“Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?”
Jeremiah was the Lord’s mouth to the children of Israel in evil times. He began his ministry, as he himself says, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah king of Judah. We have but to turn the pages of our Bibles to second Kings, the twenty-second and twenty- third chapters, to find the record of this king Josiah. He began to reign in Judah when but a boy of eight years and the length of his reign was thirty- one years. During this reign of thirty- one years, Josiah did all he Could to stem the tide of corruption which had swept in over the affairs of Judah, for he was a good king and desired to do that which was right in the sight of the law of God. He revived the covenant of Moses which the people had for gotten,called the attention of the nation to their departure from the right way, overthrew the temples and altars of false religion which the Jews had set up under former rulers who had taught and encouraged them in the way of evil, and rallied his subjects to the observance of the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Notwithstanding all this good effort on the part of this conscientious king, and notwithstanding the faithful ministry of Jeremiah, the tide of evil which had set in among the Jews was too strong against all these good intentions and neither Josiah nor Jeremiah could successfully ward off the day of Judah’s calamity. After the death of Josiah, matters quickly went from bad to worse. Josiah’s successor reigned only three months, was then imprisoned by the king of Egypt who swept with his army over the land, and died in Egypt. The next king was but a slavish ruler subject to the will of the king of Egypt, and though he reigned for eleven years, was afraid to call his soul his own. Then came another king who ruled but three months as tributary to the king of Babylon who had, in the meantime, driven the forces of Egypt out of Judah and taken possession of it himself. After this, events incident to Judah’s decline followed swiftly until we read of the first Carrying away of the people of Judah captive to Babylon. Thus, after Josiah’s good reign, Judah never knew any peace again. The forces of Egypt and the armies of Babylon fought over the land, first one being successful and then the other, until it resulted in the triumph of Babylon and the captivity of Judah. Now, Jeremiah lived all through these stirrings and was himself among those carried away to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, we see that part of his ministry was fulfilled in Jerusalem before the carrying away into Babylon, and part of his ministry was fulfilled while a captive in Babylon. It is not to be wondered at that his prophecy is so full of lamentation and woe, seeing that he lived in a dark and discouraging period of Judah’s history and the only light he had was when he could, by faith, look ahead through future ages to the glory of Christ and the restoration of Israel; not simply to a partial restoration such as when part of Judah came back from Babylon to Jerusalem under Cyrus’ favorable decree, but a much fuller and more glorious and more permanent restoration of Israel in future times. “Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there?” Yes, there is; but that was not the time for it to be manifest. There was no such thing as healing Judah’s hurt at that time. Jeremiah himself was hurt by the hurt of his people. Their Woe was his woe, their troubles were his also. It grieved him terribly to see Judah forsaken, her enemies treading her down, the Lord himself silent and interposing no power in her behalf. More than all this, it grieved the prophet because he knew the sins of the people had brought these calamities upon them. They had not walked in the law of Moses as they had said they would do, therefore these curses had come upon them according to that law which they had not heeded. Jeremiah saw deeper than any of his time into the reason why these evils were upon the people, and knew that their sins were at the bottom and root of it all. All their woes were due to sin. The sins of the people lay like a stone on Jeremiah’s heart, yet he could not make the people hear him; they would not heed his advice, they would not, at his cry, turn from their evil ways. Thus, repentance being hid from their eyes, the Lord having included that nation in blindness and in unbelief, Jeremiah saw the dreadful calamity approaching every minute nearer. In his distress he cries, Is there no help for this? Must these things be so? “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Is there no healing that can he applied to these sores of infidelity which will heal my people from their backslidings? “Is there no physician there?” Is there no one who under- stands this deep-seated disease of sin among my people who can properly treat it and cure it, thus turning this people from their evil? To these cries from the prophet’s soul, there was no apparent help at the time. The heavens were brass, God’s throne was silent, no help from on high came. Events moved on to their inevitable conclusion, sin must get its wages, the law must claim its victim. Yet, down through the ages, dark as they were, his faith saw the light of Jesus, who is himself the great “Physician, whose will and aim it is to