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The balm that pastors provide

This story caught my eye: “Archaeologists find rare 2,000-year-old ‘Balm of Gilead’ gemstone seal near Western Wall.” The gem holds an engraving that depicts the Balm of Gilead, a rare perfume used medicinally. 

This balm is mentioned in Genesis 37:25, where it was listed among the possessions of a caravan to which Joseph’s brothers sold him. Jacob gifted a “little balm” to a ruler (Genesis 43:11). And Jeremiah famously asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jeremiah 8:22). 

I was especially interested in the story because I have been many times to the area where the gem was discovered. It was found during excavations in the Emek Tzurim National Park along the foundation stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. When I lead study tours to Israel, we always take a tour of these “Western Wall tunnels.” We always find archaeological work ongoing far below the surface, most of it in very dark, dusty, difficult conditions. 

And yet, despite the challenges, archaeologists were able to find and retrieve this gem, which is only 10 mm long and 5 mm wide (.4 by .2 inches). Now it will join many other finds of priceless historic significance discovered in this area. 

I don’t know the name of a single archaeologist who participated in this dig and doubt I ever will. I don’t know the name of those who brought the Dead Sea Scrolls to the world, or those who found the tomb of Herod the Great or the ossuary of Caiaphas. But I am grateful for their rigorous, often thankless work. 

It seems to me that pastors often do similar work. You will spend time this week ministering in ways few people will never know. From confidential counseling appointments and conversations to solitary hospital visits to long hours in your study preparing sermons and Bible studies, much of your work is done “below ground.” But the “gems” you discover lead the rest of us to the truest “balm” in the world. 

When Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus, the world changed (John 1:41). When Ananias prayed for Saul of Tarsus, history was made (Acts 9:17–18). 

You cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.