Behind the Song: There is a Balm in Gilead

Jeremiah 8:22 says  “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my [God’s] people?” {Gilead also mentioned in Jeremiah 46:2,11 and Jeremiah 22:6}

It is believed this passage inspired the spiritual There Is a Balm in Gilead.  The song emphasizes the comfort found in the Lord God, which also acknowledging the discouragement of one’s work being in vain.

“A balm is an ointment that reduces pain or heals sores.”

Gilead was a mountainous part of the territory of Manasseh, which was one of the twelve tribes of Israel. {Manasseh was Joseph’s oldest son.}  The area was known for the healing balms made with plants and herbs in the area.

A version of the refrain was published in the 1854 Washington Glass hymnal “The Sinner’s Cure”.  Glass attributed the hymn to himself. This is the first known appearance of the spiritual.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers popularized the spiritual on their tours.

There are numerous arrangements of the spiritual and it is included in several hymnals.

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