|The Old Testament and Healing
What We Can Learn About Healing From
the Hebrew Scriptures
Presented by Rev. Robert B. Boutwell
at the Vermont UCC Healing Retreat 1/22/2000
We usually think of healing ministry in connection
with Jesus but the Hebrew Bible also provides us with an understanding
that healing is part of God's nature and intention, and gives
examples of God's power to heal the human body and mind. Religious
healing is sometimes referred to as faith healing and certainly
the Bible shows us that faith in God and an understanding
of God's nature are essential parts of the healing process.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible there are references
to God's steadfast love, mercy, kindness, compassion and healing.
The more primitive belief that illness was sent by God as
a punishment, was gradually replaced with an understanding
that suffering can be a natural result of sin, or just a consequence
of living in this kind of a world. The book of Job teaches
us that illness is not a punishment for our sins. Because
Job suffered both physical pain and mental anguish, his friends
were sure he was guilty of some terrible sin. Job maintained
that he was not guilty of any sin. Finally when Job was willing
to accept whatever God chose to send, he received complete
healing and restoration. Psalm 34 tells us: "Good people
suffer many afflictions, But God delivers them out of all
their troubles." Sometimes it is our separation from
God that prevent us from receiving God's healing love. God
does not deny us healing but we may not be able to receive
it because we have closed our minds or hardened our hearts
and God's healing love is blocked.
We may lack a close relation with God because
of our ignorance. We may have never learned about God, or
we may have misplaced faith in false gods. Our idolatry may
take different forms. Some people may believe that with enough
money they could buy the needed drugs and medical treatments
and would have no need for God. Some people may have a distorted
image of God which leads them to believe that God is capricious
or judgmental, sending pain and illness or withholding healing,
wholeness and peace. The Linn's have written a wonderful book,
entitled Good Goats; Healing our image of God which can help
correct these misconception which interfere with our receptivity
toward God's love and healing. In their book they lead us
to ponder how we picture God. Dennis tells the story of Uncle
George and how his idea of God was shaped by his feelings
about Uncle George. Although we cannot see God, we can form
a picture of God in our mind. That picture may be influenced
by some great artist such as Michelangelo. I have a painting
of Jesus laughing that informs me of one aspect of God's character.
This picture helps me see a laughing God. This is not the
derisive laughter of a capricious god, but the laughter of
God who delights in us and shares in our joy.
My image of God has also been shaped by many
of George MacDonald's books and stories such as At The Back
of the North Wind and particularly The Lost Princess. In that
story his central character is the wise old woman who firmly
but lovingly brings about the transformation and redemption
of the little princess. She reminds me of the female aspect
of God, the spirit "Wisdom" who describes herself
in Proverbs 8: "God created me at the beginning of his
work; the first of God's acts of creation. I existed before
the beginning of Earth. . . When God established the heavens
I was there. When God set the limits of the seas and marked
out the foundations of Earth I was beside God as a skilled
helper. Every day I was God's playmate, rejoicing in creation
and delighting in all the people God made." This offers
me an alternative to the traditional view. How have you pictured
God? What has changed about your conception of God?
I have prepared a meditative exercise
to help shape or heal our image of God. I invite you to close
your eyes, breathe deeply and begin to focus your mind on
- Picture yourself having committed
some sin, standing before God the judge expecting to be
condemned. The judge recognizes your remorse, accepts your
repentance, drops the charges against you, forgives the
harm you have done, releases you from your punishment, and
sets you free! (Psalm 103:10 -12) "God does not deal
with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to
our iniquities. As the heavens are high above Earth, that's
how great God's steadfast love is toward us who respect
God. As far as the East is from the West, that's how far
God removes our transgressions from us."
- Picture God as a loving mother/father
holding you in his/her arms. (Hosea 11: 3,4) It was I who
taught you to walk, I took you up in my arms; but you did
not know that I healed you. I led you with the cords of
human kindness, with the bands of love. I was the one who
lifted you as an infant to my cheek and bent down to feed
- Can you picture God as the anguished parent
of a rebellious teenager? (Isaiah 1) "Why must you
persist in your rebellion until your head is injured, your
heart is afflicted, and you are covered with wounds. I am
so weary of bearing the burdens you place on me. If only
you were willing, I would take your blood red sins and make
them pure as snow."
