by: Richard C. Nickels
I never gave it much thought. For years, I have been missing a blessing from the Almighty. I should have known about it, because it is mentioned throughout the Bible. I had never purchased a bottle of olive oil until I had to recently. Letís look at what the Bible says about olive oil, and review the romantic history of this amazing golden oil.
On the way back from the Feast of Tabernacles, I chanced to read the September, 1999, issue of National Geographic, which contains the article, "Olive Oil, Elixir of the Gods." This opened my eyes to the wondrous benefits of olive oil. Until now, "oil" to me was just something that you put in salads, or fry foods with. Olive oil was something that the Church of God ministry carries around in a tiny vial to anoint the sick. How uninformed I was! I have missed so much of Godís blessing that He wants me to have.
It is said that olive cultivation began in the eastern Mediterranean some 6,000 years ago. Today, 99% of all olive oil comes from the rim of the Mediterranean, from Spain, Italy, Greece, and a few other countries. Olive trees are deep-rooted and tenacious, surviving for centuries. Spain is the largest olive oil producer in the world. In southern Spain, in the region of Andalusia, uniform rows of trees grow from ancient stocks first imported by the Phoenicians. Wherever the Phoenicians went, olive trees followed.
The entire olive is crushed, pit and all. The liquid is separated from the solids, and then the water from the oil. It takes about forty pounds of olives to produce a gallon of olive oil. There are many different types and flavors of olive oil. The best olive oil is "extra virgin," which means it has not been altered, is pressed only from mechanical extraction without being heated, has less than 1% acidity, and meets a series of exacting standards for flavor and aroma by professional tasters. Oils that fall short are termed "virgin olive oil," or just "olive oil," and are essentially bland oils that may have been refined by a chemical process with a little extra virgin oil added to enhance flavor and color. Many olive oils are blended to produce a brandís special taste and aroma.
Olive oil is burned for lamp light (Matthew 25:1-9), babies are washed with it, squeaky hinges are lubricated with it, cosmetics are based on it, diamonds polished with it, kings anointed with it. Olive oil preserves fish, cheese, and wine for years. Boiled, it is one of the more deadly weapons of war and torture. Soap made from olive oil makes you feel cleaner than chemically-made soap. As wine makes the heart glad, and bread strengthens the heart, so does oil make the face to shine (Psalm 104:150. Arabs and east Indians use olive oil as a hair tonic (see Luke 7:46). Many Mediterranean peoples put olive oil on their bread (see Exodus 29:23; Leviticus 8:26). It tastes great! "A meal without olive oil," says Maria Alcala of Madrid, "would be a bore." Although olive oil has a place in our diet, "he that loveth [overmuch] wine and oil shall not be rich" (Proverbs 21:17). Oil is not to be wasted: "There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up" (Proverbs 21:20).
Now, science has discovered some of the astounding properties of olive oil. It is loaded with vitamin E, and has no cholesterol. Mediterranean peoples, in part because they liberally use olive oil, have the lowest rate of heart disease among Western nations. This is because olive oil is rich in monosaturated "good" fat, and antioxidants, which help prevent hardening of the arteries. This keeps the good HDL cholesterol levels up, and the bad LDL cholesterol down. The vitamin E and polyphenols prevent oxidation of fatty acids, which reduces the risk of arteriosclerosis and some forms of cancer. A study showed that foods fried in olive oil retain more nutritional value than those fried in other kinds of oil. Another study showed that women who eat olive oil more than once a day have a 45% reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Olive oil helps to prevent the formation of gallstones. As the Greeks say, "The olive is blessed by God." Certainly those who use olive oil are blessed also.
Olive oil makes an excellent unguent (salve). The Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the wounds of the stricken traveler (Luke 10:30-36). Oil was a valuable item of trade, as seen in the story of Elisha and the miracle of the widowís oil being multiplied (II Kings 4:1-7). The term "Messiah," or "Christ," means "the anointed one," because kings of Israel were anointed with oil (I Samuel 10:1, 16:1, 6-7, 13; II Samuel 2:4, 5:3; I Kings 1:39, 19:16; II Kings 9:1, 3, 6, 11:12). Oil is associated with joy, and the Messiah (Psalm 45:7, Hebrews 1:9). Olive oil is associated with the joy of the Feasts of the Lord. In Deuteronomy 14:22-23, we are told to faithfully tithe, and eat before the Lord the tithe of our corn, wine, and oil, in the place He chooses to place His name.
The first mention of the olive in the Bible is the olive leaf that the dove returned to Noah, signifying peace and restoration from the devastating flood (Genesis 8:11). Israelites were to bring pure beaten olive oil for the eternal light in the tabernacle (Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2). Olive oil was used in the holy anointing oil to consecrate the priests, and instruments of the sanctuary (Exodus 28:41, 30:22-33). God said that this sacred olive oil "shall be an holy anointing oil unto Me throughout your generations." Olive trees and vineyards are part of the blessings God gives to Israel (Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Jeremiah 31:12). We think of the Promised Land as a land of milk and honey, but it was also one of olive oil (Deuteronomy 8:7-8, II Kings 18:320. It is difficult to pick olives. Israelites would beat the boughs of olive trees to pick the fruit, and they were told not to go over them a second time, but to leave the remainder for the stranger, fatherless, and widow (Deuteronomy 24:20). In Tuscany, Italy, today, some olive growers pick olives by beating the branches with long sticks. Olives are a blessing, but if we depart from God, even though we have numerous olive trees, we shall not anoint ourselves with olive oil, but the fruit will be cast down (Deuteronomy 28:40; Micah 6:13-15).
