What is the Balm of Giliad and what is its relevance to Jesus?

What is the Balm of Giliad and what is its relevance to Jesus?

These questions were raised by Jenny and Geoff in the Emerging Church Service they conducted on Sunday, 24 July, following the theme for this year – Health: in body, mind, and spirit.

In ancient times, the highly effective healing unguents we have today did not exist. But Giliad, a raised area of country beyond the Jordon and north-east of Jerusalem, produced plants of the genius Commiforia that provide a fragrant resin much sought after in biblical times as an unguent to relieve pain and heal bruises, cuts, and war wounds.

Giliad was a special place for the Hebrews, being the birthplace of Elijah among other things, so the balm it produced carried an important spiritual cashet as well.

As the Babylonians overwhelmed Israel in 587 BC Jerimiah lamented, “Is there no balm in Giliad; is there no physician there?” – a desperate plea for the arrival of a healer. Israel had to wait until the advent of Jesus for this honorific to be applied to him. He was viewed as that balm or salve, from which we get the word ‘salvation’.

So, the balm of Giliad had expanded its ambit to now include the whole person of Jesus and, through him, relief to the afflicted and sin-sick souls.

We are all aware that anxiety is high throughout the word today. (An example of unnecessary anxiety is the obsession among young affluent Chinese youth to engage in plastic surgery to ‘correct’ facial ‘blemishes’.)* As people pile up anxiety, they push themselves towards unhappiness and  depression.

Jenny said, “A recent report found that four out of 10 young people report a mental disorder, and this is disturbing.  And it is not only young people: nearly seventeen per cent of all Australians suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Today’s focus on individualism and individual success do not auger well for this country because they are so inward looking and self-centred. But this situation  leaves little room for ‘salvation’ from a supportive community.

Jenny said, “As followers of Jesus, we need  to point society towards the peace to be found in seeking out the way of Jesus.  The Christian life emphasises sharing (of our wealth but also of our troubles), living ‘life’ to the full (without excesses), and community support and compassion (both given and received). It  also means playing a part in our own healing by engaging in the task of doing so,” she said, citing the injunctions of Jesus to those he healed, such as “Pick up your bed and walk,” and “You are clean; go and show yourself to the priest.”

Jenny asked, “What today is OUR Balm in Giliad? If it is something “that makes the wounded whole and that heals the sin-sick soul” what else could it be but Jesus?”.

Jenny and Geoff supported their presentation by the hymns and songs they chose and by distributing samples of aromatic essences, plants, and perfumes used over the centuries as balms.


*This was the subject of a recent Four Corners TV report.