He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.
My Subject – What It Is Not
Before I study how God heals emotions in the Bible; I would like to affirm that there are many tough times when I feel supernaturally comforted. This comfort may come through and during a series of events or it may come in an instant. The following study is not about comfort.
I have also experienced and helped others to experience a relief from physical sickness due to some burden of guilt or some grudge from which they needed to rid themselves. Grudges and guilt can eat away so much inside of someone that physical sickness may result. In these cases, a word or an idea may free such individuals in minutes, bringing health and healing. The following study is not about an apt word spoken at the right time.
Now I admit, God may have given me or others wisdom for the time, but I do not see this as the kind of miracle I will be addressing.
Recently I was listening to a YouTube message about how God heals the emotions, which brought me back to my early days of being a Christian, listening to some preacher who used Bible verses to connect instant medical healing to emotional healing. He claimed that God could heal people’s psychological and emotional issues in the same way He promises to heal us physically.
Years later I have several questions I would like to pose in order to find out if the intent of what the Bible really has to say. The verse I will be studying is Psalm 147:3 which has been used to reinforce the teaching that God promises physical healing to all of us all the time. The same verse is used to claim that God promises to heal us emotionally and psychologically.
Psalm 147:3 states, “He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.”
Some of the questions I have are as follows:
- Are we reading 21st Century thinking into the this verse?
- Was the intent of the Psalmist to say that our inner beings (our hearts) can be miraculously healed in the same way Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead?
- Did the Psalmist suggest that God heals the brokenhearted over time or instantly?
- Is this healing purely miraculous or are is it influenced by natural forces.
To help answer these and other questions, I will look at the context of Psalm 147, because context brings so many answers to so many questions about the Bible and verses in the Bible. But first, I must talk about our modern context and see how that modern world can change the meaning of Bible verses thus creating problems with interpretation.
Today’s Problem with Literal Interpretation
I have a co-worker who breaks down everything his closest co-workers say. If whatever we say has a literal interpretation that is any different than the understood meaning, he makes a joke about it in some way using the literal meaning. If I ask him if he knows where some tool is, he will respond with a simple “yes.” Everyone knows and he knows that I am asking if he can tell me where it is, but he will not tell me where it is until I ask him clearly and literally where it is. Sometimes I need to rephrase my questions 2 or 3 times before I get a straight answer from him. In the last few days I have heard dozens of examples, but here are 4 examples I heard or caught from him and others in one hour:
Give me a break.
What do you want broken?
We have a lot of work coming down the pipe.
I was told to hold on, before moving that.
Hold on to what?
She is hot.
She better cool down.
He has cold feet.
I think he is afraid of commitment.
We have hundreds and probably thousands of expressions and metaphors that are used every day that do no line up with the literal meaning of the words used. My kids used to say, “That’s sick!” to say something was really awesome. Texters who are aware of the meaning changes often use emoticons (smiley faces, sad faces, etc.) to help their readers know what they really mean.
There are many popular phrases in the English language that carry meaning different from the literal meaning. Hebrew and Greek in the Bible likewise had such phrases, word combinations, and words that carried meaning outside of the literal wording and this leaves us a big problem.
The problem for us in our Century is to discover what were literal expressions and words, and what words and phrases were not meant to be taken literally. In particular, for this study, when is the word “heal” meant to be literal or when is it meant to be used metaphorically? When is healing a literal medical miracle and when is it an expression simply meaning to repair? When is it referring to a metaphorically sin-filled sick nation and when is it something else?
“Healing” carried several different meanings. We know that when Elijah healed an altar, he did not lay hands on the broken down altar and watch it miraculously repair itself; and yet the Hebrew in the Bible literally states that Elijah healed the altar. So how can we tell what the Bible is really saying? The best way to answer this question is to look at context.
First of all, before I look into the context of Psalm 147:3, I want to talk about one other problem that gets in the way of reading and finding context.
Today’s Problem with Memorizing Individual Verses
Memorizing Bible verses is important and necessary for building Christian character and fighting spiritual battles. When Jesus battled temptation, he quoted very few words rather than entire passages. In fact, throughout the New Testament, sentences from the Old Testament were quoted rather than paragraphs.
Having said this, memorizing and quoting verses in our day can be very tricky and sometimes misleading, because verses are easily taken out of biblical context and neatly placed within modern day opinionated contexts. To the untrained eye, these new modern contexts seem perfectly fit for the verses used.
To add to this problem, someone may use an out of context verse or several verses the original authors never meant to use in the way the modern reader uses to support some modern issue. Some good Christian may be on the right side of the issue, but uses verses taken way out of context to support one side of some issue the verse really was not addressing. Personally, I find this in bad taste, even if a verse is used to support the right cause. Once that verse becomes the building block for an unrelated modern issue, that verse will have lost its real meaning.
Ideally, verses quoted should be quoted with the knowledge of the context of their original setting and their original intention; so that is what I want to find in Psalm 147.
The Setting and Context within the Psalms
Psalms were heart felt poems and songs written during different times in Israel. Some mourned loss and national disaster and others celebrated victory. Some were prayers for deliverance of real or perceived threats and fears. Some were personal and some were national. Sometimes psalmists boasted, sometimes they humbled in deep sorrow and humiliation. Some came out of deep loss and others were written after great victory. The feelings and contexts of 150 psalms vary a great deal in the same way that we face our own lives’ experiences today.
