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Balm of Gilead
Today I’d like to share what many people refer to, but really don’t know much about, and that is the Balm of Gilead. They talk about Jesus being the Balm of Gilead, but really don’t know how it applies. Therefore, why say it?
In an old hymn or spiritual called, “Balm In Gilead,” Its refrain goes like this, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”
Since we’re taking our text from the prophet Jeremiah, who actually references this twice, it would be beneficial then to look at what was ailing Israel at this time.
Israel, or better, Judah had a problem, and at the time it seemed to be an incurable sore that plagued them, and it is what Jeremiah continued to reference.
In Jeremiah 30:12-13, Jeremiah said, “For thus says the Lord: ‘Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe. There is no one to plead your cause, that you may be bound up; you have no healing medicines.’”
Yet, God never leaves us without hope, and even though the people of Judah continue to sin and disobey God, He promised to restore and heal, which is brought out in verse 17. The Lord said, “For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds.”
Looking at these verses, I love what 18th century pastor, J.C. Philpot said, “There is more in the balm to heal than there is in guilt to wound; for there is more in grace to save than there is in sin to destroy.” (J.C. Philpot)
And it is verse 17, and what J.C. Philpot said that I’d like for us to take a look at today, but first, we need to understand the question Jeremiah posed to the people
You see, Babylon is coming, and this is because of the sins of the people and nation.
“Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her King in her? Why have they provoked Me to anger with their carved images, with foreign idols?” (Jeremiah 8:19 NKJV)
Within the context of the passage, Jeremiah is referring to the sins of Israel, specifically idolatry as to why they was not seeing God, or His King, the Messiah.
And then He asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery for the health of the daughter of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22 NKJV)
What he is saying is that there no salve, no soothing ointment, no medicine for their souls, and what ails them. And then, why there is no healing for the wound of God’s people? And then he said that since there also are no physicians, that is, no one righteous enough to bring God’s healing balm and apply it, then there would be no forgiveness and thus no recovery.
From what Jeremiah asked, what we discover is that the Balm of Gilead means spiritual health. Even though God delivered Israel from slavery, and walked through the Red Sea, the people still looked elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment. They even worshipped other gods.
But there is good news, and that is there is a balm and physician in Gilead.
But, like the people of Israel, we also look for the temporary, the quick fix, and don’t look deeper as to the ultimate cause.
You see, the Balm of Gilead has a deeper symbolic meaning. God showed Israel, through imagery, that they’d turned to a temporary healing solution. Yes, the balm might heal their physical wounds, but they had far deeper spiritual wounds that needed healing.
This is why we need to look deeper at this area of Scripture. We should care about the Balm of Gilead because we know that the temporary solutions that Israel turned to, and those solutions we often turn to, don’t work.
We need to stop placing the fullness of our trust upon these temporary solutions to our problems, sicknesses, and the rest. In the same way, do we trust in temporary balms like Israel? Do we apply them to festering spiritual wounds? Or have we turned to the ultimate healing physician, who can truly cure our ailments?
When Jesus came to earth, in His mission to set the people free, and to usher in the kingdom of God, and to be that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, He also went about healing everyone.
Let me give examples at how Jesus looked deeper and saw beneath the wounds and to the ultimate cure.
Matthew 9:2 says that some people brought to Him a paralyzed man. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” The first words Jesus said to the paralyzed man were “Your sins are forgiven.”
And then to the Scribes and Pharisees who were listening and saying that Jesus was blaspheming, Jesus said, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.” (Matthew 9:5-6 NKJV)
Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of Man, is the ultimate cure.
But even more, in John’s gospel, the ninth chapter, Jesus was asked a question about a man he saw that had been blind from birth, and his disciples asked if he was born blind because of his sin or his parents. But Jesus said neither, but rather it was so that God could be glorified in the healing.
Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 NKJV)
So, for those who say that a person’s sin causes sickness isn’t supported by the Scriptures, and I am in no way speaking against the medical field. But what I am saying is that we need to look deeper within our souls and to the Holy Spirit, to see beyond our own or human understanding about our sicknesses, and that there maybe something deeper that God is doing within us and for His glory.
And so, let me make this clear at the outset, and the answer to Jeremiah’s question is yes, there is a Balm in Gilead, and there is also a physician. Because we cannot have the first without the second, nor the second without the first.
In other words, the balm is no good without a physician to properly apply it, and the physician needs the balm to heal.
So, let’s take a look at this Balm of Gilead, and then the Physician.
The Balm of Gilead
Gilead was an area located in modern-day Jordan. It’s a mountainous region east of the Jordan River. During this time the land was extremely fertile. So fertile that it was known for its spices and healing ointments. It was so famous that the balm they produced, this ointment, was known and transported around the world.
It was called, “The Balm Of Gilead.” This was an ointment made from the gum of a tree. This balm became symbolic for the power to soothe and to heal.
We first encounter this in the story of Joseph’s journey to Egypt as a slave. Joseph’s brothers were trying to figure out a way to get rid of him, but they weren’t sure of exactly how. So, until they could figure it out, they threw him into a pit, or cistern. Not long thereafter, a group of Ishmaelite traders were traveling through. They were coming from Gilead to take a load of spices, balm, and myrrh for Egypt. (Genesis 37:25)
While we don’t know exactly which plant or tree this balm is taken from, some surmise it to be from resin of the storax tree. And that’s because of its healing qualities, and it was a tree that grew in that region.
People take storax for cancer, coughs, colds, stomach pain, diarrhea, epilepsy, sore throats, bronchitis, and parasitic infections. As an ointment or balm, it is applied directly to the skin to protect or treat wounds, or to treat ulcers, skin infections, eczema, and scabies.
