Healing in the Pentateuch and Other Historical Books
I. Healing in the Pentateuch
A. Jehovah Rapha
God is consistently referred to in the OT as Jehovah Rapha, "the God who heals." The Hebrew word rapha and its derivatives occur 86x in the OT. It means to restore a wrong, sick, broken or deficient condition to its original and proper state.
healing a sick body (2 Kings 20:5)
repairing a broken down altar (1 Kings 18:30)
restoring a dry, locust-eaten land (2 Chron. 7:14)
making wholesome otherwise undrinkable water (2 Kings 2:21-22)
fixing of smashed potter (Jer. 19:11)
Thus Jehovah Rapha portrays God as the one to whom appeal and prayer are made for the restoration of a wide variety of things that are broken, sick, or deficient.
B. References to Medical Practices in the OT
Several texts that casually allude to medical practices and treatments indicate that the latter were normal and, from a religious standpoint, neutral during the time of the OT.
1. Isaiah 1:5-6
Although the language is metaphorical, the physical image on which it is based implies that there was a standard medical procedure ("pressed out, bandaged, softened with oil") to be followed when such injuries occurred.
2. Jeremiah 6:14 (cf. 8:11)
As Brown (Israel's Divine Healer) explains, "although the context is decidedly prophetic and not medical, the verse indicates that setting of fractures was a known skill and one that could be performed in either a careful or careless fashion" (45).
3. Jeremiah 8:22
Again, we find here a metaphor based on the physical imagery of a "physician" providing help to the afflicted. Brown identifies several elements in this cry: (1) the "healer/physician" was viewed positively; indeed, his presence in a typical village was expected; (2) he was evidently recognized as a "professional"; (3) he was expected to promote the healing of wounds; (4) "balm" was commonly used in this process.
4. Jeremiah 46:11; 51:8
These prophetic metaphors again imply that it was common for people to seek out various remedies for serious afflictions; indeed there several possible treatments, one of which was balm.
5. Ezek. 30:21
Here we see that binding up a broken bone would promote healing. Thus healing was viewed as a natural process.
6. Ezek. 34:4; Zech. 11:16
Again, as a general rule, shepherds were expected to take care of the basic medical needs of the flock.
Two texts in particular call for special attention:
This passage indicates that in Israel, as in neighboring nations, there were acceptable, customary, religiously neutral medical practices. What is important about this text is that it mandates medical treatment. The phrase "shall take care of him until he is completely healed" (NASB) implies payment for the injured man's medical expenses and taking steps to insure he receives proper treatment.
2 Chron. 16:12
This text has often been interpreted as an indictment of human physicians and/or medical treatment. In point of fact, it has little if anything to do with the issue of divine healing versus human healing. Rather, it deals with the issue of trusting in God versus trusting in the flesh.
Observe the contextual theme of "seeking the Lord" as over against trusting in the arm of the flesh or seeking after false gods: 2 Chron. 14:2-4; 14:11; 15:2,12-13,15. When Baasha, king of Israel, attacked Asa, rather than "seeking the Lord" Asa turned for help to Ben-Hadad, king of Aram. Now read 16:7-8. Later, when Asa contracted this foot disease, the stage is set for this question: "Will Asa humble himself and repent and seek the Lord for help?" The answer is a sad one: "even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians" (v. 12). It is not the seeking of the physicians per se, that is emphasized, but the godless manner in which he did it, as a substitute for seeking the Lord.
C. Principles and Passages in the Pentateuch relating to Healing
1. Exodus 15:26
Clearly, under the old covenant obedience to God's laws insures good health. But if God will not put such diseases on them, what is the need for healing? Is it merely that God would prevent them from getting sick, so long as they obey Him? Surely more is involved. It means that if they encounter sickness, barrenness, etc., He would heal and restore them. In other words, it isn't a promise that they will never get sick or hurt from other factors (the dangers and stress and weakness of life), but that if they do He will heal them.
2. Sickness and terminal disease are portrayed as curses for disobedience
See Lev. 26:3-16,24-25,30,39; Deut. 28. Disease, plague, premature death are never viewed favorably. They are tools of divine judgment. Brown explains:
"Destructive maladies are a curse! Painful, wasting diseases are terrible afflictions, not divine blessings. Health is good; illness is bad. Debilitating sickness and devastating plague are signs of God's anger, not his pleasure. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does the Lord ever promise sickness, disease, or calamity as blessings for his obedient children. Nowhere in the Bible is sickness, in and of itself, described as a good thing" (79-80).
The idea of suffering or enduring sickness for the glory of God seems foreign to the Pentateuch.
3. Fertility is a blessing for obedience
See Exod. 23:25-26; Deut. 7:12-15 (cf. also Gen. 1:28; 9:1; 12:2; 17:16,20; 22:17; 24:35-36; 26:3-4; 26:24; 28:3; 48:3,15-16.
4. Deut. 32:39
5. Exod. 4:10-12
[It is important to distinguish between the deterioration and degeneration of the body that inevitably comes with aging (Gen. 18:11-12; 27:1; 48:10) and the suffering associated with disease and sickness. Longevity was often linked to obedience (Deut. 5:33; 30:19; 32:47).]
II. Healing in the Historical Books
A. Some Principles
Although it would be inaccurate to say that all sickness in the OT is the result of personal sin (see Job), disease and plague are generally viewed negatively, often as expressions of divine judgment, but never as divine blessings. See 1 Sam. 5:6-12; 2 Kings 5:19b-27; 2 Chron. 21:18-19. Many have pointed to 1 Kings 14:10-13 as a possible exception to this rule, but to no avail:
* King Jeroboam's wife went to the prophet Ahijah to inquire what would become of her sick son. The prophet replied that God intended to cut off every male from the house of Jeroboam because of the latter's wickedness (vv. 10-11). However, Abijah, Jeroboam's son, was the only one in whom righteousness was found. Therefore, he would die from his illness and be the only one buried. Although this may not seem to be a blessing, it was in fact an act of mercy for it spared him the terrible fate of violent death and the dishonor of not being buried that awaited all the other male descendants of Jeroboam. This is a perfect illustration of Isaiah 57:1 - "The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil." Thus on occasion premature death was a blessing because it spared the individual from a far worse fate had he/she survived. In other words, it was a case of the lesser of two evils.
B. Primary Instances of Healing in the Historical Books
1. 1 Samuel 1:19-20
2. 1 Kings 17:8-24
3. 2 Kings 4:1-37
4. 2 Kings 5
5. 2 Kings 13:20-21
6. 2 Kings 20:1-11 (Isa. 38:1-8)