Psalm 34: The Bones of the Righteous

Read Psalm 34.

One of the sweetest promises in all of Scripture is found in Psalm 34: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (v. 18). If you’ve been at the end of your rope, barely hanging on, perhaps you’ve discovered this to be true in your own life, as I have in mine.

David wrote these words about a time when he was out of options. Saul was trying to kill him, and he feared there was nowhere he could rest in the territory of Israel, so he did something only a desperate man would do: he went to stay in one of the cities of the Philistines. And it wasn’t just any city—it was Gath, the home of Goliath, the nine-and-a-half-foot champion he famously killed in a showdown between sword and sling.

When the people in Gath recognized David as “the king of the land, the one they sing about in their dances” and told the king (1 Samuel 21:11), David knew he was in trouble. But David was smart. When he went out, he pretended to be crazy, banging on the gates of the city and drooling down his beard. So, rather than kill David as a fearsome enemy, the king wanted nothing to do with him. David was able to escape, and enough time had passed that Saul’s men were no longer on his trail.

Psalm 34 is a song of praise for God’s faithfulness to David during this difficult season. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears,” David is able to report (v. 4). “Taste and see that the LORD is good” is his invitation (v. 8).

As David continues, he writes, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken” (vv. 19–20). Given the context, this seems a bit odd. If David had broken his arm but escaped Gath otherwise unharmed, would the Lord have proven any less faithful?

When an Israelite read this psalm, that line would immediately draw up memories of Passover. One of the commandments for the meal was that none of the bones of the lamb were to be broken (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). During the first Passover, the reason for this prohibition seems to be that God didn’t want the Israelites trying to eat and run. He didn’t want anyone breaking off a lamb shank when it was time to go. The meal was to be eaten quickly—no time for the bread to leaven, no time for packing leftovers—and then it was time to move.

But the lamb itself came to symbolize a perfect sacrifice. It was to be unblemished, spotless (Exodus 12:5)—physical purity representing the moral purity that no Israelite had on his or her own. The blood of the perfect would cover the imperfect. Holiness for unholiness. In Psalm 34, David identifies the righteous person with the Passover lamb. God will keep such a person spotless. None of his bones will be broken.

When Jesus—“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)—died on the cross, the righteous for the unrighteous, John tells us, citing Psalm 34, “they did not break his legs…. so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (19:33, 36). He remained the perfect, spotless Lamb.

“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19). God didn’t deliver Jesus from crucifixion. He didn’t save His Son from dying. Rather than delivering Jesus from death, He delivered Him through death; the Son came out the other side, whole and new.

God still draws near to the brokenhearted, but there is coming a day when sadness will be no more, when every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4), and when “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). And it’s all because of Jesus, our perfect Lamb, who died in our place.

“Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

What is this all about?

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