Sin and Punishment (8:1–22)
14–16 In these verses, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the people of Judah; he envisions the coming Babylonian invasion and expresses the people’s dismay. He acknowledges that the people’s difficulties are the result of their sins (verse 14) and yet the people show no sign of repentance.
17 Here the Lord speaks (through Jeremiah) and says that He will send venomous snakes (the Babylonians) to bite the people of Judah.
18–20 In verse 18, Jeremiah expresses his own dismay. Then he asks God to listen to the cry of the people: “Is the LORD not in Zion?” they ask (verse 19). “Has He deserted us, rejected us?”
In the last part of verse 19, the Lord breaks in with a question of His own: Why have the people provoked Him to anger? When they can answer that question, they will also know the answer to their own question: Has the Lord rejected us? The answer is “Yes.”
In verse 20, Jeremiah quotes a proverb which signifies that the people have missed the harvest—missed the opportunity for covenant blessings—and now have lost any hope of salvation.
21–22 Here Jeremiah identifies once more with his people: they are crushed; therefore, he feels crushed (verse 21). Then he asks: Is there no balm in Gilead? Gilead was a part of the promised land that lay east of the Jordan River and was famous for a healing balm made from the resin of a certain kind of tree. Since this balm was readily available and there were physicians to apply it, why, Jeremiah asks, has the wound of the people not been healed? (verse 22). The reason is that the wound is spiritual, and it will take more than Gilead’s balm to heal it. Spiritual wounds can be healed only when people cast themselves on God and repent of their sins. Sadly, Judah’s people had rejected that remedy.