The Woman with the Issue of Blood

by Glenn Conjurske

We know little enough about this woman, and the brief account which we have of her tells us more about her Lord than about herself. We meet her but once, where she meets the Lord. He was enroute to the house of Jairus, in response to a most pressing invitation, for this man’s only daughter lay at the point of death. The disciples and a throng of people follow him. Through this crowd the woman presses her way. “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment.” Observe, she came behind him. She did not come as another had done, crying, “Lord, that I might receive my sight!” nor as others, who “besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment,” nor as this Jairus, who “besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death.” Her malady was a shame and an embarrassment. Her feminine modesty deters her from speaking of it—-from looking a man in the face to talk of it—-for this much we may be sure of, that she was no brazen hussey of the modern sort, stripped of her natural modesty by the radio and the television, by the news-stand literature, and by the public school classroom. She was a creature of God’s making, and lived when men did not make it their study to undo the work of God in her. For twelve years she has “suffered many things of many physicians.” Suffered many things, for it was suffering but to declare her malady to a physician, and it may be that the remedies prescribed were as bad as the disease. Suffered many things, for the doctors, then as now, would prescribe by trial and error. When one thing gave no relief, another would be tried, and always of course for money, whether the remedy would kill or cure. When one physician failed, she would seek out another, suffering again to declare her malady, suffering to take the prescribed remedies, suffering to find no relief, and suffering to see her living flowing out with her life. All this went on for twelve weary years, weary years in which her malady was always the uppermost thing in her mind, weary years of watching her life flow out of her, of watching day by day for some little change for the better, and watching in vain, her hopes raised by each new physician and every fresh remedy, only to wither again in the trial, and the final result of all being that she “had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.”

Methinks her spirit must languish away with her body. Twelve years, many physicians, many remedies, one great overshadowing anxiety resting always upon her spirit, many embarrassments to harrow her delicate soul, and no relief, but rather the reverse, her health fast waning, and her money gone. Who can doubt that a dark and hopeless despondency had settled upon her spirit? But now in her extremity she

”… saw, through the gloom, a bright, beckoning ray.”

She “heard of Jesus.” She heard of a physician who charged no fees, who healed with a touch, who cured with a word, who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see, who opened the ears of the deaf and loosed the tongues of the dumb, who cleansed the lepers and raised the dead. She “heard of Jesus,” heard, perhaps, only a flying rumor, but what earnest inquiries did she make after him. How diligently she sought for substantial information. What new light now sprang up in her languid eyes, what new hopes in her drooping soul, what new life even to her weakened frame! What trekkings she now makes to find those who had actually seen and heard him—-those who had watched him heal the sick—-those who had once been in plights as bad as her own, and were now made whole. Every scrap of information is as cold water to a thirsty soul. “Faith cometh by hearing,” and she hears and believes.

And as faith had moved the hands of Noah, and the feet of Abraham, so it moves the feet of this woman. She will now find the Lord, and her earnest inquiries continue. Where was he last? Where was he going? Where can I find him? We know not whether her search was long or short—-whether her journeyings were many or few. Only this we know, that faith and need will persevere, and she found him—-found him thronged by a crowd of people, pressing his way to the house of Jairus, whose only daughter lay at the point of death.

But now she has found him, her feminine modesty and shamefacedness will assert themselves. Her thoughts go back to her many physicians, and the shame she has felt, looking down at the floor, while to one after another of them she divulged the nature of her malady. Surely she might spare herself another repetition of that. Here is a man of God, a prophet, a great seer, and could he not see her malady, as Elisha saw Gehazi go after the Syrian’s treasures? Did he not know the nature of her complaint, as Daniel knew the dream of the king? She need not look this man in the face. She need not speak to him of her malady. “For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” This was faith—-faith in his knowledge, faith in his power, faith in his goodness. She “came,” therefore, “behind him, and touched the hem of his garment”—-”and straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.”

But could she be content thus to take her blessing by stealth? After all the many things which she has suffered of many physicians, for twelve long years, after all her money was spent, and she was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, shall this man now heal her so painlessly, so perfectly, so instantaneously, so gratuitously, and shall she speak never a word to him? Shall those blessed ears hear never a word of gratitude? Shall that gentle heart receive no gratification from her happy tears? Methinks she desires to speak to him—-desires, and shrinks from it—-shrinks, and yet desires. Perhaps she has half formed a purpose to find him out in private, away from the multitude, and let the affections of her soul flow out with her tears, to bless so great a Saviour.

But the Lord is beforehand with her. He stops. The thronging multitude stops with him, while he asks, “Who touched me?” Peter and the other disciples, ever too ready to question and chide their divine Master, must now say, “Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?” But the touch of faith is another thing from thronging and pressing, and the Lord knew how to distinguish them. Observe, she had touched but the hem of his garment—-touched his garment at a place where his garment touched not himself—-touched thus the hem of his garment, while the thronging multitude pressed his garment and his body also—-and yet he felt the touch of this woman. He felt it not with his body, but with his spirit. “Somebody hath touched me,” he says, though she had been careful not to touch his body. Yet she touched his heart and soul, and most truly he said, “Somebody hath touched me.” He knew and felt the faintest touch of faith, and when the disciples expostulate with him, his answer is ready: “Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.”

