Is There No Balm in Gilead?

Jeremiah says judgment is inevitable for deceitful people but he also asks the question: Is there no balm in Gilead?

A couple days ago we looked at what Jeremiah had to say about Deceitful People in a Deceitful Nation. And what he said wasn’t very good nor did it bode well for our nation. We too, are a nation filled with deceit, and if you’re being honest, so are you.

But Jeremiah didn’t point his finger at his people in condemnation and say “I told you so” when they refused to repent. Instead he wept. He wept because the people were thoroughly deceitful, and he wept because of the inevitable judgment that was coming.

Inevitable Judgment

In verse 7 he describes the coming judgement refining metals: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, I will refine them and assay them; For what else can I do, because of the daughter of My people?”

“Assay” means to try or test. It’s what you do to metal to remove the impurities and add strength.

The bad news is this process involves suffering, but the good news is that God is still trying to purge his people, not exterminate them. And what else can God do? His only other option is to completely destroy them and he’s promised never to do that.

So, refinement is necessary, even preferred, to complete destruction and in verse 8 Jeremiah reminds us why: “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceit; with his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him.”

It’s going to take some drastic measures to change these hard-hearted, two-faced people. They speak kindly to your face but behind your back they are preparing to attack.

In Jeremiah 9:9 God asks a rhetorical question:

“Shall I not punish them for these things?” declares the Lord. “On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?

Of course, God should punish a nation that ambushes their neighbors, their fellow countrymen and fellow sinners who are also made in God’s image.

So what is the future for a dishonest country? It’s not good. God has and will punish for these things. It’s inevitable.

In Jeremiah 9:10-11 the description of judgement is bleak. The land is laid waste and nothing is left except hungry scavengers. Jeremiah 9:11 says, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”

And, of course, all of this is why Jeremiah weeps. It’s why his heart is broken.

What Should We Do?

Jeremiah 8:20 says it’s too late for Judah to avoid God’s judgment. “Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved.” They were given so many opportunities to repent and now it’s too late for them. Judgement is coming. But is it too late for us as a nation? I hope not.

The United States is not the nation of Israel but everything Jeremiah said about his special people can also be said of us. We too are a deceptive people in a deceptive culture deserving God’s judgment.

There are falsehoods in family relationships, in advertising, in politics, in business, in universities, and even in the church. We’re a deceptive people in a deceptive county.

What should we do?

1. We should repent of our own untruthfulness. If we can’t acknowledge our own proclivity to be deceitful there is truly no hope for us as a nation or as individuals.

2. We need to become people of the truth. How do we do that?

Be cautious about believing things we read that are based upon unnamed sources. Learn to tell the difference between facts and opinions. Be wary when sad stories, instead of facts, are used to play on our emotions. When people draw dogmatic conclusions based upon speculation be hesitant to believe them. Be willing to listen to what people say and examine their words based upon available evidence instead of preconceived ideas. Stop attacking the character of others so we can justify not having to listen to them. And most importantly, compare everything we hear with the word of God, the ultimate source of truth about ourselves, our neighbors and our world.

Doing these things will go a long way toward helping us become people of the truth but there’s one more thing.

3. We also need to lament like Jeremiah did. “For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me” (Jeremiah 8:21).

This is no time to gloat. We need to ask ourselves, are we broken hearted over the sins of our country? Over our own sins? Do we care more about the suffering of others and the dishonor done to God than we do about ourselves?

Is There No Balm in Gilead?

Jeremiah asks one final question: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” This is just another way of asking “Is there hope?”

Gilead refers to a region east of the Jordan river that was famous for its healing balm. The doctors of the day would take the medicine, something like aloe vera, apply it to their wounds, and the people would be healed.

So why does Jeremiah ask: “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?” (8:22). He asks because he’s pointing to the real problem.

The real problem isn’t a lack of medicine. Gilead didn’t all of a sudden run out of medicine and physicians. Of course, healing is available, but the people won’t take their medicine. They won’t admit the truth about themselves so they continue to suffer and so does everyone else around them. Sinful people are the problem.

Is there hope for a dishonest nation? Only if the people of the nation repent.

But what about you? Is there hope for you? Yes, but you need to repent and accept the balm that is available to you.

In the words of a song you probably sang as a kid:

There is a balm in Gilead,
to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain;
But then the Holy Spirit,
revives my soul again.

See, Jesus is the balm in Gilead. He is the one who makes the wounded whole. He heals the sin-sick soul. That’s the truth.

But if we’re spending most of our energy pointing out the wounds and sins of others, while neglecting our own, looking for the cure in all the wrong places so to speak, I am very much concerned that we may not receive the kind of healing we need personally, let alone as a nation.

We have a choice, we can trust what Jesus says about us is true, and repent, or we can keep going in our self-deceiving ways thinking our version of the truth is better than his. That path leads to God’s judgement. It leads to lament and despair.

Instead, choose the path toward the balm of Gilead, toward Jesus who gives eternal comfort and healing.