- Can you picture God as a shepherd who
lovingly cares for you? (Isaiah 40:11) "God is like
a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his
arms, holding them against his breast and gently leading
the mother ewes." Can you picture yourself as a lamb
being held against God's breast, or a mother ewe being gently
- Think of God as a wise woman, a teacher
speaking to us to set us right (Proverbs 8) "Listen,
I have something important to tell you. What I say is right;
nothing false, nothing misleading. What I tell you is the
plain truth. I will give you good advice. If you listen
to me you will be blessed day after day. Whoever finds me
- Can you picture God as your lover? (Song
of Songs 7) "How beautiful you are, how charming, my
love, my delight! Come my love, let us walk together through
the fields, then we will spend the night together in the
village. In the morning we will go into the vineyard and
among the blossoms of the orchard. There I will give you
the gift of my love." Have you read Morton Kelsey's
book "Sacrament of Sexuality"?
- Or perhaps you can picture God as a glorious
light. (Psalm 119:105) "Your word is a lamp for my
feet, a light on my path." Can you picture your soul
being flooded with God's glorious light? Once, while attending
a Quaker Meeting, I was meditating on how to visualize the
presence of God when a glorious deep blue light filled my
consciousness. (Isaiah 60:1-2) "Arise, shine out, for
your light has come, and the glory of God has risen on you.
Look! though night still covers Earth and the people are
in darkness, on you God is rising and over you God's glory
can be seen."
- Finally let's consider God simply as the
spirit or reign of love. ( Zephaniah 3:14 -18 ) "Shout
for joy, daughter of Zion, Shout aloud! Rejoice and exult
with all your heart. . . Have no fear, nor let your hands
fall limp. God is in the midst of you as your savior. God
will rejoice over you with gladness, and will renew you
with love." Perhaps you can feel or imagine your whole
being filling to overflowing and being renewed with the
spirit of Love. Breathe it in with your breath. Let it flow
to your heart. Let it be carried to every part of your body,
mind, and soul. Can you feel God's love as emotionally renewing?
Now while continuing to hold the light of
God in your soul and the love of God in your heart, center
your focus on your breathing again, and gradually become aware
of the people around you. When you are ready, open your eyes
and rejoin the group. Stretch!
Share with the group your thoughts about
some of these images.
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, of the Jewish Healing
Center, has put together a study by Jewish spiritual leaders
of the 10 Psalms which are considered to be the complete remedy.
This study has been published by Jewish Lights Publishing
of Woodstock, Vt. in a book, Healing of Soul, Healing of Body.
It begins with Psalm 16 which urges us to trust in God who
watches over us, who turns our pain into gladness, who provides
security and rest for the body and who will not abandon the
soul. Then Psalm 41 reminds us that God sustains us on our
sick bed and, in our illness, heals all our infirmities. These
psalms can lead us finally to Shalom! Shalom is not only "Peace";
the cessation of fighting, it is blessing, healing and complete
I have always found the psalms to be a source
of comfort, strength and healing. When I was in Sunday School
we were expected to memorize certain passages of scripture.
In Second Grade I learned the 23rd psalm. One phrase always
bothered me. "Thou preparest a table before me in the
presence of mine enemies." Then I tried putting it into
my own words, "You welcome me at your table where everyone
can see how much you love me." That made more sense to
me. Since then I have worked at paraphrasing all of the Psalms;
putting them into my own words and it has been a great blessing
to me. I highly recommend this to you as a wonderful spiritual
discipline and a means of bringing you deep inner healing.
One of my favorites is Psalm 103 describing
God's compassion and healing.
Praise God, my soul, and from the depth of
my being praise the Holy One. Praise God, my soul, and never
forget all the benefits of God's kindness. God forgives all
our offenses, cures all our diseases. God redeems our lives
from the pit of worthlessness, and places a crown of faithful
love upon our heads with tenderness; God intends our years
to be filled with goodness and our youthful strength to be
continuously renewed so that we may soar like the eagles.
We have talked about the healing that is needed
to fit us to be receptive to God's healing activity. Now I
want to move on to look at some healing experiences described
in the Hebrew Bible and the persons God empowered to perform
them. Frank Darling in his book Biblical
Healing; Hebrew and Christian Roots, emphasized that
these healing activities were carried out by persons with
a special relationship with God. Isaiah 61 describes the healing
mission of God's servant in this way: "The Spirit of
God is upon me, because GOD has anointed me; and has sent
me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.
