Balsam of Gilead—The Balm That Heals
A FAMILIAR account in the Bible book of Genesis tells the story of Joseph’s being sold by his brothers to some Ishmaelite traders headed for Egypt. The traders’ caravan was from Gilead, and the camels were transporting balsam and other goods to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25) This brief account suggests that balsam from Gilead was highly desirable in the ancient Middle East, valued for its special healing properties.
In the sixth century B.C.E., however, the prophet Jeremiah asked with sadness: “Is there no balsam in Gilead?” (Jeremiah 8:22) What prompted Jeremiah to ask this question? Just what is balsam? Is there a balsam that is useful for healing today?
Balsam in Bible Times
Balsam is a general term that describes an aromatic and usually oily and resinous substance secreted by various plants and bushes. Balsam oil, often used in incense and perfumes, was one of the luxuries of the ancient Middle Eastern world. It was named among the ingredients of the holy anointing oil and the incense used at the tabernacle shortly after the Israelites came out of Egypt. (Exodus 25:6; 35:8) Balsam oil was also among the lavish gifts that the queen of Sheba brought to King Solomon. (1 Kings 10:2, 10) Esther received beauty care and massages “six months with balsam oil” before presenting herself to Persian King Ahasuerus.—Esther 1:1; 2:12.
While balsam oil came from various parts of the Middle East, balsam of Gilead was native to the Promised Land, Gilead being the region just east of the Jordan River. The patriarch Jacob considered balsam one of “the finest products of the land,” and he sent it as a gift to Egypt. (Genesis 43:11) And the prophet Ezekiel listed balsam among merchandise that Judah and Israel exported to Tyre. (Ezekiel 27:17) Balsam was well-known for its particular medicinal properties. Ancient literature frequently mentions the curative and restorative powers of this balm, essentially in connection with the healing of wounds.
Balsam for a Sick Nation
Why, then, did Jeremiah raise the question, “Is there no balsam in Gilead”? To understand that, we have to look at the nation of Israel back then. Earlier, the prophet Isaiah gave a vivid description of their deplorable spiritual state: “From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no sound spot in it. Wounds and bruises and fresh stripes—they have not been squeezed out or bound up.” (Isaiah 1:6) Rather than recognizing their pitiable condition and seeking a cure, the nation continued in their wayward course. By his time, Jeremiah could only lament: “They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” If only they had returned to Jehovah, he would have healed them. “Is there no balsam in Gilead?” What a thought-provoking question!—Jeremiah 8:9.
In many ways, today’s world is full of “wounds and bruises and fresh stripes.” People are suffering from poverty, injustice, selfishness, and a lack of kindness, all because love of God and neighbor has cooled off. (Matthew 24:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) Many feel rejected on account of their race, ethnic background, or age. On top of that, famine, sickness, war, and death add to their pain. Like Jeremiah, many sincere believers wonder if there is no “balsam in Gilead” with which to bind up the emotional and spiritual wounds of those who are suffering.
The Good News That Heals
In Jesus’ day, the same question was on the minds of humble ones. But it was not left unanswered. In the synagogue in Nazareth in the year 30 C.E., Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, saying: “Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1) Jesus then applied those words to himself, presenting himself as the Messiah with the commission of making known a message of comfort.—Luke 4:16-21.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus zealously preached the good news of the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 4:17) In the Sermon on the Mount, he promised afflicted ones that their situation would be changed: “Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.” (Luke 6:21) By announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God—a message of hope—Jesus ‘bound up the brokenhearted.’
In our day, “the good news of the kingdom” remains just as comforting. (Matthew 6:10; 9:35) Take, for example, the case of Roger and Liliane. In January 1961 they first learned about God’s promise of everlasting life, and it was like soothing balsam to them. “I danced around the kitchen at the thought of what I was learning. I was so happy,” recalls Liliane. Roger, who at that time had been partially paralyzed for ten years, adds, “I found great joy, the joy of living, thanks to a marvelous hope—that of the resurrection and the end of all pain and sickness.”—Revelation 21:4.
In 1970 they suffered the loss of their 11-year-old son in death. But they did not sink into despair. They personally felt that Jehovah “is healing the brokenhearted ones, and is binding up their painful spots.” (Psalm 147:3) Their hope comforted them. For nearly 50 years now, the good news of God’s incoming Kingdom has brought them peace and contentment.
A Healing Yet to Come
So is there “balsam in Gilead” today? Yes, today there still exists spiritual balsam. The comfort and hope provided by the good news of the Kingdom is able to bind up broken hearts. Would you like to experience such healing? All you need to do is open your heart wide to the comforting message from God’s Word and allow it to fill your life. Millions of people have already done so.
The healing by this balsam provides a foregleam of greater relief that is still to come. The time is fast approaching when Jehovah God will bring about “the curing of the nations,” with everlasting life in view. At that time, “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” Yes, there still is “balsam in Gilead”!—Revelation 22:2; Isaiah 33:24.
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The healing power of the good news of God’s Kingdom continues to ease the pain of brokenhearted ones today