Hymns of Hope

Day 2: There Is a Balm in Gilead

Jeremiah 8:18-22, Luke 7:1-10, 1 Peter 2:24

 

Near the close of Cormac McCarthy’s book No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell talked with his elderly uncle about how the world was changing. During the conversation, his uncle said something that encapsulated the guilt many men struggle with. He said, “I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I’d have the same opinion about me that he does.”

Few books of the Bible carry a darker backdrop than that of Jeremiah. God’s people will be defeated on their own land and carried off into exile. This will happen to them, not purely as a result of outside influence, but primarily because the people broke faith with the Lord and violated His covenant with them.

Chapter 8 describes Jeremiah’s heartbroken lamentation at the sin of the people. He asks if there is no balm in Gilead. He metaphorically refers to a mountainous area east of the Jordan River known for a healing ointment made from the resin of a tree. The people have a deep wound and ample cleansing is available to them, but they will not avail themselves of it. They need to repent, but they refuse (Jeremiah 8:18-22).

We understand the pain of Jeremiah’s desperate cry. Every man knows the pain created by our own sins. Our sexual brokenness damages our souls and can leave destruction in its wake. Our penchant for selfishness breaks relationships with those closest to us. Our frustrated ambitions create bitterness and envy in our souls. Too often, we confess a belief in God’s grace while harboring doubts about whether it really applies to us. We wonder if God could still love us, keep us in His family, and hear our prayers. Every one of us knows what it is like to have a “sin-sick soul.”

While Jeremiah asked if there was balm in Gilead, the traditional spiritual reminds us that on this side of the cross, the question turns into a declaration. Because of Christ, we no longer have to wonder if we are loved, if we have hope, or if there is healing for our tired and weary souls. Jesus took our sins, our guilt, and our shame upon Himself. He died on that tree to heal our sin-sick souls and bring us back to God.

Written by Scott Slayton

There Is A Balm in Gilead
Traditional Spiritual

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, “He died for all.”