There is a Balm in Gilead

I've written on a few occasions how I enjoy leading and singing hymns with the men in my Monday night bible study at the prison.

Since I grew up singing hymns I know a bunch of hymns that the guys don't know. So just about every week I'm introducing and teaching them a new hymn. And sometimes these new hymns become favorites that they request week after week.

Would you like to know what new hymn has become their favorite?

It's a hymn that has long been one of my own favorites because of its simple, haunting, almost lullaby-like melody. I introduced it early on and it's been requested over and over. We sing in almost every week.

The hymn is "There is a Balm in Gilead." The lyrics:
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

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

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.

    There is a balm in Gilead
    To make the wounded whole;
    There is a balm in Gilead
    To heal the sin-sick soul.
"There is a Balm in Gilead" is a well-known African-American spiritual. As I said, I've always found the song haunting. Not sure why, I just always have.

The balm in question is a resinous gum from the tree Commiphora gileadensis that grew in ancient Judea. The gum was used to make medicine. The balm of Gilead is mentioned three times in the Old Testament, in Genesis 37.25 and in Jeremiah 46.11 and 8.22. The reference in Jeremiah 8.22 goes to the hymn:
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?
In the Christian tradition Jesus is understood to be the prophetic answer to Jeremiah.

Jesus is the physician and the medicine for our healing.

Yes, the hymn confesses, there is a balm in Gilead.

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3 thoughts on “There is a Balm in Gilead”

  1. Negro or African American spirituals if you will are a deep well of trust and hope and courage often in the bleakest of circumstances. I expect a perusal of John W. Work's compendum would yield many more such favorites in your prison setting. Lament and joyful expectation are just two of the types that continue to have universal appeal.......

  2. My (personal) problem with this song is two-fold:

    1] Who in 21st Century USA knows what a "balm" is? (You even had to explain it here in your post.)

    2] Having been trained by the almost-daily news reports of terrorism in our world, every time we sing this song, my ears hear, "There is a bomb in Gilead".

    However, if the song blesses you and your group, I bless Yah that this is so.

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