Bible Study - Anointing oil for the greatest to the least

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Bible Study Series: Holy Spirit - Roles, Types and Imagery

The Oil Part 1: Anointing oil for the greatest to the least

by I Gordon

Welcome once again! Amongst all the craziness and confusion in the world (and it isn't becoming any saner or straight-forward) it is good to go back to God's world and renew our minds with that which is true. We are carrying on in our series on the Holy Spirit, this time looking at one of the best known types of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. If I was to say to you "for 50 points, name the most common type of the Holy Spirit in scripture' what would you say? Water? Wind? The dove? If you said any of those you would have... zero points. If you said, "um, oil?" you would now be 50 points better off than you were 10 seconds ago.. (which, to be fair, actually means nothing but let's just ignore that for the moment!)

Always in Scripture oil is an emblem of the Holy Spirit.
F.B Meyer

Have you thought about how oil was used in Bible times and what picture that gives us of the work of the Holy Spirit? Maybe not. I can't say that I had extensively until researching the topic for this study. But we will look at that today... and probably in the next two studies as well. There are some fantastic stories concerning oil in the Old Testament especially that hold great instruction for us. I'm just going to focus on a few that spoke to me and for this study I want to explore the following:

  • The general use of oil in the Bible
  • The first use of oil in the Bible - Oil upon the Greatest
  • A surprising use of oil - Oil upon the least
  • The anointing in the New Testament & warnings against misuse of the anointing oil.

So let's begin with some general thoughts about the use of oil in the Bible. 

Oil in the Bible

Can you think of what oil was used for in the Bible? Or even what oil is used for today? I'll get the ball rolling. I've been rubbing oil into my 'weeders elbow' recently. Some call it tennis elbow but after playing tennis most of my life and not having an issue, mine came on after lots and lots of weeding. Clearly weeding the garden doesn't pay and I'll have to remember that for the future! The first thing to note when we speak about oil from the Bible is that we are primarily speaking of olive oil. Oil in biblical days was used in various ways including in cooking, as ointment for the hair, skin (and maybe on elbows... maybe? Maybe not.) It was also used to burn as a source of light in lamps (especially in the temple). Another common use was for anointing and consecrating kings, priests and prophets.1 Oil in general is a great type for the Holy Spirit because of several properties and uses that it has.  

Why oil is a good representation of the Holy Spirit

Pastor David Guzik has some great points about the usage of oil and why it points to the Holy Spirit. He writes: 

  • Oil lubricates when used for that purpose - there is little friction and wear among those who are lubricated by the Spirit of God
  • Oil heals and was used as a medicinal treatment in Biblical times (Luk 10:34) - the Spirit of God brings healing and restoration
  • Oil lights when it is burned in a lamp - where the Spirit of God is there is light
  • Oil warms when it is used as fuel for a flame - where the Spirit of God is there is warmth and comfort
  • Oil invigorates when used to massage - the Holy Spirit invigorates us for His service
  • Oil adorns when applied as a perfume - the Holy Spirit adorns us and makes us more pleasant to be around
  • Oil polishes when used to shine metal - the Holy Spirit wipes away our grime and smoothes out our rough edges

The first use of oil in the Bible

You might remember that last time I looked at the imagery around the dove and there was a lot of instruction taken from looking at the first mention of the dove in the Bible. So what about oil? Any idea where the first mention of oil in the Bible is and in what way it was used? And, to be fair, that question is what they call 'rhetorical'. I don't expect you to know this though extra points if you do! I certainly didn't... until I looked it up. So here is the story in which oil is first mentioned and used in the Bible. It is a well known story from an important time in the life of Jacob as he fled his brother Esau and left his home in Canaan. We'll pick up the story in Gen 28:

Gen 28:10-19 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. (11) When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. (12) He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (13) There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying... (15) I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (16) When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." (17) He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." (18) Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. (19) He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

This is Jacob's first encounter of God. On his travels to Haran he rests his head upon a stone (as you do right... men were harder back then obviously!) and falling asleep (somehow!) Jacob has a dream. An unusual dream. He sees a 'stairway to heaven' with angels ascending and descending and the Lord Himself standing at the top. God then spoke to Jacob assuring him of both His presence and the the fulfillment of His promises to his fathers Abraham and Isaac. Upon awaking, Jacob is amazed! "Here I was thinking I was all alone and actually God was in this place and I didn't know it!"2 So he took the stone that he had been resting upon and set it up as a pillar, anointing it with oil. And he renamed that place to Bethel - meaning 'House of God'. 

