Jer 8:15 We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!
Jer 8:16 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.
Jer 8:17 For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.
Jer 8:18 When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.
Jer 8:19 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?
Jer 8:20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
Jer 8:21 For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
Jer 8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
Jer 8:14-22 –
At length they begin to see the hand of God lifted up. And when God appears against us, every thing that is against us appears formidable. As salvation only can be found in the Lord, so the present moment should be seized. Is there no medicine proper for a sick and dying kingdom? Is there no skilful, faithful hand to apply the medicine? Yes, God is able to help and to heal them. 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, all-sufficient; so that the people may be healed, but will not. Thus men die unpardoned and unchanged, for they will not come to Christ to be saved.
Keil and Delitzsch Commentary of the Old Testament
Jer 8:14-22 –
The horrors of the approaching visitation. – Jer_8:14. "Why do we sit still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities, and perish there; for Jahveh our God hath decreed our ruin, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against Jahveh. Jer_8:15. We looked for safety, and there is no good; for a time of healing, and behold terrors. Jer_8:16. From Dan is heard the snorting of his horses; at the loud neighing of his steeds the whole earth trembles: they come, and devour the land and its fulness, the city and those that dwell therein. Jer_8:17. For, behold, I send among you serpents, vipers, of which there is no charming, which shall sting you, saith Jahve. Jer_8:18. Oh my comfort in sorrow, in me my heart grows too sock. Jer_8:19. Behold, loud sounds the cry of the daughter from out of a far country: ‘Is Jahveh not in Zion, nor her King in her?’ Why provoked they me with their images, with vanities of a foreign land? Jer_8:20. Past is the harvest, ended is the fruit-gathering, and we are not saved. Jer_8:21. For the breaking of the daughter of my people am I broken, am in mourning; horror hath taken hold on me. Jer_8:22. Is there no balm in Gilead, or no physician there? why then is no plaister laid upon the daughter of my people? V. 23. Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears! then would I weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people."
In spirit the prophet sees the enemy forcing his way into the country, and the inhabitants fleeing into the fortified cities. This he represents to his hearers with graphic and dramatic effect. In Jer_8:14 the citizens of Judah are made to speak, calling on one another to flee and give up hope of being saved. "Why do we sit still?" i.e., remain calmly where we are? We will withdraw into the strong cities (cf. Jer_4:5), and perish there by famine and disease (נדּמה for נדּמּה, imperf. Niph., from דּמם: cf. Gesen. §67, 5, Rem. 11; in Niph. be destroyed, perish). The fortresses cannot save them from ruin, since they will be besieged and taken by the enemy. For our sin against Him, God has decreed our ruin. The Hiph. from דמם, prop. put to silence, bring to ruin, here with the force of a decree. מי ראשׁ, bitter waters; ראשׁ or רושׁ, Deu_32:32, is a plant with a very bitter taste, and so, since bitterness and poison were to the Jews closely connected, a poisonous plant; see on Deu_29:17. So they call the bitter suffering from the ruin at hand which they must undergo. Cf. the similar figure of the cup of the anger of Jahveh, Jer_25:15.
Instead of peace and safety hoped for, there is calamity and terror. The infin. abs. קוּה is used emphatically for the imperf.: We looked for safety, and no good has come to us: for healing, sc. of our injuries, and instead comes terror, by reason of the appearance of the foe in the land. This hope has been awakened and cherished in the people by false prophets (see on Jer_4:10), and now, to their sore suffering, they must feel the contrary of it. The same idea is repeated in Jer_14:19. מרפּה is a mis-spelling of מרפּא, Jer_14:19, etc.
From the northern borders of Canaan (from Dan; see on Jer_4:15) is already heard the dreadful tumult of the advancing enemy, the snorting of his horses. The suffix in סוּסיו refers to the enemy, whose invasion is threatened in Jer_6:22, and is here presumed as known. אבּיריו, his strong ones, here, as in Jer_47:3; Jer_50:11, a poetical name for strong horses, stallions; elsewhere for strong animals, e.g., Psa_22:13; Psa_50:13. The whole earth, not the whole land. With "devour the land," cf. Jer_5:17. עיר and ארץ have an indefinite comprehensive force; town and country on which the enemy is marching.
The terribleness of these enemies is heightened by a new figure. They are compared to snakes of the most venomous description, which cannot be made innocuous by any charming, whose sting is fatal. "Vipers" is in apposition to "serpents;" serpents, namely basilisks. צפעני is, acc. to Aq. and Vulg. on Isa_11:8, serpens regulus, the basilisk, a small and very venomous species of viper, of which there is no charming. Cf. for the figure, Cant. 10:11; and fore the enemies’ cruelty thereby expressed, cf. Jer_6:23; Isa_13:18.
