Chapters 8 and 9 in Jeremiah in are difficult to read. Jeremiah continues to tell the people of their sin, but the people continue to act as if all is well – they do not see a need to repent or change their ways. Imagine a small animal that has had its stomach completely ripped open by a predator, and someone comes along and puts a small Band-Aid designed to cover a scraped knee onto this gaping bleeding wound. Do you get the picture? Can you grasp how a Band-Aid would be completely inadequate to heal the wound inflicted on this poor animal? In Jeremiah 8:11 this is the picture the prophet is trying to make clear to the people of Judah.
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. Jeremiah 8:11
Jeremiah has walked the streets of Jerusalem looking for anyone who is righteous or honest. He tells us what he has found instead.
From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. Jeremiah 8:10b NIV
Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD. Jeremiah 8:12 NIV
The wound of the people of Judah is not a physical, bleeding one – at this time. The siege, the sword, and the famine are still in Judah’s not too distant future. No – the wound Jeremiah was speaking of was a spiritual one. Judah had turned away from their one true God, had embraced, followed, and worshiped other gods, who had no power to save them, to help them, or to even listen to them (as these were simply made of wood and stone).
Jeremiah describes his own and God’s lament over Judah’s sin in these verses.
O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.
Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away:
“Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?”
“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”
“The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Jeremiah 8:18-22
These words are painful to read, and they express a deep grief over a wound that was not being addressed, so could not be healed. The balm of Gilead was a well known salve used to help heal wounds. Egyptians sought it (Genesis 37:25, Jeremiah 46:11), and its medicinal qualities were well known. But, to heal a wound – first the injury must be recognized and acknowledged. Then steps can be taken to clean the wound, apply medicine to the area, stitch it, and wrap it up, so that healing can actually take place. The people of Judah couldn’t apply the ‘balm of Gilead’, as they did not acknowledge that they even had a wound. Do you have a wound that needs to be acknowledged? Do you have an injury that you have ignored, or denied? If so, identifying it to yourself and to God, is a good first step.