So... what are we to make of this? It is a slightly odd story. If you were out camping, would you look for a stone to put under your head? Why rest upon a stone? And why, after experiencing God, pour oil on that stone? And why set the stone up as a pillar or sign to commemorate this occasion? Does this, the first mention of oil in the Bible, point to something bigger? Or was Jacob simply an inexperienced and possibly confused camper? From looking at future events in scripture we know that this whole experience was a big deal in Jacob's life. For example:

  • When God later told Jacob to leave Laban and return to the Promised Land. Look at how God introduces Himself:
    Gen 31:13 'I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.'"
  • When Jacob returned back to the Promised Land from Laban, look at where he was told by God to go and what he did there (he repeated his earlier experience):
    Gen 35:1 Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God..."
    Gen 35:14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.
  • In his last days, when Jacob was blessing Joseph, look at how Jacob described the Messiah who would come from God:
    Gen 49:24 But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
Not what, but who is the Stone?

Can you see the picture now with Jacob's encounter in Gen 28? The stone in Jacob's experience in Bethel is 'the stone of Israel' who is the coming Messiah, just as Jacob prophesied over Joseph. In other words, So in picture form the Stone that Jacob rested upon there (in Bethel - the house of God, where the stairway to heaven is3) is the Messiah Jesus. And He is the One that we are all to rest on. Just as Jacob set this stone up as a pillar, so Jesus, the true Stone of Israel, would stand in the midst of Israel as a sign to all. 

Rom 9:33 As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

Mat 21:44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."

The reality is that mankind can find their rest upon this stone, as Jacob did, or they can stumble over this stone and be broken to pieces by it. We, like Jacob, can place our entire weight and being upon this stone and we find that it will hold us up for all eternity. Or, if we choose against this, this same stone will fall upon us, and we will be crushed under it's weight. Choose the former for this same stone will soon strike the nations of this world and they will be crushed to dust:

Dan 2:34-35 "You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. (35) "Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

An application - Are you resting on the stone?

Before racing on (which I easily sometimes do!) let me just ask you - Are you resting on that stone? You might 'yeah, of course... I'm a Christian. I'm standing on the rock brother!' Great! But are you resting in Him? Are you resting on that stone? Look at the world today... we have gone from a pandemic with Covid19 (which is still continuing in some parts), to a war between Russia and Ukraine (which has and will have massive impact worldwide and has the potential to escalate extensively), to a extremely likely coming food and commodity shortage. Pestilence, war, famine in less than three years. Sounds a lot like what Jesus said the birth pains leading up to His return would be like! 

But in the midst of it are you able to rest in Christ? Among all the notifications of disaster and doom popping up on your computer, have you seen, and can you rest, in the fact that actually HE is in control? Let me say it again - Our Lord is in control. He raises up one and puts down another and His ways and will and are being fulfilled. It can be scary when we only focus on what is happening... but focus on Jesus and lay your head on that solid dependable stone! 

So jumping back to our story, what about the oil? After setting the stone up, Jacob poured oil upon this stone. This, in picture form, portrayed the anointing of God's Spirit that would be upon the true stone to come - the Messiah, Jesus Christ. As scripture says:

Luk 4:17-19 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: (18) The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, (19) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Act 10:37-38 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- (38) how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

So that is the first mention of oil. It comes, significantly, in a passage which pictures the anointing of the Stone (the coming Messiah Jesus4) in the Promised Land. But oil wouldn't just be limited to the greatest of all - the Messiah. In fact it was used also to anoint the lowest and greatest outcasts within Israel to cleanse them and set them free... And as we shall see, again in picture form, this includes you and me.  

