WHEN SKELETONS SPEAK
As we near the end of October, whether we participate in Halloween festivities or not, we will encounter a slew of skeletal figures about our neighbourhoods. This precipitated me to reflect upon the many Biblical statements concerning bones or skeletons. In attempting to catalogue the Biblical references into some form of order or topical categorization, I came up with the following:
- Bones meant to demonstrate the faithfulness of God.
- Bones meant to provide a prophetic view.
(The above is not meant to be especially detailed nor exhaustive in its scope.)
THE BONES OF JOSEPH – Genesis 50:22-26
“And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw the children of Ephraim of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knee. And Joseph said unto his brethren, ‘I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land which He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, ‘God will surely visit you and you will carry my bones up from hence.’ So, Joseph died, being 110 years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”
Here we see both a prophetic statement concerning the bones of Joseph and, as we will see in subsequent verses, the utter faithfulness of God and further, the passing on of such faithfulness to the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Joseph.
For a great number of years the children of Israel lived among their Egyptian hosts in peace and security where God built them into a nation. They prospered in the fertile land of Goshen given them by a grateful Pharaoh. And for all of these passing generations, there lay the bones of Joseph sealed up in a coffin yet unburied, a constant reminder to the subsequent generations of the promise of God made to their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that one day they would be leaving to go to the land of promise. The bones of Joseph spoke down through the generations that the promise of God was as concrete as were these bones. As history unfolded, we read in Exodus 1:8 the following:
“Now there arose up a new Pharaoh over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.”
The Egyptian people began to become nervous concerning the increase in population of their Hebrew guests, and the following section of Scripture highlights their growing anxiety. Exodus 1:9 continues:
“And he [this new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph], said unto his people, ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them: lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there comes a war, they join unto our enemies, and fight against us. . .’”
God’s promise, reflected in the ever-present bones of Joseph, that He would make them into a mighty nation, was taking shape. This time began the enslaving and persecution of the Israelis. “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they [Egyptians], were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with hardship.” As their peaceful co-existence turned to hardship still they multiplied in the midst of bondage! The bones of Joseph were speaking to a future promise, to a future promised land. One can almost hear them. While the Israelis plunged their feet into the straw and mud of the mud-pits, Joseph’s bones whispered encouragement and hope of better days ahead. Joseph had been faithful in all that he did, they would remind themselves in the midst of their hardships. Our Joseph was able to persevere, so must we. The bones were there, they would be leaving one day. Father Joseph learned forgiveness, so must we.
You see, there’s much that can be learned and applied from their struggle, as well as that of Joseph’s. Multiplication in the midst of bondage is one lesson for us. When we find ourselves in the midst of God’s will and continue to press on especially when the circumstances and surroundings are difficult, we can be assured that our blessings are multiplying. Last day we reminded ourselves that there are seasons in God’s economy where our “land” lays fallow. There is the promise of the best harvest ever awaiting a new planting; that the blessings are piling up, soon to be released in a flood of grace. And that even though we cannot ‘see it’ with our eyes of flesh, our spiritual eyes can catch a glimpse of the fruitful land soon to be revealed. There is a season of planting and a season of harvesting, and these two are separated by a season of waiting. For the Israelis, the bones of Joseph served as a bridge between these two seasons; a concrete reminder that, as Psalm 126:5 tells us;
“They that sow in tears will reap with rejoicing.” Their day was coming; the bones said so.
Besides learning that multiplication occurs in the midst of bondage or hardship, we can also receive the instructions of patience.
Romans 5:3-5 reminds us:
“But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes us not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”
We have the Holy Spirit who acts as our bridge between our seasons of hope and harvest. The Israelis had the bones of Joseph which reminded them of the promise of the living God. I understand how difficult patience is, this waiting upon God, especially in the midst of tribulations. However, either we believe what God has spoken over us or we don’t.
Returning to our account we can pick up the story in Exodus 13:19.
“And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he [Joseph], had sworn the children of Israel, saying, ‘God will surely visit you; and you will carry up my bones away hence with you.’”
The promised day arrived! And it was the bones of Joseph, carried by Moses, that lead the procession from the land of bondage on to the land of promise. The bones were never buried ‘neath the soil of Egypt; they were destined for a much better resting place. These bones were still speaking. For generations they spoke of promise, and now they spoke of approaching fulfillment. For generations the eyes of all Israelis were fixed upon the bones of Joseph in the midst of their hardships, and now, as they journeyed the harsh hostile wilderness, again the bones were looked upon. They continued to be a constant concrete reminder that their God was with them. We need to be reminding ourselves every minute of every day that our God is with us. Fellowship, prayer, praise and Bible study are our ‘bones of Joseph.’ Scripture reminds us in Proverbs 3:6-8:
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It will be health to your navel, and marrow to your bones.”
