Sunday, June 12, 2022

“Is There No Balm In Gilead?” [Matt's Messages]

“Is There No Balm In Gilead?”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
June 12, 2022 :: Jeremiah 8:4-9:22

As we turn to Jeremiah 8, let me tell you what we’re going to find there.

We’re going to find more tears.

Jeremiah is often called the Weeping Prophet. We saw that, especially, a few weeks ago as he described his belly-busting and heart-pounding anguish over his people’s sins and sufferings.

Well, there are more tears here. And there is more truth. 

Jeremiah doesn’t just mourn. He prophetically speaks the convicting truth about Jerusalem and Judah’s covenant breaking sins.

Last week, we read about just how far down Judah had slidden. They had broken all of the ten commandments, worshiped foreign gods and astral deities–getting their kids into the act with baking cakes for the Queen of Heaven and even sacrificing their kids to appease these false gods.

And at the same time, they had fooled themselves into thinking that they had an ace in the whole, a get-out-of-exile card to keep them from experiencing the LORD’s judgment for their sins. Remember what it was?

But Jeremiah said that the temple would not save them. In fact, the LORD will not save the temple! Judgment is coming if they will not repent.

And they would not repent.

So Jeremiah laments.

Jeremiah mourns.

More truth, more tears.

Even more truth. Even more tears.

“Is there no balm in Gilead?”

What is the answer to that plaintive question?

Of course, to answer that question, you have to understand it first.

The word there is “balm” B-A-L-M. Not bomb, but balm meaning a soothing medicinal ointment. I think it’s short for “balsam.” It means a salve. 

A soothing medicinal ointment. An effective treatment for a bad wound.

The land of Gilead was famous for their healing balms. And it had been famous for them for a long, long time.  Remember a thousand years before Jeremiah was born when young Joseph was sold into slavery to that traveling caravan of Ishmaelites? Genesis chapter 37? 

Do you know where they had just come from? Across the Jordan River in a little place called “Gilead,” and guess what was loaded up on their camels? You got it! Genesis says that they were piled high with “spices, balm, and myrrh.”

Gilead was famous for its healing balms.

So, this is actually a rhetorical question that anticipates a positive answer.

What is the answer? “Is there no balm in Gilead?”

Yes, there is a balm in Gilead! Of course there is. There is always is. There always has been.

We would say, “Is the Pope Catholic?”
“Is water wet?”
“Do birds fly?”
“Is the sky blue?”

“Is there no balm in Gilead?” Of course, there is! That’s where balms come from–the best ones!

So that leads to the next rhetorical question in verse 22.

“Is there no physician there?” That also expects a positive answer.

Yes, there is a physician there. Of course. It’s well known. Yes, there’s a doctor in the house!

So last searching question of verse 22, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

Do you see what Jeremiah is going for? What he’s getting at?

There’s a metaphor here. Jeremiah is saying that the people of Judah are in a world of pain. Their national sin and suffering are likened to a painful wound.

And Jeremiah feels it deeply himself. Verse 21 says, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me.”

Jeremiah feels complete solidarity with his beloved Judah. Their pain is his pain. Their wound is his wound. The CSB translates it “I am broken by the brokenness of my dear people.”

We are in trouble! We are wounded.

So, is there no remedy?
Is there no effective treatment?
Is there nothing that can be done?
Is there no doctor who knows what He is doing?

Has God not provided a way out of this pain?!

I think that’s what Jeremiah means when says, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? [I think there is!] Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

That’s the bigger question.

And Jeremiah has been answering it all along in this book.

I thought it might be good to envision this message as kind of like a patient’s chart at the hospital. And think about what it might say in answer to that last question. “Why is there no healing for this wound?”

We’re at the LORD’s wound clinic, and Judah is the patient in the bed. What does the patient’s chart say about why they are not getting better?

What’s the truth about that? And why so many tears?

I’ve got three basic answers for that chart. Here’s the first one:


It’s not that there isn’t the right medicine.
It’s not that there isn’t the right doctor.

The patient is refusing to take the right treatment.

