For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; Astonishment has taken hold of me. 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 8:21-22)
The Balm Of Gilead
Mary Ann Kidder was a prolific nineteenth-century hymnist who is thought to have composed more than 1,000 hymns during her lifetime. She wrote the hymn, “Did you think to pray,” with the haunting question of whether the disciple takes time to pray. First, when a disciple leaves the room in the morning and when the heart is filled with anger. Finally, when sore trials come upon the disciple, is there time for prayer? She writes that praying rests the weary and changes night to day. In her final stanza of the song, she uses an Old Testament example of seeking the healing hand of the Lord. She writes, “When sore trials come upon you, did you think to pray? When your soul was bowed in sorrow, balm of Gilead did you borrow at the gates of day?” It is a powerful appeal to find the divine ointment of grace to face trials in life.
The use of balm is found in other songs, including “‘Tis the Blessed Hour of Prayer,” which says, “What a balm for the weary! O, how sweet to be there! Blessed hour of prayer.” Edmund S. Lorenz calls the “Wonderful Love of Jesus” a balm in times of pain. In the song, “Jesus, I Come,” William Sleeper implores the blessing of coming out of earth’s sorrows into the balm of Jesus. Fanny Crosby also shows how Jesus is the balm for an aching breast in the hymn, “Jesus Will Give You Rest.” Other writers speak of the balm used for healing and the balm of His counsel for strength.
Balm was a medicinal balsam used widely in the Bible times. When the brothers of Joseph decided to sell their brother, they saw a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt. Jeremiah uses the plea of the balm of Gilead in a desperate appeal for Judah to find the healing mercies of God. The northern tribes had been destroyed nearly one hundred years before, and Judah had not learned from the mistakes of her northern sister. Now, the remaining people of God needed the balm of the Lord’s grace to heal them, but there was no balm. The hearts of the people had turned away from God, and there would be no healing. Balm was only helpful if applied to the wound.
Prayer is a balm that heals the troubled soul. Through the soothing ointment of God’s love, a troubled soul can find peace amid the trials of life. When balm is applied, there is an immediate feeling of comfort. Approaching the throne of God in prayer brings joy to the heart. Through the healing hand of answered prayer, the Father holds His children close and comforts their fears. The balm Jeremiah spoke of was the best ointments from Gilead. God has given His children the greatest blessings paid for by the blood of Jesus. The spiritual balm of Gilead is the enduring grace of God offered through His son, Jesus Christ, who Himself is a balm. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Father provides all mankind the healing power of forgiveness as His Son becomes an ointment that heals the soul of sin. The putridity of moral imperfection can only be healed by the agency of healing found in the Son of God. No other means will men find that will take away the sting of sin and its corruption. The key will be whether the balm of Jesus Christ is applied to the heart. When a man possesses the balm of Gilead yet refuses to apply the ointment, his death is tragic. Jesus comes to be the divine balm of Gilead, and all who come to Him must apply the teachings of the Lord to their sinful hearts. Relief from sin comes when the soul comes in contact with the balm of God. Refusing to make an application will have no value. Thank God for His perfect gift of Jesus Christ – the greatest gift found in the form of the balm of Gilead.