Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Could you explain why the Bible sometimes refers to bones as “rejoicing”?
I will attempt to answer your question by discussing some of the biblical passages in which human bones are mentioned. This aspect of human anatomy plays an important role in the biblical understanding of human nature. According to Scripture, we are an indivisible unity of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual life. Within this understanding bones have different functions in addition to being the frame of the body.
1. Bones and Life: Human bones are well hidden, covered by sinews and flesh (Eze. 37:3-10). They are an appropriate symbol of the inner life, or as the seat of life itself and its emotions. This life was created by God (Job 10:11), but it can be threatened by evil forces. Emotions such as terror, fear, and sorrow manifest themselves through the shaking of bones (Jer. 23:9), and by disjointing and breaking them, not physically but in the sense of leaving the whole person without emotional or physical strength (Ps. 31:10). When in fear and emotional pain, the inner being—the bones of a person—is robbed of peace; figuratively the bones are rotten, unable to sustain fullness of life (Job 30:17; Prov. 12:4). Unconfessed sin creates guilt and disrupts the inner condition of the person; the bone/inner person lives in distress (Ps. 32:3) and has no shalom (Ps. 38:3). Only God can strengthen our inner life, and this takes place when the bones/person pray to the Lord (Ps. 35:10).
2. Bones and Death: Bones are the last remains of a person, and are therefore associated with death. In this case the term bones are often used in a literal sense. Dry bones are perceived as an extension of the person, and in that sense they evoke a memory of them in others. In such cases they are to be treated with respect by burying them (1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Sam. 21:12). During war there is no respect for the dead, and, consequently, bones left on the field or taken out of tombs become “like refuse on the face of the earth” (Jer. 8:2; see also Amos 2:1; Ps. 53:5). This is an expression not only of victory over the enemy, but of total contempt. Bones can also designate a corpse (Gen. 50:25, 26; Amos 6:10). A deadly wound damages bones (Ps. 42:10); and when bones are covered only by skin the person is dying (Job 19:20; Ps. 22:17; 102:5). Bones connected to death are also a source of impurity; whoever touches them become unclean (Num. 19:16). As a source of uncleanness bones can also desecrate altars by being scattered around them (Eze. 6:5) or by burning them on the altar (1 Kings 13:2; 2 Kings 23:14, 16, 20). A sick person who feels close to death could describe the experience as an attacking lion that breaks the bones of its victim (Isa. 38:13).
3. Bones and Kinship: All humans have bones, and this leads to the idea of sameness. Humans are connected to each other by the fact that they all are flesh and bones. This idea reaches back to when Adam identified Eve as “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23)—they were equal. The concept is particularly applied to relatives. David asked Amasa, “Are you not my bone and my flesh [Hebrew, cetsem, “bone”]?” (2 Sam. 19:13). The tribes of Israel said to David, “We are your bone and your flesh [Hebrew, cetsem, “bone”]” (2 Sam. 5:1). Because of this emphasis on sameness, the Hebrew term cetsem (“bone”) was also used to express time (“In the bone of this day” means “On the very same day” [Gen. 7:13; Deut. 32:48]), or agreement of objects (“As the bone of the heavens” means “As the heavens themselves” [Ex. 24:10]).
Yes, bones can rejoice because they stand for the whole person, whose inner being is impacted by what the person does and experiences. That joy is threatened by sickness, pain, guilt, and sorrow upsetting inner wellness and finally bringing life to an end. We anticipate the moment God will cause our “bones” to live again and die no more.