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Is there no balm in Gilead?

Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people

not been restored?

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Destruction Threatened for Sin; Despair of Sinners in Trouble; The Prophet's Lamentation. (b. c. 606.)

13 I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.   14 Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the Lord our God hath 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 behold 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 are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein.   17 For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the Lord.   18 When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.   19 Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?   20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.   21 For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.   22 Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

In these verses we have,

I. God threatening the destruction of a sinful people. He has borne long with them, but they are still more and more provoking, and therefore now their ruin is resolved on: I will surely consume them (v. 13), consuming I will consume them, not only surely, but utterly, consume them, will follow them with one judgment after another, till they are quite consumed; it is a consumption determined, Isa. x. 23. 1. They shall be quite stripped of all their comforts (v. 13): There shall be no grapes on the vine. Some understand this as intimating their sin; God came looking for grapes from this vineyard, seeking fruit upon this fig-tree, but he found none (as Isa. v. 2, Luke xiii. 6); nay, they had not so much as leaves, Matt. xxi. 19. But it is rather to be understood of God's judgments upon them, and may be meant literally—The enemy shall seize the fruits of the earth, shall pluck the grapes and figs for themselves and beat down the very leaves with them; or, rather, figuratively—They shall be deprived of all their comforts and shall have nothing left them wherewith to make glad their hearts. It is expounded in the last clause: The things that I have given them shall pass away from them. Note, God's gifts are upon condition, and revocable upon non-performance of the condition. Mercies abused are forfeited, and it is just with God to take the forfeiture. 2. They shall be set upon by all manner of grievances, and surrounded with calamities (v. 17): I will send serpents among you, the Chaldean army, fiery serpents, flying serpents, cockatrices; these shall bite them with their venomous teeth, give them wounds that shall be mortal; and they shall not be charmed, as some serpents used to be, with music. These are serpents of another nature, that are not so wrought upon, or they are as the deaf adder, that stops her ear, and will not hear the voice of the charmer. The enemies are so intent upon making slaughter that it will be to no purpose to accost them gently, or offer any thing to pacify them, or mollify them, or to bring them to a better temper. No peace with God, therefore none with them.

II. The people sinking into despair under the pressure of those calamities. Those that were void of fear (when the trouble was at a distance) and set it at defiance, are void of hope now that it breaks in upon them, and have no heart either to make head against it or to bear up under it, v. 14. They cannot think themselves safe in the open villages: Why do we sit still here? Let us assemble, and go into a body into the defenced cities. Though they could expect no other than to be surely cut off there at last, yet not so soon as in the country, and therefore, "Let us go, and be silent there; let us attempt nothing, nor so much as make a complaint; for to what purpose?" It is not a submissive, but a sullen silence, that they here condemn themselves to. Those that are most jovial in their prosperity commonly despond most, and are most melancholy, in trouble. Now observe what it is that sinks them.

1. They are sensible that God is angry with them: "The Lord our God has put us to silence, has struck us with astonishment, and given us water of gall to drink, which is both bitter and stupifying, or intoxicating. Ps. lx. 3, Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment. We had better sit still than rise up and fall; better say nothing than say nothing to the purpose. To what purpose is it to contend with our fate when God himself has become our enemy and fights against us? Because we have sinned against the Lord, therefore we are brought to the plunge." This may be taken as the language, (1.) Of their indignation. They seem to quarrel with God as if he had dealt hardly with them in putting them to silence, not permitting them to speak for themselves, and then telling them that it was because they had sinned against him. Thus men's foolishness perverts their way, and then their hearts fret against the Lord. Or rather, (2.) Of their convictions. At length they begin to see the hand of God lifted up against them, and stretched out in the calamities under which they are now groaning, and to own that they have provoked him to contend with them. Note, Sooner or later God will bring the most obstinate to acknowledge both his providence and his justice in all the troubles they are brought into, to see and say both that it is his hand and that he is righteous.

2. They are sensible that the enemy is likely to be too hard for them, v. 16. They are soon apprehensive that it is to no purpose to make head against such a mighty force; they and their people are quite dispirited; and, when the courage of a nation is gone, their numbers will stand them in little stead. The snorting of the horses was heard from Dan, that is, the report of the formidable strength of their cavalry was soon carried all the nation over and every body trembled at the sound of the neighing of his steeds; for they have devoured the land and all that is in the city; both town and country are laid waste before them, not only the wealth, but the inhabitants, of both, those that dwell therein. Note, When God appears against us, every thing else that is against us appears very formidable; whereas, if he be for us, every thing appears very despicable, Rom. viii. 3.

3. They are disappointed in their expectations of deliverance out of their troubles, as they had been surprised when their troubles came upon them; and this double disappointment very much aggravated their calamity. (1.) The trouble came when they little expected it (v. 15): We looked for peace, the continuance of our peace, but no good came, no good news from abroad; we looked for a time of health and prosperity to our nation, but, behold, trouble, the alarms of war; for, as it follows (v. 16), the noise of the enemies' horses was heard from Dan. Their false prophets had cried Peace, peace, to them, which made it the more terrible when the scene of war opened on a sudden. This complaint will occur again, ch. xiv. 19. (2.) The deliverance did not come when they had long expected it (v. 20): The harvest is past, the summer is ended; that is, there is a great deal of time gone. Harvest and summer are parts of the year, and when they are gone the year draws towards a conclusion; so the meaning is, "One year passes after another, one campaign after another, and yet our affairs are in as bad a posture as ever they were; no relief comes, nor is any thing done towards it: We are not saved." Nay, there is a great deal of opportunity lost, the season of action is over and slipped, the summer and harvest are gone, and a cold and melancholy winter succeeds. Note, The salvation of God's church and people often goes on very slowly, and God keeps his people long in the expectation of it, for wise and holy ends. Nay, they stand in their own light, and put a bar in their own door, and are not saved because they are not ready for salvation.

