One of the symbols that appears quite often in the Bible is oil. Oil is mentioned nearly two hundred times in the Bible. Some of the uses of oil were everyday and common, while others were special and even sacred. Oil during Bible times was obtained from a variety of sources-animal, vegetable and mineral. The most significant source of oil was from the olive. Using poles, people dislodged Olives from the tree and then reduced them to pulp. They then placed the pulp in wicker baskets the highest and lightest grade of oil would run out. After the lightest grade oil had been extracted, a lower-grade oil was obtained by exerting further pressure on the pulp and heating it.
Anointing oil, is mentioned about 20 times in Scripture, and was used in the Old Testament for pouring on the head of the high priest and his descendants and sprinkling the tabernacle and its furnishings to mark them as holy and set apart to the Lord (Exodus 25:6; Leviticus 8:30; Numbers 4:16).
There was oil for light, which was made by crushing the olives from olive trees. The oil would be needed to provide continuous light for the sanctuary with the golden lampstand. Throughout the Bible, the olive tree is a symbol of fullness and fruitfulness, a choice tree among people. In this way the oil is a symbol of the fullness and fruitfulness of God’s Spirit, a symbol of the anointing of God’s Spirit.
There were also spices used for the anointing oil and also for incense (Exodus 30:22-25).
The anointing oil symbolized the special call and appointment of God and the Holy Spirit: His equipping of a person for the service and commitment to God. Remember God was the architect of the Tabernacle and Moses was given the exact measurements needed. Moses was told to collect and blend these choice spices: Myrrh, Cinnamon, Sweet cane, Cassia, and Olive oil. These ingredients were to be mixed and blended into a holy anointing. The perfumers were to do this. The final result would be a unique, special oil blend that would be used to anoint the Tabernacle and its priests.
The purpose of the anointing oil in the Old Testament was twofold:
1: To sanctify the Tabernacle and its furnishings, that all should be holy
2: To anoint the priests and sanctify them for the ministry
The importance of the anointing oil was to be used as God’s holy anointing oil and God’s alone! It was never to be misused by pouring it on an ordinary person, someone not chosen and appointed by God. It was never to be misused by making it for one’s own use. The anointing oil belonged to God and it was to be used for His purposes alone.
A severe warning was given: if the oil were ever misused, that person would be cut off from the community. You see the anointing is not man’s to give. The anointing is God’s. It is God who chooses, who calls, who appoints and gives His Holy Spirit. It is God who chooses to anoint and set apart both objects and people. You see, God does anoint things: He sets things apart for His service and He sets them apart as needed for some very special service (Exodus 29:36,Exodus 30:36,Esther 40:10,Leviticus 8:11,Numbers 7:1).
Only five New Testament passages refer to the practice of anointing with oil, and none of them offer an explanation for its use. That is why I remind you that if you have a decision to make, ask the Lord for direction. In Matthew 6:17 Jesus mentions the everyday practice of anointing oneself with oil. In Mark 6:13 the disciples anoint the sick and heal them. In Mark 14:3–9 Mary anoints Jesus’ feet as an act of worship. In James 5:14 the church elders anoint the sick with oil for healing. In Hebrews 1:8–9 God says to Christ as He returns triumphantly to heaven, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,” and God anoints Jesus “with the oil of gladness.”
Oil is often used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit in the Bible as in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Christians have the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth and “anoints” us continually with His grace and comfort. “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20).
Oil was also was used during the beautification or purification process in Esther 2:12. A year’s purification was necessary before any of the young ladies could approach the king. Over the span of several months, Esther, along with other eligible young ladies, would cleanse themselves with myrrh and oil for six months (and another six months with perfume and cosmetics). In a climate where dry skin was a problem anointing with oil was refreshing to the body.
Oil often signified prosperity, blessings, and stability, opposed to other periods throughout Israel’s history where the harvest was not bountiful and famine had swept the land (Joel 1:10). Oil had sanctifying (cleansing) properties.
Israel commonly practiced anointing the heads of kings. That is why when Samuel choose to anoint the youngest of Jesse’s sons, young David (1 Samuel 16), which surprised the family. They didn’t think, “Oh, I guess he’s giving David’s head a nice oil bath.” They would have understood the implications of Samuel’s actions. God had chosen the next king of Israel, Jesse’s youngest son.
We should also notice, that oil symbolism was linked to the Holy Spirit’s presence. When a person is anointed in the Bible, the Holy Spirit descends upon that person. Therefore, when Jesus is called “anointed” the Bible means by the Holy Spirit.
Other uses of oil included anointing corpses and refreshing bodies. You see God used an important cultural symbol and practice to foreshadow the work of the Holy Spirit. Although the Israelites consecrated priests and holy objects, setting them apart for God’s work, that was only the beginning.
The Holy Spirit consecrates saints; He anoints them. He sets us apart to do the work of God.. Oil was used cosmetically as protection against the scorching sun or the dryness of the desert (Ruth 3:3; Ecclesiastes 9:8). Since olives were found in abundance in Palestine, olive oil was also used as a commodity of trade (1 Kings 5:11; Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1).
Oil was regarded as a symbol of honor (Judges 9:9), while virtue was compared to perfumed oil (Song of Song of Solomon 1:3; Ecclesiastes 7:1). The abundance of oil was a demonstration of blessing and prosperity (Job 29:6); Joel 2:24). However, as a symbol of affluence, oil was also associated with the arrogance of the rich (Hebrew: “valley of oil”; KJV: “fat valley,” Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:1,28:4). Oil was also a symbol of joy and gladness (Psalm 45:7).
We see the importance of oil through the word “anointed” and its associations with Jesus. As I mentioned Anointing oil was used on priests and kings for important purposes. In the same way, Jesus is our High Priest and our King. This practice used in Israel and throughout the Ancient World foreshadowed God’s work through His Son Jesus Christ.