There is Balm in Gilead

Morning Message – John Cline

Jeremiah chapters 2-15; Reader: Richard Wallman

If you grew up in a church singing hymns, as I did, you probably sang the 18th century spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead”. Gilead was on the south-eastern side of the Jordan River & the Sea of Galilee.

The “Balm of Gilead” was a high-quality ointment with healing and soothing properties, derived from the juices of the balsam poplar tree. It would be called an “essential oil”, very similar to the oil within an aloe vera plant which people use in healing or soothing skin cuts. In the ancient world, the “Balm of Gilead” was a major trade commodity. The Old Testament mentions traders going from Gilead to Egypt to sell spices and oils, frankincense, myrrh, and the “Balm of Gilead”. Over time, the “Balm of Gilead” symbolically came to refer to more than just physical healing and soothing but to the healing and soothing powers of God which He makes available to people’s souls. Knowing that, while he was weeping over the hurts in his land, the prophet Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” In other words, “God, is there any way you can heal us?” That question came while the Babylonians had surrounded and laid siege to Jerusalem for a period of three years. Jeremiah was hurting and so he wrote,

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? (Jeremiah 8:21,22)

God answered in what many might view as shocking words.

Go up to Gilead and get balm, O Virgin Daughter of Egypt. But you multiply remedies in vain; there will be no healing for you. (Jeremiah 46:11)

Here was the situation: the people in Jeremiah’s nation of Judah had turned to Egypt, to the Egyptian gods and armies for help. They hadn’t turned to God. Jeremiah may have, but not the people of Judah. God would not bring healing or soothing calm, a “Balm of Gilead”, to the people of Judah because they had turned away from Him. They didn’t want God in their lives and so He gave them what they wanted. Only if the Jews repented of their sins and asked God back into their lives would they be healed and experience God’s soothing presence, that spiritual “Balm of Gilead”, but the people refused God’s remedy. The result would be that Judah would be destroyed as the people waited in vain for Egypt and her gods and armies. The old saying, “Be careful what you ask for” comes to mind. The Jews got what they asked for: God’s non-involvement in their lives. Over the centuries, as Christianity spread throughout the world, Christians everywhere realized that Jesus was the actual identity of the “Balm of Gilead” healer of souls. 18th century slaves in the southern United States realized that the only healing hope they had was Jesus, the great physician, and so they wrote and sang songs about that fact while slaving in the fields. One of them was “There is a Balm in Gilead”.

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.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Going back to the prophet Jeremiah, we saw last week that…

In 721 BC, the powerful Assyrian army crushed the northern nation of Israel and took them away to captivity in Assyria, who replaced the Israelites with people groups from other lands.

At the time, there were 3 nations vying for superpower status, but

Babylon overthrew Assyria in 609 BC, and Egypt in 605 BC.

As a result, there was only one superpower, Babylon, and when it entered Judah for the first time in 608 BC Jeremiah was living there. He had known that attack was coming from the time he first started prophesying 18 years earlier, in 626 BC. Now, last week, we saw that

The Book of Jeremiah is in 6 parts: Part 1 is found in chapter 1 – God’s call of Jeremiah.

We preached through Part 1, chapter 1 of Jeremiah’s book last Sunday. Today, we go to the second part. It is a long part, 28 chapters long…

Part 2 in found in Chapters 2-29 – Prophecies to Judah.

In the first half of Part 2 are 9 general prophecies of judgment.

Today, we will look at the first half of Part 2, going through the first 4 prophecies, which are found in chapters 2-12.

Prophecy 1: To Jerusalem for her faithlessness (2:1-3:5).

Are you ready? Richard will be reading the words but actually it is Jeremiah who is speaking:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “This is what the Lord says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’” declares the Lord. Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel. This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless

themselves. They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines, a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels, and no one lives?’ I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols. “Therefore, I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 2:1-9a)

God was insulted and astounded that though it was Him who had rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the people chose to credit the small-g god Baal and other false gods and worthless idols, instead.

They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’ Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns. (Jeremiah 2:27,28)

Centuries later, trouble arrived at Judah’s doorstep in the form of the Babylonian army and only then did the people finally ask God for help, but He said, “No! You want help? Go and ask those gods and idols you worship and to help you. You rejected me. Now, I reject you!”

Have you not just called to me: ‘My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry? Will your wrath continue forever?’ This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.” (Jeremiah 3:4,5)

The people’s prayers and pleas sounded genuine, but they were not. They were a façade of fake piety and phony worship. God knew that!

Prophecy 2: Jeremiah’s call for Judah’s repentance in light of the coming judgment (Jeremiah 3:6-6:30)

God knew that the people were not serving him at that time. Later, though, Jeremiah would prophesy that a day was coming when there would be a “new covenant”, and that people’s hearts, not just their flesh, would be “circumcised”, cleansed and set apart for God.

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:3,4)

But the people during Jeremiah’s time would not do what God asked of them. As a result, God allowed the attacking Babylonian army, who had just defeated the Assyrians up north, to attack them.

