What is the biblical significance of the land of Gilead?
Gilead is the mountainous region, located in modern day Jordan, east of the Jordan River extending south from Lake Gennesaret (in the north) to the north end of the Dead Sea (in the south). During Bible times, Gilead was bounded on the north by Bashan and on the south by Moab and Ammon.
Jacob gave the region its moniker from two Hebrew words—gal, meaning heap, and ed, meaning witness—because it was in this mountainous region that he and Laban erected a stone heap as a witness of the peace treaty between the two of them (Genesis 31:47–48). Generations later, as Israel entered the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were allotted land in this region (Joshua 13:8–12). During the time of the judges, a few key battles took place in Gilead when Gideon fought the Midianites (Judges 7) and later when Jephthah fought the Ammonites (Judges 11). When Absalom, King David's son, raised a rebellion against the king, it was to Gilead where David fled for safety (2 Samuel 17:22, 26). It is also of note that the prophet Elijah's hometown was located in Gilead (1 Kings 17:1). This region played an important role throughout Israel's history.
Four mountain peaks in Gilead are mentioned in the Bible: Mount Abarim, Mount Pisgah, Mount Nebo, and Mount Peor. Gilead also features a raised plateau that slopes to the west. Thus, all the water flows in numerous streams, brooks, and springs out of the hills in the west, while the plateau remains a white chalk desert above, leaving the eastern side a complete wilderness. This water flow makes western Gilead a fertile country with ample pasturage for flocks and herds.
The area is also known for a healing balm, the balm of Gilead, which is made from liquid rosin from the local trees (poplar, pine, cypress, cedar, etc). Due to access to these medicinal ingredients, many physicians made their homes in Gilead. In Jeremiah 8:22, the prophet asks, "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?" Jeremiah lamented the spiritual condition of his people knowing there was no medicinal cure for their sin-filled hearts. Only Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can cure the problem of sin in the human heart (Hebrews 10:14–17). The land of Gilead is a good reminder that no matter the flourishing, wealth, safety, or health of our earthly lives, we remain in deep spiritual need and only God can provide the cure we seek.
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