The Israelis acknowledged the LORD and He directed their paths from bondage to freedom, leading the way with the bones of Joseph. They fastened their eyes upon the bones of Joseph and followed the promise.
The account of the bones of Joseph continues in Joshua 24:32.
“And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver” and it became an inheritance of the children of Joseph.”
The bones arrived and so too did the people.
As an aside, notice that the tribe of Jacob purchased the land for the burial of Joseph from the ‘usurpers’ who were in possession of this ground. This land was and always will be God’s land. And He gave it to the Hebrews for an everlasting possession. The fact was that others possessed parts of this land at this time; their occupation was and is an affront to God. Ever since God promised the land to Abraham over 400 years prior to this time, the devil has taken leave to seed this land with tares. In spite of the fact that the intended grave site of Joseph was ‘owned’ by others to whom it did not belong, still the Israelis paid a large sum of money for it. Such is the grace and mercy of God.
A couple of accounts from modern times:
Amidst the mountains of Shomron (Samaria) is a four-thousand year old city named Shechem. Very few biblical locales have as rich a history as this storied city. In fact, when the first Jew arrived in the Holy Land, Shechem was his first stop. In this city, also known as Nablus, lie the remains of Joseph, viceroy of Egypt. In recent times, modern-day Jewish heroes have struggled to maintain a Jewish presence in Shechem and Joseph’s Tomb.1
In 1867 Mark Twain visited Shechem. He described this visit in his diary which was later published. The following are some interesting excerpts:
“At two o’clock we stopped to lunch and rest at ancient Shechem, between the historic Mounts of Gerizim and Ebal, where in the old times the books of the law, the curses and the blessings, were read from the heights to the Jewish multitudes below.
“About a mile and a half from Shechem we halted at the base of Mount Ebal before a little square area, enclosed by a high stone wall, neatly whitewashed. Across one end of this enclosure is a tomb . . . It is the tomb of Joseph. No truth is better authenticated than this.2
In drawing a closure to the bones of Joseph, let me quote Heb. 11:22:
“By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.”
These bones continue to speak to us. Here, in the New Testament, as part of the great ‘faith chapter’ we have set before us an example of true faith. As Joseph died, he looked far into the future, and with eyes of faith, spoke of a coming promise. He exhibited a great faith in the One who had brought him through so much heartache. And he attached substance to his faith with the command that his bones be carried forth. The bones of Joseph speak to us from Genesis to Hebrews concerning so many aspects of our own faith.
A second prophetic account of bones speaking can be found in Ezekiel 37.
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones. And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And He said unto me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘Oh LORD God, only you know.’”
This is such an amazing passage of Scripture. As a young man just venturing into my Christian walk, just dipping my toe into the word of God, few verses had the profound impact of this one. This passage revolutionized my faith; it stirred up such confidence and love for His word. It changed my entire world-view, sweeping aside all manner of political platitudes and global greed. I knew in an instant that God was who He said He was; that He indeed was on His throne; and that the world and all its ‘players’ were as so much chaff sifting through His fingers. You see, I lived this prophecy! I was born in 1945 and it was 1948 when these bones of Ezekiel were put back together and brought back to life. It was 1967 that Jerusalem was once-and-for-all-time returned to the Jewish people! Do bones speak? These ones most assuredly spoke to me. This passage needs to be read, and re-read, and re-read by everyone. It deserves our personal contemplation, for it demonstrates beyond any question the goodness and faithfulness of our Lord and saviour. It demonstrates Jesus as Faithful and True. Generations may pass but He never forgets. He is true to His word and faithful to see His word fulfilled. It shows Him as the Resurrection and the Life, no matter how dry our bones become. As he shouted to Lazarus to “Come forth” and the dead lived, so he instructed Ezekiel to speak life over these bones. And under the prophetic word these bones came together. Bone to bone and the nation of Israel was once more physically restored, after 2000 years of being scattered and blown to the ends of the earth. If you pay attention to the order you will see that first there is the physical restoration of the nation of Israel in the land given to Abraham. This is to be followed by a spiritual rebirth. (See Romans 11 for details.) “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, which I shall take away their sins.”
Can bones speak? Absolutely!
Not only do bones speak but they also hear. These bones heard the word of prophecy spoken over them; the bones of Lazarus most certainly heard, and one day, Jesus will shout over our dead and dry bones and we too will spring to life!
So, what can we say? Let us not be as the scribes and Pharisees of Mathew 23 when Jesus reprimanded them saying, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are likened unto whitened sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outside but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
Let our faith be as the faith of Joseph. Let us listen to the lessons God provides through the lives of others. Let us be mouldable into His image. Let our very bones cry out to Him.
So, as we walk our streets and visit our stores this week, if we chance upon a skeleton or two, don’t let’s be spooked but rather let us pause and listen. Perhaps they will speak to us with words of life and hope. Amen.
