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Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 10/13/1996
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out to the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" 25 Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and a regulation, and there he tested them. 26 And He said, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your Healer." 27 And they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.
In the Song of Moses, Jahweh is praised as a Deliverer, a Warrior, and a Wonder Worker. But now as Israel moves on from the Red Sea, she needs a further revelation. She needs to discover that God is adequate not only for great crises but for something that may be even harder to believe, an arena in which it may be even harder to have faith: for the mundane grind of daily life. In this passage He is revealed as their Healer, able to care for their daily needs as they walk with Him.
This revelation proceeds in three phases. First there is a Test (v. 25): the need for potable water, and then the frustration of thinking you have found it only to discover that the water of Marah is undrinkable. The purpose of this phase is to get the people's attention, to be sure that they are aware of the need. Lack of clean water is one of the most severe health problems in developing countries today, and would have become devastating for the Israelites if God had not intervened. This He does by showing Moses how to heal the waters; but there is more than just clean water flowing forth here. Second is a Statute (v. 25b-26). The specific content of the statute is not given, unless it be the general principle in v. 26 of obedience to whatever commandments from God might be forthcoming. If the test brings out the need for God as a healing force in one's life, the Statute provides the condition of healing, obedience. Finally the climax is a new Revelation of God's Name: now he is Jehovah Raphah, the Lord who heals. The best part of being healed is the opportunity to know God better by seeing Him in this new role. Here is the Provision of healing, a Blessing that goes beyond immediate relief from suffering in a deepened knowledge of God, and a Promise for the future.
To call God our "Healer" in this context then is to say that He is the Sufficient One to put right all that is wrong in our lives. All that is wrong in our lives as either the direct or the indirect result of sin: all the sorrows, hurts, cares, frustrations, circumstances, sufferings, and needs of spirit or body will be fixed, mended, put right, and restored. This will be done perfectly in Heaven, and not until then; but it will be done substantially even now as earnest and foretaste of that perfect healing that awaits us when we see Him face to face.
In developing this teaching practically, we need to look first at the nature of the promise and then the means of its fulfillment as it regards this life.
Contrary to what many foolish people would have us believe, there is in Scripture no absolute promise of healing and health (or wealth) in this life. This is true both of the general biblical pattern and of the teaching of specific passages. The general pattern is that this life is a time of testing in which we experience already many of the blessing of the Kingdom as earnests and foretastes of what awaits us. But at the same time we share in the basic human experience of living in a fallen world that groans for its redemption. Believers are expected to live in hope and to know substantial healing even now, but they are also expected to share in the groaning. They are not exempt from sorrow, only from the need to mourn as those who have no hope. Paul's forty lashes save one hurt just as badly as the pagan's, and left just as many scars. Jesus Himself was full of joy and came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, but he was also a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. There are therefore two equal and opposite errors to avoid here. The first is to hold out the false hope of a life free of suffering and frustration if only we had enough faith; the other is to fail to life by faith, to fail to appropriate the substantial healing that is to be our experience even now--to live, in other words, as if God were not already our Healer. Both errors seriously misrepresent both God and his promises to us.
In terms of specific passages, some believe on the basis of Isaiah 53:5--"by His stripes are ye healed"--that healing is included in the atonement and is therefore provided by faith to all who ask, much as Justification is. Now, there is a sense in which a part of this claim is true. All of God's gracious acts toward us ultimately depend on the sacrifice of Christ as the basis whereby He can treat us with anything other than retributive Justice and Judgment. But a naive and literalistic understanding of how these benefits come to us has done much damage. If healing is part of the atonement, then disease must result from sin, many reason. And again, ultimately they are right--had we not fallen there would be no sickness. But there is no one-to-one correspondence between a particular physical ailment or disability and the person's sins who suffers from it. Jesus Himself establishes this principle in John 9:1-3. Who sinned, the disciples asked, that this man was born blind--he or his parents? Neither, Jesus replied. It was "in order that the works of God might be displayed in him." The relationship between disease and sin may be general and indirect rather than direct and personal. Then Peter very interestingly quotes Isaiah 53:5 in 1 Peter 2:24. "And He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his stripes you were healed." It is quite clear that Peter took Isaiah's prophecy, not as a literal promise of physical healing, but as a metaphor for the forgiveness of sin.