The hopeless ruin of his people cuts the prophet to the very heart. In Jer_8:18 -23 his sore oppressed heart finds itself vent in bitter lamentations. Oh my comfort in sorrow! is the cry of sore affliction. This may be seen from the second half of the verse, the sense of which is clear: sick (faint) is my heart upon me. עלי shows that the sickness of heart is a sore burden on him, crushes him down; cf. Ew. §217, i. "My comfort" is accordingly vocative: Oh my comfort concerning the sorrow! Usually מי יתּן is supplied: Oh that I had, that there were for me comfort! The sense suits, but the ellipse is without parallel. It is simpler to take the words as an exclamation: the special force of it, that he knows not when to seek comfort, may be gathered from the context. For other far-fetched explanations, see in Ros. ad h. l. The grief which cuts so deeply into his heart that he sighs for relief, is caused by his already hearing in spirit the mourning cry of his people as they go away into captivity.
From a far country he hears the people complain: Is Jahveh not in Zion? is He no longer the King of His people there? The suffix in מלכּהּ refers to "daughter of my people," and the King is Jahveh; cf. Isa_33:22. They ask whether Jahveh is no longer King in Zion, that He may release His people from captivity and bring them back to Zion. To this the voice of God replies with the counter-question: Why have they provoked me with their idolatry, sc. so that I had to give them over into the power of the heathen for punishment? "Images" is expounded by the apposition: vanities (no-gods; for הבל, see on Jer_2:5) of a foreign land. Because they have chosen the empty idols from abroad (Isa_14:22) as their gods, Jahveh, the almighty God of Zion, has cast them out into a far country amidst strange people. The people goes on to complain in Jer_8:20 : Past is the harvest…and we are not saved. As Schnur. remarked, these words have something of the proverb about them. As a country-man, hoping for a good harvest, falls into despair as to his chances, so the people have been in vain looking for its rescue and deliverance. The events, or combinations of events, to which it looked for its rescue are gone by without bringing any such result. Many ancient commentators, following Rashi, have given too special a significance to this verse in applying it to the assistance expected from Egypt in the time of Jehoiakim or Zedekiah. Hitz. is yet more mistaken when he takes the saying to refer to an unproductive harvest. From Jer_8:19 we see that the words are spoken by the people while it pines in exile, which sets its hopes of being saved not in the productiveness of the harvest, but in a happy turn of the political situation.
The hopeless case of the people and kingdom moves the seer so deeply, that he bursts forth with the cry: For the breaking of my people I am broken (the Hoph. השׁבּרתּי, of the breaking of the heart, only here; in this sig. usu. the Niph., e.g., Jer_38:7. Horror hath taken hold on me, is stronger than: Anguish hath taken hold on me, Jer_6:24, Mic_4:9. Help is nowhere to be found. This thought is in Jer_8:22 clothed in the question: Is there no balm in Gilead, or no physician there? "There" points back to Gilead. Graf’s remark, that "it is not known that the physicians were got from that quarter," shows nothing more than that its author has mistaken the figurative force of the words. צרי, balsam, is mentioned in Gen_37:25 as an article of commerce carried by Midianite merchants to Egypt (cf. Eze_27:17), but is hardly the real balsam from Mecca (amyris opobalsamum), which during the Roman sovereignty was grown under culture in the gardens of Jericho, and which only succeeds in a climate little short of tropical. It was more likely the resina of the ancients, a gum procured from the terebinth or mastic tree (lentiscus, σχῖνος), which, acc. to Plin. h. nat. xxiv. 22, was held in esteem as a medicament for wounds (resolvitur resina ad vulnerum usus et malagmata oleo). Acc. to our passage and Jer_46:11, cf. Gen_37:25, it was procured chiefly from Gilead; cf. Movers, Phöniz. ii. 3, S. 220ff., and the remarks on Gen_37:25. To these questions a negative answer is given. From this we explain the introduction of a further question with כּי: if there were balm in Gilead, and a physician there, then a plaister would have been laid on the daughter of my people, which is not the case. As to עלתה , lit., a plaister comes upon, see on Jer_30:17.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible
Jer 8:13-22 –
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 (Jer_8:13), 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_10:23. 1. They shall be quite stripped of all their comforts (Jer_8:13): 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_5:2, Luk_13:6); nay, they had not so much as leaves, Mat_21:19. 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 (Jer_8:17): 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, Jer_8:14. 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. Psa_60:3, 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, Jer_8:16. 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_8:31.