1 Joseph’s Tomb, Shechem, Chabad.org, Nechama Golding.
2 Diary, Mark Twain visited Shechem.
Father God, You are the God and Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You are the God and Father of Joseph, Moses and Ezekiel. You are the Holy One of Israel. And You are our God and Father also. We love the Holy Scriptures Lord, the stories and prophecies, the commandments and precepts, the praise and encouragement. Hallelujah! Thank You for giving us Your Word, Your promises and Your chosen people. Thank You that nothing is hidden from You and Your Bible reveals Your love for Your people throughout history. There is no one like You O Lord. You are the Almighty God, Creator of the heavens and the earth and all living things that creep and fly and swim and walk. We fall on our faces in worship, amazed at the great beauty of the world You have made for us to enjoy. Thank You Lord that You provide for all the creatures that You have made, each one lives in its perfect environment, each one is sustained by food and shelter. Hallelujah!
Thank You Lord that You did not forget about us, the Gentiles. Although we were not born into the nation of Israel, yet You have grafted us in and made us one because we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. (Romans 11:17) Thank You Lord that You delight in us and call us Your saints and Your excellent ones. (Psalm 16:3 AMPC) Your Love is so wonderful Lord, it delights our hearts. Hallelujah!
Father, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and we thank You for the restoration of Israel in the Land of Promise. Thank You that the bones of Joseph spoke and encouraged Your people for hundreds of years. And thank You Lord that they encourage us as well. You indeed are God! You never forget. You always redeem and restore. You always save and deliver. Sometimes it is hard to be patient as the Pastor said, sometimes it is hard to wait. Help us to recognize that waiting should not be lost time full of inactivity. Waiting at its best is productive busy time. Continue to teach us Your ways Lord, that we may know that as we wait upon You with hope and expectation based on Your Word and Your faithfulness that we will never be disappointed. (Lam. 3:25 AMPC)
Father God, we are all tired of the lockdowns and restrictions that have been imposed on our lives in these recent months; help us to remember Lord that You alone are God; help us to continue to trust You and make You our refuge; help us to keep our eyes upon You knowing that the battle is Yours; help us to continue to praise and worship while we wait. Lord, we want to honour You with our behaviour, our attitudes and our words. Glory to God!
Father, we pray for those in our midst who are experiencing grief or loneliness, we ask You to bring comfort and companionship to Your beloved. We know that Jesus is willing and waiting to be our best friend if only we will let Him. Help us to remember Lord that we can talk to Jesus in the very same way that we talk to our best friend. Praise be to God!
Father, we pray for those in our midst who are experiencing sickness or infirmity of any kind. Lord, You are our Healer. The Bible says that when we cry out to You in our distress, You hear and send forth Your Word to heal. (Psalm 107:19-20) Hallelujah!
We offer our prayers and praise in Jesus’ wonderful name. Amen.
For Further Study:
The following was written by Linda Green and is borrowed from www/unlockingthebible.org/2017/08/what-to-do-while-youre-waiting-on-god/ – I suggest that we make it a Bible Study for the coming week.
Waiting is hard work and, at times, can even test our faith. It’s especially difficult when there are no guarantees that our waiting will ever end in this lifetime. Desires we long for, prayers we’ve been praying, and news we’re waiting to hear can tempt us to be impatient, discouraged, to worry, and even to wonder if God cares.
10 Things to Do While You’re Waiting on God
Perhaps this is why the Bible talks so much about waiting. God wants us to know that waiting is far from a passive activity in which we do nothing. In fact, Scripture teaches us that God wants us to actively participate in the work he desires to accomplish. Waiting strategically can cultivate good fruit in our lives such as patience, perseverance, and endurance. It also draws us closer to our Savior and points those who are watching us to the gospel.
To that end, here are 10 things to do while you wait:
- Believe that the God who saved you hears your cries (Micah 7:7).
Have you ever felt like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? Perhaps, like me, you have prayed for years about a concern, but God has seemed silent. That’s where God demonstrated his love and mercy towards us when we were still his enemies. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
In other words, the cross is our guarantee that God is for us and is committed to give us everything we would ask for if we knew everything he knew. We can be content with that and wait patiently for his answers.
- Watch with expectancy, but be prepared for unexpected answers (Psalm 5:3).
While God has been faithful to answer many of my prayers, it’s often been in far different ways than I would have anticipated! God knows that the only way to do what he and I both desire will, at times, involve varying degrees of discomfort in my life.
Growing in humility means pride has to be done away with. Learning to love like Jesus requires us to say no to self’s constant demand for selfish ambition, wanting our own way, and putting ourselves first. Growing in patience inevitably involves some form of waiting, whether in a long line at the grocery story or a lifetime for a loved one to come to Christ. When we lay our requests before him, it is by faith that we wait and watch in anticipation of God’s good work in us and others.