The blessing of being an ex-leper (like me & hopefully you)

There is another slightly odd account in the Old Testament concerning the oil that I would also like to look at. To do so we need to move a couple of books forward into Leviticus. I know... you don't go there often! It's alright... you'll be ok. Just look for the shiny pages in your Bible! While, as Gentiles, we don't grasp it all, Leviticus has some wonderful pictures and instruction and one of these concerns the use of oil upon cleansed lepers. All of the instruction in Lev 14:1-32 is packed with symbolism for the believer but I want to concentrate on the part concerning the oil. Having said that, please read the entire passage. You will note that the process for cleansing the leper occurs through days 1-7. But the leper is presented to the Lord on day 8 and this is where the oil comes...

Lev 14:10-18 "Now on the eighth day he (the leper) is to take two male lambs without defect, and a yearling ewe lamb without defect, and three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil; (11) and the priest who pronounces him clean shall present the man to be cleansed and the aforesaid before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. (12) "Then the priest shall take the one male lamb and bring it for a guilt offering, with the log of oil, and present them as a wave offering before the LORD. (13) "Next he shall slaughter the male lamb in the place where they slaughter the sin offering and the burnt offering, at the place of the sanctuary--for the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy. (14) "The priest shall then take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. (15) "The priest shall also take some of the log of oil, and pour it into his left palm; (16) the priest shall then dip his right-hand finger into the oil that is in his left palm, and with his finger sprinkle some of the oil seven times before the LORD. (17) "Of the remaining oil which is in his palm, the priest shall put some on the right ear lobe of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the guilt offering; (18) while the rest of the oil that is in the priest's palm, he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the LORD.

It is easy to read scriptures like this and think, 'ok... that is pretty odd. Why such exact and specific instructions that had to be followed?' The answer of course is that nothing is random but all of it comes from the mind of God who knows exactly what it means not just for lepers in days gone by but for sinners throughout all the ages. I'll make a few quick points on this:

  • Leprosy in the Bible is a type of sin. Thus lepers point to sinners and the cleansing of lepers speaks of salvation and cleansing of sinners (like you and me) in Jesus. 
  • You will note that the cleansing was complete on 'the 8th day'. The 8th day in scripture speaks of resurrection and the new creation. Jesus was raised on the 8th day (Sunday) and it is His resurrection that enables us to have new life.  
  • The Leper (sinner) was cleansed through the sacrifice of a lamb (Jesus) which the Priest would wave this as an offering before the Lord.
  • There were two things applied to the leper to complete their cleansing - blood and oil, in that order. The blood came first and then the oil. Blood is obviously a type of Jesus' sacrifice. It speaks the blood Jesus shed to provide salvation. Oil is a type of the Holy Spirit as we have seen. This is the gift of God at the point of salvation.
  • Oil was sprinkled 7 times 'before the Lord' - A picture of the seven-fold perfect Spirit mentioned in Revelation and discussed in a previous study.
  • Oil was also placed on the guilt offering signifying that Jesus' sacrifice was consecrated and performed through the Spirit.
  • Both the blood and the oil were applied to the leper in the following locations: Right ear, right thumb and right foot. Any oil left over was placed on the head of the leper. Now as to the specific areas where the oil was applied, we'll come back to this in the application section below...

Now remember that God is placing a picture before us of redemption and sanctification. The leper (sinner) could be cleansed through the blood and afterwards would be anointed with oil (the Holy Spirit). Thus, in picture form, it shows that even the lowest of the low, even the outcasts of society, could receive the greatest of gifts - salvation and the Holy Spirit! Have you experienced that? Do you thank Him for it?

Anointing in the New Testament 

When you get to the New Testament we read about the spiritual reality of this 'anointing oil' for believers today. The words 'anoint, anointed, anointing' aren't used extensively for Christians in the New Testament but there are two or three clear references to the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have been 'anointed' with. 

2Co 1:21-22 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, (22) set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

The Greek word here translated 'anointed 'is 'chrio' which speaks of the practice of anointing found throughout the biblical record. It speaks 'of Christians as anointed or consecrated, set apart to the service and ministry of Christ and His gospel by the gift of the Holy Spirit.' (The Complete Word Study Dictionary).

1Jn 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.

