The Name of God: Jehovah-Rapha – The Lord Our Healer
Our Scripture today is a responsive reading from Psalm 103. I invite you to join on the parts that are in bold print. Hear now the Word of God.
Bless the LORD, O my soul; All that is within me, Bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Today we continue our series of sermons The Name of God by considering the name Jehovah-Rapha, which means The Lord Our Healer. After reading the words of Psalm 103, I pose this question to you: Is this really your experience? We affirm that God will forgive us of our sins; but when we get to the section about God healing all of our diseases, is that really your experience?
I invite you to turn with me to Exodus 15 where we find an unusual story in which the name Jehovah-Rapha is actually used in the Scriptures. We pick up at Verse 22.
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” 25Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink. There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”
The word LORD used in that Scripture is Jehovah-Rapha. God had already delivered the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptian army, opened the path for them through the Red Sea, and led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Now, as they travel through the wilderness, they wander without water for three days. The sun, like a hammer beating down on an anvil, made them tired and thirsty. Their tongues were swollen, and their lips were parched. Their feet were burned because of the hot sand. Their cattle were also perishing.
Finally they came to a place called Marah. They must have had so much hope and expectation when they saw water, but it was little more than a mirage. As they started to drink, they soon discovered that the water was bitter. The very name Marah means bitterness.
So often in life, we have a difficult time and look forward with hope and expectation to some resolution of the difficulty. Sometimes that anticipation turns to bitter disappointment. The children of Israel were disappointed, and they began to grumble against Moses and God. “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” as Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Hearing Moses’ prayer, God instructed Moses, “Throw that piece of wood into the water, and the water will become drinkable.” I do not know what kind of wood God indicated, but Moses did as he was told. The previously bitter water now became sweet.
Have you ever been so intensely thirsty that you would have taken water of any kind? Have you ever longed for something so fervently that you were like a thirsty person searching for something to drink? Have you ever prayed so earnestly that your prayers were almost without ceasing? Have you come to a time in your life when you were bitterly disappointed? The people of Israel were having this kind of experience at this place called Marah. Most of us have had these kinds of experiences too.
When we read in Psalm 103 that God heals all our diseases, the name used for God is Jehovah-Rapha, God Who Heals. That name raises many questions.
Look with me at Isaiah 61, the passage Jesus read in the synagogue when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth. After being handed the scroll of Isaiah, he read these words:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me. The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness the prisoners to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus then sat down, the position of authority for any rabbi to teach, and said in a very simple sermon, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” His statement identified him with the suffering servant of Isaiah. He was declaring that he was the Messiah, the Anointed One. He certainly identified with Jehovah-Rapha, God Who Heals.
I want you, just for a moment, to get comfortable and get in touch with your own body. Do not go to sleep on me while you do this, now. I know I am not giving some of you enough time to become conscious of all your aches and pains. Think about your recent medical history and any medical tests on the horizon. Consider your concerns and anxieties about your own physical well being.
Would you like to be healed? Why not have a service of healing? Somebody, get me a bottle of olive oil, and let us see if we can turn a trick or two. If I did that, I would as phony as a three-dollar bill.
God heals, but the truth is that He does not always heal the way we want. He does not always heal immediately. He certainly does not always heal the way we expect. If we pin that on God, we greatly diminish Him. We make Him do what we want instead of seeking what He wants.
I have prayed for numerous people who have had surgeries this week. Nathan had pretty serious back surgery. By all accounts, he is doing very well. In fact, on the very day of his surgery, he posted on Facebook that he had been able to walk without pain for the first time in several weeks. Sometimes these surgeries work very well, and no pain is felt afterwards. Others who have had back surgery know that a church pew is an instrument of torture. Of my seven siblings, one brother and a sister had surgery this week. They, too, are both doing well.
This coming Tuesday will be the eleventh anniversary of the death of our son Erik, who was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was about six years old. As I first watched what was happening with him, I thought he was having some kind of an allergic reaction. He looked as if he were trying to sneeze. Then I saw the twitching of his eye and knew that symptom was a bad sign. We took Erik to a pediatrician and then to the Harvard Children’s Hospital in Cambridge. The doctors there determined that he was having seizures. Before we got him on medication, the seizures became more and more pronounced. I remember holding him in my arms one night, counting forty-five seizures. Clare and I prayed for him. Grandparents also prayed for our child. We prayed that he would be healed. That is not what happened, certainly not the way we expected.
It would have been so easy for Erik’s grandparents and for Clare and me to become bitter like the children of Israel. I think about Erik dying while having a seizure. His heart stopped. His death is not at all what we wanted to happen to our daughter-in-law June or to ourselves. In a circumstance like that, though, God can take our bitterness and turn it into something sweet. Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “God works together for good in all things for those who love him and who are called according to his purpose.” That does not mean that God gives a child epilepsy so that He can do something special. It means that once these circumstances happen to us, God can start working with them and turning them into something good.
Out of Erik’s death have come some amazing results. Many, many parents have come to me to talk to me about their children who have epilepsy. A brotherhood, a fellowship, a sisterhood is formed when people share the same situation. Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:4, “We comfort others with the same comfort which we ourselves received.” God allows us to turn a situation that could be bitter into something sweet. Eleven scholarships have been awarded in Erik’s name to graduates of Spartanburg High School. His death inspired me to write a little book about grief that has been translated into Chinese and Korean. Almost every day I get a comment from someone, telling me that the book has helped them. I certainly did not want to lose a son so that I could write a book. After my son’s death, God had a way of taking what could have been terrible bitterness and turning it into something sweet, something redemptive.
On Friday morning one of our deacons and I went to the hospital to pray with Nathan before his surgery. Afterwards we went to Papa Sam’s for breakfast. A man I have known a long time came over and sat down at our booth. He said, “I lost my wife four months ago. We had been married for sixty-four years.” I expressed my condolences to him and noticed that his jacket indicated that he was a veteran. Friday was Veterans Day.
