Is There No Balm In Gilead?

Neal Pollard

Jeremiah asks that question rhetorically? It comes at the end of an oracle God gave this prophet to share with his people, Judah. He had asked if the people had turned to idolatry because God was not in Zion (Jer. 8:19). He then ends by saying, “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). In context, the people were sin-sick, but the cure was available. It was not because God was unable to restore them that they were ailing, but because they refused to seek the cure.

Certainly, today’s society mirrors this attitude of Jeremiah’s contemporaries, but this, in context, was spoken to those who had been healed in the past. These were God’s people. Now, they were spiritually sick and not getting better. The logical question is the one Jeremiah asked—“Why not?” When we are sick with sinful habits, lifestyles, attitudes, and speech, why don’t we turn to God for the cure?

  • Sometimes, we are oblivious to our symptoms.  Paul speaks of some who are “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). We can become callous to our condition and rationalize it. As long as we persist in that state, it is as if there is no balm.
  • Sometimes, we look elsewhere for the cure. Judah had her idols, and so can we. People struggling with life turn to so many poor substitutes to numb, deaden, and try to eliminate the pain. Nothing can substitute for the Balm of Gilead (cf. Jer. 3:23).
  • Sometimes, we feel ourselves to be a hopeless case. As we struggle with our temptations and sins, we can get to the point where we feel we’ve gone too far or been too often to reverse the problem. This is not God’s message. He provides hope to every one who will come to Him for help (Heb. 6:9-12).
  • Sometimes, we underestimate God’s power. Jeremiah’s predecessor, Isaiah, shares God’s message regarding this, saying, “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (59:1). Jeremiah would echo this idea, writing, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (32:17; keep reading in context for more beautiful truth along this line). Though we should know better, sometimes we forget God’s power to save.
  • Sometimes, we neglect our support system. God gave the church as a hospital where all of us, sick with sin, can not only receive healing from Him but help each other. In a sense, we’re a leper colony that has found the One who will keep us from dying. But we need each other for help to survive this spiritual sickness (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Sometimes, we don’t avail ourselves of God’s medicine. How tragic to die from spiritual disease when God has the means to heal us. We have His Word as a divine prescription. We have prayer. We have the confidence of faith. We have the trust in His providence. He has armed us sufficiently with the cure, if we accept it (cf. Luke 5:31).

While they await the cure for cancer, cystic fibrosis, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and the like, our greatest illness has already been remedied. This illness carries with it the greatest repercussions. We cannot neglect the cure. But if we spiritually die, it will not be because there is no balm and no Physician. It will be because we would not come to Him for healing. May we not let this be the reason.

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