The Greek word here for anointed is 'Chrisma'. The Complete Word Study Dictionary says of this word: "The allusion is to the anointing and consecration of kings and priests (Exo 28:41; 1Sa 10:1)... The word seems chosen on the one hand, to give prominence to what the readers had experienced, and on the other hand, by referring to the OT practice, and especially to Christ, to remind them of their calling and mark (1Pet 2:5, 1Pet 2:9)."

This brings us to a warning - In some Christian circles today we hear a lot about the 'anointing' - especially from some prominent Televangelists and the like over the last 40 years. Unfortunately not all that glistens is gold as the saying goes, so as a Christian it is all the more important to be discerning in what you are listening to and consuming. There has been a lot said and done under the guise of 'the anointing' that is simply, and often quite obviously, the flesh. It has left many Christians rightfully weary and should be completely avoided. I say that as someone who believes that all of the gifts of the Spirit are available and used today.5 Someone truly anointed and used by God through the unction of the Holy Spirit is a beautiful thing. But be discerning! Always remember that the Holy Spirit is Holy and He is the Spirit of Truth. Holiness and truth will always be prominent when the Spirit works.

The two-fold warning around use of the anointing oil

As a related issue, it is interesting that the God gave specific details, and some warnings, in the making and use of the Anointing Oil in the Old Testament. There was a specific anointing oil that consecrated the Priests (later Kings too) and everything placed within the tabernacle and temple. God lays this all out in Exodus 30:22-33 and it is a very specific recipe that He gives. We won't go through the details of this formula but I'd like to point out a two-fold warning God gave surrounding this anointing oil because it has a direct application with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Again, I encourage you to read the whole passage and consider the passage. 

Exo 30:32-33 It shall not be poured on man's flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.' "

  • This anointing oil cannot be poured out on man's flesh - As a picture this shows that the Holy Spirit won't dwell with those still in 'the flesh' or an outsider. That is, unbelievers. But He also won't bless believer's 'works that are still of the flesh'. For example when we are promoting ourselves and stroking our own ego's... or causing divisions in the body... or using worldly efforts to bring about spiritual growth... None of this is of the Spirit and He won't bless any of it.
  • Nor shall you make any like it, according to its composition - In other words, don't try to make something like, but not the same as, this recipe, and use it yourself. Do that and you would be cut off from the Israelite people. As a picture this tells us that we are not to try counterfeit the true work and gifts of the Holy Spirit with something that is not the real thing. Think about Church history for a moment. Think about a lot of what passes as the Holy Spirit today. This is a very serious passage and warning. The reality is that there is so much worldliness and hype and fleshly imitation in the Church of God that is said to be 'the work of the Holy Spirit' or 'the anointing' where in reality it is fleshly men and women using ego, entertainment, persuasive speech/personalities, and smoke and mirrors to counterfeit the real thing. To be honest in makes me sad just thinking about it.         

Conclusion and Application

Ok... so as we conclude let's just back the bus up a little to think of the application of this message. We've seen that the first mention of oil in the Bible comes with Jacob anointing a stone - a picture of the anointing of the real Stone of Israel, the Messiah Jesus! But oil was also put upon the cleansed lepers as well. This, in typology, speaks of the cleansed and redeemed sinner... the lowest like you and I who are set free! As we conclude with an application, can you remember where God told the Priests to anoint the cleansed lepers with oil in the Leviticus passage we looked at? For those with a memory like mine, here it is again:

Lev 14:17-18 "Of the remaining oil which is in his palm, the priest shall put some on the right ear lobe of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot... while the rest of the oil that is in the priest's palm, he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed.

The oil went on the ear, the hand, the foot and on the head. And if you have two of them (which generally excludes the head for most of us) then it is on the right side, not the left.6 What was God showing here and what is the application? The anointing of God's Spirit would be upon these particular areas and for good reason. The ear (for hearing God's voice), the hand (for doing His work), the foot (for walking in His ways) and the mind (for renewal and His thoughts). Now, we could elaborate on each of these but I think it would be a familiar case of just too many points!7 

So I want to only emphasize one - which the first to have oil put on it. Remember? It's that odd shaped thing stuck on the side of your head. Your ear! I feel this is really important and is placed first for a reason because it speaks of hearing what the Spirit has to say. Everything starts there. Listening to God's voice is so important in any day but even more so in these days I believe. Remember - every single message to the Churches in Revelation end with this same command: 

Rev 2:7 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

He was an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says. That is the oil upon the ear. If you are a believer then you are part of God's sheep and God's sheep hear His voice. And like I've said before, this is critical in these times. As you pray, what is the still small voice of the Spirit saying? As you read His word, what is God placing on your heart? If your heart is worried, maybe He is saying 'Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in Me'. Maybe He is saying share the good news about what I have done. Maybe He is saying forgive that person that hurt you. Our time alone with the Lord is critical. Remember - the oil was first placed upon the ear of the cleansed leper/sinner.  

