“Is there no balm in Gilead?” Were Jeremiah living here he might have put it this way: “Is there no beer in Milwaukee?” (Milwaukee also has great kringle, brats, and crullers, but that is for another post.)
This is one of those biblical phrases that is vaguely familiar but for reasons unknown. I did some checking. The balm of Gilead can be found in some interesting cultural places: Gilead, Maine; Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”; and in Mark Twain’s _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in which Aunt Polly fancies herself “the balm of Gilead in disguise”. I know people like that!
As indicated on the map above, Gilead was just northwest of Judah. It had become famous for the balm made from the resin of a small tree that grew well there. This balm was thought to have healing properties. Apparently, The Jewish historian Josephus claimed that this tree was first brought to the region from Arabia as a gift of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon.
So, now that we’re more familiar with the balm of Gilead, what’s Jeremiah’s point? Namely, that not even the balm of Gilead could heal the spiritual wounds Jeremiah saw all around him. It’s hard to watch people you love suffer.
Yet as bad as things get, God never gives up. Where even the balm of Gilead will fail, there is another balm that will prevail:
“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel (the kingdom that fell already) and with the house of Judah (the kingdom that was about to fall). . . I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. . . For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
Are you feeling wounded today? Know that the balm of the gospel is available. There is a physician in the house: his name is Jesus. Today, may his law be in your mind and his law written on your heart. You are now among the people of God, in a place in which you can heal.