The Three-fold Blessing of the Balm in Gilead
Jeremiah 8:20-22 NKJV
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!” For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; astonishment has taken hold of me. 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?
There was a tree found in the region called Gilead, east of the Jordan and stretching all the way from Galilee south to the Dead Sea. It was a small tree no more than 14 feet high. It produced a small amount of resin each year, but the healing power of this balm gave it a market value far beyond its actual weight. Gilead means something like, “hill of testimony.” It was a lush region whose produce could heal wounds, aid in worship, and make the merchants rich. How? The balm of Gilead served two purposes: 1) the healing of wounds, and 2) the burning of incense. It does no damage to the original words to see these functions as restorative of health and worship.
In the presence of such a healing balm, carefully harvested and readily available, the weeping prophet, Jeremiah asks a series of painful questions:
- “Why are my people so wounded? Is there no balm in Gilead?”
- It is as if he is asking, “Have you forgotten the healing tree?”
- “Why do you live with wounds untended when the balm is there for you?
- “The Hill of Testimony speaks as eloquent witness to an unblemished record of recovery from wounds like yours. Have you forgotten that there a physician there and a healing balm in abundant supply?”
- “Why are we still so wounded? The harvest is past, and the summer ended yet your wounds remain and the pain that comes with them.”
- “I hurt for the pains of my people. I mourn in astonishment that salvation is there for the taking but we are not saved.”
It is not difficult to translate Jeremiah’s astonishment to the United States of America in the 21st Century.
Remember the Tree
The church must not forget the tree, shaped into a cross and planted in the hill of testimony called Golgotha. This was no routine execution of a guilty criminal who deserved to die. This was the God-ordained sacrifice of the final innocent Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus declared the price fully paid when He cried, “It is finished!” Another prophet/poet tells us exactly what was finished.
Isaiah 53:3-6 NKJV
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
The quantities of guilty blood from thousands of Roman crosses greatly exceed the precious outpouring of this one man’s blood, but the power in this product of this tree exceeds them all in its power. As so many songs say, “The blood has never lost its power!” There is forgiveness in this flow. There is healing in this flow. There is deliverance in this flow. Amen and Amen!
So, why is this nation still wounded?
Why does our pain drive us to wield weapons in streets formerly dedicated to peace? “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!” The Good News of Jesus’ victory is broadcast from pulpits, pews, and from ordinary people who follow Jesus but it seems so few hearts can hear it. There are three miracles waiting for the soul who wants to be delivered.
- The first, the forgiveness of our sins, is the initial application of the Balm of Gilead. We have all done wrong and we can never live it down. There is only one absolution: faith in Jesus!
Romans 10:9-10 NKJV
…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
- The second is healing for the wounds others have given us. The Blood of Jesus not only brings us forgiveness for the wrong things we have done, it is a healing balm for the injuries we have received at the hands of others. This is the Balm in Gilead and the healing touch of the “Physician there.” Because of Calvary, there is no reason to go through life with unhealed wounds.
Isaiah 53:5 NKJV
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
- The third miracle applies the healing balm to an injury that is more subtle but is perhaps the most destructive and binding of these three. The Lord Jesus can deliver us from tragedies and injuries we have appropriated from others. Psychologists call this process “spinning off.” It is the unintentional appropriation of someone else’s tragedy. Terrible things happened in the past to people with a vital connection with us: family, ancestors, even historical figures who loom large in our minds. Though we did not personally experience these injuries we have so appropriated their histories that their pain has been added to our lives. Constant ruminations and rehearsals of these narratives bind us to them. A single phrase from Isaiah’s prophecy applies the Balm of Gilead to this invisible, binding wound.
Isaiah 53:4; 5b NKJV
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
A Testimony of Deliverance
Permit a personal experience to illustrate the wonders of this application of the Balm of Gilead. My grandfather, Rev. John D. Phifer, was a member of the founding generation of my church group, The Assemblies of God. These pioneers were not welcomed by the established denominations in the early decades of the 20th Century. The level of persecution was strong and the violence was relentless. As a result of this treatment, my father and his siblings were deeply offended, not only by the people who treated Brother and Sister Phifer so badly but they also had issues with God for allowing it. Most of the six children struggled without much success to serve the Lord effectively for most of their lives. After a time of rebellion, alcoholism, and gambling addiction during and after WWII, my father rededicated his life to God and became an outstanding man of God, church leader, and a mentor to subsequent generations.
As I was growing up, I heard the terrible stories of this persecution from my father. Without any knowledge that it was possible, my father’s pain was spun off to me. I used to say, “I grew up poor, pudgy, and Pentecostal” to try and explain the pain of my upbringing. This lasted until I was more than 50 years old. By that point, I had enjoyed an effective career as a minister of music in the Assemblies of God. My formal training was in music education: band, orchestra, choir and music theatre and this training had served me well. In my 30s (the 1980s) I became a worship leader just as the office of worship leader began to emerge from the traditional functions of the song leader and the minister of music. I began my biblical study of worship which continues to this day.
In 2001, at age 51, I began to pursue a doctorate in Worship Studies. In my first class, the Balm of Gilead healed this long time wound. Here is how it happened. There were 26 of us seated at folding tables to begin this degree program. While the opening lecture was underway, a different dialogue was happening in my heart. A familiar voice of shame derided me.
“What are you doing here? You don’t belong here.”
I had felt a strong leadership of the Spirit to do this degree as I drove across Florida to the Institute and now this old negative voice challenged me.
“These are the grandchildren of the people who threw your grandfather out. You don’t belong here.”
I looked around the room. Everyone had a master’s degree and so did I. Each one of my fellow students had succeeded within his/her own tradition. So had I. Each one of them wanted more and so did I. At that point, a different voice joined this internal debate. It was the familiar voice of the Spirit of God.
“I have brought you here. You belong in this school.”
Then, this healing, transforming sentence:
“The grandchildren of the people who threw your grandfather out, have taken you in.”
In that moment, a bondage was broken and a wound nearly as old as the 20th Century was healed—my grandfather’s pain, my father’s pain, and my appropriated pain. The Balm of Gilead from the tree on the hill of testimony touched this old, borrowed injury and the shame of being Pentecostal faded away forever. This wickedness wasn’t done to me, but I had taken it on. Only Jesus could relieve me of its pain and, as I followed Him into a new chapter of His will for my life, He delivered me from this borrowed bondage.
The Good News is three-fold:
- Jesus forgives our sins.
- Jesus heals our wounds.
- Jesus delivers us from bondage.
We need not walk about beneath a load of guilt. We do not have to live with festering wounds of the soul. We can even be free from historical associations that serve to bind us from the freedom God has for us and for which our hearts long. Find the land of Gilead and the mountain of testimony. Locate Calvary’s tree. Apply the balm you find there to all these wounds. Jesus and only Jesus can set you free.
From Bondage to Worship
Remember the second ministry of the Balm—as an incense? The grace of God can burn in your heart as a flame of worship in Spirit and Truth. “The Father seeketh such to worship Him.” Find the Physician; He is there for you.
© 2020 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
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