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Lowell Brueckner

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Is There No Balm in Gilead?


 Chapter 8

1.      "At that time," says the LORD, "they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves. 

 2.      They shall spread them before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served and after which they have walked, which they have sought and which they have worshiped. They shall not be gathered nor buried; they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth.

 3.      Then death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of those who remain of this evil family, who remain in all the places where I have driven them," says the LORD of hosts. 

4.      "Moreover you shall say to them, 'Thus says the LORD: "Will they fall and not rise? Will one turn away and not return? 

 5.      Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. 

 6.      I listened and heard, But they do not speak aright. No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turned to his own course, As the horse rushes into the battle. 


Unnatural reactions

 The first verse of this chapter connects it to chapter 7 and we must go back, in order to see the time, of which the writer is speaking. It is the time of the desolation of Jerusalem, when gladness and joy will cease. Everything that is held sacred will be purposely desecrated by the Babylonians. The Lord will lift His protecting hand from the holy temple and it will be destroyed. In these verses, we see that the graves of the nobility of Judah will be ransacked and the bones exposed to the elements (1).

 The Lord proclaims justice in their exposure, openly under the sky, because, in life, these people worshiped the sun, moon and stars. I heard a certain atheistic scientist reason that the universe must be eternal, although he claimed that the eternal God did not exist. He rejoiced in being part of the universe, showing that in the heart of man, the host of heaven is still loved, served and observed for guidance above the Creator. Fallen man will worship anything, but God, proving over and over the truth of the Bible concerning his hatred for his Lord (2). There is ample evidence of the evil nature of the human heart and faith in its goodness is a great deception. We must learn, against all humanistic tendencies, that all the wickedness upon earth stems from the roots of mankind’s rebellion and mutiny against his infinitely benign Sovereign. For that reason, above all others, he is evil.


 The severity of Jerusalem’s judgment turns every aspiration into despair. Even the instinctive love for life will fail, when the people (called here, those who remain of this evil family), who escaped slaughter by the Babylonians, are expatriated (3). They only look forward to death and only the death of the cross can deal with it. Death is the end result of human obstinacy.  

 Verse four belabors the obvious, but then, God is dealing with a people, who do not behave in a way that is naturally right. If a person falls, of course, he gets up; if he takes a wrong turn, he will go back to the right road. These basic, common-sense actions have been abandoned in Israel, as far as the relationship with their God is concerned. I am making the point that Israel is just one example of the general deportment of all mankind. He is fallen, and he doesn’t want to rise; he is lost and he doesn’t want to find his way again. The book of Ecclesiastes gives us the result of that mentality, teaching from beginning to end: Life on this planet is absolute vanity!

 I heard a political news commentator say, “We have tried to reason with people, but people don’t want facts. They live according to their emotions.” He added rather facetiously, “We’ve been doing it all wrong; we should be appealing to their emotions.” He discovered a valuable lesson about fallen human nature. In general, people do not want truth; they want to feel good, so don’t spoil their feeling of well-being with the discomfort of truth. However, God’s representative cannot give into the temptation to appeal to people’s emotions, but continue to speak truth. Jeremiah did not fill auditoriums with his preaching. The one, who is searching for truth, will eventually come to the light. We are looking for that individual.

 In the last chapter, in verse 24, God said, “(They) went backward and not forward.” Now read carefully verses 5 and 6 and you will get more of the Lord’s viewpoint on the spiritual state of mankind (and, by the way, his spiritual condition is all that matters). Remember, we are not talking about a few or about one nation; we are talking about a world, in which deception is a way of life, and its inhabitants actively cling to it. They continually resist truth, and refuse to take directions back to the good road. 


 7.      "Even the stork in the heavens Knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow Observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD. 

 8.      "How can you say, 'We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us'? Look, the false pen of the scribe certainly works falsehood. 

 9.      The wise men are ashamed, They are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD; So what wisdom do they have? 

 10.  Therefore I will give their wives to others, And their fields to those who will inherit them; Because from the least even to the greatest Everyone is given to covetousness; From the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely. 

 11.  For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, Saying, 'Peace, peace!' When there is no peace. 

 12.  Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, Nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; In the time of their punishment They shall be cast down," says the LORD. 

 13.  "I will surely consume them," says the LORD. "No grapes shall be on the vine, Nor figs on the fig tree, And the leaf shall fade; And the things I have given them shall pass away from them." ' " 

 14.  "Why do we sit still? Assemble yourselves, And let us enter the fortified cities, And let us be silent there. For the LORD our God has put us to silence And given us water of gall to drink, Because we have sinned against the LORD. 

 15.  "We looked for peace, but no good came; And for a time of health, and there was trouble! 

 16.  The snorting of His horses was heard from Dan. The whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of His strong ones; For they have come and devoured the land and all that is in it, The city and those who dwell in it." 

 17.  "For behold, I will send serpents among you, Vipers which cannot be charmed, And they shall bite you," says the LORD. 


No man repented, saying “What have I done?”

Click for large view. Storks migrating over Israel

 God is listening to them and we should listen, too. Everyone is justifying himself and holding stubbornly to his opinions. No one is penitently asking, “What have I done?” Leonard Ravenhill claimed that the only remedy to our spiritual dilemma is revival. On the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly told the Jews, who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, what they had done: “Jesus of Nazareth… you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Ac.2:23). That fearless accusation, brought repentance and the conversion of 3,000 people. If you want to see multitudes like these, come to Christ, then pray for revival.

