There is a Balm in Gilead

Jeremiah is known as the "weeping prophet" because of the great sorrow he had for his people. He ministered to Judah during the time of the nation's downfall as God's wrath against the people's sin was manifested through the invasion by Babylon. In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people. He had seen the city reduced to rubble and the magnificent temple of God raided and burned. Even worse, he had seen his own people carried away from the land given to them by God to a foreign land far away. For all of this, Jeremiah's heart was broken.

In one of the many laments of Jeremiah, he asked three questions that figuratively describe his people in terms of sickness. Notice Jeremiah 8:21-22:

21For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me. 22Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?

Gilead was a mountainous region east of the Jordan River where the tribes of Gad and Reuben had settled. This area was known for its healing balm (Gen. 37:25; Jer. 46:11), which was typically used for treating pain and stiffness. The questions of Jeremiah regarding balm, physicians, and healing indicate the spiritual sickness of the Jews. In many of Jeremiah's prophecies, he explained that their afflictions were due to their sinful, idolatrous ways. Their health had not been restored because they refused to repent.

Like Jeremiah, we look around us and see a world that is sick with sin. God Himself said through Jeremiah, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). For this reason, we mourn just as Jeremiah did. We mourn first for our own sickness, for, as David said to God, "There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin" (Ps. 38:3). We mourn also for the sin-sickness of others, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). In all of this, we share Jeremiah's questions: Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Indeed, there is a Physician to bring healing to the world. In a prophecy of the Messiah, God said, "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings..." (Mal. 4:2). The sun of righteousness has now risen, and healing comes by the Great Physician, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus described His work in such terms in Mark 2:17, saying, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Because all have sinned, all are sick, and all need the Great Physician. When Jesus said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, He was not indicating that there are some who do not need Him. Rather, He was responding to the self-righteous Pharisees who had criticized Him for eating with tax-gatherers and sinners. These Pharisees did not see that they also were sinners who needed Jesus as much as the others. Because they were blind to their own sin, they rejected Jesus, and their sin remained (John 9:41). They needed the prescription from the Great Physician that He later gave to the church at Laodicea, which was to buy from Him "eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see" (Rev. 3:18). Only those who could see their own sin, like the tax-gatherers who received Him, could be healed. The same is still true today, for He still comes to those who are sensitive to their own sin and spiritual sickness.

Jesus Himself is the Balm of Gilead to bring health to the souls of all who believe in Him. The great prophecy of Isaiah 53 says of Jesus in verse 5, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed." The Lord Jesus is the remedy for sin, for He has taken on the burden of our sins, and we are made whole again through faith in Him.

Consider Jeremiah's questions again: "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?" Truly, there is a Balm in Gilead, and the Great Physician is here. If anyone's spiritual health has not been restored, then it is only because he has not given up his disease of sin, come to the Great Physician, and applied the Balm of Gilead. "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (Jas. 5:17). May we all seek the spiritual healing that comes through the Great Physician, who is the spiritual Balm of Gilead.

Stacey E. Durham


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