Psalm 34 – “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.”

Anyone who watches the TV series Bones, knows that you can learn a lot about a person by studying their bones. As someone who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, I take bone health seriously. Is it any wonder that I found myself drawn to verse 20 of Psalm 34: “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” I’ve been reflecting on this for months as I’ve been preparing to start blogging about the Psalms again. What a wonderful promise to those who believe, but what does it mean?

Psalm 34 is another acrostic psalm, where each line begins with another letter of the alphabet. The first section, vs. 1-10, is full of praise of God. “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the psalmist tells us, not just when it is convenient or when life is going our way. “His praise shall be ever in my mouth.” It’s a reminder of our need to give praise at all times, even when it is hard. We can learn a lot about this from Job who praises God even when he is struggling with despair (Job 1:21 “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”).
The psalmist boasts in the Lord – “My soul makes its boast in the Lord, let the afflicted hear and be glad.” (2) It is not through any merit on his part but all due to God who is available to all people but especially those who are humble enough to know their need for God.
The writer places his trust in God with confidence based on experience. In his fears he called upon God and was delivered. The Lord “delivered me from all of my fears.” (4) Anyone who has experienced bouts of anxiety, that free floating fear that robs us of sleep and can keep us from living life to the fullest, knows what a gift this can be. To truly give our fears to the Lord is a great blessing, trusting in God’s protection. The writer instructs all to trust that “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear” (7) and “those who fear him have no want!” (9) All reasons to praise the Lord.
The second section includes instruction on how to live a long and happy life, simple instructions: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good, seek peace and pursue it. (13-14) He then contrasts the lot of the wicked with the lot of the righteous, assuring us of God’s care and protection:  “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears.” (17)
In verse 21 he states “evil shall slay the wicked,” an interesting turn around. We tend to think that good shall beat evil, instead this verse tells us that evil itself is its own undoing. How true. Evil brings about its own destruction!
The psalm ends with another statement of confident trust, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants.” (22) In this mix is the verse I quoted earlier (20), a verse made famous in John’s gospel as it was applied to Jesus on the cross.
Bones are foundational. They provide the structure upon which our flesh hangs. Without them, we would be spineless masses of flesh and blood. With them, our muscles have a place to attach, our heart and lungs and our brain are protected. Without them these would be vulnerable.

References to bones appear frequently in the Bible. The Hebrew word for bones was derived from a word meaning “to be powerful,” indicating a connection to strength. The phrase “bone and flesh” referred to the totality of the individual (see Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible). When the Israelites left Egypt, Moses took the bones of Joseph with them (Ex. 13:19). When they entered the promised land the bones were buried in Shechem (Jos. 24:32). David took Saul and Jonathon’s bones and buried them in the tomb of his father (2 Sam. 21:12-14).

When Adam met Eve he proclaimed she was “bone of my bone” indicating the closeness of the bond. The book of Job includes many references to bones. “My bones are pierced in me.” (30:17); “and my bones are burned with heat” (30:30). He speaks of pain within his bones (33:19) and how he has wasted away to the point that his bones stick out, “bones that were not seen stuck out.” (33:21).
And then, of course, there is that beautiful passage from Ezekial where dry bones are restored to life (chapter 37). All indicate the recognition of the importance of bones in Old Testament times, long before modern science confirmed this.

Bones are foundational. They provide structure, strength, protection. Our God is also foundational. God provides structure—meaning and purpose—to our life. God provides strength and protection. If we make God our foundation and trust in him, we will not fail, we will not be disappointed. We will have reason to bless our God at all times, under all circumstances.

God is the firm foundation, the bones that support our life.

Robertson, copyright 1/2014

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