‘Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.’ Exodus 27:20
On some days it is raining, the sky is grey, and at first glance, nature seems to have taken on a black mood, almost as if it has finally heard the news about coronavirus. The interiors of our houses are darker as the sun no longer sends its golden light, and it is easier to sink into a sense of listlessness brought on by the changes. But take a look out of a window and you will see plants and trees everywhere rejoicing in the blessing of rain. Silently, and in the darkness of that wonderful substance called soil, roots are hard at work utilising the fresh water soaking downwards to dissolve and draw minerals up through the stem, along branches and twigs and into the leaves, providing structure and strength for them ready for when the sun finally does reappear. For them, such a day is another day of provision and opportunity.
Another crop that the Israelites of the Bible prized greatly was that of olives, and therefore, olive oil. Like grapes, each family aspired to their own olive tree, but once again this was not always possible, hence the proliferation of groves of trees such as the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1).
As you can see from our picture, mature olive trees are not the most attractive in nature’s repertoire! This is because they can live for centuries; the oldest known olive tree is about 2000 years old – in other words it was a seedling when Jesus walked the earth! New trees were usually created by inserting a graft from a cultivated tree into a wild root stock. Paul picks up on this by saying that we, as Christians, are like a branch that has been grafted onto the roots of the Jewish faith in Romans 11:17-21.
Fruit from mature trees (it takes 15 years for a young tree to begin fruiting) is picked in autumn. The oil was extracted by pressing the fruit (like apples for cider) and then squeezing the resulting pulp. It was used in food (Ezek 16:13) and as fuel for lamps, both ordinary and religious, as our verse above shows, where only the very best oil was pressed to keep the seven-branched lampstand alight in the tabernacle. This signified the presence of the Spirit of God, so it was vital that it never went out.
Perhaps the most precious use of the oil was to anoint holy things and people. Prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Leviticus 8:12) and kings (1 Samuel 16:13) were all anointed with oil to show that they were separated, or consecrated, for God’s service. The oil symbolised the Holy Spirit being poured out over them, and there is a lovely picture of this in Psalm 133:2 where it also speaks of the unity of God’s people. What is even more amazing is that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38), and that He anoints us too (2 Corinthians 1:21-22), because He does not expect us to live as His witnesses in our own power, but by the enabling of His very own Spirit in our lives. Do you struggle to see this truth in your own life? Ask God to pour out His Spirit on your life afresh, and then see in your mind the oil flowing onto your head and down your face. It is not (usually) a dramatic experience but a gentle one, and a very natural one.