Is There No Healing?
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 8:4-22
4 “Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says:
“‘When people fall down, do they not get up?
When someone turns away, do they not return?
5 Why then have these people turned away?
Why does Jerusalem always turn away?
They cling to deceit;
they refuse to return.
6 I have listened attentively,
but they do not say what is right.
None of them repent of their wickedness,
saying, “What have I done?”
Each pursues their own course
like a horse charging into battle.
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.
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?
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?
10 Therefore I will give their wives to other men
and their fields to new owners.
From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
11 They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
when there is no peace.
12 Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when they are punished,
says the Lord.
13 “‘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.[a]’”
14 Why are we sitting here?
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.
15 We hoped for peace
but no good has come,
for a time of healing
but there is only terror.
16 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.
17 “See, I will send venomous snakes among you,
vipers that cannot be charmed,
and they will bite you,”
declares the Lord.
18 You who are my Comforter[b] in sorrow,
my heart is faint within me.
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?”
“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
with their worthless foreign idols?”
20 “The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
and we are not saved.”
21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
Think of a time when you have seen someone you love reject the medicine or treatment that would help to make them well. It’s really painful to watch, though sometimes not much can be done except to cry out to God.
That is what Jeremiah is doing in this passage. Jeremiah was a prophet sent by God to call his people to receive the healing that only God could provide. But the people would not turn back to God.
As part of the lament, Jeremiah asks a question full of sadness: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” Even though Jeremiah asks this question, he knows the answer: there is a cure.
The area of Gilead in ancient Israel was famous for its healing balm that came from the local trees. Much of the medicine we use today is also derived from leaves and bark. For example, aspirin comes from salicylic acid, which is found in willow trees. But Jeremiah is also saying that even though Gilead is full of healing trees, the real healer is God himself.
In an old spiritual hymn, “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” the writer reverses Jeremiah’s question into a statement, and the conclusion of the song is that not only is there a healing balm, but the balm is the Spirit of God, who revives our souls again.
Lord our God, sometimes we don’t know what to do to help the people we love. We see their mistakes, and it breaks our hearts. Help them to turn to you so that they can receive your healing love. We know you are the healer of everything and everyone. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.