. . to comfort all who mourn and give them flowers instead
of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning." Some
people are anointed by God to be healers.
One of the earliest references to healing
in the Bible involves Abraham. He was seen as a healer because
he had a special covenant relationship with God. When Abimelech
and his whole household were afflicted with barrenness (Genesis
20:17) "Then Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimeleck
and his wife and female slaves so they could bear children."
Moses was another person with a special relationship
with God. After receiving God's call at the burning bush Moses
protested that he needed proof to show God's people in Egypt.
(Exodus 4:6-7) Then Moses discovered that his hand had become
infected with leprosy but he was given a sign of God's healing
power by the cleansing his leprous hand. After God's people
had escaped from Egypt and had crossed the sea,
( Exodus 20:26 ) God assured them through
Moses that they would be protected from the diseases which
had afflicted the Egyptians "For I am the God who heals
you." When Miriam was afflicted with leprosy Moses prayed
to God to heal her (Numbers 12) and after 7 days outside the
camp she was cleansed and able to rejoin them.
In Numbers 21, we are told that Moses made
a bronze serpent on a rod to heal the people who had been
bitten by poisonous snakes and save them from the fear of
death. People really do die of fear. Even today the serpent
on the rod is a sign of healing.
In 2 Kings 5 we read about the prophet Elisha
healing Naaman's leprosy by sending him to wash in the Jordan
river. Naaman at first protested, but when he humbled himself
and obeyed, he was healed.
These examples tell
us that healing came as a result of prayer, faith, and humble
acceptance. The healings were all performed by people
who had a special relationship with God and who were given
special gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to read
that the special gifts of the Spirit were passed on from Elijah
to Elisha. Elisha asked for a double share of Elijah's spirit.
(2 Kings 2) This was the customary request of an eldest son
to receive a double share of the inheritance from his father.
This was granted to Elisha when Elijah was taken to heaven.
The spirit of Moses was passed on to Joshua, by the laying
on of hands. (Deuteronomy 34:9) "Joshua the son of Nun
was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his
hands on him." In the Bible the hand represented power
and blessing. When Isaac laid his hands on his sons to bless
them, something was transferred to them that was irrevocable.
The Bible often speaks of the Hand of God as representing
God's power. We set aside and empower ministers by ordination
with prayer and the laying on of hands. At confirmation we
pass God's blessing on to the confirmands and empower them
to be disciples by prayer and the laying on of hands. In healing
ministry one of the ways we can convey God's love and healing
power to the sick is by laying hands on them and praying for
their healing. Often touch is important in the healing process.
The first time I laid hands on someone in
prayer was early in my ministry. I was visiting parishioners
in the hospital when a nurse who knew me came to me and asked
me to come a pray for a man who saw suffering terribly. When
I entered his room the man was very agitated, tossing and
turning in his bed and crying out in pain in spite of the
drugs he had been given. I went over to his bed, laid my hand
on his head and began to pray out loud that God would be merciful
to him, forgive his sins, relieve his pain and suffering,
and grant him peace. Immediately the man became quiet and
seemed to be sleeping peacefully. When I returned to his room
a few minutes later the nurse told me that the man had died
shortly after my prayer, but on his face I could see a wonderful
expression of relief and peace. Wow! What an answer to prayer!
Through our hands we express many things, our strength, our
own faith and confidence, the love God has given us, and sometimes
God's power to comfort and heal. If we lay hands on other
people without a firm connection with the love and power of
God they can draw the love and energy all out of us and leave
us totally drained.
In healing ministry our hands can also communicate
in both directions. Not only can we communicate God's healing
love to someone, we can also receive things from them. One
time when I visited another parishioner who was in pain, I
took his hand in mine and told him to give me his pain. He
looked at me in surprise and said he wouldn't wish that pain
on anyone. I told him that it wouldn't hurt me because I would
pass it on the God. Then as I reached up as if to take the
hand of God with my left hand, my parishioner gritted his
teeth and squeezed my right hand as hard as he could. I felt
something pass through my body like a great sigh and he released
his grip with a surprised expression of relief on his face
and exclaimed: "Wow! it worked!" Other people can
transmit their curses, their pain, their fears and anxieties
to us and without a firm connection with God we can be sorely
There is also something else we can receive
through the laying on of hands and prayer. Remember that God's
prophets were often called seers because they could perceive
things not obvious to others. Our hands may be sensitive to
the special needs of the person for whom we are praying. This
can be helpful in the discernment of problems of which the
person for whom we are praying may be unaware. As we move
our hands over the person's body, while seeking any discernment
God's Holy Spirit may give us, distress or disorder may be
communicated to our sensitized hands in ways that might otherwise
be indiscernible. Once when I was working with a person who
was experiencing back pain, I prayed for discernment concerning
the cause. As my hands passed over the back of the neck I
sensed a pinched nerve. More exploration revealed tension
in the neck muscles. With my hands laid on the neck muscles
and my prayer to relieve stress, God relieved the pain in
Another time I had been experiencing severe
pain running down my right leg from my hip. My prayer partner
sought the discernment of the Holy Spirit as I stood before
him and he gently ran his hands down my body. Suddenly he
stopped and told me, "If you get that fat wallet out
of your hip pocket it might help." When I took it from
my pocket the pain ceased immediately and it has never returned.
I was healed!
Decide if you want to try laying on hands, receive laying
on hands or to be an observer. If you want to try some laying
on of hands, pair up with someone next to you who is interested
in receiving this ministry and invite someone else to join
you as an observer. Lay your hands on that person's shoulders,
and pray the Holy Spirit for discernment of anything that
may be causing that person discomfort. You may feel various
sensations with your hands such as warmth, tingling, tension.
As the Holy Spirit leads you share what you are sensing and
seek confirmation. You might say: "I am sensing some
pain, sorrow, distress, anxiety etc. in you. Is that right?
I sense that God wants to offer you assurance, strength, comfort,
healing, etc. Would you like me to pray for that with you?
Offer prayer as the Holy Spirit leads you. If you don't feel
or sense anything after a few moments consider if your own
hurts or feelings may be getting in the way and perhaps you
should shift roles with your prayer partner. If you both wish
to shift roles you may do so.
If something gets opened up for healing in
this exercise and you feel the need for it to continue be
sure to seek out a prayer partner here later today or someone
of your home congregation to continue the process.
The Hebrew Bible can also teach us about what
we call soaking prayer. When the son of the widow of Zarephath
was stricken, (1 Kings 17:17-23) Elijah cried out to God,
then stretched himself over the child three times praying,
"My God, let this child's life come into him again."
and the child was revived. Similarly, when a Shunammite woman's
son was stricken Elisha prayed for his recovery (2 Kings 4:32-36).
Elisha lay upon the child, putting his mouth to the child's
mouth, and his hands on the child's hands, until the child's
flesh was warmed. A second time he repeated the procedure
and this time the child sneezed and opened his eyes.
We learn from this that it may take repeated
applications of prayer and laying on of hands for complete
healing to take place. Sometimes one needs to work with a
prayer partner for several sessions as healing gradually progresses.
Sometimes it is helpful to immerse a person in the prayers
of a prayer group. One person may begin by laying hands on
the person's head and beginning to pray. Several other persons
then join in and with the permission of the person for whom
the prayers are to be offered they may lay their hands on
other parts of the body and add their prayers. Several of
these soaking prayer sessions may be needed before healing
may be completed, but the results can be spectacular. Some
years ago Jim contracted polio and lost the use of his legs.
I was in a prayer group with his wife, Doris, and every time
we met we would soak Jim in this kind of healing prayer. There
was gradual strengthening of Jim's legs over several years,
until at last he was able to stand upright, discard his crutches,
and walk again.
While making hospital calls I discovered a
woman who had passed out on the road and wrecked her car.
Tests showed that she had suffered severe brain damage. Her
husband asked me to pray for her because the doctors felt
there was little hope of recovery. For three months our church
and others continued to pray for her and to soak her in our
prayers as she lay in a coma in the hospital. A few weeks
ago when I visited her she sat up, opened her eyes, and smiled
when she recognized me. She had come out of the coma, had
regained her memory, and she thanked me for the prayers which
she believed had been so helpful. Persistence in prayer often
gets remarkable results. Praise be to God! Amen.