I encouraged him to tell his story.
I was on the frontlines of the infantry in World War II. During those 175 days, I was wounded twice. The first time a shell landed very near me. I took three pieces of shrapnel, one which almost got the jugular vein in my neck. Doctors removed the pieces of shrapnel, and I was again serving on the frontline three days later.
Another time while on reconnaissance patrol, I was driving the second of two Jeeps. When Germans blew up the bridge as we were crossing, the Jeep in front went down into the river, wounding the four men inside. All men in my Jeep, which was blown back over to the Allied side, were also injured.
I finally got my Jeep started, and we scrambled down the bank to pull the others out of the river. I drove thirteen miles back to a field hospital with eight wounded men.
Those were hard times, but I have ever been wounded as much as when my wife died. Her death is the hardest wound I have ever had.
Grief is a difficult wound, as many of you know.
Let’s continue by reading Isaiah 61. The servant is speaking.
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
God can heal our sins. God can heal our griefs. You notice that in Psalm 103, the reference to the forgiveness of sin precedes the reference to physical healing. The little book of I John says that if we confess our sins, God will be faithful and just. He will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This is a fact David knew. He wrote Psalm 51 after his sin with Bathsheba. His prayer is not physical healing but spiritual healing, the healing of his soul. David writes:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation.
Do you know that God, Jehovah-Rapha, can heal a university? Penn State University needs healing. Have you prayed for them? I certainly have. Have you seen what has happened to the bitterness seen on the day Joe Paterno was fired? Students were in the street, yelling, screaming, and turning over automobiles. A day or two later, students held a peaceful prayer vigil, turning bitterness into something sweet. It is through prayer that this kind of healing will come.
God can also heal our prejudices.
When I was seventeen years old, I spent the summer in Africa with Herbert and Jackie Neely, my uncle and aunt. I saw there in what was then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, the worst racial discrimination I have ever seen in my life. The discrimination was almost as bad as the Apartheid of South Africa, but not quite. Once I returned to Spartanburg, I saw racial discrimination here that I honestly had never seen before. I had been blind to the prejudice. After my awareness was raised in Africa, I came back and observed restrooms and water fountains marked “White” and “Colored.” I knew that God needed to bring healing to my life. He needed to bring healing to my hometown.
This kind of discrimination, this kind of prejudice, resembles a disease. The nature of prejudice is that it originates with the fear of people we do not know and understand. I have worked so hard to cultivate interracial and interfaith relationships. Yesterday at 11:00 A.M. about 120 people gathered here in this Sanctuary to hear a rabbi talk about the Jewish traditions behind the parables. That wonderful session promoted understanding between Christians and Jews.
A number of years ago Morningside hosted an interfaith service on a Sunday night with Majority Baptist Church. Pastor James Hailstock preached, and their church choir sang.
The following day, my dad confessed, “Kirk, last night after that service, I got down on my knees and prayed, ‘Lord, you know I am prejudiced. I have been prejudiced all my life. I still have prejudice in my heart. I need You to help me remove it.’”
God continued to work in my dad’s life.
This kind of healing comes only through God. God can heal relationships. He can heal a marriage, a marriage tainted with so much distrust, a marriage tainted with unfaithfulness. God can heal broken relationships between parents and children and between children and parents. This God who heals can heal bitterness.
Years ago I preached the Father’s Day sermon entitled “The Best Father’s Gift Ever.” That message focused on the point that every dad needs to be forgiven. No father has done everything completely right. By the time I returned home, the telephone was ringing. The caller, a woman said, “I need to talk to you.”
Over the next eight months of counseling, she revealed that for years her father had abused her sexually. She said, “I cannot get over it.” She experienced great difficulty in releasing her anger. Her bitterness finally turned to something sweet when she was able to stand by her dad’s grave and say, “Dad, I hate what you did to me, but I want you to know that I forgive you.” Once she was able to express her anger to him, she began to get better.
Next Saturday, we are going to have a time of prayer for our nation right here in the Sanctuary. In II Chronicles 7:14, God tells us, “If my people, who were called by my name, will humble themselves and seek my face… I will hear their prayer from heaven and will heal their land.” God can heal anything.
Many of you know the story of my mother’s adoption. When she was six weeks old, her mother died. At the funeral my grandfather handed this newborn across the grave to his brother and sister-in-law and said to them, “I cannot take care of this little girl on a farm with four boys. Would you please take her to Spartanburg and rear her as your own?” Back then, adoption papers were not completely necessary in a situation where one family cared for the child of another family. This woman, whom I called Granny, reared my mother. My mother was loved by both families, but she always had a little uncertainty about belonging to the family who reared her.
When my Granny died, my mother did not want to be present at the reading of the will. The lawyer encouraged, “Louise, you need to come hear what your mother wrote.” Granny had listed all of her biological children and then written, “And to my niece Louise, whom I have always regarded as my daughter, she will share and share alike.” That moment offered great healing for my mother. She knew that she was included.
The Bible says that God does the same for all of us. We have all been adopted into the family of God. We call it salvation, but we can also call it adoption. We come to know God as our Father in heaven. We come to know Jesus as our Savior and as our older brother in the family of God.
Do you know God as Healer? Healing will not always come in the way you pray for it or in the way you expect, but God is a healer. He may not heal all of our illnesses just the way we want, but He is always at work, bringing His healing power into our lives. The greatest symbol of His power is His ability to take our bitterness and turn it into something sweet. He has done that in my life. He wants to do it in your life.
If you have never invited God to be your great Physician, your Healer, I extend that invitation to you today. You respond to God’s great love.Kirk H. Neely © November 2011