That the Bones That Thou Hast Broken
Roy Gustafson on Shepherds Breaking
David, once a shepherd, later king and psalmist, refers often to sheep and shepherding throughout his writings in Scripture. They provide great insight on how the Lord deals with us. In Psalm 51, verse 8, we have this statement in his Psalm of repentance after his affair with Bathsheba:
"Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice."
The best explanation I have heard for this startling statement describes a practice where a shepherd deliberately breaks the leg of a persistently wayward sheep and then nurses it back to both health and a reformed manner of practice. The sheep quickly forgets the source of the break but forever remembers the tender care of the shepherd, thereafter his close and faithful companion. This explanation apparently first appeared in a book by Robert Boyd Munger, published in 1955 and called, “What Jesus Said”. The quote lifted from this resource is as follows:
This illustration has been used by many preachers including John MacArthur (https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/1232/true-confession) and Chuck Swindoll (https://www.insight.org/resources/daily-devotional/individual/the-shepherd-restores1). I heard it repeatedly from Bill Gothard in his many seminars in the 1970s and 1980s. It focuses us on the “goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22), how He will at times severely crush us in a manner that feels like cruel torture. Yet it is in fact His loving correction, designed to teach us - stupid sheep - that straying is dangerous, and that we can and must trust the Shepherd that loves us.
Such notions have, along with many other rejections of Scriptural teaching and our Christian heritage, come under persistent savage attack in recent years. God, like Santa Claus, is to be endlessly kind and loving toward us, always accepting and never mean. Many are now declaring that the God they worship would never cast a person into eternal hell, and that He would certainly never hit us hard enough “break our bones”.
If you search the internet as I did for validation of this shepherding practice you will find an overwhelming cry against it: “myth”, “apocryphal”, “moronic”. Folks claiming to know everything there is to know about sheep declare it to be false. How modern sheep farmers become experts on the practices of poor middle eastern Bedouin shepherds let alone shepherds in Bible times is a mystery to me. Their confidence appears to derive from their inability to conceive of any situation that could ever call for such extreme measures. That is an opinion based on restricted knowledge, and sometimes prejudice, yet their attestations have been bolstered by an apparent lack of a verified source in support. Until now.
Being greatly blessed by this illustration throughout my life I purposed recently to find some backing for it if it was at all possible. And, lo and behold, the crumbs left on the internet brought me to a very excellent modern account from a verified source. I had seen several references to Roy Gustafson, a man associated with Billy Graham, and his book allegedly called “In His Hand”. Further sleuthing brought me to the actual book which was in fact called, “In His Land Seeing is Believing”. I had to order it from Amazon and it arrived this week.
Roy’s credentials and accolades are given on the back cover:
Clearly, he was a very public man and highly regarded by
important people in the Middle East. In
this book, then, in chapter 7 called "He Restoreth" (pp.45-47) is
this firsthand account:
He saw it for himself and heard the explanation from the shepherd, as translated by his friend. This is a verified observation consistent with many other unattributed accounts spanning the decades.
Sadly brother Gustavson has passed away (https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2002/04/15/roy-w-gustafson-holy-land-tour-guide-dies/ ), but his obituary made it clear that he remained highly regarded and decorated, his funeral conducted by no less than Franklin Graham himself.
I close with several additional verses which point out from Scripture that our loving God, being so concerned about the effects of sin on His children, will go to the extreme lengths to break our bones, if necessary, to get our attention and turn us around. Thank God that we have a loving, faithful shepherd that will not “suffer sin upon us” (Lev. 19:17-18) but will correct us with extreme pressure at times so we can be “partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Spoken by Hezekiah when he was sick and to die and the Lord delivered him:
"I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he
break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me."
Jeremiah, reflecting on the severe discipline that Israel had just gone through, being ejected from their land and taken to Babylon:
"My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken
my bones … He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me
with ashes." (Lamentations 3:4, 16)
The words of Hannah, in the wake of the very unfair circumstances she had had to endure, childless and despised, followed by the blessing of God’s gift of Samuel:
"The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth
up." (1 Samuel 2:6)
Eliphaz speaking of God’s dealings with us all, but especially in the context of the broken, destitute, sick Job in front of him, described by God as one the most righteous man that ever lived:
"For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole." (Job 5:18)