The Balm Of Gilead In The Bible

A balm, an ointment commonly made of fragrant trees and gums. A spiritual remedy against languishing and trouble of mind. These are the biblical meanings of a balm of Gilead. Let’s discuss this further below. Also, my thanks to whoever might have tried to Google-image search that, but they got it wrong!

The Balm of Gilead is an assumed translation of the Hebrew word Telipheth which basically means ‘balm’. The balm of Gilead referred to in the Bible was a healing balsam or sticky resin used for healing and soothing skin ailments, some form of aromatic resin or gum which came only from a single place – the Land of Gilead, located between the river Jordan and the Dead Sea.

Way back in biblical times when this herb was mentioned, it seems to be applied orally and given as medicines for fever, inflammation, wounds, ulcers and other skin diseases. Later on in history this herb was finally identified and found to be colloquial Acacia Arabica, a plant species native to Africa where its aromatic emollient sap was found to have medicinal and therapeutic qualities that could heal skin irritations and serve as ointments or salves. This particular plant species is still used today worldwide in indigenous healing practices.

The balm of Gilead is a plant known to have healing properties and appears in the Bible. It is used by a meadow, or sometimes translated as “balsam” (Gilead means “meadow” in Hebrew). It was used because it sooths burnings, acts as a counter-irritant and heals wounds.

The Balm Of Gilead In The Bible

We encounter three instances of the balm of Gilead mentioned in the Bible.

Genesis 37:25 describes a caravan carrying balm on their way to Egypt,

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.

When Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 8, hears about how Babylon will lay siege to Israel, Jeremiah weeps and asks if there is a balm in Gilead.

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).

In other words, he asks, “God, is there any way you can heal us?”

Once again, in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:11), God tells the Israelites to get a balm in Gilead, because they’ve wounded themselves beyond repair. He doesn’t literally mean get a physical balm to fix your problems. But they would’ve understood the imagery. No doubt, Gilead contained a balm of herbs and spices that served as a healing ointment.

As mentioned in this article, we don’t know the exact ingredients used in the balm, but many believed the balm included resin in the mixture.

The Balm Of Gilead In The Bible

A balm is an aromatic, medicinal substance derived from plants. Gilead was an area east of the Jordan River, well known for its spices and ointments. The “balm of Gilead” was, therefore, a high-quality ointment with healing properties. The balm was made from resin taken from a flowering plant in the Middle East, although the exact species is unknown. It was also called the “balsam of Mecca.” Myrrh is taken from a similar plant—Commiphora myrrha. The Bible uses the term “balm of Gilead” metaphorically as an example of something with healing or soothing powers.

“Balm of Gilead” has three references in the Bible. In Genesis 37:25, as Joseph’s brothers contemplated how to kill him, a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by on their way to Egypt from Gilead. In their cargo were “spices, balm, and myrrh.” Jeremiah 8 records God’s warning to Judah of what Babylon would do to them. Upon hearing the news, Jeremiah laments, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (verse 22). His question is a poetic search for hope—a plea for healing. Then, in Jeremiah 46:11, as God describes an impending judgment on Egypt, He taunts them: “Go up to Gilead and obtain balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain have you multiplied remedies; there is no healing for you!”

These scriptural references to the balm of Gilead have inspired many literary and cultural allusions, including references in “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and movies such as The Spitfire Grill. Notably, “There Is a Balm in Gilead” is an African-American spiritual that compares the healing balm to the saving power of Jesus—the one true treatment that never fails to heal our spiritual wounds.

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