A BALM IN GILEAD
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
In reading the last portion of the book of Genesis we quickly become engaged by the story of Joseph. As Jacob’s youngest son, born in his old age (Gen.37:3b & 44:20), he was also the most beloved (Gen.37:3a). You remember the account - - his father gave him a coat of many colors, which engendered envy and hatred among his brothers (Gen.37:4). It resulted in his brothers plotting his demise (Gen.37:18f). Reuben urged them to “shed no blood” (Gen.37:22). The other brothers acquiesced and opted to strip him and throw him in a pit with no water (Gen.37:23-34). When they sat down to dine, they spied a caravan and decided to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 shekels of silver (Gen.37:27-28).
It is here that we find the roots of that old Negro spiritual, There Is A Balm In Gilead. The text of Gen.37:25 notes: behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Gilead was famous for it spices. Situated at an altitude of 3,000’ above sea level, it was a verdant, mountainous region east of the Jordan River. It was a choice tract of land with rivers and streams continually replenished by an abundance of rainfall making it well-suited for cattle grazing (cf. Gen.31:21), among other things. It was so attractive that the tribes of Gad and Reuben eagerly petitioned Moses to let them settle there on Jordan’s eastern bank (Num.32:1-5). The spices of Gilead also came to recognized for their medicinal value. The balm of Gilead was believed to have healing qualities - - both palliative and curative. While lamenting, For the brokenness of the daughter of my people, I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me, Jeremiah (the weeping prophet), asked a rhetorical question, IS THERE NO BALM IN GILEAD? IS THERE NO PHYSICIAN THERE? Why has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored (Jer.8:22)?
This balm of Gilead has become a metaphor for the tender loving care of God Almighty. Certainly we can see this in the end result of the story of Jacob (God meant it for good! / Gen.50:20). As to that old song, we do not know who wrote it or when it was written. What matters most are the words and the Christocentric direction in which they point us.
Some times I feel discouraged, And think my work in vain, But then the Holy Spirit Revives my soul again
If you cannot preach like Peter, If you cannot pray like Paul, And tell the love of Jesus, And say, "He died for all."
Terry Siverd / Cortland Church of Christ