“Is there no balm in Gilead?” This is the moment after the iceberg has struck the Titanic when the fact that the boat will sink becomes common knowledge. Suddenly, the lifeboat that you dismissed when the “In the unlikely event of an iceberg hitting us…” lecture was given, becomes foremost in your mind. Is there really a life preserver under my cot? Or that moment after you accept the fact that your cancer diagnosis is terminal; is there no balm in Gilead? Jeremiah knows that the nation is about to be destroyed, the temple torn down, and the brightest of Judah’s youth to be hauled off to Babylon for seventy years.
What is the balm in Gilead? Literally it is the product of a balsam plant that grew only in Palestine. In Genesis 37 we read how the sons of Jacob were tending sheep near Gilead when they decided to murder their brother Joseph. There happened to be, however, Ishmaelite traders who were taking balm from Gilead down to Egypt. The brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Five hundred years later the people of Judah would be taken, along with the balm of Gilead, into slavery in Babylon. Five hundred years after this, Jesus will sit down by a well in Gilead and speak to a Samaritan woman about a faith, a balm, that will heal her broken soul (John 4).
In our daily lives we take many things for granted, only to discover later that they are the one thing we should have taken care not to lose. Like the password that gets us into our computer, or the key for the rental car that we’ve just driven into the desert east of Tonopah, or the phone number of that person we met whom we think could be our soul mate. Life hinges on the rare things — the balm of Gilead — or our faith in God. What has become irreplaceable to us?