Have you heard of the balm of Gilead?
Sung about in hymns, referenced in scripture, and sometimes used in the Christian rite of confirmation, the balm of Gilead is a real thing with fascinating Biblical origins.
The balm itself was used to heal skin abrasions in Biblical times. However, today, the balm of Gilead is symbolically tied with the universal healing powers of Christ.
How did this come to be? What are the historical origins of the balm, and what does its inclusion in the Bible tell us about faith, spiritual healing, and the Lord Jesus Christ?
Read on to learn all of this and more.
Many Christians who hear of the balm of Gilead across their religious practice wonder whether it’s a fictional item or if it actually exists.
It does indeed exist, and if we break down the term a bit more, we can understand its description and origins.
Gilead is a mountainous region just east of the Jordan River. It was rocky and harsh terrain, which may be the origin of its name. It comes from the Hebrew word ‘gal‛êd,’ meaning a mound or hill.
As for “balm,” the meaning is the same as in contemporary times — a resinous salve produced from a combination of olive oil and various plant-based essential oils; in this case, from the Arabian balsam shrub.
The balm is thought to have healing properties, an analgesic effect to be used by people topically to treat skin irritation and pain.
The full expression ‘balm of Gilead’ stems from William Tyndale’s King James Bible of 1611.
There’s some discrepancy as to the true geographical and botanical origins of the balm, however. In Jewish history, according to Roman/Jewish historian Josephus, the Queen of Sheba presented what they referred to as ‘the root of the balsam’ to King Solomon. In Islamic circles, it’s described as the ‘balsam of Mecca.’
Over time, the expression balm of Gilead has come to figuratively signify a kind of universal cure.
To learn more about what the balm of Gilead has come to represent in a spiritual sense, let’s take a look at its Biblical origins and references.
There are three references to the balm of Gilead in the Bible.
The first comes from Genesis:
“As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm, and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt,” Genesis 37:25.
The narrative follows Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers.
The following two scriptural mentions of the balm of Gilead originate from Jeremiah:
“Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” Jeremiah 8:21-22.
"Go up to Gilead and get balm, Virgin Daughter Egypt. But you try many medicines in vain; there is no healing for you,” Jeremiah 46:11.
From the former verse in Jeremiah, we can see that God’s prophet is concerned with the lack of resolve for the suffering people of Israel.
But, from the following verse, we understand that it is not traditional medicine that he makes an appeal for ”You try many medicines in vain.” It’s spiritual.
The balm of Gilead represents the only true source of physical and spiritual healing and salvation — the Lord.
Healing was available if only the Israelites turned to God.
Despite delivering them from the grip of slavery, the people continued to turn from God and even came to worship false prophets.
God is always willing to offer His grace for the people of the world who seem caught up in sin. This is even true for those who don’t have a relationship with Christ, such as the Egyptians in the stories from Jeremiah.
Israelites tried everything to heal their sins. They turned to other places and other Gods. They tried many medicines in vain, but they were looking in all the wrong places.
Where, then, is the balm? Where is the physician ready to heal all wounds?
It’s none other than the great physician himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way, the balm of Gilead powerfully represents Christ’s capacity to heal.
When going about your life, ask yourself this — am I turning to temporary solutions where God would suffice? Is this wound one that He cannot heal? Who suffered greater, me, or the Lord when he took to the cross so that we can live?
You should keep the balm of Gilead present in your minds when attempting to heal your wounds and recover from the allure of sin.
While it was indeed a very real healing balm made from oil and plant matter in Biblical times, its inclusion in the Bible should indicate its greater symbolic importance in the Christian doctrine.
God is eager to provide help and healing when you need it. But He requires repentance. Turn from sin, seek His will, and you will soon be healed.