Psalm 147 is a psalm that acknowledges the blessings God bestowed on his people. It is a psalm that is written during a prosperous time in Israel. Some theologians believe this psalm was written by King David during good days in his career, but others believe it was written during a prosperous time in Israel after having been torn down by Babylon. Either way we clearly see the times were good and the psalmist reflects on his recent past and present.
The Setting and Context within Psalm 147 – The Refugees Return
The verse before Psalm 147:3 celebrates the building up of Jerusalem and the return of outcasts. This description could fit King David’s building up a city with people returning to a more prosperous Israel, but this is unlikely in that even under King Saul, Israel was not facing any grave famine or national disaster. Many in Israel traveled as refugees to other nearby countries when times were bad. When times were once again prosperous in Israel, those refugees would return. As far as I know, there were no such disasters creating refugees shortly before or during David’s reign, so I conclude that the outcasts were previously torn out of Israel by some foreign army, but allowed to return.
The Setting and Context within Psalm 147 – God is Happy
A certain world view comes through the reading of this passage. This world view is held by many authors of the Bible.
The view states that God lifts up the lowly, helps the needy, supports the oppressed and the righteus. On the other hand, God brings down the proud, the powerful, and the ungodly. This is a common theme throughout the biblical history of Israel. Battles are not won by human might but by national dedication to God. Battles are lost due to the worship and service to other gods.
Because there is peace and prosperity during the time of this psalm (vss 13ff), the writer assumes all is well with Israel’s service to God and that makes God in a very good mood.
The Setting and Context within Psalm 147 – The Lord Builds up Jerusalem
The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel (Psalm 147:2).
Verse 2 states that God builds up Jerusalem. This could refer to the buildings or to the people coming into the city building up the numbers of Jerusalem. The later seems to be the case rather than physical builings because verse 2 also talks about refugees coming into Jerusalem, ths making the increase of people a part of the description of building Jerusalem.
Literal language says that God is rapturing people out of other cities and placing them into Jerusalem and he is physically building homes and structures. But this is absurd and the truth is that the people are the ones doing all the building, and the Psalmist sees the hand of God behind it all.
The Setting and Context within Psalm 147 – The Lord Gathers together the Outcasts of Jerusalem
The Hebrew word for outcast (dachah) generally means a tossing out. In Isaiah and Jeremiah dachah in the context of the Assyrian and the Babylonian captivities. Dachah is not clearly used in other refugee contexts such as during a time of famine.
He Heals the Broken in Heart
In Psalm 147:2 the Psalmist celebrates refugees returning to Jerusalem. These refugees are the people who find healing in their hearts, and the healing within their hearts is not due to some Benny Hinn like miracle; it is the result of the turning of national events. Healing comes from the promise of a prosperous time when food is abundant and when war and captivity is over (147:13-17).
Healing of the heart in Psalm 147 is the natural result of the return of refugees and the return of refugees was the sign that things were going well in the city.
We have not experienced this kind of joy in the Western world since VE-Day – May 8,1945 when World War 2 ended. On the day the war in Europe ended, there was celebration in streets throughout the world, and people celebrated as troops came home.
He Binds up Their Wounds
The second part of the verse says that God binds up the wounds of the refugees. Considering that healing takes on such a metaphoric use in much of the Old Testament (definitely not every case, but in many), it would be fair to ask the question, “Does Psalm 147 use this binding of the wounds metaphorically or literally in a medical context?”
Once again, I look first of all to the context of the verse and see that it is talking about those refugees returning to Jerusalem. Is God physically, instantly, and miraculously healing the people as they return? Or is God healing their wounded spirits as they find their way back home and their wounds are gradually healing.
It is possible that the physical wounds from past battles were healing naturally because a time of peace means there is time to heal. The Psalmist looks over these people and sees much more health and wholeness than he saw when war ravaged the land and when Jerusalem was filled with battle injured and dying men. Instead the Psalmist sees people coming home who are relatively healthy and in good condition. He gives the glory to God.
Psalm 147 Verses that We Consider Natural
8: He covers the sky with clouds;
8: He supplies the earth with rain
8: He makes grass grow on the hills.
9: He provides food for the cattle
9: He provides for the young ravens when they call.
13: He strengthens the bars of your gates
14: He grants peace to your borders
14: He satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
16: He spreads the snow like wool
16: He scatters the frost like ashes.
17: He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
18: He sends his word and melts them;
18: He stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.
Most people in today’s world take such things for granted, thinking little of it. Very few of us see the voice of God or the direct hand of God behind nature, weather, and human building. Most of us would not claim that New York’s 9/11 disaster was the hand of God, but in Jesus’ day (the Tower of Siloam on the left) and in the day of the psalmist, such things were generally assumed. There just wasn’t anything called, “natural disaster.” Nature was in the hands of God for good and for bad.
It’s All about Context
Most of us live in a world where food is plenty and war is fought in other lands. Refugees from war torn and famine areas come to the West to escape certain death. Living in the West, we do not live or relate to such tragedy. We live the life of which many refugees can only dream. It is difficult for those who have never experienced to understand and to relate to what the Psalmist was experiencing. He may have seen his city ravished by war. He may have even seen Jerusalem face months of starvation and death before a hated nation was able to conquer the city, rape and force its inhabitants into slavery.
Even if he didn’t experience it, he knew Jerusalem’s history, and for him to see people return to peace and the promise of a good future, it was euphoric.