He was an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says.

  1. For those of you who want more scriptures and details here is a good summary from Easton's Bible Dictionary:

    "Only olive oil seems to have been used among the Hebrews. It was used for many purposes: for anointing the body or the hair (Exo 29:7; 2Sa 14:2; Psa 23:5; Psa 92:10; Psa 104:15; Luk 7:46); in some of the offerings (Exo 29:40; Lev 7:12; Num 6:15; Num 15:4), but was excluded from the sin-offering (Lev 5:11) and the jealousy-offering (Num 5:15); for burning in lamps (Exo 25:6; Exo 27:20; Mat 25:3); for medicinal purposes (Isa 1:6; Luk 10:34; Jam 5:14); and for anointing the dead (Mat 26:12; Luk 23:56). It was one of the most valuable products of the country (Deu 32:13; Eze 16:13), and formed an article of extensive commerce with Tyre (Eze 27:17). The use of it was a sign of gladness (Psa 92:10; Isa 61:3), and its omission a token of sorrow (2Sa 14:2; Mat 6:17). It was very abundant in Galilee."
    Easton's Bible Dictionary

  2. This statement is a good one to remember when things seem unsure around you. If you are a believer God is with you... even, like Jacob, if you do not know or sense it. Remember that and come to the same startling realisation that Jacob did - You are not alone. God is in this!

  3. Jesus, the Messiah, is also the true 'house of God' and He is the 'stairway to heaven' - the bridge between heaven and earth. This is why He alluded to this dream of Jacob's and applied it to Himself when speaking to Nathanael:

    Joh 1:51 And He (Jesus) said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

  4. These thoughts are not knew and others have seen and written on this before obviously. For example Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who has been called America's greatest theologian, spoke about the anointing of this stone, writing: 

    This anointed pillar is a type of the Messiah, or anointed, who is often called a stone or a rock, and is the house of God wherein the Godhead dwells and tabernacles….This is the stone that was Jacob’s pillow, to signify the dependence the saints have upon Christ, and that ’tis in him they find rest and repose, as Christ invites those that are weary to come to him, and they shall have rest [Matt. 11:28]…This stone signified the same with the altar that he built there when he returned (Gen. 35:7), and the pillar that he set up and poured a drink offering and oil upon it (v. 14).

  5. We will likely touch on the gifts of the Spirit in the next study and the light and teaching from the Holy Spirit (the anointing spoken of in 1 John 2:27) in the one after that.

  6. There is too much about Right vs Left (argh Biblically, not politically) to go into here but if interested here is a good Biblical survey of it:

  7. In a little more detail, with some scriptures for those interested, the oil was placed on the leper (sinner) in the following areas:

    • The ear - The anointing of the ear speaks of hearing what the Spirit has to say. Believer's should hear the voice of their Lord (John 10:3-4, 16, 27) and this comes through the Holy Spirit. Is your ear open? As Revelation repeatedly says Rev 2:7 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' If you are a believer your ear has been anointed to hear. Are you listening? Do you talk to your Lord and expect a reply? Do you set aside time to listen to what the Spirit is saying? 
    • The hand - The speaks of our work in the Lord. That has been anointed by God's Spirit. And, as scripture says (and even more so for the Lord) Ecc 9:10 'Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.'
      Act 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." - And God will have something for you as well. Are you doing what God has placed upon your heart?
    • The foot - The oil on the foot speaks of our walk. It is walking in God's ways. It is walking in the Spirit.
      Gal 5:16 'But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.'
    • The head - This speaks of our mind. We no longer think like we used to but have our mind renewed by what God says.
      Rom 8:6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
      Eph 4:23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.