What is the significance of anointing oil?

Posted by Faithworks Editors on

Anointing oil is mentioned frequently throughout both the Old and New Testaments. And although there is nothing magical about anointing oil itself, applying it is a symbol of your faith in God and in His ability to cleanse and make things holy.

But why does that symbolic element matter, and isn’t anointing oil just something that church leaders need, you may ask.

Holy anointing oil in the Old Testament

Made of five specific ingredients (more on that later!), anointing oil was used to sanctify and set the anointed person or object apart as qodesh, or "holy” (Exodus 30:29).

Originally, the oil was used exclusively for the priests and for setting apart the articles in the Tabernacle, but its use was later extended to include kings (I Samuel 10:1).

King David himself was anointed with oil (1 Samuel 16) by the prophet Samuel when God chose him as Israel’s next king.

Oil represents the presence and power of the Holy Spirit

Oil was a familiar and important cultural symbol in the Old Testament times. But anointing oil was not merely a tool in a ceremony, it foreshadowed the work of the Holy Spirit that was to come in New Testament times.

As with all other spiritual tools, the real power comes from God. Simply put, anointing oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit coming upon us to heal, empower and bless.

Is anointing oil still applicable in modern times?

That question warrants a resounding yes! We still anoint and appoint people; we still pray for the sick.

Jesus and His disciples anointed and healed people on many occasions, Mark 6:13 being one of them “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.” 

In a very familiar passage in James 5:14, it says 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.

Is it just for leaders?

In the Old Testament, it was the priests and prophets who anointed people and things. But in the New Testament, there is an extension to that definition, as according to 1 Peter 2:9 we are all priests.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light… 1 Peter 2:9

Furthermore, we are all leaders in various capacities. If you’re a father, you’re the leader of your family. And if you head a department or business, you lead your co-workers. Remember that there is nothing mystical about anointing oil, it is a tool for you and a symbol of your faith in God; in whatever small or large leadership capacity you have, use the tool, even on yourself!

anointing oil

What other lessons does anointing oil hold for us?

In Exodus 30, the composition of anointing oil was given based on five specific ingredients –myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and olive oil. There are many anointing oils sold today which may not adhere strictly to the original recipe. They may, for example, include frankincense (another spice mentioned frequently in the bible).

But in looking at the ingredients that make up the anointing oil, it should be less about its specific accuracy than the lessons we can glean from the uniqueness of each individual spice. Taken together, it’s almost like a recipe to show us how to live an anointed life!

1. Myrrh was a bitter embalming fluid also used as a purifier and signifies a purified life and death to our old man (Rom 6:6). The number-one ingredient for an anointed life is meekness and submission to God's will. Myrrh was given to Jesus at His birth and death. He wouldn’t take the myrrh on the cross to dampen the pain. His love for us will pay the full price!

2. Cinnamon comes from a tree that grows remarkably straight. Christ Himself is The Upright One and a sweet aroma. (Song of Solomon 1:3) It is said that this cinnamon grew so straight it had no curves. An upright life is a sweet aroma to the Lord (2 Cor 2:14)

3. Sweet cane (Calamus) is a reed that grows in swamps. When it is dried and pulverised, Calamus yields a very fine aromatic smell. This speaks of a life bending low in humility. Humility is a sweet taste to the Lord. He dwells with the humble. (Isa 57:15)

4. Cassia produces a leaf that till today, is used for inner cleansing. Malachi 3:2 says, “He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.” The branches of the cassia herb retain moisture and must be planted in a swampy area near the banks of a river in order to survive. This signifies that we can’t survive without the Spirit. Cassia in the Hebrew language also means to bow down the head, signifying surrender and prayer.

5. Olive oil. The process required to get olive oil is intense, signifying that it’s costly to get the anointing oil! The parable of the virgins in Matt 25 tells us that the oil must be purchased. The “vehicle” by which the spices are carried in the oil. Holy Spirit makes Jesus real and through us diffuses His fragrance in every place!

So there you have it – a quick primer on anointing oil! We hope you’ve been blessed and if you’d like to pick a bottle of anointing oil, Faithworks stocks them here. They’re all olive oil-based, and for variety, incorporates one or more spices mentioned in the bible.  

Faithworks thanks Pastor Dian Botha from the Cornerstone Community Church for sharing his insights into this piece.

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