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Anointing (1)

H A Barnes, Bromborough


In a hot, dry climate such as that found in the Middle East, anointing one’s hair and head with olive oil was as much a part of everyday life in Bible times as was washing (Deut 28.40; Ruth 3.3; 2 Sam 12.20; Ps 104.15), and a typical blessing was, "Let thy head lack no ointment" (Eccl 9.8). Anointing rendered the skin soft, smooth, shining, and supple since it stopped excessive moisture loss. Only the very poor did not anoint themselves (2 Chr 28.15), and to purposely forgo such anointing was seen as an act of deliberate self-neglect demonstrating deep emotion, as for instance at a time of mourning for the dead (Dan 10.3; 2 Sam 12.20; 14.2, Is 61.3; Mic 6.15), while re-commencement of anointing marked the end of mourning (2 Sam 12.23; Dan 10.3). On the other hand, at special times of joy and celebration, fresh oil was used to mark the occasion (Ps 92.10; Amos 6.6), when it was noted that "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart" (Prov 27.9). To be anointed by one’s host was a mark of respect (Ps 23.5), and its neglect was taken as a great dishonour (Lk 7.38,46). Tending a wounded person also involved anointing with oil (see Is 1.6; Ezek 16.9; Lk 10.34).

However, the act of anointing was also invested with a greater significance, demonstrating, as it did, the divine and public declaration of choice, sanctification, consecration and empowerment of prophets, priests and kings. This act of anointing, smearing or pouring on of the special oil or ointment, was also used for inanimate objects in order to set them apart, so that, for instance, such sanctified vessels were exclusively for divine service. The perfumed oil used for this purpose was itself special and carefully prepared (Ex 25.6; 30.22-32; 35.8) and was not for common, everyday use. (The word ointment in the Authorised Version described any oil-based substance with added perfume and spices, which could make it very expensive (Mk 14.5; Jn 12.5.) Unlike our modern idea of an ointment, these ointments flowed readily (Ps 133.2).

Inanimate objects

The very first special anointing recorded in the Bible is of the simple stone pillar which Jacob had set up to sanctify the place where he had met with God (Gen 28.18; 31.13; 35.14). He appears to have used the ordinary oil that he was carrying with him. Later, when instructions were given for the preparation and functioning of the tabernacle, all the structure and its contents were to be anointed by Moses (Ex 30.26; 40.9; Lev 8.10). Special mention was made of anointing the altar and all its vessels (Ex 29.36; Lev 8.11; Ex 40.10); the ark (Ex 30.26); the laver and its foot (Ex 40.11; Lev 8.11); and the unleavened wafers (Ex 29.2; Lev 2.4; 7.12; Num 6.15). The dedication of the brazen altar was a special event marked by anointing it, and it was a day of great sacrificing and the presentation of many gifts for divine service (see Num 7.10,84,88). Some of the sacrifices also had oil poured on them, such as the meal offering of fine flour (Lev 2.1,6). The priests’ garments were also anointed in order to be consecrated (Ex 29.29).

The holy oil for the work of the tabernacle (and for later special purposes such as anointing kings) had to be prepared to the highest specifications and with the best ingredients which were precisely identified by God (Ex 25.6; 35.8). It was to be manufactured with the greatest care, "after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil" (Ex 30.22-32), as a concentrated mixture of pure myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, and cassia, made up in a base of oil olive. (The finest oil was from olives that were plucked before being fully ripe, and then beaten or squeezed.) Its preparation was to be carried out to the same high standard as the rest of the tabernacle (Ex 31.11; 35.8), and originally it was the personal responsibility of Eleazar, Aaron’s son (Num 4.16). Having been made up, it had to be used only for these holy purposes, and was not to be imitated (Ex 30.32,33).

Aaronic priests

The first special anointing of a person mentioned in the Old Testament was with reference to Aaron the high priest. According to the divine instructions (Ex 29.7), Moses "poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him, to sanctify him" (Lev 8.12), as later described in Psalm 133.2 – "…the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments". This described the sanctifying purpose of the anointing. The same kind of anointing was also carried out on Aaron’s sons, the priests (Ex 28.41; Lev 8.30). It was necessary for their service: "And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office" (Ex 30.30; 40.13); "for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him" (Lev 21.12, JND).

This anointing of priests was to go on throughout the history of Israel, "for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Ex 40.15). See Leviticus 6.22, where we read about "…the priest of his sons that is anointed in his stead", and see Numbers 35.25 and 1 Chronicles 29.22 for the anointing of the high priests. There was a special offering associated with the priests’ anointing: a "tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a meat offering perpetual, half of it in the morning, and half thereof at night" (Lev 6.20). There was also a special portion of the offerings for Aaron and his sons: "This is the portion of the anointing of Aaron, and of the anointing of his sons, out of the offerings of the Lord made by fire" (Lev 7.35), and this was promised for ever, "by a statute for ever throughout their generations" (Lev 7.36).

The priests were always linked thereafter with their initial anointing, even when they sinned, so, "If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering" (Lev 4.3-5). Then in their service the priest’s anointing is remembered – "And ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you" (Lev 10.7). In very specific terms they were told by the Lord that "I also have given thee the charge of mine heave offerings of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel; unto thee have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to thy sons, by an ordinance for ever" (Num 18.8). Even the priest’s holy garments — the linen clothes — were connected with his anointing (Lev 16.32), and, "he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes" (Lev 21.10). These sanctified garments were passed on to the next generation (Ex 29.29).

To be continued.


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