What is our conclusion then? Illness may result from specific sin in our life, and healing from repentance, but we cannot assume that this is so in any given case. Biblically there are at least three reasons why a Christian may be sick. It may be chastisement for a specific, particular sin in his life, as in the case of the Corinthians who had abused the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:30). It may simply be the result of foolish living, with God not directly sending it as chastisement but indirectly doing so simply by letting the laws of cause and effect play themselves out in our lives unhindered. Or it may be just one of the results of living in a fallen and imperfect world, something we could have done nothing to prevent. The harm done by a naive emphasis on physical healing, or even a theological obsession with it, is that it tempts us to put ourselves in the position of Job's comforters and it makes false promises that God never made. But we must also beware of the temptation to ignore the biblical theme that God is our Healer in an over-reaction to the irresponsible obsession. Then we rob God of his glory and rob ourselves of the healing that we could experience even now.
I certainly believe that on occasion God still heals miraculously. I believe I have been the recipient of this blessing a time or two. But this is not the normal method of his operations, but rather is extraordinary. God shows both methods in the passage before us today. He miraculously enabled Moses to heal the waters. But he also provided another means of healing, and it is to that means that the promise of v. 26 is attached: He heals through His statutes. In other words, He has revealed to us many wise principles which, if we followed them in the right spirit, would bring a substantial measure of healing into our lives.
It is rather amazing to compare the teaching of the Old Testament on this issue with that of the nations surrounding Israel at that time. Papyrus Ebers is a medical textbook dated about 1550 BC (the Exodus was probably between 1500-1400 BC). For various maladies this papyrus prescribes such remedies as lizard blood, swine's teeth, putrid meat, and dung. The ones that had any effect at all usually made the patient worse. In contrast, there is nothing like that at all in the writings of Moses. His hygienic and sanitary procedures were literally millennia ahead of their time. As late as the 1840's AD, Ignaz Semmelweis was ridiculed by the medical establishment in Vienna for requiring attendants to wash their hands between deliveries in order to prevent childbed fever. While the Jewish dietary laws are no longer morally binding after Peter's dream before he went to the house of Cornelius, they remain wise procedures for people living in a situation where sanitation and preservation of foods are problematic. And the biblical morality that does remain in force is the only way to be assured that you will be safe from venereal diseases including AIDS.
But God's provision for our health goes far beyond hygiene and sanitation. "Be anxious for nothing" . . . "Cast all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you" . . . "Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath" . . . "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Emotional problems resulting from guilt, tension, anxiety, anger, and fear are not just emotional problems--though the healing of our emotions in their own right is a huge topic in itself. But the indulgence of such negative emotions has been cited in the scientific medical literature in well documented studies as either a cause or an exacerbating circumstance in an astonishing host of physical illnesses: colitis, ulcers, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, asthma, obesity, back trouble, infections--the list goes on. It has been estimated that up to 90% of such problems are either caused or made worse by either emotional stress or the failure to allow adequate time for recreation.
Well, then: if you are anxious for nothing; if you love your enemies; if you never let the sun go down on your wrath; if you remember the Sabbath to keep it holy; if you are faithful to confess your sins and to claim by faith God's promise that He will then be faithful and just to forgive them; if you do these things, you are obviously going to be far healthier and happier than you would have been otherwise. In other words, "If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your Healer."
God is the Lord who heals us. He is the sufficient One to put right all that is wrong in our lives. In terms of physical disease, He will do this perfectly in Heaven, and He does it substantially now by occasional miraculous interventions and by Statutes that have the effect of protecting us from many of the damaging forces set loose into the world by sin. Let us not turn those statutes into a new legalism, for that spirit insures that the ones having to do with emotional health will not work, but actually backfire. But let us follow them with a grateful and gracious spirit so that we may experience more of the foretastes and earnests of that final Making Right that God wants to give us here and now--and so that He may be glorified as the Lord who heals us.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams