God's National Health Covenant

by Ray Hawkins

Health care takes a huge slice out of any Government's funds. The tragedy is that so much sickness is self induced by improper lifestyle and morality. On top of that so many sufferers turn round and accuse God of being some type of horrid monster for allowing them to reap the bitter harvest of their lifestyle.

Even a casual glance at certain portions of Scripture will reveal God's interest in the health and welfare of individuals and nations. This is especially true in the nation of Israel which has a special relationship with God through specific covenants as recorded in the Bible. One such agreement could be called the Covenant of Health.

After the deliverance from Egypt, the newly constituted and redeemed nation of Israel faced the bitter waters at Marah. Here was an initial test of their trust in God their Redeemer. They failed. After the curing of the water by Moses under Heaven's guidance, a decree and promise were given by God. In Exodus 15:26 we read: "If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his sight, give ear to his commandments and keep all his decrees, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you."

With this the Nation was granted a unique agreement by which their relationship and spiritual condition could be ascertained. This is the Covenant of Healing. In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 the implications of this agreement are spelt out in fine detail, and we notice that the emphasis is on the Nation, rather than on individuals.

It is important to notice the promise: "I will put none of the diseases on you (the Nation) which I have brought on the Egyptians ..." . That is, Israel had the opportunity of missing out on the judgement of God as long as they conformed to His will. The ten plagues were acts of judgement on Egypt and would be expressive of the fact, if suffered by Israel in the promised land, that the Nation had become in God's sight as Egypt. National health depended upon obedience and holiness.

Much misrepresentation of the prophets and part of the New Testament takes place because people do not grasp the significance of this Covenant with Israel. When it was broken by the Nation in the Land the curses of Deuteronomy and Leviticus were set in motion. To this reality the prophets referred in their preaching and writing, and they called for repentance. For it was from that state of heart that renewal and blessing and Covenant Health would flow.

As we read those two great books from the Torah we realize that for the Nation in the promised land the signs of God's pleasure or displeasure would be tangible. There would be no doubting why things were happening or not happening. It would be an indicator of the spiritual state of the Nation by beholding the blessings or the curses being operative. This is how Deuteronomy puts the aspect of the cursings:

28:21 "The LORD will make the plague cling to you until He has consumed you from the land which you are going to possess."

28:22 "The LORD will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish."

28:27 "The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumours, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed."

28:35 "The LORD will strike you in the knees and on the legs, with severe boils which cannot be healed, and from the sole of your foot to the top of your head."

28:59 "The LORD will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues – great and prolonged plagues -- and serious and prolonged sicknesses."

28:60 "Moreover he will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you."

28:61 "Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in the book of this Law, will the LORD bring upon you until you are destroyed."

God was making His intentions quite clear: "You break the Covenant; you violate the Peace Treaty; you transgress the legal constitution, and the blessings will be deformed into curses."

As we turn to the prophet Isaiah it becomes clear that he is steeped in the Covenant concepts. He lays hold of the imagery employed by Moses to hold up a 'mirror, to a proud, hypocritical and corrupt nation. We read the opening chapter and weep. The society is religious yet rebellious, and Isaiah under God's penetrating examination diagnoses it as a sickness unto death.

It almost seems like a direct commentary on Deuteronomy. It prepares the way for the prophet's stinging words and his call to repentance. But unfortunately the 'patient' didn't heed the report. "Hear, O Heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: 'I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not consider.'

"Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evil-doers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel; they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and your whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the top of the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment."

They considered themselves as religious, rich, self-reliant (2:6-8) and enjoying good times (5:11-12, 22-23), but God saw them as cursed, sick, diseased and treaty breakers. From out of this diagnosis Isaiah pronounced six woes which are recorded in 5:8,11,18,20-22. There is even a seventh woe which catches the prophet just in case he is imagining that he is unaffected by events in the nation. In 6:5 he is given the vision of the Holiness of the Eternal God and it crushes him with an awareness of his own sinfulness.

As the fabric and security of the Nation began to unravel people undoubtedly questioned the character of God, and they wanted to know where He was. Chapter 59:1-2 provides the answer. "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear."

