Is There No Healing?
Scripture Reading — Jeremiah 8:4-22
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? — Jeremiah 8:22
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 your name we pray. Amen.
Like Poplar Trees
Scripture Reading — Isaiah 44:1-23
“I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring. . . . They will spring up . . . like poplar trees by flowing streams.” — Isaiah 44:23
Western red cedars are common in the temperate rainforest on the western coast of Canada, and they provided the natural resources for the establishment of Vancouver. It’s impossible to understand the history of Vancouver without appreciating that it relied heavily on felling centuries-old trees for great profit. Fortunately, a few citizens had the foresight to protect remaining parcels of old-growth forest, or the forest might not be there today.
Cedars, which are mentioned often in the Bible, provided a similar wealth of resources in ancient times and were used to build the temple of God. In Lebanon today these trees are now rigorously protected, and they remain an important part of the area’s history. Then, as now, cedars were a symbol of power, resilience, and long life.
We might assume, then, that the Lord’s people might be compared to cedars. But in Isaiah 44, the descendants who have the blessings of the Spirit of God are compared to “poplar trees by flowing streams,” while cedars and other valuable trees are described as firewood and material for making idols.
Here the Lord is lamenting that some people go their own way and turn away from the true God. But the Lord also calls the people of Israel (Jacob) to serve him, saying that he has swept away their sins. And he closes with a command to the whole creation, including the forests and their trees, to give thanks for God’s compassionate redemption.
Lord, pour out your Spirit on our lives so that we may be like trees by flowing waters, and may we join with all creation in praising you for your saving grace. In Jesus, Amen.