Thoroughly Equipped: The Balm of Gilead

Today’s reading includes Genesis 50:1-Exodus 2:10, Matthew 16:13-17:9, Psalm 21:1-13, Proverbs 5:1-6.

In today’s reading we find the conclusion of the story of Joseph, and it is wrapped up in forgiveness and blessing.  Joseph confirms to his brothers that what they had meant for evil, God had meant for good and for the salvation of many.  What wise words; what wise attitudes!  This brought peace and blessing to the entire family. So Joseph and his brothers continued to live in Egypt with their families. With Pharaoh’s approval, they were given the best of the land in Egypt and there they lived and worked and thrived.  They indeed were fruitful and multiplied.  But as is often the case in life, the good times brought with them bad times.  Joseph died at the age of 110, and lived to see 3 generations of Ephraim’s children.  (Notice the number 3!)  He also lived to see birth of Manasseh’s son, Makir, whom he claimed as his own. We find out in Numbers 26:29 that Makir was father to Gilead. It is unclear whether the land of Gilead was named for this son, or whether the son was named for this land.  However, eventually the tribe of Manasseh possessed the southern part of the land of Gilead.  In the land of Gilead, comes a rare perfume which was used medicinally.  It was figuratively known as a universal cure and was called the Balm of Gilead.  It was this balm that Jeremiah spoke of as he mourned for his sinful, troubled people.

Is there no medicine in Gilead?

    Is there no physician there?

Why is there no healing

    for the wounds of my people?

And in Jeremiah 46 we find a message given by God through Jeremiah concerning Egypt.

Go up to Gilead to get medicine,

    O virgin daughter of Egypt!

But your many treatments

    will bring you no healing.

Our own efforts at healing our souls and our situations is futile without God. Only He can heal our deepest wounds.

Today, the Balm of Gilead is symbolic of the saving grace of Jesus.  An old African American spiritual includes these lyrics:

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin sick soul.

When J. C. Philpot preached on Jeremiah 8:22 in 1852, he pointed out that God’s grace is always greater than our sin:

“There is more in the balm to heal than there is in guilt to wound; for there is more in grace to save than there is in sin to destroy.”

Praise God for Jesus, the true Balm of Gilead!  Joseph experienced a measure of healing from his emotional wounds, but found that healing in his faith in God.  On his deathbed, Joseph spoke prophetic words to his brothers:

24 “Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath, and he said, “When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you.”

                                                                        Genesis 50:24-25

And this oath was never forgotten, as we see in Exodus 13:19:

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

As time went on, rulers changed, and the favor of Joseph was eventually forgotten.  Jealousy and suspicion set in.  The Israelites had grown to such numbers that the Egyptians began to feel threatened.  And so it was that the land of plenty and provision became for them a prison.  They became slaves in Egypt and this slavery would last for 400 years, just as God had told Abram in Genesis 15.

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth.

                                                                        Genesis 15:13-15

In the next few days our scripture reading will reveal the culmination of what God told Abram would happen to the Israelites.  But it is important to note that this foreboding information came just before the great covenant made between God and Abram.  God told Abram what would happen but he assured him with His Covenant that he would take care of him and his people and never leave them.

Scholars disagree about whether those 400 years of slavery were actually spent in Egypt, or if the clock started counting during Abram’s time, however, we can be sure that slavery felt endless to the Israelites.  But throughout their years of slavery, they were not forgotten, nor abandoned.  A plan of deliverance was already in place.  And so it is in our own lives.  No matter the situation we are never forgotten nor abandoned.  And, Jesus our great Deliverer, our Balm of Gilead, is freely available to us all.

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