redeem his “Israel from all her transgressions and to perfectly heal his elect whom. he purchased back from death with his own blood. Every nation which had enslaved Judah and Israel was in turn to be themselves judged when the Lord should arise to scatter their enemies and to bring them back into their own land. The children of Abraham are heirs to the promise, the law which came after the promise cannot make void the promise which antedated the law by four hundred and thirty years. Thus, Paul tells us that all who are Christ’s are heirs of the promise made to Abraham, that not all are of Israel who are fleshly Israel, but all Christ’s elect are spiritual Israel: these are they whose right it is to the promise; the restoration promises throughout the Scriptures belong to these. These restoration promises in Christ are surely Gilead’s balm, and the great Physician himself, who knows our frame and remembers that we are dust, he it is who alone can apply these scriptural promises to our souls to heal and comfort those whom sin has slain, but whom his blood has redeemed Gilead, the land of the sweet-smelling spices and savory things, the place of healing herb and of myrrh and frankincense, also the hill of witness. When the children of Israel came through Jordan into the promised land, they took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes, and made a heap in the riverbed. When the waters came together after Israel passed safely through, this heap was overwhelmed. But, also they took twelve stones up out of the bed of the river and made them an heap at the place where they lodged that night. Thus, two heaps: one in the bed of the river swept over by its Waters, the other in the land of Canaan a silent witness of the fact that the waters of the river had been turned back from before the ark of the covenant as they passed through. These are two heaps of Witness. The pile of stones in the bed of the river hidden by its waters witnesses of the judgments of the law overwhelming Christ, the Son of God, in death for his people; the pile of stones in the land of Canaan Witnesses of Israel’s deliverance from judgment because Christ suffered those judgments for them. Gilead, the word, means heap of witness. From this Witness comes healing balm to the soul of God’s Israel applied by the Spirit of the great Physician who has been tempted in all points his Israel, thus knows how to succor them in their trials and temptations. On the other hand, however, at the time Jeremiah asked these questions there was no manifestation of this balm, nor of any application of it to Israel’s hurt by the great Physician. The soul of the prophet and the souls of the faithful with him at that time, could be comforted only as faith enabled them to look forward to the day of Christ and the promise of these things. The law could not bring salvation, nor was there in Israel any ability of their own to turn them from their evils unto the living’ God. The fruitlessness of human endeavor to itself repent of its errors is proven in Israel’s history. Nothing’ short of the supreme power of God in Christ can give repentance unto Israel. For this purpose Christ died and rose from the dead and afterward ascended on high, to give repentance unto Israel. Without this overcoming power of Christ there can be no repentance. Christ is the repentance of his Israel. Repentance is not lamenting one’s sins, but turning from them utterly. No sinner can turn himself from his own Way, this is the risen Christ’s work. He alone turns his people from sin to holiness, from the thralldom of dead works to the gracious service of the living God. This repentance or turning away from all the works of the law, from all judgment and condemnation, is the “balm of Gilead.” It is the remedy that heals our hurts because it goes directly to the root of the trouble, not treating symptoms merely, but eradicating the cause. This balm of the “hill of Witness” regenerates, not reforms, the sinner so that he becomes a new man in Christ, old things pass away and all things become new. No one can apply this Sovereign remedy but the great Physician. This exalted Redeemer at the right hand of God sent the Holy Ghost, or Comforter. This Comforter takes of the things of Jesus and reveals them unto Israel, and when he does there is a certain and sure cure administered, an effectual turning away from the World, the flesh and the devil, and a turning unto the living God. How glad and thankful we ought to be that we are no more under the law, no more under. its threats and thunders, but are under the gracious dispensation of his living Word wherein we have continual access to the efficacy of Gilead’s balm and the ministry of the great Physician. We cannot be thankful enough that the dark dispensation of his Wrath has passed and that the glad New Year of his grace and mercy envelops us.
This is written at the request of brother C. H. Byrd, of Enterprise, Alabama, who writes me, “A few mornings ago I awakened with the twenty-second verse of the eighth chapter of Jeremiah on my mind. It had been quite a long time since I had read this Scripture before. It continually dwells on my mind. If the Lord would lead you out, I would be glad to have you Write on the subject.”
H. H. L.
Elder Horace H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 99, No. 2