Daily Devotional: Balm in Gilead


Amid God’s grief and anguish over being abandoned by the chosen people and their coming destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, we hear the lament: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” The words sound familiar to us from the traditional Afro-American spiritual found in the Hymnal at No. 676: “There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.” Gilead was a region east of the Jordan River. From there was produced a fragrant ointment made from tree resin that was used medicinally. This “balm” was used as a salve due to its healing properties. Surely, the prophet cries, there must be something that will restore health to God’s people!

But the injury for which God’s people needed healing is not physical, for which the balm of Gilead might have been good medicine, but rather spiritual. They have been wounded spiritually by their sin, by their disobedience to God’s commandments and covenant relationship. Their sin-sick souls needed a spiritual salve, just as ours do.

This theme calls to mind words from another hymn by 19th century gospel music writer, James Lowry: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Or, in Cranmerian language, “by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, may we obtain remission of our sins” (BCP p. 335). It sounds like the true balm of Gilead is the blood of Jesus.

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