Have you ever pulled a thread? I had a sweater when I was a teenager that I wore a lot and one day I noticed that there was a loose thread. Being the thoughtful, responsible young man that I was, rather than trimming it carefully or turning the sweater inside out to tie it in to other threads, I pulled it. I assumed it would be a short pull. It wasn’t. That thread just kept coming and, once started, it seemed fun to keep pulling! Needless to say, that sweater is no more.
Thankfully, when we talk metaphorically about threads in Scripture, these are not the kind of threads that lead to its unraveling or demise; rather, to speak of pulling a thread in Scripture is to speak of following an idea or a theme. In Psalm 34, the last stanza (vv. 19-22) is like a small thread that just begs to be pulled.
You may recall that my overly simplistic (but hopefully helpful) approach to interpretation is made up of 2 parts: when you find weird stuff ask why it’s there, and when you find a pattern follow it. In this last stanza of Psalm 34 we have both. In 34:20 we are told that the Lord keeps all the bones of the righteous such that “not one of them is broken”. Weird. Why talk about broken bones? Sure, this Psalm was written after David managed to escape from his enemies, so it’s not completely out of place, but elsewhere in the Psalms it is common to speak of bone trouble in relation to personal sin – the physical effects of harboring unconfessed sin.
The pattern in Psalm 34 is found in the original Hebrew – sorry, I don’t mean for that to sound pompous, but there’s no way around the fact that without seeing the Hebrew you’d never know that this Psalm is an alphabetic acrostic. That means that each verse begins with a word that starts with the next letter in the alphabet (v.1 begins with “a”, v. 2 begins with “b”, etc.). The pattern, in this case, is obvious, but what’s intriguing is that one letter is missing and the final verse breaks the streak. So, while there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and 22 verses in Psalm 34, only 21 letters are used which puts a spotlight on the final, seemingly out of place, verse.
When I put these two things together (the reference to no broken bones and the spotlight on the promise of 34:22 that all who take refuge in the Lord will not be condemned) and pull on the thread, they lead me to Jesus. John 19:33 helps us see that Psalm 34:20 was speaking prophetically about Jesus’ death – he gave his life, none took it by breaking his bones on the cross. And when I see that, this leads me to realize that the fulfillment and assurance of God’s promise that those who take refuge in him will never be condemned is found at Calvary.