“Virtue” is an old word which means “power.” “Power is gone out of me.” But we have never liked the translation “I perceive,” though it comes to us in an almost unbroken chain from William Tyndale. We think it weakens the sense. What the Lord says is simply, “I know that power is gone out of me.” That power could not have gone out of him involuntarily, or without his own will and choice. This was no blind force, no mere general shining of the sun or haphazard blowing of the wind, but a specific act of power, applied directly to the ailment of the woman, while her hand touched the hem of his garment. This was as much his own voluntary act as any he had ever performed. He knew, therefore, that power had gone out of him, and he knew exactly when, and how, and wherefore.

Why then does he ask, “Who touched me?” Surely not for his own sake. He knew who had touched him, knew why she had, and knew what he had done for her. It was certainly not to gain information that he asked. Neither was it to gain glory. We know how he shrank from this. We know how often he straitly charged those whom he had healed to tell no man, nor to make him known among the people. Why now the direct reverse of this? Surely this was not for himself. But if not, what was his purpose?

First, he did this for her. She needed this. Had she succeeded in keeping herself secret, we think she must have gone away feeling empty, in spite of the great joy of her healing. “Love looks for love again,” and to receive such love, and not to return it, must leave us feeling empty and unsatisfied, if not low and ignoble. To receive such mercy of the Lord, after suffering so much for so long, and to return no gratitude, no love, no thanks, no acknowledgement—-this is the way of hogs and cattle, not of creatures made in the image of God. Though she naturally shrank from the exposure, yet she needed the opportunity. She came to the Lord with a need of twelve years standing in her body. He laid that need to rest, but in so doing created another need in her soul. That need he saw as well as the other, and therefore he asks, “Who touched me?”

She evidently felt that need, or she might have slipped away through the crowd, and left him standing and asking, “Who touched me?” By his asking she “saw that she was not hid”—-not hid to him, though she was to all the multitude beside. Doubtless it would have suited her best to remain hid to the multitude, yet she cannot now but trust her benefactor, and the strength of her thankfulness to him must be determined by the magnitude of her sufferings and the hopelessness of her despair before. The value which she sets upon her new-found health must be in proportion to the time she languished without it, and all this must determine the measure of her gratitude. She shrinks, no doubt, from this exposure before the multitude, yet to him she owes her all, and she will give him his due. “When the woman saw,” therefore, “that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.” Yea, she “told him all the truth,” for now that he has prodded her to speak, she will not stint her words. And though difficult, we think it must have been a great relief and release to her soul to tell out the secret of her heart. It is simply unthinkable that she could have left him without a word, after receiving so great a benefit.

But we do not suppose he called forth this testimony solely for her sake. He did this for us—-to teach us the efficacy of the hand of faith, however timid and trembling, which can but touch the hem of his garment, and so consummate a real link, however feeble, between our souls and the Saviour. He chose to call for this testimony “before all the people.” It was for the sake of all the people. A private expression of her gratitude had been much easier, but not so useful. And she does not hesitate. She yields herself up to his will, to be used for his ends, not consulting her own preference. As she had trusted him to heal, so she now trusts him not to harm, and there was as much faith in her open declaration as there had been in her secret coming, and devotion and gratitude besides.

And having moved her to speak to him, he will now speak to her. And here we meet with one of the most tender touches in all the Bible. He opens his mouth, and calls her “Daughter.” Never before has he addressed any female so, and never does he do so again. And yet it must be understood, this was no young girl to whom he spoke, but a grown woman, likely as old as himself, and perhaps older. She had suffered with an issue of blood twelve years, an issue which could only have begun when she had already passed beyond her childhood. Why does he call her Daughter? We suppose there is no term on earth of such endearing tenderness as “Daughter.” To address a woman so must be a tender touch on any occasion, but this occasion must exceed all others. Recall what the Lord was about when this woman touched him. He was making his way to the house of Jairus, at the pressing invitation of him whose only daughter lay at the point of death. What could have filled his thoughts and his feelings on such an occasion, if not the love of a daughter, if not the tender ties which bind a man’s heart to a daughter, the empty void which the heart of Jairus was beginning already to feel, as those ties were about to be snapped asunder, and the pall of gloom which was any moment to fall upon his spirit, when he heard those soul-chilling words, “Thy daughter is dead”? And with all these tender emotions filling this great heart, which felt everything human in its perfection, he parts his lips to speak to the trembling woman at his feet, and forth comes the word “Daughter.” On any occasion, I say, this were the most tender word he could have spoken, but on this occasion it is too exquisite for words.

He has but one thing more to do to complete this operation. His power has given her health, and his word must give her assurance. It was his love which gave her both, and would not give the one without the other. “Daughter,” he says, “Be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” He will not allow her to depart dreading a relapse. Her blood will flow again, and he will not suffer her to be alarmed and anxious when it does, but takes care for the peace of her mind as well as the health of her body. She is not only to be healed by faith, but to live by faith also. That faith must rest upon his word—-”Be of good comfort”—-”Be whole of thy plague”—-and thus resting she may live without fear the normal life of a woman, beholding the fountain of her own blood without consternation, but remaining in perfect peace. Having given her that word, he dismisses her, to “go in peace.”

Glenn Conjurske