Bible Study Commentary on the Names of God
Knowledge of the Holy: Israel encounters Jehovah Rapha our Healer

by I Gordon
 

IntroductionJehovah Rapha our healer

Let's look at the second compound name of God introduced in this series - and that is Jehovah Rapha. Or, to translate it, the Lord our healer. The Lord God is a healer. But what do we think of when we hear that? If you are like me the first thought that comes to mind is physical healing. And there is no doubt that that is part of it... but it is far from all of it! You could say that God is a holistic healer. Not in some new age ooky-spooky kind of way but in regard to the fact that He treats the entire person and is very concerned in healing more than just our physical bodies. Human beings are spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions) and body and there are different types of healing mentioned in the Bible which focus on these different needs and areas.

Now can you think or remember where 'Jehovah Rapha', our healer, is mentioned? Like most of the Lord's compound names, it is only used the once. Where oh where would it be? If you were thinking that it likely comes at a time when Israel is in desperate need of the healing of God then you would be right. Let's take a look.    

The Context...

Exodus 15:22-27 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?" (25) Then 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 sweet. There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. (26) He said, "If you listen carefully to the voice of 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." (27) Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.

So here is the passage of Jehovah (or Yahweh) Rapha. In it the Lord gave this wonderful promise to the Israelites that "If you listen carefully to the voice of 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 Jehovah Rapha." So what is the context of this promise? Well, Israel have come out of Egypt and begun their journey to the Promised Land. Everything is going swimmingly apart from one small wee issue... there is no water! Like... none! They have gone three days now into the desert and there is no water to be seen! Now the adult human body is made up of 60% water so it is kind of important. The human heart and brain is comprised of 73% water... and not sure about you but I've found it is normally best to keep the heart and brain happy! (Two very influential members in this body of ours!) So we have 3 million odd Israelites, trudging through the desert and there is no water in sight. But finally they come to Marah and there it is... water glorious water shining in the noon day sun. Hooray you say... They are saved!

Well not so fast with your exuberant yet premature celebrations.  Like some cruel joke the water at Marah is bitter and can't be drunk. And we read that 'the people grumbled against Moses'. I bet they did! Sometimes it is bad enough just looking after a small group of people with everything they want let alone 3 million people with dehydrated brains! So Moses cries out to the Lord and God shows him a tree. This tree, the Lord says, will make the bitter sweet. It can heal the bitter waters. I'll let you ponder on that for a moment. It is a slightly odd object lesson from God don't you think? If you want to make the bitter waters sweet just throw a particular tree into it and all will be well! We'll come back to this but in the meantime, ponder away... it is important. But while you ponder let's delve a little deeper on the Lord our healer. What does this word 'Rapha' actually mean and how is it used in the Bible?   

Turning the spotlight on 'Rapha' (no not the tennis player!)

The Hebrew word 'rapha' is a verb meaning 'to heal, to make fresh. It describes the process of healing, being restored to health, made healthy, usable, fertile'. As mentioned above, we often think of healing as in physical healing. Grandma Agnes has a nasty cough that she can't get rid of so we ask the Lord to heal her. Fair enough! But 'rapha' is used in many ways both for humans and other objects. Let's look at some examples.

Type of healing Scripture Notes
Physical healing – fertility Genesis 20:17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed (rapha) Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again. The healing of Abimelech is the first mention of 'rapha' in the Bible. It is physical healing of the body - in this case, fertility so that Abimelech, his wife and slaves could again conceive children.
Healing/restoration of water 2 Kings 2:21-22 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, "This is what the LORD says: 'I have healed (rapha) this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.' " (22) And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken. Elisha was in the town in Jericho but the water was bad. God healed (rapha) the water to bring it back to it's proper state and thus cause the land itself to be productive for the people once again.
Healing of the land 2 Chronicles 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal (rapha) their land. This 'rapha' involves bringing the nation of Israel back into a right relationship with their God. It involves healing of the entire land - probably in restoring God's blessing to the land as stated by the Mosaic covenant (Deut 28) but also involves a spiritual healing of restoring the people of Israel back into a right relationship with their God.
Heart, emotional healing Psalms 147:2-3 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. (3) He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. One of the reasons Jesus came was to bind up the broken hearted (Luke 4:18 NKJV). This is a healing of inner sorrows. 
False spiritual healing Jeremiah 6:14 "They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace. A false superficial healing by false teachers and prophets in Jeremiah's day who said all will be well (giving temporal false comfort to the people) but it was a lie.
Healing of the body and soul Psalms 41:3-4 The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health. (4) As for me, I said, "O LORD, be gracious to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You." David knew that he had sinned against the Lord and this (in this case, not all) seems to be linked with a physical sickness. He asks the Lord to heal his soul, indicating his feelings of guilt and need of forgiveness to restore a sense of peace.
Spiritual healing 1 Peter 2:24-25 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (25) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. This is Peter's comment on the famous Isaiah 53:5 passage mentioned below. In context the 'healing' mentioned is to do with coming back into a right relationship with God our Father, the Shepard and overseer of our souls.
Healing Jesus provided on the cross1 Isaiah 53:5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. This healing provides all types of healing but all in its time. The cross restores a spiritual relationship with God. It bring peace and well being to our soul. The cross also provides for a new body in the future where the need for all physical / spiritual / emotional healing will be once and forever GONE!
 

So we have seen above that the Jehovah Rapha, the Lord our healer, is involved with healing of the body, the soul, the heart, the spirit as well as healing of the water and the land. So let's go back to the context in which Jehovah Rapha is mentioned. That is, the healing of the bitter waters by the use of a tree. 

