Sometimes, when you’re poking around in the Bible, you find some pretty interesting stuff. Sometimes, it’s downright amazing.
The Bible mentions anointing with oil over 50 times. And, as with everything in the Bible, the use is consistent. Anointing with oil marks someone or something as consecrated or “set apart” for God. To me, it’s synonymous with a lavish outpouring of love which marks someone or something as God’s own. Olive oil is not a cheap oil now, nor was it in Biblical times. It takes over 40 pounds of olives to make a gallon of olive oil. (Anointing oil is always olive oil.)
God even went so far as to give Moses a recipe for a special anointing oil for the temple:
The LORD said to Moses, “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. (Exodus 30:22-32 ESV)
In Psalm 23:5 we read:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
So, when confronted with enemies all around and even walking through the valley of the shadow of death, our God, the creator of the entire universe, marks us as His own with a lavish outpouring of love.
Then, there’s the verse in James 5:14:
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.
Now, to be clear, the oil in the verse is not a magic potion that heals disease. It’s the mark of a lavish outpouring of God’s love and protection. Just as the anointing oil in the Exodus verse marked the temple as holy and set apart for God, so too is the oil in the verse in James. Scripture tells us our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, so the anointing with oil in James anoints a temple in the same way the oil in Exodus does. It means we belong to God.
We also know the word “Christ” means “The Anointed One.” Anointing was done to mark priests and kings. God was very clear in the Exodus verse that the oil was only to be used for the temple and its priests. Christ is our High Priest and King of Kings.
Now, the part that got really interesting to me was when I became curious as to what this oil would smell like.
Obviously, we all know what cinnamon smells like, so it’s not hard to imagine that. Cassia also smells like cinnamon. In fact, what you have in your cupboard is probably not true cinnamon--it’s probably cassia. The two are so close in flavor and aroma that the FDA allows cassia to be labeled as cinnamon in this country.
Sweet-smelling cane—hmmm—must smell sweet. And as for myrrh, I found it’s made from the resin of a thorny shrub and it smells a lot like a balsam tree.
So, what would the smell of cinnamon, sugar, and evergreen make you think of?
I was astonished to realize that the special, holy, anointing oil God described to Moses over 3500 years ago would probably smell a lot like CHRISTMAS!
That’s right—Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of The Anointed One!
Given that evergreens weren’t even used in Christmas celebrations until about 1400 years after Jesus died on the cross and rose again, isn’t it amazing that the recipe in Exodus would smell like Christmas in our time? Do you think its coincidence or is it God smiling at us in a lavish outpouring of love across three and a half millennium?
But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
(Hebrews 1:8-9 ESV)