In the Bible, bones are not merely structural features of the human person. Shattered (Psalm 42:10) or scattered (Psalm 53:5) bones are signs of defeat. When bones are scattered at the edge of Sheol, an army has been massacred (Psalm 141:7).

Bones can waste away (Psalm 31:10), be out of joint (Psalm 22:14), and be sick (Psalm 38:3) or rotten (Proverbs 12:4). But these afflictions are more interpersonal than medical: Bones get out of joint because of the attacks of an enemy and become rotten because of a spouse who brings shame. Kin are “bone of bone, flesh of flesh,” one skeleton-and-body with one another, so when brothers attack it breaks the common bones.

Bones have personality.

Bones are dismayed (Psalm 6:2), cry out in pain (Psalm 34:20), rejoice when Yahweh rescues (51:8). It’s as if bones have mouths and tongues of their own. Preserving life means preserving bones (Psalm 34:20).

Yahweh promises that when Israel keeps the fast, they will have strong bones (Isaiah 58:11). That implies health, but also implies that they are not not shattered or scattered by enemies. Strong bones are bones that are preserved and thus rejoice in Yahweh.

The sequence of thought in Isaiah 58:11 is noteworthy. Yahweh promises to satisfy nephesh , “soul,” but the effect of filling nephesh is felt in the strengthening of bones. Healthy souls and healthy bodies are interconnected; healing the former preserves the health of the latter.

Isaiah says that Israel’s nephesh will be filled even in scorched places, in places where you’d expect the desires of nephesh to be frustrated. Yahweh promises too that Israel’s bones will be strengthened precisely in those scorched places, where you would expect bones to be weak. In earlier times, Israel’s bones were scattered across the desert, but in the second exodus their bones will be preserved.

Satisfaction of nephesh and strengthening of bones are linked to Israel’s transformation into a watered garden and spring. Restoration of human persons, “soul” and flesh, nephesh and bones, transforms them into human gardens and springs to refresh the weary.

Once again, we cannot avoid thinking of the ministry of Jesus: He restores the bones of paralytics, fills souls to the brim, so as to form a garden-people.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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