2 Kings 13:21 - Lovely Bones
When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.2 Kings 13:21
Imagine being a pall-bearer, then walking home with the one you were about to bury! This is what happens in 2 Kings 13. We're first told that "Elisha died and was buried" (v. 20), the last you'd expect to hear of him. But God is about to do something marvelous.
The author says that "Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring" (v. 20). And today they interrupt a sombre occasion, the funeral of some anonymous Israelite. Keep in mind that graves weren't usually pits dug into the ground, but caves in the side of a rocky hill, closed up by a large stone. The men had already pried open the tomb when they see an approaching band of raiders. In a panic, the pall-bearers want to be free of their burden as soon as possible, so they throw the man's body into Elisha's tomb.
But through their haste something amazing happens: "When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet" (v. 21). In that time corpses weren't carried to the grave in wooden coffins, but wrapped in cloth. So it is that the dead man is able to stand, walk out of the tomb, and rejoin his friends.
Nowhere else in Scripture do we find this: that the bones of the dead seem to possess a power. To some, this event has the flavour of pagan superstition. Or it makes one think of the relics kept in some churches – a toenail or skull of some saint – relics allegedly able to heal the sick. So what are we to do with the mystery of Elisha's life-restoring bones?
When he was alive, Elisha had to bring God's Word. But we know little of what Elisha said, and much more of what he did. He worked miracles: healing Jericho's waters, increasing the widow's oil, raising the Shunamite's son, purifying a pot of poisoned stew, feeding 100 men from a sack of grain, and so on. And now another miracle, "performed" after his death.
For all of Elisha's miracles, God was speaking through his prophet – speaking in a way words could never express. And what was God saying? That God is Almighty. That God is merciful. He is a saving God who gives deliverance to his people. For many years, Elisha was a walking billboard for the grace of God.
Why is it significant that his bones brought revival? In Scripture, bones aren't just those pieces of internal structure visible by X-ray. The Bible speaks of bones as the essence of an individual. Think of how Adam described Eve as "bone of his bones," one fundamentally similar to him. And as the last part of the body to decay, bones were to be treated with respect. It's true, touching bones would make a person unclean; this is why the outsides of graves were painted white: to keep away the living. Yet today Elisha's old bones don't have a contaminating effect – they have a resurrecting power!
So at one level, those bones were just bones, remnants of a corpse. Yet they were also the remnants of God's wonder-working prophet. And the LORD decided it was time for one last sermon, a message from the grave. And it'd be the same gospel as ever, now amplified: that God is Almighty and merciful. That he's the God of life.
This was a needed message. Israel had fallen to a low state in those days. But by this miracle God says, "The words of my prophet are still certain. He might be silent now, but I've not taken back my promises. I'm still the LORD, who does great things for my people."
And doesn't that message point us to our greatest prophet, Jesus Christ? Like Elisha, he was a worker of wonders. And like Elisha, he'd lain in the grave. Even before that, Jesus had hung on the cross in seeming defeat. But through it, God brings abundant life! Recall what happened at the very moment of Jesus dying:
The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.Matthew 27:52
That's a dramatic picture of the gospel in action: dead people made alive through the death of Jesus! We once were on a funeral march, ready to be put away forever because of our sin. But when it looked like all was lost, he gave the victory over sin and death. We've been raised from our graves, and with Christ we can go on our way rejoicing.