And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil. (Exodus 30:25)
We can never tire of reading the Bible. There is always something in the next chapter, the next book, the next story. When we return to read a passage again – even a familiar one – there is something more, something we overlooked in previous readings. This is the Holy Spirit at work, both in us and in the living Word, to guide, to teach and to bring us into a deeper knowledge and understanding of God. One of the most fascinating parts of this journey into the knowledge of God is the fact that he is so clearly revealed as the God of the details – and every single detail He reveals to us points to Christ. I was drawn into looking more carefully at the oil of anointing, and discovered a wonderful portrait of Jesus and our lives in Him.
Before we dig deeper, it’s important to remember that the oil was put in place by God, and with the specific purpose of preparing those He had appointed to His service. In the Old Testament, kings were anointed, and the tabernacle and later the temple priests were required to be anointed also. It was a confirmation of God’s calling and an empowerment to fulfill it and symbolised the unction of the Holy Spirit. But it is also the type of the New Testament infilling of the Holy Spirit. The principles remain the same, but the Spirt now dwells in us, not on us.
The details of the oil vividly capture the nature and ultimate purpose of Christ and add a wonderful, rich truth to our understanding of this important symbol. Everything in the Bible points first and last to Christ, who came as the revelation of the Father. Jesus is the living Word. If we don’t find something of Him in everything we read, then we need to go back and look again. Nothing should ever be looked at outside the context of the cross, and this includes the Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus had to leave physically in order that He could be manifest spiritually through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Jesus is the context of every Word of God.
In fact, Jesus is the New Testament Holy Oil Of Anointing.
The base or main component of the oil of anointing is olive oil, and God required that it be pure. To grasp this we need to understand what sets pure or virgin olive oil apart. Pure oil is obtained by cold press extraction, i.e. without using heat or solvents to increase the yield or nuetralise the taste. Obviously, the first fact that emerges is that it requires a lot more hard work. The process is also very telling. Oil could only be extracted by beating, squeezing, pressing or stomping. The entire process demanded that the olive was entirely destroyed in order to get at what was inside.
In my study on this, I was reminded – and this is just so wonderfully typical of God in the details – that Gethsemane actually means ‘oil press.’ The name was taken from an olive press situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives. We are immediately plunged into a vivid and poignant revelation of the agony in the garden, the first step in His journey to the cross. It is here that He enters the olive press. It is here that He willingly steps into the process of being utterly crushed and destroyed beyond recognition so that the sweet oil that is the source of life to all who believe could be released. It was cold pressed and pure, the yield of the hard way which alone could bring forth what was required.
The fist of the spices required was myrrh, the sap of a thorny tree found mainly in Arabian regions. While bitter to the taste, it had a fragrant perfume and was used as perfume, as a preservative, as a freshener, as a purifier, as a healing ointment, as an emblem of love, and as a salve for bruises. How clearly we can see Jesus here! What’s also significant is that the word ‘myrrh’ is taken from a word which meant to ‘wrap or cover up.’ Finally, it was referred to as ‘myrrh of freedom’ because the only proper way to extract it was to make a gash in the trunk of the tree, effectively creating a wound from which the sap flowed freely. It was a slow process, the ‘bleeding’ sap first creating tear-like shapes which hardened and then had to be collected.
Pure myrrh provides a beautiful picture of Christ – the wound in His side, His tears for mankind, the freedom in which all the benefits flowed from Him. Like Jesus, it has the fragrance that is pleasing to God, and it represents liberty, salvation, justification – all the things that He released to us on the cross. But it also speaks of worship, the sweet fragrance of sacrifice and the covering of His blood.
The second spice is sweet cinnamon – something different from the cinnamon we know. Both look similar, but have very a different taste and smell. The word ‘sweet’ refers primarily to its smell and essentially means ‘to burn with zeal’ or ‘to be hot with jealousy.’ A good example of its primarycontext would be that of the hen guarding her chickens. Remember Matthew 23:37? Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Again, extracting sweet cinnamon requires effort and a particular process, The young green tree has no pleasant fragrance. It must first be cut down, then allowed to die completely and dry out. Even then, only the inner rind of the tree provides this precious spice. The outer man, the things we see, all have to go. Even the Son of Man Himself had to die, to lay down the things of the flesh and endure the agony associated with it in order to release the spiritual life. What a startling reminder of the eternal truth that God is first concerned with what is on the inside, and even His Son had to die to provide what was required.
Calamus – often referred to as sweet calamus – is a kind of reed that usually grows in mire in Lebanon and which is easily bruised. Doesn’t that sound like a very good description of man? The word means ‘to create a power to recover or to stand upright.’ I immediately think of Peter teaching about how God provides the way for us to stand upright in temptation, but also of ‘the bruised reed He will not break.’ What is as interesting is that it is the root that is so highly prized, not the reed itself. The root is ground and the powder provides a sweet-smelling oil that causes healing and kills the root of the disease. It is associated with internal feelings such as caring, calming, compassion, mercy.
These things are the deep, inner heart of Jesus. They are the ‘down inside’ things that are the very nature of our Saviour-Redeemer. In all things, He was motivated by His fundamental ability to identify with the sins and sufferings of mankind. While so many of His acts of compassion had visible physical signs, we need only to look at Peter and Mary Magdalene to see His ‘inside’ work. Jesus is the root of our life. He buried himself so that He could provide the secure foundation and life-giving sap for all the bruised reeds who anchor themselves in Him.
Finally, cassia is obtained from the inner bark which is stripped from the tree and boiled. The word derives from a word meaning ‘to bow down’ or ‘to bend the body.’ Again, it is strongly aromatic, and gives us a wonderful picture of worship and total surrender. Cassia representeds Christ’s yieldedness to the will of God, to endure, to suffer, to die, to be destroyed, so that what God purposed for mankind could come to pass. It denotes the worship of a totally surrendered life rather than form or ritual. It epitomises total and willing sacrifice.
What is wonderully revealing is that God is very specific. I’m not all that clued up on the ‘perfumer’s art,’ but I have heard that sometimes, a single drop can alter the essential nature of the perfume, depending on what it contains. It’s all about finding the pefect mix, the unique and subtle balance between the ingredients, and can sometimes be along process of trial and error and unexpected results. Back in the old days, the master perfumer could charge exhorbitant prices for his creations.
Our God is the exact opposite. For one thing, He knew the perfect ‘recipe.’ There was no a bit of this and a bit of that. Every measure was defined for every component of the oil of anointing, and absolutely nothing was left to chance. And He doesn’t charge a penny. In fact, He paid the price Himself. Believers today have an anointing that is composed of Christ Himself. Jesus is the holy oil of anointing. He is the oil, the myrrh, the sweet cinnamon, the sweet calamus and the cassia. He endured the pressing, breaking, crushing and destruction that released the precious oil we now have through the Spirit. From Gethsemane to the cross, He endured the press that would provide for our every need.
While the Holy Spirit releases the anointing, let us never forget that He in fact releases Christ in us. God commanded that the oil of anointing be pure and holy. It is only in Jesus that it could ever be what is required.
Sweet Saviour, how much more the word means to us in the light of this truth. You are the sweet fragrance of our worship, the sweet mercy of forgiveness, the sweet compassion for healing, the sweet grace of life. We can only bow down in worship and thanksgiving, marvelling at the wisdom and perfection of the eternal purpose of God. Sweet Saviour, You are, indeed, our all in all.