4. They are deceived in those things which were their confidence and which they thought would have secured their peace to them (v. 19): The daughter of my people cries, cries aloud, because of those that dwell in a far country, because of the foreign enemy that invades them, that comes from a far country to take possession of ours; this occasions the cry; and what is the cry? It is this: Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her king in her? These were the two things that they had all along buoyed up themselves with and depended upon, (1.) That they had among them the temple of God, and the tokens of his special presence with them. The common cant was, "Is not the Lord in Zion? What danger then need we fear?" And they held by this when the trouble was breaking in upon them. "Surely we shall do well enough, for have we not God among us?" But, when it grew to an extremity, it was an aggravation of their misery that they had thus flattered themselves. (2.) That they had the throne of the house of David. As they had a temple, so they had a monarchy, jure divino—by divine right: Is not Zion's king in her? And will not Zion's God protect Zion's king and his kingdom? Surely he will; but why does he not? "What" (say they) "has Zion neither a God nor a king to stand by her and help her, that she is thus run down and likely to be ruined?" This outcry of theirs reflects upon God, as if his power and promise were broken or weakened; and therefore he returns an answer to it immediately: Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images? They quarrel with God as if he had dealt unkindly by them in forsaking them, whereas they by their idolatry had driven him from them; they have withdrawn from their allegiance to him, and so have thrown themselves out of this protection. They fret themselves, and curse their king and their God (Isa. viii. 21), when it is their own sin that separates between them and God (Isa. lix. 2); they feared not the Lord, and then what can a king do for them? Hos. x. 3.

III. We have here the prophet himself bewailing the calamity and ruin of his people; for there were more of the lamentations of Jeremiah than those we find in the book that bears that title. Observe here, 1. How great his griefs were. He was an eyewitness of the desolations of his country, and saw those things which by the spirit of prophecy he had foreseen. In the foresight, much more in the sight, of them, he cries out, "My heart is faint in me, I sink, I die away at the consideration of it, v. 18. When I would comfort myself against my sorrow, I do but labour in vain; nay, every attempt to alleviate the grief does but aggravate it." It is our wisdom and duty, under mournful events, to do what we can to comfort ourselves against our sorrow, by suggesting to ourselves such considerations as are proper to allay the grief and balance the grievance. But sometimes the sorrow is such that the more it is repressed the more strongly it recoils. This may sometimes be the case of very good men, as of the prophet here, whose soul refused to be comforted and fainted at the cordial, Ps. lxxvii. 2, 3. He tells us (v. 21) what was the matter: "It is for the hurt of the daughter of my people that I am thus hurt; it is for their sin, and the miseries they have brought upon themselves by it; it is for this that I am black, that I look black, that I go in black as mourners do, and that astonishment has taken hold on me, so that I know not what to do nor which way to turn." Note, The miseries of our country ought to be very much the grief of our souls. A gracious spirit will be a public spirit, a tender spirit, a mourning spirit. It becomes us to lament the miseries of our fellow-creatures, much more to lay to heart the calamities of our country, and especially of the church of God, to grieve for the affliction of Joseph. Jeremiah had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, and, though the truth of his prophecy was questioned, yet he did not rejoice in the proof of the truth of his prophecy was questioned, yet he did not rejoice in the proof of the truth of it by the accomplishment of it, preferring the welfare of his country before his own reputation. If Jerusalem had repented and been spared, he would have been far from fretting as Jonah did. Jeremiah had many enemies in Judah and Jerusalem, that hated, and reproached, and persecuted him; and in the judgments brought upon them God reckoned with them for it and pleaded his prophet's cause; yet he was far from rejoicing in it, so truly did he forgive his enemies and desire that God would forgive them. 2. How small his hopes were (v. 22): "Is there no balm in Gilead—no medicine proper for a sick and dying kingdom? Is there no physician there—no skilful faithful hand to apply the medicine?" He looks upon the case to be deplorable and past relief. There is no balm in Gilead that can cure the disease of sin, no physician there that can restore the health of a nation quite overrun by such a foreign army as that of the Chaldeans. The desolations made are irreparable, and the disease has presently come to such a height that there is no checking it. Or this verse may be understood as laying all the blame of the incurableness of their disease upon themselves; and so the question must be answered affirmatively: Is there no balm in Gilead—no physician there? Yes, certainly there is; God is able to help and heal them, there is a sufficiency in him to redress all their grievances. Gilead was a place in their own land, not far off. They had among themselves God's law and his prophets, with the help of which they might have been brought to repentance, and their ruin might have been prevented. They had princes and priests, whose business it was to reform the nation and redress their grievances. What could have been done more than had been done for their recovery? Why then was not their health restored? Certainly it was not owing to God, but to themselves; it was not for want of balm and a physician, but because they would not admit the application nor submit to the methods of cure. The physician and physic were both ready, but the patient was wilful and irregular, would not be tied to rules, but must be humoured. Note, If sinners die of their wounds, their blood is upon their own heads. The blood of Christ is balm in Gilead, his Spirit is the physician there, both sufficient, all-sufficient, so that they might have been healed, but would not.