Let’s back up and see how we got to this point. Look at verse 4. That’s where we left off last week. Jeremiah chapter 8, verse 4.

The LORD is putting more words in Jeremiah’s mouth about why judgment is coming on the nation of Judah. Verse 4.

“‘Say to them, 'This is what the LORD says: 'When men fall down, do they not get up? When a man turns away, does he not return?’”

What’s the answer to those questions? Most of the time, right?

That’s the normal thing to happen. You fall, you pick yourself up. When you go on a trip, you come back from the trip. V.5

“Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.”

We’re not just talking about falling down, are we? We’re talking “falling down!”

Can anybody guess what Hebrew word is being used here again and again? Six times in verses 4 through 6?

It’s “shuv.” Remember, “shuv?” Turn or return? 

Jerusalem always turns away and doesn’t turn back.

The LORD wants them to return to Him. He’s been listening to see if they would. V.6

“I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. No one repents of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle.”

Do you get a sense of what the treatment is for what ails them?

It’s repentance! It’s turning from their sin, from their idols, and to the LORD.

But these patients are not interested in that treatment. Not in the slightest.

“No one repents of his wickedness.”

“Nobody stops and says, ‘What have I done?’”

It’s like the crossroads message a couple of weeks ago. Nobody stops at the crossroads and looks. Nobody wonders if they are off track. They just barrel along!

Now, is that dumb or is that dumb?

Jeremiah says that even the birds know better. Verse 7.

“Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD.”

It’s unnatural.
It’s illogical.
It’s irrational.
It’s un-sensible.

And it is not at all unusual.

The patient refuses the right treatment.

Judah stubbornly refused to repent.

How about you and me?

We talked about this last week. Are we really willing to really change? It’s easy to see it when Judah does it, ad it’s fairly easy to see it in other people. But it’s harder to recognize sometimes in ourselves.

What is the Lord speaking to you about these days? What changes does He desire for your heart and life? Last week, I suggested that we all pray and ask the Holy Spirit to put His finger on something in our heart and life that needs to change and then to offer it up to Him. Did you do that? What did you discover?

If you can’t think of anything in your heart and life that needs to change, I suggest that you start there. I seriously doubt that you have arrived and that your heart perfectly maps onto Jesus’ heart.

What needs to change?

And are you really willing to do it?

The good news is that there is good medicine for what ails us.

The question is, will we take it?

There is an effective balm in Gilead, but you have take it.

It’s called repentance.

Of course, it doesn’t help in the slightest if you are surrounded by bad doctors who are giving you bad advice.

That’s point number two on this patient’s chart.


Quack doctors have lied to the patient about their condition. Look at verse 8.

“'How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?’”

We’ve seen this a time or two already. Judah’s spiritual leaders had been leading them astray. They had been telling the people that they were actually wise when they were actually being foolish.

They were bad theologians. They were bad doctors of the soul.

They were twisting the Scriptures to make them say what they certainly did not mean and did not say.

But what they wanted them to say.

“We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD.”

We have our Bibles!
We have the Torah.
Just like we have the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD! And the sacrifices in it.

We have the Torah!

Never mind that we ignore it.
Never mind that we disobey it.
Never mind that we twist it to say what it does not say.

You see how these are bad doctors for your soul?

This is a major problem in our day, as well. People who claim to believe the Bible but actually twist its message to say what our itching ears want to hear.

And it comes from all directions. Don’t just think today about how those people over there twist the Bible to say what they want it to say, think today about how you are tempted to do it.

Their sins might seems like bright shining lights to you in the text and stand out in 50 point font, but your temptations are just shades of grey and in 10 point font.

We are all tempted circle around us voices that tell us that we’re okay.

That’s one of the biggest problems with social media. They call it the echo chamber. If you like a certain kind of thing over and over again, the algorithms out there will feed you more of the same. They’ll feed you more examples of those people doing it wrong, and more examples of other people telling you that you’re doing it right. 

Even if the Bible says you are not. There’s always a smiling preacher out there to tell you that it’s not so bad.

