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Article: In the Bible, why is anointing oil an important part of the worship process?

In the Bible, why is anointing oil an important part of the worship process?

In the Bible, why is anointing oil an important part of the worship process?

It is common in the Bible to see the anointing of oil as an imperative practice, especially in the Old Testament. Psalm 23, one of the most quoted chapters of Scripture, includes the phrase "You anointed my head with oil.”

It is often the case that certain symbolic elements within the Bible have been lost in our culture. This is because of the changes in customs and practices that have taken place since the Bible was written.

In the Old Testament, why does pouring oil over someone's head have symbolic significance? Does this practice exist in other ancient cultures as well? In what ways does this matter to us today?

Symbolism of oil in the Old Testament

From the Old Testament, olive oil (or anointing oil) seems primarily to have been used for religious purposes. 

This "holy" oil would not only be poured on the head of a high priest, but also sprinkled on the furnishings of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:6), a transportable temple for God's people until a permanent temple was constructed during Solomon's reign. 

Esther 2:12 describes the use of olive oil during the process of beautification. 

Esther, along with other eligible ladies, cleansed themselves with myrrh and oil for six months (and another six months with perfume and cosmetics).

According to this Bible Study Tools article, oil was often a symbol of prosperity, blessings, and stability, as opposed to other periods in Israel's history when the harvest was scarce and famine had swept the land (Joel 1:10). 

The oil had sanctifying (cleansing) properties. A person who pours oil on someone or something has set aside that object as a blessed object of God.

Therefore, this explains why people throughout the Old Testament anointed people and inanimate objects (Genesis 28:18).

Anointing kings' heads was a common practice in Israel. Samuel decided to anoint the lowest of Jesse's sons, David (1 Samuel 16), which would have surprised the family. They wouldn't have thought, "Oh, he's giving David's head a nice oil bath." They would've comprehended Samuel's actions. Jesse's youngest son had been chosen by God as the next king of Israel.

Symbolism of oil in the New Testament

In the New Testament, oil is used for anointing.

When fasting, Jesus instructed his followers to anoint themselves with oil (Matthew 6:17). As part of the healing process, oil was poured on the sick (Mark 6:13).

The practice of anointing with oil doesn't appear to extend much beyond the Gospels, making some Christians wonder if it should still be practiced today. Is it still necessary to anoint with oil?

Although this article offers compelling reasons for why Christians should still use this practice, believers should keep in mind that not all Christians hold this view. Consider asking your pastor about their particular stance on this practice, reading the Scriptures, and exercising discernment.

You should listen with respect and gentleness to those with opposing viewpoints, regardless of your position on the practice of anointing with oil. 

Symbolism of oil throughout the Bible

Oil in the Bible has symbolism beyond anointing. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Israelites used oil for several purposes.

Oil was used to light lamps (Matthew 25), as a lotion for skin and hair, and as a medicine.

Oil symbolism was associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit. During anointing, the Holy Spirit descends upon the individual.

As a result, the Bible means "anointed" by the Holy Spirit when Jesus is called "anointed". 

By consecrating and sanctifying something with oil, one sets it apart for God's use. According to the Bible, oil was also used to anoint corpses and refresh bodies. 

Anointing in Other Cultures

In Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, oil is used to anoint the heads of guests.

A typical feature of Dark Age Greek culture (and the culture of the Mycenaean civilization that preceded it) was to provide guests with a bath, oil for their heads, fresh clothes, a meal, and a place to stay.

Around the time of David and other kings of Israel, the Greek Dark Ages lasted from 1200-800 BC. It is consistent with the practice of using oil in the Old Testament and by other nations. 

What is the meaning of anointing? The religious connotations didn't seem to be as strong, did they?

As with other nations, the Israelites used oil for common purposes (Ruth 3:3). Oil was probably used by surrounding nations for its cleansing and medicinal properties during Old Testament times. 

Oil was used for commonplace and religious purposes in Ancient Egypt, Australia, Arabia, Greece, and throughout the Middle Ages.

What is the significance of anointing today?

Christian practice of anointing oil matters for several reasons, regardless of whether we think Christians should still practice it today.

In order to foreshadow the Holy Spirit's work, God used an extremely significant cultural symbol. Even though the Israelites consecrated priests and holy objects for God's work, that was only the beginning.

Saints are consecrated by the Holy Spirit; they are anointed by Him. We are set apart for God's work by Him. 

Through the multiple uses of oil, we can also see God's provision in action. We can also see how God uses us in multiple ways. There are times when He will ordain ordinary tasks, such as our day-to-day duties at work.

He may also give us spiritual gifts to be used as a light to unbelievers and to encourage other believers. 

The word "anointed" and its association with Jesus illustrate the importance of oil. Priests and kings were anointed with oil for various reasons. The same is true of Jesus, who is our High Priest and our King.

As a result of this practice, God's work through his Son was foreshadowed in Israel and throughout the ancient world. 

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