Bones are mentioned in the Bible 92 times. The first, and most famous instance comes early on: So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman … Genesis 2: 21-22
The merciful absence of broken bones is mentioned in several places, and after that, the context varies considerably. For instance, bones may represent strength and health:
- His bones are like beams of bronze, his ribs like bars of iron. Job 40:18
- Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. Proverbs 16:24
- By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone. Proverbs 25:15
Yet they can suffer from adversity:
- There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. Psalm 38:3
- An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones. Proverbs 12:4
- A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22
- My skin grows black and falls from me; my bones burn with fever. Job 30:30
- For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned like a hearth. Psalm 102:3
Recurrently, bones of idolaters are burned as punishment, for example:
- As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar. 2 Kings 23:16
Punishment for the living could also be harsh:
- Then Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve piled them in heaps! With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve killed a thousand men!” Judges 15:16
That donkey’s jawbone must be the most famous one ever, because the event has captured the interest of various artists over the centuries.
By far the most famous biblical bones, however, are the ones that Ezekiel found strewn across a valley. Here are key verses to the story from Ezekiel 1,3,4,7
- The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
- And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”
- Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’”
- So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone.
Over the centuries, multiple artists have portrayed Ezekiel’s prophesy in the Valley of the Dry Bones.
Far better known than the paintings, however, is the song from the 1920’s that African-American composer James Weldon derived from Ezekiel’s story. It is the first bone anatomy lesson that many children receive, and its jaunty (rattling?), simple melody is hard to get out of your mind once it takes hold. It starts…
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, Now hear the word of the Lord. Toe bone connected to the foot bone. Foot bone connected to the heel bone, heel bone connected …
Notable biblical bones indeed! Just try to get that tune out of your mind!