Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
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.