Thank you, my dear friend, for this very good and interesting question. The verses relating to a “balm in Gilead” are all from the OT, and of the two verses that directly use this phrase in Jeremiah, the one from chapter 8 seems most clear. We read in Jeremiah 8:22, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?“ The other verse is found in Jeremiah 46:11 where we read, “Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt: in vain shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured.” What I believe that these verses allude to is the healing that is in God alone; but, the concept of healing, is here represented in the medicinal properties of the balsam bush, from which a balm was made and sold widely. This balsam bush grows in the district of Gilead in Israel.  From the Morrish Bible Dictionary, we read of this balm, “…Gilead was noted for its (balm) production. It is used as a proverb to set forth the healing God had for His people if they really turned to Him.”

Now, you might recall that in the days of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the nation of Judah (actually all of Israel) was under judgment because of their many sins related to their not honoring the LORD, and due to their long history of idol worship. Gilead was known for the healing balm that came from that district, and so the LORD uses this concept of a healing medicine asking the rhetorical question, “is there no balm (in other words, “healing” in Gilead. There was a balm in Gilead for sure, but the reference isn’t to this, but rather to the healing that God would have had for His people if only they had turned to him in repentance and in faith. But, without their repentance, there is no healing for His people, now under judgment, neither in Gilead nor anywhere else. But, if we extend this thought of healing from God for His faithful people, we can easily see how it would apply to Christians today. There is a famous African American spiritual song that builds on this theme of the healing of God’s people, which in its primary application likely refers to the children of Israel in Jeremiah 8, but certainly extends to Christians considering the healing that is in Christ Jesus, through faith in His finished work for us on Calvary’s cross. The words of this well-known spiritual, I believe, reflect the salvation, or healing, that is in our Lord Jesus Christ:

“There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole:

There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul.”

And how is it that our “sin-sick” souls are healed?  Consider the prophetic word of Isaiah 53, which reveals the confession of believing Israel in the Lord Jesus Christ in that latter day when Christ shall return to this earth to defeat His enemies and to restore Israel to its rightful place among the nations, when Christ shall rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem for a thousand years. In that day, the faithful remnant of Israel will acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ is their Messiah and Lord as follows: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).

Most Bible commentators feel that that last phrase, “and with His stripes we are healed” refer mainly to the healing of our souls through Christ’s work on the cross, and thus, the spiritual I mentioned above certainly has the right idea. There is indeed healing in the Lord Jesus for all who are saved by faith in Him, as we read in Malachi 4:2, “But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings…” Thus, the balm of Gilead refers to God’s healing of His people, those who truly come to Him in faith. The balm produced in the northern region of Gilead was known for healing, so thus, the answer to the question, ‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’ is answered in the affirmative for Christians today, for those who truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the gum of the balsam plant that heals, but the Lord Himself for all who believe.

And now, my dear friend, have you received that healing for your soul through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? I pray that you have, but just in case any who read this might not be sure, please consider the healing words of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast”. This is the healing in the wings of our Lord Jesus Christ, the healing of our sin-sick souls! (SF)  (508.6)