Go ahead and give into your sinful desire.
Or go ahead and give in to your hate.
It’s okay. “For we have the law of the LORD!”

The LORD of the Law will not let this go on forever. Verse 9.

“The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have? [So judgment is coming.] Therefore I will give their wives to other men and their fields to new owners. [They will be uprooted.] From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”

They bad doctors, aren’t they? Jeremiah sees it every day. The patient has come into the wound clinic, and there are signs of gangrene. But the patient doesn’t want to hear that. And the doctors want to get to paid. They are “prophets for profits!”

“Oh, that doesn’t look too bad. You’ll be fine. Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay.”

But everything will not be okay.

Maybe the best application of this whole passage today is to just say to the Lord, “Give it to me straight, doctor. I can take it. Tell me the truth about my condition. Because I know there is a balm in Gilead. I know that there is a physician there.”

But these quack doctors are shameless. V.12

“Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush [They’re on television hawking their false diagnosis and false prognosis! “Peace, peace!”]. So they [the leaders] will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD. 'I will take away their harvest, declares the LORD. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.' [The revocation of God’s good gifts. V.14 ]

‘Why are we sitting here? Gather together! Let us flee to the fortified cities and perish there! For the LORD our God has doomed us to perish and given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against him.”

Now, what’s going on here? I think that this is Jerusalem speaking here. Judah speaking.

And I think I detect another twist in the plot. Another note for the patient’s chart.

I think the patient has begun to blame the good doctor. Do you see that? Do you hear that, too? Look at verse 15.

“We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there was only terror. The snorting of the enemy's horses is heard from Dan; at the neighing of their stallions the whole land trembles. They have come to devour the land and everything in it, the city and all who live there.’”

It kind of seems to me that they are blaming God for their predicament.

“We had hoped for peace. Some of our doctors had told us that it would be fine. And this doctor who is in charge, well, he got angry at us and took away our harvest and set our enemies on us. How are we supposed to heal when that’s going on? We are not healed. And whose fault is that, I mean, really?”

Well, the LORD knows whose fault it is, and He’s doing something about it. V.17

“See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you,’ declares the LORD.”

Judgment is on the way. And it will not be the LORD’s fault.

He never stops confronting them in their sin.

And at the same time, He never stops caring for them either! Look at verse 18.

“O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. [I think that’s Jeremiah speaking. He’s really feeling all of the heaviness of this situation. V.19] Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: ‘Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?’”

Now, that could very well be Jeremiah prophetically hearing the cries of the exiled people of Judah down the line. They are in “a land far away” and in pain.

But I tend to hear them almost blaming God for their predicament now. “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?”

How come this is happening to us? Has the LORD abdicated His throne? He said that He would save us. Why isn’t He showing up?

Here’s how I put number three on the patient’s chart:


He has listened to the bad doctors (who told him what he wanted to hear), and refused to listen to the best doctor (who told him what he didn’t want to hear).

And now he’s saying, “I wish that doctor would have done more. I kind of feel like he dropped us.”

And at the very same time (save verse!), the LORD is exasperated with them. Verse 19.

“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”

Why don’t they take their medicine?

And then back to the patients. Verse 20.

“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”

Looks like it’s too late. Looks like Yahweh has failed. Looks like He’s not coming. All is lost.

Have you ever done this one? Blamed God for your own problems? Like Adam in the Garden, “It’s the woman you gave me, Lord!”

“How could you let this happen to me?” That, right there, is the height of arrogance. Blaming the doctor when you didn’t take His medicine.

But, oh, the consequences! 

Jeremiah feels this all the way down to the bottom of his soul. V.21 again.

“Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. [That’s the only right response to something like this. Horror and mourning and lament. Because all of resources are there just waiting to be used.] Is there no balm in Gilead? [Yes, there is!] Is there no physician there? [Yes, the Great Physician!] Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? [It’s not the Physician’s fault. And it’s not prophet’s fault either. And yet he weeps over it. Chapter 9.] Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.”

What a picture that is?!