At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.” (Jeremiah 4:11,12)

Jeremiah told God’s truth, but the people didn’t like it. Jeremiah’s words were mocked by false prophets who, instead, told the people words they wanted to hear, though what they were saying was untrue.

They have lied about the Lord; they said, “He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them.” (Jeremiah 5:12,13)

Again, Jeremiah wrote unflatteringly about those false prophets:

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. 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 I punish them,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 6:14,15)

Jeremiah was alarmed by that line the false prophets said so often to the approving masses: “Peace, peace” (when there was no peace). The people loved being told, “Peace, peace” was at hand, but it was not. What was going on then is similar to what has happened in France today. The ongoing riots and near civil-war, the destruction of dozens of church building, the beatings of hundred of Roman Catholic priests, the physical wounding of hundreds of police officers, and the carnage in that society – this day has been predicted for 20 years now but the elites who run that nation and media have mocked and strongly opposed and attempted to silence those doing the warning. What they asked for is what they have gotten. Canada is not there, yet, but we are heading that way. We need to return to worshipping and serving the one true God. He is our only source of hope and salvation.

Prophecy 3: Judgment on false religion and its punishment (Jeremiah 7:1-10:25)

“Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe—safe to do all these detestable things?” (Jeremiah 7:2b-10)

Terrible things can happen when the followers of false religions act out what they are told to do. Thus, the problem with worshipping other gods doesn’t lie only with the worship involved, but also with the actions demanded by those “gods”. It is not good old harmless fun!

“The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah 7:30,31)

In the Valley of Ben Hinnom (which means, “the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom”) were altars, poles, and pits of sacrifice built to Molech, that evil Phoenician god. Molech had the evilest worship ritual of any god in history, that of ordering parents to burn their sons and daughters alive in fire. I won’t go into detail here – because it was so horrific – but I will give you a hint: those sacrifices involved not just an open pit to throw the children into, but cookstoves and ovens and the parents had to stand by, listening to the pleading cries for help from their children whom they were they burning to death in those enclosed chambers. That is extreme, but people are so ignorant of what can happen when people abandon the one true God. That is why God opposes His people worshipping false gods. Jeremiah wept in agony at the horror of it all.

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? (Jeremiah 8:21,22)

Jeremiah knew of that healing and soothing power available to his people, the “Balm of Gilead”, God’s healing presence, but he also knew that for God to come to them, the people would need to repent and go back to God. Jeremiah knew that they wouldn’t. The people mocked both God and Jeremiah and it broke his heart. The “weeping prophet”.

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.” (Jeremiah 9:13,14)

I think you understand the depravity that came with the worship of those false gods. YHWH God, the true God, mocked those “gods”.

“Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’ But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (Jeremiah 10:11-13)

Moving now to the last of today’s four prophecies we are looking at:

Prophecy 4: Judgment because of the broken covenant (Jeremiah 11:1-12:17)

The historical setting for this prophecy was this:

The Book of the Law was discovered in the Temple during the time of King Josiah (621 BC). Religious reform came to Judah, as a result, as the Law was read to the people.

Those religious reforms happened when King Josiah sent priests throughout the land to read Moses’ Book of the Law to the people.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Listen to the terms of this covenant and tell them to the people of Judah and to those who live in Jerusalem. Tell them that this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Cursed is the one who does not obey the terms of this covenant—the terms I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.’ I said, ‘Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’—the land you possess today.” I answered, “Amen, Lord.” The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them.’” (Jeremiah 11:1-6)

But the revival seems to have been mostly in the lives of King Josiah and many of his officials and was not widespread. Indeed, during it:

Jeremiah’s life is threatened for the first time (11:18-20) by the men of his hometown, Anathoth. God would respond.

Therefore, this is what the Lord says about the people of Anathoth who are threatening to kill you, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands”—therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish them. Their young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters by famine. Not even a remnant will be left to them, because I will bring disaster on the people of Anathoth in the year of their punishment.” (Jeremiah 11:21-23)

The fourth prophecy ends with a wonderful promise, however.

This is what the Lord says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance, I gave my people Israel; I will uproot them from their lands, and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 12:14-16)

After their exile in Babylon, there would be a time of restoration for the Jewish people. However, it would not as anticipated:

God would be sending the Messiah, a descendent of King David, the “Righteous Branch” who would restore them fully.

Though Jeremiah didn’t know how it would all play out, he wrote the words of the prophecy that Jesus would fulfill 6 centuries later.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” (Jeremiah 23:5,6)

“‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch

sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” (Jeremiah 33:15,16a)

When Jeremiah prophesied this, Zedekiah was king – and he was far from righteous. History shows that ultimately, however, for the Jews who would experience the joy of returning to their land after 70 years of slavery in Babylon, they would still need to repent of their sins. When they did, God’s “Balm of Gilead”, a “Righteous Branch” would come and heal their land. Well, that is where Jesus stepped in. He was the prophesied Messiah, the “Righteous Branch”, not only because he himself was righteous, but because he would make the people righteous as well, in other words, without sin, in a “right relationship” with God. That’s what Jesus did and does for His followers! We read:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

(Acts 4:12)

Turning back to the Lord is the one thing we must do! When we do, he will heal our land.

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.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

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