The Balsam Tree and the Balm of Gilead


Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored? –Jeremiah 8:22

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

 “And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh…”
— Gen. 37:25

The Balsam Tree produces the precious balsam, or balm of Gilead…

…is not now a native of that country. It has nowhere been found wild except on the African coast of the Red Sea. Its produce is mentioned as an article of merchandise in the book of Genesis; and Josephus says that the Queen of Sheba presented some plants of it to Solomon. The road by which the balsam reached Greece and Rome is pointed out by Ezekiel, who says that Israel and Judah supplied the markets of Tyre with it.  And the merchants frequenting Tyre carried it, of course, further west.

So highly prized was the balsam that, during the war of Titus against the Jews, two fierce contests took place for the balsam orchards of Jericho, the last of which was to prevent the Jews from destroying the trees, which they would have done, in order that the trade might not fall into the enemy’s hand. . . . An imperial guard was appointed to watch over them; . . . but such care has been unavailing; not a root nor a branch of the balsam tree is now to be found in all Palestine.

Twice was a balsam tree exhibited in triumph to the ancient Romans in their streets. The first time was sixty-five years before the coming of our Lord, when Pompey returned from his conquest, and Judea first became a Roman province; and the last time was after a lapse of one hundred and forty-four years, when the spoils of the temple of Jerusalem were carried in triumph through the imperial city, and, as a sign of the subjection of the whole country, the precious balm tree was exhibited with pride by Vespasian.

The ancient great traveler, Bruce, saw the balsam tree in some valleys in Arabia. The most considerable garden of them is in a recess of the mountains, between Mecca and Medina.

The balm of Gilead is a small evergreen tree; at five feet from the ground it branches out something like an old hawthorn, but the foliage is scanty and ragged. The bark is smooth, shining, and of a whitish-grey color, with brown blotches. The leaves are of a bright green, and grow in threes and fives.

“The greatest quantity of the balsam flows from the wounded bark. But there are three kinds procured by art; the first and best is the opobalsam, expressed from the green berry, the second is from the ripe nut or berry, and the last is obtained by bruising and boiling the young wood.” — Scripture Herbal.

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you can’t preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all…

Taken and adapted from, “The Biblical Treasury”
Author unknown