This post is part of a series about the names of God in the Bible. This series is based off of the study that took place in our Ladies’ Bible Class. You can watch those sessions online at WestsideLife.org/media. Just look for the “Name Above All Names” media series.
Even in the midst of our struggles, hurts, bitterness, and pain, God has a way to sweeten the waters and heal our bodies, souls, and spirits. He can use the pain and the suffering to make us stronger. He is Jehovah Rapha.– Tony Evans, The Power of God’s Names (p. 164)
The Lord Who Heals
In Exodus 15:26, God reveals himself as the Lord who heals. Israel was wandering in the desert with little in the way of food or water. In fact the story says they had gone three days without any water whatsoever—which is right around the maximum time a person can go prior to dying from dehydration. It’s not an exaggeration to say this was a life-or-death moment for Israel.
Finally, they came to a large spring of water, but to everyone’s dismay, it was so bitter that it was undrinkable. Imagine the emotional roller coaster of seeing the water in the distance, thinking you’re saved, only to take a hurried sip and realize the water was no good at all. With their hope turned to despair, the people began to complain to Moses (rather aggressively, I imagine).
Moses shows immense wisdom in this situation. He immediately lays all of this before God. Moses knows that no amount of human effort or wisdom would save Israel from their dire circumstances. They needed some divine intervention.
God responds in a curious way: by showing Moses a piece of wood. Imagine what Moses must have thought in that moment: Great, a piece of wood. What am I supposed to do with that? Rationally speaking, that piece of wood was worthless for the present crisis. You can’t get water from wood. And there’s nothing about wood that makes dirty water clean, or bitter water pure. They two aren’t even remotely related.
But Moses had seen enough of God’s miracles to know that he doesn’t have to understand the logic of the situation. He just needs to put his trust in God. Moses throws the wood into the bitter water, and voila! The water is pure and the crisis of the day is averted. Not bad for a log on the side of a lake, right?
The Conditional Covenant in Exodus 15
God follows his blessing with a sort of illustration. Israel’s future could be bitter or sweet, just like the water. He establishes with the Israelites what could be described as a conditional covenant: If you listen to me and follow my ways, then I will never do to you what I did to the Egyptians, “for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26). The promise to never afflict Israel with plagues flows from God’s identity as the Great Physician, but it is conditioned by Israel’s willingness to humbly listen to the Word of the Lord and follow his command.
God’s identity as a Healer and his faithfulness to his promises are always consistent, so God will never unilaterally renege on his promises. But if Israel fails to adhere to their side of the covenantal agreement, God will discipline them as a way to bring them back into the fold, with the ultimate goal of healing and restoration.
God, the Great Physician
One theme you can find throughout the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) is the healing hand of God. Consider these passages from Psalms and pay attention to the way God is portrayed as our healer:
- Psalm 30:1-5, “I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. 2 Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. 3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. 4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
- Psalm 103:1-5, “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
- Psalm 107:17-22 “17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18 They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20 He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. 21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. 22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.”
- Psalm 147:1-5, “Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! 2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. 3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. 4 He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
- Isaiah 53:2-5, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Reflections on “the Lord Who Heals“
Psalm 30 is David’s testimony to God’s goodness. David is reflecting back at a time in his life when he felt like everything was falling apart. He was sinking into the depths, his enemies were bragging about his downfall, he felt as though he was in the realm of the dead and stuck in a pit. But when he called to the Lord, God healed him. The context makes this sound like healing involved rescuing David from extreme adversity, not simply a physical ailment.
Psalm 103 is a call to praise God for all of his benefits: forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, compassion, and the generous provision and rejuvenation that he provides.
Psalm 107 is important because we see that God’s healing is available to those who are suffering due to their own sinful, rebellious choices. Think of the prodigal son, who wasted his entire inheritance and ended up destitute in a faraway place. Upon his return, his father rejoiced and restored him to a place of honor, even though the son’s suffering was a result of his own sin.
Psalm 147 adds another dimension to healing, which we might think about primarily in term of physical health. The exiles who were carried off into foreign lands because of their nation’s idolatry would one day be brought home to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem. In this context, we see that God not only heals the body, but the soul and spirit as well.
Finally, Isaiah 53 points us to the most important type of healing: spiritual healing that Christ provided by during for the sins of the world on the cross. Traditional healing comes from medical interventions and treatments. It’s unheard of for a doctor to sacrifice themself for the benefit of a patient. But when we think about the cross, we realize that’s exactly what Jesus has done for us. He suffered and died for all of us, and by his wounds we are (spiritually) healed.
“Jehovah-Rapha” or The Lord Who Heals Me is a reminder of God’s desire to bring healing and restoration to his people. He is a God who cares deeply for us and wants us to experience the Hebrew concept of Shalom—peace in every sense of the word.
A Prayer of Healing from The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship
Compassionate God, your Son gives rest to those weary with heavy burdens.
Heal the sick in body, mind, and spirit.
Lift up the depressed.
Befriend those who grieve.
Comfort the anxious.
Stand with all victims of abuse and other crime.
Awaken those who damage themselves and others through the use of any drug.
Fill all people with your Holy Spirit that they may bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
God of mercy, hear our prayer.