- Put your hope in his Word (Psalm 130:5-6).
We can be tempted to put our hope in things that may disappoint us in the end. We can hope a doctor will heal us, a teacher will pass us, a spouse will love us, our employer will reward us, or a friend will help us. But it is only when we put our hope in Christ that we can wait with confidence and know we will not be put to shame.
[Tweet “There is only one place to go to for reassurance during hard times, and that is to the cross.”]
It seems that God allows us to experience disappointments in life to teach us that nothing else will truly satisfy or provide us with a firm foundation to stand upon. God’s Word alone is unshakable. We can wait for the Lord knowing that, no matter how dark the night is, his light will break through in our lives, bringing abundant joy through a more intimate relationship with Christ.
- Trust in the Lord, not in your own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).
Why is it so tempting for us to depend on our own wisdom rather than the wisdom of our all-wise God? What makes us think that we know better than he does what is best for us? Scripture speaks clearly about how to live life abundantly forever with Christ; yet, all too easily, we justify our sin, declare distasteful commands irrelevant, and do what is right in our own eyes. Seasons of waiting reveal where we are placing our trust.
- Resist fretting, refrain from anger, be still, and choose patience (Psalm 37:7-8).
It’s easy to say we trust God, but our response to delays, frustrations, and difficult situations exposes where we are actually placing our hope.
- Are we convinced God is listening?
- Do we believe he’s good?
- Do we accept that our circumstances are sovereignly ordained?
- Do we doubt he really cares about us?
When we choose to wait quietly and trustingly, we not only honor God but encourage others to put their hope in him as well.
- Be strong and take courage (Psalm 27:13-14; 31:24).
I’ve found that one of my biggest battles in long seasons of waiting is fighting fear and all its buddies like anxiety, fretfulness, and worry. A voice in my head asks, What if this happens? What if God doesn’t answer my prayers? It is the gospel that has taught me that enduring strength and courage will never be found in myself but in Christ. I am empowered to be courageous when:
- I meditate on the sovereign rule and power of God and his abundant goodness in sending a Savior to set me free from sin.
- I remember that my “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Jesus said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Ever. He is Immanuel, God with us. That’s a promise that will sustain us while we wait for answers to prayer, but even more, as we wait for his triumphant return!
- See it as an opportunity to experience God’s goodness (Psalm 27:13; Lamentations 3:25).
When my focus is on my problems and what God has or has not given me, I am prone to grumbling, complaining, discontentment, bitterness, and selfishness. When I define goodness by what brings me the most comfort, happiness, and gratification in this life, then anything that threatens these things will tempt me to question God’s love and goodness.
God demonstrated his goodness when Christ absorbed the wrath of God that we deserved, making a way for us to be set free from the power of sin and our enemy Satan, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy our eternal joy and peace. For those who have eyes to see, seasons of waiting offer countless opportunities to witness God at work in and through us for our eternal good and his glory.
- Wait for God’s promise instead of going your own way (Acts 1:4).
Scripture offers plenty of examples of saints who got weary of waiting for God and chose to do things their way. I’ve given way to that temptation as well.
God’s goodness is promised for those who wait patiently for him! No matter how long. Regardless of how hopeless things appear to us. Even when it seems to cost us everything. “God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to his power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). When we wait for him, we will never be disappointed.
- Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).
Another temptation we face when God does not seem to be answering our prayers is to stop praying, stop expecting him to act, while giving way to a spirit of cynicism, rather than thanking God for who he is and all he has done for us. While God may not answer in our timing or in the way we expect, he will accomplish his good purposes in our lives when we wait for him and persevere in prayer.
- Remember the blessings yet to come (Isaiah 30:18).
As long as our hope is set on this life and things that gratify our flesh, we will likely feel frustrated, discouraged, and even hopeless. Jesus Christ came to offer us eternal joy and freedom from sin and, although we have been set free from sin’s power, sin’s presence is still at work in and around us. Thankfully, the gospel assures us, as believers, that God is for us and works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
During long (or even short) seasons of waiting, our hearts will be encouraged to remember that the best is yet to come! One day sin will be no more! We will be free from self’s demands and temptations and experience everlasting joy. So, Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:2-4)
You Will Not Be Ashamed
Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles Spurgeon, counseled her own heart with these words: The Lord has strewn the pages of God’s Word with promises of blessedness to those who wait for Him. And remember, His slightest Word stands fast and sure; it can never fail you. So, my soul, see that you have a promise underneath thee, for then your waiting will be resting and a firm foothold for your hope will give you confidence in Him who has said, ‘They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me.’”
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land; But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.” Christ is the answer! He is your rest and the treasure you seek.
Wait for the Lord.