Genesis and Gilead
I’ve just finished reading through Genesis. Though there is much I could say, right now I’m most struck by this place called Gilead, just east of the Jordan river. My commentaries tell me that Gilead was once famous for its healing balm that came from the storax tree.
I can’t stop thinking about the weighty symbol of this place. I noticed it in two chapters of Genesis.
In Genesis 31, Jacob is running away from his father-in-law Laban, taking all of his wives and livestock with him. Where does he flee? To the hills of Gilead. Laban overtakes him there. It gets a little ugly, but there is a measure of healing that takes place. Laban leaves Jacob there, makes a covenant (a boundary) with him, and kisses his grandkids and blesses them. That blessing would serve Jacob well when you consider the new name he is given (Israel) and his twelve tribes.
In Genesis 37, Joseph is getting thrown into a well by his brothers, then pulled out, and then sold into slavery. But this caught my eye: the caravan that had bought Joseph had just stopped in Gilead.
Isn’t that interesting. The same caravan that receives the dreamer Joseph as a slave had just returned from a place synonymous with healing. It is literally loaded down with spices and balms meant to heal, but it is stealing Joseph away into life of servitude. Paradoxically stunning and wonderful foreshadowing, that is.
The last 13 chapters of Genesis are (mostly) devoted to the creative way Yahweh transforms Joseph’s suffering into a thing of healing. And not just for Joseph, but for a whole nation facing 7 years of famine. (And to this “foreign” nation, at that: Egypt.) He is able to save his family, as well, showing mercy to the brothers who had sold him into slavery.
Joseph has two sons before the famine began. One he named Ephraim (which sounds like the Hebrew for “twice fruitful”) because:
“God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Genesis 41:52 (TNIV)
I’m thinking about how I might need Gilead to be one of my future kid’s middle names.
May you and your loved ones find yourself fruitful in the big and small places of your suffering. May you receive God’s creative work of healing even in the most unsuspecting of caravans.
I remember a nice scene from the film The Spitfire Grill where the hero sings an old hymn about redemption and there being a balm in Gilead. I’d never heard it before. (Decidedly so, I need more hymns and negro spirituals in my life.) Here is Mahalia Jackson’s take on the matter. An old school, soulful, sultry rendition.