A brief detour on bitterness
"Christ is the Good Physician. There is no disease He cannot heal; no sin He cannot remove; no trouble He cannot help. He is the Balm of Gilead, the Great Physician who has never yet failed to heal all the spiritual maladies of every soul that has come unto Him in faith and prayer."
James H. Aughey

"Begin to rejoice in the Lord, and your bones will flourish like an herb, and your cheeks will glow with the bloom of health and freshness. Worry, fear, distrust, care-all are poisonous! Joy is balm and healing, and if you will but rejoice, God will give power."
A. B. Simpson

The Israelites came to Marah hoping to find water but alas, it was not to be (initially anyway). Can you remember what 'Marah' means? Marah means 'bitter'. You may remember that there was someone in the Bible who no longer wanted to be called by her proper name but asked to be called Marah. Can you remember who that was? It was Naomi. Naomi means 'pleasant' but given her recent difficult experiences in life she didn’t want to be called that!!! Call me Marah (bitter!) she asked for she was bitter over losing her husband and sons. This example speaks of the difficult and bitter experiences that we have in this life.

Do you know where the first mention of being bitter was? It is used of the bitter cry that Esau made after finding that Isaac had deceived Isaac into giving him Esau's blessing. 

Genesis 27:32-35 Isaac his father said to him, "Who are you?" And he said, "I am your son, your firstborn, Esau." (33) Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, "Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed." (34) When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!" (35) And he said, "Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing."

Another graphic example is the bitter cry of the godly Mordecai when he learnt that Haman had tricked the king into passing a decree that put every Jew into harms way:

Esther 4:1 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly.

Sometimes life brings bitterness. Sometimes we feel bitter when we shouldn't. Either way, there is one solution that truly heals. only one thing can make the bitter sweet.

So what can make the bitter sweet? Only the tree.

the tree that makes the bitter sweetSo Israel was bitter having come three days without water only to find water that couldn't be drunk. So what was the answer? Well, God showed them a tree – a tree that could make the bitter sweet! It is interesting to know that the word translated ‘showed’ is 'yarah' in the Hebrew and it has the thought of teaching and instruction. In the KJV it is translated ‘teach’ or ‘teacheth’ 36 times. Only here, once, is it translated ‘showed’. So it is probably more accurate to say that God was teaching or instructing Moses concerning this tree.  But why a tree? What a strange thing to apply to the bitter waters! What tree can restore that which was good for nothing, back to its proper normal, useful state, so that the bitter could become a source of blessing and refreshing once again?

This picture in the book of Exodus is speaking of what God does in our lives. You are the bitter waters. You are (or hopefully 'were') the one that couldn't provide that blessing that you promised. You were the one that promised life but brought forth death. Yet God taught Moses about a tree that could restore this unproductive water. The tree is the cross. He took the bitterness and returned sweetness:

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"

1 Peter 2:24-25 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. (25) For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer [16] of your souls.

The tree can make the bitter sweet because He took the bitterness and sin and wrath of God and in return offers forgiveness and restoration and life. It is in this context that God says that He is Jehovah Rapha – the Lord our healer. That healing comes through and because of the cross.

Conclusion

As we get to know our God more we see that He is a healer. He brings healing spiritually, physically and works that healing through our own personal relationships. He is interested and brings healing to our broken hearts and inner being as well. But the ultimate healing and only starting point to any healing, is the spiritual restoration of a person back into relationship with  the God of the universe. It was this that God taught Moses when He showed him the tree that could make the bitter waters sweet.

Praise God that He is Jehovah Rapha - the One who brings healing to all areas of our life!


  1. One important question is did Jesus provide physical healing at the cross? Is healing in the atonement? In other words, can we claim and expect physical healing today based on what Jesus did on the cross on the same basis that we claim and expect forgiveness of sins? What does it mean that 'by His stripes we are healed'? Some teachers, predominantly those in the faith prosperity area claim that physical healing is our right today and it is just a lack of faith that prevents it. Yet when we look at how Peter quotes Isa 53:5 in 1 Peter 2:24 we see that the healing provided at the cross is spiritual healing - coming back to God as the shepherd and overseer of our souls. We see Peter clearly teaches that Christ bore our SINS on the cross, not our sicknesses. That is not to say that God doesn't heal physically today - Far from it! And it is not to say that the gift of healing is not available today - Far from it! Praise God that He does heal. But we need to be balanced on this for it causes a LOT of guilt in people that are sick today when you start to say that if you only had faith you would be healed. An overview of the New Testament shows that quite a few godly men were sick and NOT ONCE do we read anything like 'well, Christ bore your sickness and by His stripes you are healed, so just believe in faith and the healing is yours!' Some examples of sickness in the New Testament include the Apostle Paul (Gal 4:13), Timothy had frequent stomach problems (1 Tim 5:23), Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20), Epaphroditus (Paul's fellow worker and soldier) fell ill and nearly died (Phil 2:25-30). Paul also had a thorn in his flesh which may have been physical and even though he petitioned God about it three times, God said No, I am not going to take it away for my grace is made perfect in weakness! (2 Cor 12:9) The fact is that our bodies are growing old and breaking down and as Walter Martin said, 'the death rate is still one per person and we're all going to make it'. So is healing in the atonement? Well, YES, but in this regard: The atonement provides not just a new spirit and forgiveness but also a new body... but all in its own time. Our new body awaits the return of Jesus. Then, and only then, will all complete physical and spiritual health be obtained. We may experience healing and praise God for good health. But all good health, if the Lord does not return, is temporary! I'm sorry to say that our bodies are dying. We await the new body that will never experience any weakness or sickness ever again!