He wishes his head was a spring of water and his eyes were a water fountain. His eye sockets were spouts and water just pouring out of them.

He’s saying that there isn’t enough water in his head for all of the appropriate tears for this tragedy! If they won’t repent, then the only right thing to do is to cry and to cry some more.

Note that. That’s important. We’ve see that before and we’ll see it again. We are tempted to either stop caring or stop confronting. But Jeremiah will not do either. He will not stop caring. He will continue to cry. He will wish he had more water in his head so he could cry more tears!

He will not harden his heart against his beloved people and become callous and uncaring. And say, “Well, they made their bed. They can lie it.”

And at the very same time, he will not fall into the ditch on the other side and say, “I guess it’s not all that bad.” He continues to confront. 

In fact, it’s more complex than that. Sometimes he cares so much, he wishes that he could get away because it hurts too much. Look at verse 2.

“Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people. [Sometimes it feels like too much. Have you ever felt like that? Judah has fallen so far. They have become a society of liars. Verse 3.] They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,’ declares the LORD. [That’s important. He’ll say it again in verse 6. But first more about how deceptive they have become. Verse 4.] Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the LORD.”
Doesn’t that sound like our society today? So much spin, so much disinformation, so much fraud, so many lies. It’s hard to know whom to trust. 

And you and I should be different from that. We should stand out as people of truth in a day of lies. How are you doing at that? Did you tell the truth this week? Is there anyone you need to talk to about your lies?

Dishonesty is, apparently, contagious. 

But there is an antidote! It’s called, “knowing the LORD.”

We’re going to talk more about that, Lord-willing, next week. To know the LORD (or here in verse 3 and verse 6 to “acknowledge” Him) is more than just to know about the LORD.

It’s to know Him personally. To trust Him fully. To be in relationship with Him. It’s what our church is all about–a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s what Jesus died on the cross for us to enjoy. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Do you know Him? Are you walking with Him?

Judah refused to know the LORD. They were too tied up with their lies. And so the LORD was going to bring judgment. Verse 7.

“Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people? Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit. With his mouth each speaks cordially to his neighbor, but in his heart he sets a trap for him. 

Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’ [Yes, of course, you should. It is only just! But doesn’t mean that it feels good. In fact, it feels terrible. It makes Jeremiah like weeping. Verse 10.]

I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the desert pastures. They are desolate and untraveled, and the lowing of cattle is not heard. The birds of the air have fled and the animals are gone. ‘I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.’ 

What man is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the LORD and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross? [If there is a balm in Gilead, if there is a physician in the land, why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Here’s why. The patient has rejected the treatment and the Great Physician himself. V.13]

The LORD said, ‘It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their fathers taught them.’

Therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have destroyed them.’ [They will be uprooted.]

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. [You’re going to need professional mourners ther ewillbe so much to lament.] Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids. The sound of wailing is heard from Zion: 'How ruined we are! How great is our shame! We must leave our land because our houses are in ruins.' 

Now, O women, hear the word of the LORD; open your ears to the words of his mouth. Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament. Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares. Say, ‘This is what the LORD declares: 'The dead bodies of men will lie like refuse on the open field, like cut grain behind the reaper, with no one to gather them” (Jeremiah 9:7-22).

"I’m sorry, but this patient is terminal. They listened to the wrong doctors, the ones that told them what they wanted to hear. They did not listen to the right doctor who prescribed repentance and truly knowing Him. And they refused to take their medicine. 

And so the only right thing to now is weep.
And weep some more.
And weep some more."

But you and I can still learn from Judah’s errors.

We don’t have to be bad patients in the care of the Great Physician. We can listen when He says that we have a serious wound that needs to be treated right away. And we can take the effective medicine that He offers. We can live lives of repentance and truth and knowing Him.

Because there is a balm in Gilead.

The old African-American spiritual has it right. I listened to Mahalia Jackson sing this song over and over again this week as I prepared this message. In the song, it’s not a question.

It’s an answer:

“There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.”

It’s Jesus!

“You can tell the love of Jesus, and say, ‘He died for all.’”


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3