Let your garments always be white, And let your head lack no oil. (Ecclesiastes 9:8)
Sometimes, the most simple phrases can be so amazingly profound. The book of Ecclesiastes contains many of these. As I read the Word very early this morning, today’s verse caught my attention, and I felt so strongly that God was speaking to us on a wonderful truth that He has already given us the grace to walk with Him daily – not to strive or struggle in it, but simply to walk in faith and assurance. That grace is released through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and our verse provides us with these two simple principles to guide us and empower us.
Purity and the appointing and anointing of God work together.
The first phrase concerns what we wear. In the Bible, of course, garments are portrayed as symbolic of different things which draws attention to the fact that our clothing will offen be a yardstick by which we are measured by the world. Think, for example, of dirty, tattered clothing. The immediate perception may be that of a begger or homeless, and may subconsonsciously extend to include other negatives like dishonesty, untrustworthy, even violent. The person wearing the clothes may be a policeman working under cover. They may be a person with a doctorate who fell on hard times, or even a serviceman who has suffered a breakdown as a result of the trauma of war.
None of these realities – the actual, real, inividual person under the clothing – is immediately apparent and may never be revealed to ninety percent of us. They ‘become what we see.’ This is, obviously, a physical or material example – we see withour eyes and interpret and judge based on emotions, prejudices and preconceived expectations, but it happens on a physical level. The principle, however, applies just as powerfully on a spiritual level. We judge ourselves and one another by the fruits – what we see. This may be physical manifestation, such as good works or faithful acts of service, but it is also entirely spiritual.
Consider ‘grace’ as a quick example. We may have a lady who dresses plainly and poorly, yet she is always neat and clean and doesn’t seem to be fazed by the fact that she stands out as one of the ‘less fortunate.’ But this lady has something unique that draws others to her. She seems to have a gift for being in the right place at the right times. She has gentleness and compassion, and a quiet wisdom that touches the heart without being brash or arrogant. This lady has something we cannot physically see or define. She wears grace, and we cannot miss it.
It’s clear then that what we ‘wear’ will define who and what we are, both physically and spiritually.But there is a far deeper level of spiritual symbolism in these words that we need to look at. We are instructed to always ensure that our garments are white, and immediately, the word that comest to mind is purity. We are to wear purity – or righteousness – at all times. Of course, the phrase that comes to mind here is the robe of righteousness which Christ Himself brings to us and with which our sins are ‘covered over’ and this is entirely correct. This in turn looks forward to Revelation, where we see the saints, the angels, the entire host of heaven, clothed in white raiment, symbolising their purity before God.
But there’s a very interesting symbolism that touches the Levitical priesthood that adds additional depth and richness. The entire tabernacle/temple worship makes for fascinating study, but one particular requirement has relevance for today’s message. Briefly, the priest had two sets of garments. The first was the ‘golden garments,’ so named because they were white but contained traces of gold detail. These were the ones worn in daily temple service which included times of sacrifice, etc. On the one day in the year that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, however, he was required to wear robes of pure white linen only.
The reason is obvious – having completed the sacrifices required for the sins of both himself and the people, the high priest had to wash and put on the ‘robes of righetousness’ that represented the purity that God requires from us if we are to enter His presence. Our linen garments are, of course, Jesus Himself. In coming into the presence of God we are to first ‘put on’ Christ. But today’s verse takes this one step further. We are, in fact, instructed to make sure that we ‘wear Jesus’ always. In other words, when the world looks at us they should see – as God does – only Christ.
In very simple terms, purity requires an attitude of humily and repentence. It doesn’t mean we never sin. It means a willingness to judge ourselves, to be quick to repent and to cover ourselves with the perfect sacrifice – the blood of Christ given for that purpose. This prinicple is wonderfully illustrated in what follows.
The second part of the verse brings in the central biblical motif of anointing. In the Old Testament, kings, priest, and prophets were appointed and anointed by God. The anointing was the outward manifestation of the appointing. This was done physically with oil, but in some instances God also did this through the Holy Spirit – hence the verses that refer to ‘the Spirit of God came upon…’ In the New Testament, it is the Spirit alone that imparts God’s anointing through baptism in the Spirit and infilling by the Spirit. The anointing always references our calling and position in Christ.
The first obvious reference here is to the ‘royal priesthood’ of believers. Our anointing, first and foremost, defines us and sets us apart as heirs of the King of Heaven. The second significance is that we are separated as priests and prophets, our lives intended for the worship and service of God. These two aspects always define the calling and position of every believer in Christ – that to which every single one of us is appointed. The anointing of the Spirit is what confirms, empowers and enables the appointing.
The last and very significant symbolism is the fact that both appointing and anointing come only from from God. In receiving the anointing, for example, the king acknowledged that he was appointed by God and he was answerable only to God. This is a critical requirement of the anointing. To be appointed means that ‘the boss’ decides we are the right person for the job, and we do it in his authority. Even the world works that way. It’s a very simple premise but easily overlooked. Accepting both the appointing and anointing, we are, in effect, saying God is soverign and we are committed only to doing His work in whatever position we are called to fill.
I rather like the little word ‘lack’ in this last part of today’s verse. It speaks of the exact antithesis of oil – which always symbolises richness, prosperity, abundance and frutifulness. We’re told here to make sure we never lack oil. We should, firstly, make sure that we obey the injuction ‘be ye continually filled.’ Remember, it’s the anointing that empowers and enables the appointing. Without it, we fall into relying on self. This brings us to the second aspect – insufficient oil means insufficient authority. We’re not only out of oil – power, strength, wisdom, grace – but we’re effectively out of the sovereign will of God. He may have appointed us, but He requires us to continue in the specific anointing that brings His authority to the position.
What an incredibly powerful – and encouraging – little verse this is. It is, on a very simple level, telling us to stay pure and stay connected. That is the wisdom for our daily walk, and it’s the power for our daily work.
Your grace, Lord, touches our hearts and draws us closer to You. Thank You for Your patience in teaching us these things, and forgive us for the times we may have blundered on in our own strength, doing what we thought ws required. Help us to walk always in the righteousness of Your Son and in the anointing of Your Spirit, so that Your soverign will is done in all things.