afflictions of the righteous, but that the Lord “. . . delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.”
People get injured all the time, but who is this righteous man whose bones are not broken? Could it be the only perfectly righteous man that ever lived? The foundations are being laid for something wonderful, even as the sands of time whirl their way through the astonishing events of the history of ancient Israel. Different books of the Bible are being written, centuries apart and through different human hands, but always with an attention to detail that could only be guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot discuss biblical bones without looking at Ezekiel 37, where a prophet has a remarkable encounter with the Lord. The prophet is taken to a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel tells us:
Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:5).
The Lord is promising to breathe life into the whole house of Israel, the people who are saying “our bones are dried up and our hope is lost.” (Ezekiel 37:11). The Lord promises to revive the people of Israel in no uncertain terms. This is consistent with God’s faithfulness, and as he so often says, he will be their God, and they will be his people. (Ezekiel 37:23). God can communicate with us in very dramatic terms, using dream and symbol as easily as bone and flesh.
To summarize so far: bones are used as an instrument of creation; as a metaphor for an unbreakable relationship; as an element of a ceremonial feast that must not be broken; as a prophesy in Psalms that the bones of the righteous shall not be broken; and as a prophesy in the valley of dry bones, describing the broken-spirited people of Israel and an affirmation of a promise to them.
This leads us finally to Calvary. In John 19:31-36, we read some of the gruesome details concerning the body of Jesus immediately after his physical death. Briefly, the soldiers were going to break his legs to hasten his death, but he was already dead, so they did not do so. Why, oh why, do we have to contemplate these morbid details? In John 19:36, it is explained: “for these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Yes! The Psalms prophesy is fulfilled. Yes! Jesus is the Pascal Lamb, whose bones must not be broken, and whose destiny was described by John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Many other prophesies were fulfilled by the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The Holy Bible is no ordinary book. It is God’s word to us, filled with wonder and mystery; with truth and with promise. It is history and prophecy simultaneously, written not with ink but with the events in the lives of people. It is beyond the full comprehension of any of us, but it will always provide us with whatever we need.
We are not finished. In Luke 24, we read the joyful account of the resurrection of our Lord. Many wondrous things happen as Jesus walks among the living again, but his disciples are frightened. Jesus says: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24: 38-39). Bones are finally referred to as the tangible proof that Jesus was not a spirit, but a real man, resurrected from death.
Do we have enough information to cause us to think, pray and rejoice? One more thing: in Ephesians 5:30 (KJV), we read: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” We are now, in that greater, global sense, part of the body of Christ. What an amazing privilege! Praise God!
In faith and fellowship,
Gangel, Kenneth O. Holman New Testament Commentary: John (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers) 2003.
Tasker, R.V.G. The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 1960.
Strong, James ed. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers).
Special thanks to Doug Harris of Outreach Canada for challenging questions.
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