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 (Jer_8:15): 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 (Jer_8:16), 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. 14:19. (2.) The deliverance did not come when they had long expected it (Jer_8:20): 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 (Jer_8:19): 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_8:21), when it is their own sin that separates between them and God (Isa_59:2); they feared not the Lord, and then what can a king do for them? Hos_10:3.
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, Jer_8:18. 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, Psa_77:2, Psa_77:3. He tells us (Jer_8:21) 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 (Jer_8:22): “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.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
Jer 8:22 – Is there no balm in Gilead?…. Which was famous for it; see Gen_37:25, or rather turpentine or rosin, a gum which drops from pine trees and the like; since balm or balsam grew on this side Jordan, near Jericho and Engedi, and not beyond Jordan, in the land of Gilead; and rosin is good for healing. Some render it "treacle", but very wrongly, since, as Calvin observes, that is a composition of many things,
Is there no physician there? or surgeon, anyone that heals wounds and bruises; very probably there were many such lived in Gilead, since it was a place where proper medicines were to be got and applied: this may be understood of prophets and teachers, who, in a moral and spiritual sense, are instruments of healing of men, by showing them their evil, calling them to repentance, and directing where to go for healing or pardon of sin; namely, to Christ, the alone physician, and to his precious blood, shed for the remission of sins. Some reference may be had to Elijah, who was of Gilead, and to the school of the prophets there, 1Ki_17:1. The Targum is,
"Jeremiah the prophet said, perhaps there are no good works in me, that I should supplicate for the house of Israel; should I not desire the doctrine of Elijah the prophet, who was of Gilead, whose words were healing?”
Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? that is, seeing there is balm in Gilead, and a physician there, how comes it to pass that such medicine is not made use of, and such a physician not applied to, that health might be restored? This shows the stupidity, sluggishness, and indolence of the people, and how inexcusable they were, as well as the prophet’s great concern for their welfare; the want of means of deliverance, or non-attendance to them, or the failure of them.
Geneva Bible Translation Notes
Jer 8:22 – [Is there] no balm (r) in Gilead; [is there] no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
(r) Meaning,that no man’s help or means could save them: for in Gilead was precious balm, (Jer_46:11) or else deriding the vain confidence of the people, who looked to their priests for help, who would have been the physicians of their soul, and dwelt at Gilead, (Hos_6:8).
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
Jer 8:22 –
Is there no balm in Gilead? – Yes, the most excellent in the world. “Is there no physician there?” Yes, persons well skilled to apply it. “Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” Because ye have not applied to the physician, nor used the balm. Ye die because ye will not use the remedy. But to apply this metaphor: – The Israelites are represented as a man dying through disease; and a disease for the cure of which the balm of Gilead was well known to be a specific, when judiciously applied by a physician. But though there be balm and a physician, the people are not cured; neither their spiritual nor political evils are removed. But what may all this spiritually mean? The people are morally diseased; they have sinned against God, and provoked him to destroy them. They are warned by the prophet to repent and turn to God: they refuse, and sin on. Destruction is come upon them. Might they not have avoided it? Yes. Was it the fault of God? No. Did he not send his prophets with the richest offers of mercy? Did he not give them time, the best instructions, and the most effectual means of returning to him? Has not mercy, the heavenly balm, been ever at hand? And has not God, the great Physician, been ever ready to apply it? Yes. Why then are they not converted and healed? Because they would not apply to the Divine Physician, nor receive the only remedy by which they could be spiritually healed. They, then, that sin against the only remedy must perish, because they might have had it, but would not. It is not because there is a deficiency of grace, nor of the means of grace, that men are not saved; but because they either make no use, or a bad use, of them. Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, has tasted death for every man; but few are saved, because they Will Not come unto him that they may have life.
In my old MS. Bible the text is rendered thus: –
Whether gumm is not in Galaad? Or a leche is not there? Why than the hid wounde of the daughter of my peple is not all helid?
How shall they escape who neglect so great a salvation? Reader, lay this to heart; and, while there is time, apply heartily to the great Physician for thy cure.
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Jer 8:22 –
No physician there – i. e., in Gilead. Balm used to grow in Israel for the healing of the nations. Her priests and prophets were the physicians. Has Israel then no balm for herself? Is there no physician in her who can bind up her wound? Gilead was to Israel what Israel spiritually was to the whole world.
Why then is not the health … recovered? – Or, “why then has no bandage,” or plaster of balsam, “been laid upon my people?”