Some time later Jeremiah summed up the now critical condition of the nation. "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery for the health of the daughter of my people?" (8:22)

The prophet Amos has a very revealing message in chapter 4. where he lists all the judgements of God upon the Northern Kingdom and the hardness of their heart in being unrepentant. He makes a point in saying "I (God) sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt ... yet you have not returned to Me."

Surely the spiritual leaders knew of the promise in Exodus and its relationship to the spiritual and moral and physical well-being of the Nation. Yet unbelief and idolatry had so hardened the people and leaders that they would not believe and repent.

The sad and forlorn love story of Hosea and Gomer is a dramatic portrayal of Yahweh and the Nation of Israel. Whilst directed to the northern part of the divided kingdom, it is applicable to the southern part of Judah also at a later date.

Hosea writes from a broken heart: "Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel, for the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: 'There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed after bloodshed. There the land will mourn; and everyone who dwells there will waste away ...'" (4:1-3).

There is a temptation to imagine the Lord being vindictive in these judgements. In reality they are meant to be therapeutic. "I will return again to my place till they acknowledge their offence. Then they will seek my face; in their affliction they will diligently seek me.

"'Come, and let us return to the LORD, for he has torn, but He will heal us; he has stricken, but he will bind us up. After two days he will revive, us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live in his sight'" (5:15; 6:1,2).

Hosea makes it plain that salvation and healing embrace each other in a national context. Both depend upon repentance and a restored relationship. This releases the forgiving and transforming power of God, so that the blessings of the Covenant in Deuteronomy and Leviticus can come into force again.

"Yes I am the LORD your God, ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no God but me; for there is no saviour besides Me" (Hosea 13:4). "O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity ... I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon" (14:1,4-6),

All of this raises for us the question: How can God deal with the Nation and the individuals within it and change the cursing into blessing? Jeremiah 30:12-22 shows us the immediate scene and the future prospects, and after reading this lengthy Scripture we have to ask ourselves: How can God bring the judgement upon an incurable Nation and yet bring them into the promised delight of restoration?

"For thus says the LORD: 'Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe. There is no one to plead your cause, that you may be bound up; you have no healing medicines ... Why do you cry about your affliction? Your sorrow is incurable. Because of the multitude of your iniquities, because your sins have increased, I have done these things to you ... I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds' says the LORD" (Jeremiah 30:12,15,17).

How is this possible? Only from insights given to us by Isaiah in chapter 53 do we see the cost involved in restoring the Nation to health and relationship with the Lord God who is Holy and True. It becomes apparent that someone has had to step in between God and the Nation and on the one hand take the disease and other 'health' issues unto Himself and then to experience the judgement of God in the Nation's place.

That is the wonder of what Isaiah wrote concerning the Messiah: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed" (53:4,5).

What is being revealed is a judicial statement that the sentence has been carried out. The broken covenant's honour has been restored by judgement. Holiness has been satisfied. That which the Nation had to undergo and from which it could never survive, the One Isaiah calls the Servant, the One we see as the Messiah, took upon Himself. He is the Substitute. In one act He becomes both the Passover sacrifice for salvation and the fellowship sacrifice making the restoration of relationship with God possible. Isaiah sees Him as the fulfilment of those glorious events and the hope of the Nation.

How then does Isaiah see the outcome of this substitution? "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied" (53:10,11).

Here is revealed the wonder of the substitute's survival. He embraces all that is involved in the sin and disease of the Nation and endures the judgement of a Holy God. He dies, yet lives, and this is possible only through resurrection. The dilemma has been solved. The Nation can live again. The Eternal God's Holiness and Justice are vindicated.

"By his stripes we are healed ..." still awaits the Nation chosen by God through His promises to Abraham, Moses and David. God has promised to nationally revive them, and though we know not the day when they will recognize the One who became their Nation's Substitute, many individuals are recognizing Him who has become their own personal Passover offering.

They look forward to the day when the Nation will realize the fulfilment of Psalm 103: "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and 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 iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies."

This sums up the day Isaiah saw in a vision as recorded in chapter 33:20-24, where he concludes: "And the inhabitant (of Zion) will not say 'I am sick'; and the people who live in it will be forgiven their iniquity"

The One who has made all this possible is the suffering Servant revealed in Isaiah 53 and before whom we bow and acknowledge that in the purposes of the Eternal God it is by His stripes we have been healed.