“You anoint my head with oil…” (Psalm 23:5)
In ancient Israel, oil had numerous uses besides the cooking of food. God commanded Moses to prepare “a holy anointing oil, a scented blend, the work of a perfumer” for use in the sanctuary and for the anointing of priests and kings. The holy mixture contained liquid myrrh, fragrant cinnamon, sweet cane, cassia, and olive oil; it was not to be used for ordinary purposes or on ordinary people, only on holy objects and for consecration of people chosen for a unique service. “Consecrate them and they will be especially holy. Whatever touches them will be consecrated” (Exodus 30:22-33 HCSB).
David writes of the Lord anointing us with oil, and this implies an impartation of Holy Spirit, accompanied by special blessings upon the soul that willingly follows the Heavenly Shepherd.
An abundance of oil pointed to prosperity – groves laden with olives, bountiful harvests and the favour of God – as opposed to a state of want and poverty. While we were outside the flock of God, we had no assurance of any spiritual blessing or power. But, now that we have been brought into His flock, the season of plenty has begun for us. Mercy overflowing, forgiveness, love, kindness, peace and companionship are poured over our lives; and we only need to stay in position to receive these divine streams. Sadly, we often grow restless, being unaccustomed to remaining still in the presence of God. Much of our efforts in the spiritual dimension should be directed to achieving stillness and quietness within our souls, in order to embrace this flow.
The anointing produces a profound difference in the way we operate in this world. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38 NIV). Let us briefly examine the effects of the oil that our Shepherd has prepared for our anointing –
Holiness: Jehovah M’Kaddesh means “I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:8 ESV). The access into the very presence of God (as priests) and the authority to rule (as kings) becomes possible because of the preceding sanctification by the Holy Spirit. So, the anointing by oil symbolises the sanctification process. “…I the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy” (Leviticus 21:8 NKJV). By living in holiness, we share the very nature of God who is holy (Leviticus 11:44 ESV), set apart and separate from evil.
Healing: Some oils have medicinal properties. The Good Samaritan poured oil on the wounds of the wayfarer, attacked by a band of robbers, and this oil had effects similar to a modern antiseptic, restricting the spread of infective agents, and promoting the healing process. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:14-16 ESV). The Shepherd has made provision for the healing of our bodies and souls, through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Light: Day and night, lamps with wicks soaked in oil lit up the holy sanctuary. I once saw the picture of a huge granite lampstand in an ancient church in India. It had circular dishes holding oil, and the plates widened from the top to the base in a graduated manner. From hundreds of lips around the rims of these stone plates, flickered tiny wicks of light, rendering the night as bright as day. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). So the light we carry overcomes all darkness, and is itself never extinguished.
Fragrance of life: Fragrant oils were used as perfumes, and guests were welcomed by anointing their heads with such oils. As the fragrance filled the air, guests were cloaked with the warmth and dignity of the occasion. Living in Christ we carry the aroma of His presence, and people are sensitive to this at a spiritual level, some are drawn to its sweet fragrance, while others become deeply uncomfortable and draw away. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV).
Access: The High Priest, after he had been consecrated by the anointing of oil, had access to the Most Holy Place in the sanctuary, where the ordinary Israelite was forbidden to enter. Where sin had formerly been the barrier, he was now freed from its power to bar entrance into presence of the holy God, and made worthy to offer prayers on behalf of other Israelites, and to teach them the ordinances of God.
Authority: The king, on being anointed with oil, received special authority to rule over his subjects, and power to defeat his enemies. He was made worthy of special honour among men, and they were expected to obey his commands, as long as these commands did not contradict the laws of God.
Joy and praise: Our Shepherd Himself was anointed for His special role as our King Messiah. His service was to proclaim by His life, death and resurrection, freedom and restoration to those under the captivity of sin, healing for the broken-hearted, comfort and joy for those in mourning, to clothe the fainthearted with a garment of praise, and to make us oaks of righteousness to display His splendour (Isaiah 61:1-4).
Anointing by oil, therefore, symbolises the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the yielded life – and this produces a deep inward change in the recipient’s attitude and conduct. He or she will no longer speak or act as they did before. “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34 NASB).
The Father is willing to pour the Spirit without limit, but we ought to prepare ourselves to receive the flow. To become a conduit of His blessing, we should present ourselves before Him in an attitude of humility and expectancy, having repented of all known sin. A deep desire – to go out into this world, not empty handed, but carrying and imparting this blessing – is necessary, for then we will wait upon Him for this gift without growing weary or impatient. When we study the parable of the ten virgins, we find that only five of them were careful to bring along oil for their lamps. This is a warning to us that we should not go unprepared, but keep ourselves ready and available to receive the impartation of the Holy Spirit.
As recipients of this divine unction, we become bearers of the holiness, healing, fragrance, gladness, power and authority that comes from Jesus Christ. The oil is poured on us to enable us to perform our different roles, and not for self-gratification. And all creation – both in the earthly and heavenly realms – will respond to the transformation in a Christian in much the same way they responded to Christ while He walked on earth, either receiving Him with joy (as the disciples or the family of Cornelius did), rejecting Him (as many of the Pharisees did), or submitting to Him (as the demons did).
Father, thank You for Your promise to give us the Holy Spirit without limit. Forgive us for the times we have grown impatient or lost the desire to be filled with Your Holy Spirit. Now we humbly confess our sins, ask You for this blessing, so that we may go out and serve others. In Jesus’ name.