 Jeremiah was raised up to bring people to repentance. The horse is driven by his rider into battle and, notice, man’s ego drives him fiercely to rush towards his own goals. A human being’s obstinate pursuit of his personal desires leads him into a stupidity that is shamed by soulless birds. The stork knows when to migrate and when to return to its native land. The European turtle-dove is a long-distance migratory bird; so are the swift and the swallow, but fallen nature has lost its instinctive knowledge of the ways of God (7). How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us?’ (8). Jeremiah is recording specifically their lack of recognition of the hand of God in the judgment that He has sent (as in 5:4-5). How many today see Covid as a judgment from God? It is, you know.

 The scribe of Jeremiah’s day was the “expert in Scripture”, but he was misinterpreting it and, at any rate, the teaching was not being followed by practice. The intellectual world, having rejected the word of the Lord, through His judgment are shamed (9). What wisdom can there be outside of His word? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps.111:10; Pr.1:7 and 9:10). Know this, there are consequences to godless religion and to a powerless “gospel”, that deceitfully caters to people’s whims (10). It lacks a powerful demonstration of new birth.

 The inspired word describes this religion: They have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’, when there is no peace (11). This is false peace and external healing, that comes short of penetrating into the soul and spirit of man. It may bring psychological and emotional relief and comfort, but it does not transform the evil nature into a new nature that is compatible with the Lord. We have already looked into this ‘peace’ in chapter 6:12-15. This ‘healing’ does not bring shame for sin at all and does not cause people to fall into the Lord’s arms in submission, therefore another fall awaits them as punishment. They will be cast down, says the Lord (12). There will be nothing left to redeem, but they will be totally consumed. All the good gifts that they have received from God will perish with them (13).

 “The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord” (Pr.19:3). Speaking prophetically, Jeremiah tells of a future time, when people awake to their condition, described in verse 9, and the slight healing takes place, but no repentance comes. They are moved to a fatalistic acceptance of their fate. They see judgment coming and decide to move from the unwalled villages into the fortified cities. A sullen silence creeps over their being and, although they recognize their sin, they feel that God is dealing very harshly with them (14). In verse 11, they were looking for peace, but no peace came (15). They now discern the invasion from Dan, the most northerly territory of Israel (16), where the Babylonians will enter.

 The citizens of Israel thought that they could charm the “serpents” by carving images and practicing idolatry. The serpent from Eden played along with their little game and pretended to be swayed, as they piped. But now, as the sovereign Lord frees the evil spirits to do their worst, the game is over and they attack the charmers, with the poison of vipers (17). In this way, the fullness of judgment falls upon the land.


18.  I would comfort myself in sorrow; My heart is faint in me. 

19.  Listen! The voice, The cry of the daughter of My people—From a far country: "Is not the LORD in Zion? Is not her King in her?" "Why have they provoked Me to anger With their carved images—With foreign idols?" 

20.  "The harvest is past, The summer is ended, And we are not saved!" 

21.  For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; Astonishment has taken hold of me. 

22.  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’s reaction

 Sensitive Jeremiah grieves, as the Lord reveals to him, the fall of his people. He received no pleasure from his message of judgment. Notice how the Lord describes the conquered people… the daughter of My people. That is the pitiful voice that Jeremiah hears and he joins the Lord in sorrow out of his heart. The cry comes faintly from a far country, when God’s intentions were to make Zion the meeting place, between Himself and His people. They were resolved to senseless rebellion, against the One, who offered to dwell among them as their King. They provoked His wrath through their idolatry. Jesus, having come to dwell among His people, knew from history the attitude of the people, and taught them a prophetic lesson: “His citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’” (Lk.19:14).

 Hear the cry of the damned! They cry from the flames of hell that it is too late! “The harvest is past,
the summer is ended, and we are not saved!”
Harvest time has ended and we have not been brought into God’s barn. We are forever lost (Mt.13:31)! Ah, but the day of final condemnation has not yet come and there is still time to preach a message that will pierce thoroughly and agitate violently (Ac.2:37, according to the original Greek), provoking the question, “What shall we do to be saved?” The answer is still the same: “Repent and believe the gospel.”

 As sure as Jeremiah was called, so the Lord of the harvest is sending reapers into the uttermost parts of the earth. These words in the last three verses are too powerful to skim over lightly. We need to pause, meditate on them, and let them penetrate into the depths of our being! May we hurt like Jeremiah with an astonishing consciousness of eternity. He is mourning for the lost (21).

 Words like these carried my wife and I to the bottom of Mexico, to the Costa Chica of the State of Oaxaca, known for its poverty and violence. The enemy of the souls of men stirred up many to threaten us continually, but we heard the cry of the lost and proclaimed to them the Good News, which resulted in salvation for many.

 Was Leonard Ravenhill right, when he said that Holy Spirit revival is the only answer to the needs of our day? Out of the same Jerusalem that rose up en masse against Christ, in one day the apostles saw 3,000 repent, believe and receive the gospel.  Later on, 5,000 more were added to the number of the redeemed. It was revival and it was accomplished by the supernatural work of the Spirit of God in convicting power. I am grieved with a powerless gospel, preached at home and abroad, based on the ways and abilities of mere men. God help me, as I preach to myself, because of my own weak response to the call from the halls of eternity. May the Holy Spirit come upon you and I to pray for another powerful move in the 21st Century.

 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? (22). Jesus is the Balm in Gilead and He is the Great Physician, and there is no malady, either physical or spiritual, that He cannot heal. The God/Man was sent from heaven to a perishing world, a perfect Lamb of God, Who did not need to die for His own sin, for He was sinless. Yet He died… He died that we might live! Israel will come to know perfectly this Physician, Jesus of Nazareth, in the end: “All Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins” (The apostle Paul in Romans 11:26 and 27, quoting Isaiah 59:20).

 In an old hymn, called a “spiritual”, an unknown song writer offered this answer to Jeremiah’s question:

 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.

 If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus,
who died to save us all.



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