Whenever I hear “the balm of Gilead” I recall fond memories as a choir girl singing that old old spiritual. Little did I fully understand the meaning of the word Gilead, and what the balm of it was all about. Yet I knew there was something surely special about that balm for people to sing such a soulful song.
Was it a bit like the “Nestea Plunge”? For those of you not old enough to remember, imagine yourself standing on the edge of a large pool, wide goofy smile on your face, and free-falling backwards into cool, refreshing iced tea! Yes, it was a great TV ad, and very memorable to watch, for it still comes to mind at the most random times. Something told me, though, that the balm of Gilead was much more soothing than refreshing iced tea. Something that quenched much deeper, that addressed needs far beyond one’s physical thirsts.
Historical Gilead was located in a mountainous region of modern Northwest Jordan, east of the Jordan River and north of the Dead Sea. In ancient times the resins of specific flowering trees or shrubs were harvested to make rare perfumes and special ointments that were widely known for their healing properties. Yet even in Old Testament times, the precious balm made in Gilead could not heal the underlying cause of sickness in God’s people. They struggled, like a delirious patient unwilling to accept curative medicine, rebelliously turned against God’s ways, unwilling to yield to His solution, receive His prescription for wellness. So on humanity went, living in sickness and futility, becoming more and more gravely ill, until the Great Physician declared, “Enough!” Holy intervention was needed.
The spiritual reservoir of one’s life, oft overlooked as we scurry through our days, is where the true Balm of Gilead needs to be applied. This is where one in reality may marinate in the healing Balm. Marinating is to enhance flavor, tenderize. It’s purpose is to penetrate deep within to cause positive change. It is into one’s spiritual reservoir where all our soul-sickness dwells, that the Balm of Gilead does its work. One may be aware of the hurts of pain, pride, shame, lies, abuse, torturous thoughts or actions, ridicule, humiliation, embarrassment, fears, wrongdoings, and sins of all kinds that plague us as they rise into our conscious minds. Such thoughts taunt us, remind us of our depravity. No matter how hard we try, we are unable to save and heal ourselves, no more than could those people of long ago. No matter our heart-felt efforts, still we fall short.
But for God. In His infinite mercy and grace He has provided a solution for our terminal condition. This is what He has shown me: The Balm of Gilead – God Himself through the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ whose Holy Spirit actually lives within each believer- is offered freely to all who would accept. Only this Balm will heal all our diseases, all our hurts, heal our souls. And in His presence we are invited to marinate, every moment, every day of our lives here on earth and then on into life everlasting. He has come offering Himself. He has come with life poured out. He has come with healing assured. He is the Source of life and love Himself. Indeed, the Balm to heal our sin-sick souls.
I bid you to sing that timeless spiritual, and invite the Balm of Gilead to marinate deeply in your soul. (The chorus below is in bold type. The final verse is of the updated version.) May His healing Balm bring you peace.
There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.
If you cannot preach like Peter,
If you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.
Don't ever feel discouraged,
‘Cause Jesus is your friend,
And if you lack for knowledge,
He'll not refuse to lend.
(See: Hymnary.org and Wikipedia )