This balm could also be used in the embalming process, which is one of the items the Ishmaelite traders were taking to Egypt, or what is referred to as Myrrh. Now, this is not to say that the storax tree is the Balm talked about here, but it gives us the sense of how potent was its healing power.
And again, let me say that there is a balm to heal what truly ails humanity. And what ails humanity is what we have been talking about over these past several weeks as we’ve looked at the gospel message. And what we have seen is that it always begins by telling us humanity’s present condition, and that is, humanity is a fallen race because of sin. And so, a balm needs to be applied to this plague so that our ultimate healing can take place.
But before we get to this balm, there was a second part to this question that must first be looked at, and that is, “Is there no physician there?”
The Physician of Gilead
Gilead was known as one of the top centers for medicinal balms and medicines, and so, it is only natural to find some of the top doctors there. Kind of like we see today in some of these nationally known medical clinics. They usually have top doctors of their specific field of medicine in residency.
But here Jeremiah was saying that no medical ointment, nor any human physician could fix what was wrong with them, that is, no amount of medicine or medical expertise can help with the problem of sin, the problem that is keeping people out of heaven and a relationship with God.
Now, what we see from the Scriptures is that there is a physician, the Great Physician, the Lord God who can heal all that plagues us, not only physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2-3 NKJV)
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.” (Jeremiah 17:11 NKJV)
And then the Lord said in Jeremiah 30:17, “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal.” (Jeremiah 30:17 NKJV)
And so, if there is a balm in Gilead, then there must also be a physician to apply the balm for the healing. And what we see is that Jesus is the Great Physician, and the Bible says that the Messiah would be that physician.
And so, the Physician of Gilead is Jesus Christ
The prophet Isaiah said, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing.” (Isaiah 35:5-6a NKJV)
And this is what Jesus said to John’s disciples when they asked if Jesus was the one.
“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5 NKJV)
Of particular interest is the last part where he said the dead are raised the gospel preached, which is exactly what the gospel does in the person’s life. The Apostle Paul said that God’s grace and mercy has made us alive together with Christ Jesus, when we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:4-6).
When Jesus was amongst us, Matthew records His healing touch.
“He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.’” (Matthew 8:16-17 NKJV)
And while there’s a whole lot to say about Jesus as our Great Physician, what I love the most is that He is always available, and we don’t have to call ahead to make an appointment and then wait 3 to 6 weeks to get in. And His terms and conditions are the most gracious that anyone could ever want. That is, it’s free.
The leper when he came to Jesus said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2 NKJV)
And Jesus responded by reaching out and touching the leper saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” (Matthew 8:3 NKJV)
And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
The Balm of Gilead
But there is so much more, but to do that I need to talk about what “Balm” actually is, because there is a balm that can heal what truly ails humanity.
The Word of God
Since Jesus is our Great Physician, one of His titles as our Great Physician is “The Word.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14 NKJV)
Therefore, God’s word, the Bible, is the balm in which Jesus, the Word of God applies to our lives.
Some have said that God’s word is His medicine bottle, or His prescription pad.
Concerning God’s word that brings healing, the Palmist said, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” (Psalm 107:19-20 NKJV)
Speaking through the power of the Holy Spirit, Solomon said, “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.” (Proverbs 4:20-22 NKJV)
The Blood of Jesus
This comes from the word for balm in the Hebrew language.
The Hebrew word for balm, “tsori,” means to crack as from pressure, or leak, and what leaks out is a resin. This healing resin was said to have been forced from the stems and leaves of the plant by piercing them, or the resin leaked from the plant through open pores or wounds.
We see this here in America from the sap which comes from Maple trees when they tap into them.
Hopefully from this definition you can see where I am going.
The Balm of Gilead is a powerful symbol of Christ’s power in the life of a believer. As our Great Physician, He was pierced like the plant or tree whose resin the physicians used to make and apply their healing balm. In the same way that the leaves of the plant were pierced to extract the resin, Jesus was pierced there upon the cross that we might benefit from His wounds. We received new life through the cross upon which Jesus died, and the healing He applied as that Great Physician was then His blood, His blood is then the Balm of Gilead.
This we see when after His death and resurrection Jesus enter the heavenly tabernacle where He applied His blood upon the Mercy Seat for our healing.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11-12 NKJV)
And this is what we see from the prophet Isaiah as He described the Messiah’s coming as that suffering servant.
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NKJV)
1 Peter 2:24 says, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness, by whose stripes you were healed.”
If there had been no blood coming from where they pierced Him, or in those stripes, there would be no healing.
The word “healed” translated from both Hebrew and Greek can mean either a spiritual or physical healing. The contexts of Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 seem to make it clear that they are referring to spiritual healing.
But God had more in mind, including emotional and physical healing. Right before our verse in Isaiah 53:5, the prophet says, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4a)
In Matthew’s gospel, it says, “They brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.’” (Matthew 8:16–17)
The Bible says that not only does God forgive all our sins, but also, He heals all of our diseases.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2–3 NKJV)
The Apostle Paul said, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7 NKJV)
To the church in Colossae Paul said, “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20 NIV)
And so, from what we have seen, we’ve been redeemed by His blood, forgiven by His blood, sanctified, and cleansed from sin by His blood, and that it is through His blood that we have peace with God and are healed.
So, the blood of Jesus not only forgives sins, but also brings healing.
And so back to Jeremiah’s question which started this whole study.
Is there no Balm and Physician in Gilead?
Yes, there is. Jesus is the physician that makes the wounded whole through His word and through His blood. The Balm of Gilead that heals us is nothing less than the word of God and the blood of Jesus, and Jesus, as our Great Physician, uses them both in our healing.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study