What is the Balm of Gilead?

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QUESTION:  I often hear the term "balm of Gilead" used when someone needs to be healed or when they need someone to pray for their healing. What does this term mean?

ANSWER:  The Hebrew word for balm (Strong's Concordance #H6875) comes from an unused root word meaning 'to leak.' The compound you are asking about is believed by some to have been first brought from the region of Gilead by Ishmaelite traders traveling in a caravan to Egypt (Genesis 37:25). It was to these merchants that the sons of Israel sold their brother Joseph in the hope that they would no longer have to deal with him.

There is really no big picture in this. People generally have their own references when it comes to healing and healing prayer. This ointment, referred to in the Bible, is one of them.

The region of Gilead was noted for its balm, a secretion of the balsam tree. The territory where this salve came from, an area North of the Salt Sea in the land of Israel, was originally given by God to Manasseh as an inheritance when the children of Israel entered the promised land. It was used in various healing mixtures, and was sold to many countries, especially Egypt. It is mentioned in a few places in Scripture such as the following.

22 Is there no medicine (the NKJV and other translations have 'balm') in Gilead? Are there no doctors there? (Jeremiah 8:22)

11 People of Egypt, go to Gilead and look for medicine (the NKJV and other translations have 'balm')! (Jeremiah 46:11)

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It is possible that the ancient trade item called the Balm of Gilead is now known as the Balsam of Mecca. This resinous balsam product originated from trees which grew in Palestine and in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. The most well-known location which produced this type of ointment was the city of Ein Gedi (located on the western shore of the Dead or Salt Sea). This product was used both for medicinal purposes and for a perfume by ancient Greek Roman cultures. The Roman army commander and author named Pliny the Elder (lived from 23 to 79 A.D.) mentions the balsam as an ingredient in the Parthian Empire's "Royal Perfume."

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