Wood from olive trees was made into cherubim in Solomonís Temple, as well as the doors to the Temple (I Kings 6:23, 31-32). Olive branches were part of the material used to make booths for the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:14-15). In Leviticus 23:40, we are told that the boughs of four trees are to be used to make booths: "goodly" trees, palm trees, "thick" trees (which some say is myrtle), and willows of the brook. The parallel usage in Nehemiah 8 indicates that olive trees are the "goodly" trees. The word for "goodly" is Strongís #1926, hadar, meaning "glorious, majesty, honor." How true it is that the olive tree gives glory and honor to the Almighty!
David, in Psalm 52:8, said he was like a green olive tree in the house of God, trusting in the mercy of God for ever, not like those who put their trust in riches and wickedness. Yes, we should be like the olive tree that grows by the riverside, yielding its fruit in season (Psalm 1:1-3, see also Jeremiah 11:16). In a godly family, the children are like olive plants, sturdy and strong and productive (Psalm 128:1-6). Godly children are not likened to pine trees, palm trees, or apple trees, but olive trees! They develop deep roots, last a long time, and produce fruit for years. In the Millennium, when Israel returns to the Lord, "His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon" (Hosea 14:6).
God figuratively anointed His people Israel (Ezekiel 16:8-9). Yet, Israel took the oil with which God blessed them, and prepared it for Baal (Hosea 2:8). After He punishes Israel by taking away their oil (Joel 1:10; Haggai 1:11), He will redeem and bless them (Joel 2:24).
Prophetically, two olive trees are symbolic of the two witnesses, which are "two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth," Zechariah 4:14 (also verses 3, 11). "And I will give power," God says, "unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth" (Revelation 11:3-4). Why do you suppose the Eternal uses this analogy? Why didnít he refer to His two witnesses as "two fir trees"? It is because the olive tree is especially blessed by God. These two witnesses are ordained by the Almighty to do His will.
But there are olive trees that are not as good as others. Gentiles are compared to a "wild olive tree" (Romans 11:17). They must be grafted into the natural olive tree, Israel (verse 24). In Wyoming, it is difficult to raise any kind of tree. The harsh winters and stiff winds sometimes destroy our attempts to grow trees. An especially hardy variety, Russian olive, will survive, although it produces a tiny, worthless, fruit. It is like a wild olive tree. You cannot make much, if any, olive oil from Russian olives. The Apostle James asks the question, "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation [conduct] his works with meekness of wisdom," James 3:11-13. Let us be good olive plants, majestic olive trees, deep-rooted, long-lasting, producing good fruit for the Master.
The average person, when he hears the word, "oil," thinks of petroleum. Our modern society runs on petroleum oil. But in Bible times, "oil" meant olive oil, which is still the most versatile, useful, fluid created by God. Olive oil with grain was an integral part of the Old Testament sacrifices (Exodus 29:2, 40; Leviticus 2:1-7, 15-16, 6:15, 21, 7:10, 12, 9:4, 14:10-29, 23:13; Numbers 6:15, 7:13-79, 8:8, 15:4, 6, 9, 28:5-28, 29:3-14). Time and again, offerings made with olive oil were referred to as a "sweet savour [acceptable] unto the Lord."
It is interesting to note that one offering NOT to have olive oil poured on it was the offering relating to the trial of jealousy, "for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance" (Numbers 5:15). And in another case, the trespass offering (Leviticus 5:11), we are told, "he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering."
An offering with olive oil was a sweet savour unto the Lord. An offering without oil was not pleasant to the Lord, for it represented sin laid bare before His judgment. The priests were to receive the best of the oil, wine, and wheat (Numbers 18:12). Corn, wine, and oil, are symbolic of all the physical blessings God gives His people (Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 12:17, 14:23, 18:4). Asher, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, was to be "blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil" (Deuteronomy 33:24).
Now we come to one of the most important portions of the Bible. We are in for some surprises. You probably know Psalm 23 by heart, but you may have missed something. We are likened to sheep, the Lord is our Shepherd. Sheep often get into trouble, and the shepherd lovingly anoints their heads with oil (verse 5).
What the elders of the Church do to anoint the sick is just like what the shepherd does for his sheep. "Is there any sick among you? 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," James 5:14.
At the Feast of Tabernacles, we often quote Psalm 133, which is about unity among the brethren. Brethren dwelling together in unity is "like the precious ointment [holy anointing oil, Exodus 30:25, 30] upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaronís beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments" (verse 2).
From now on, I will respect more deeply the holy anointing oil. Olive oil is truly a blessing from God, the oil of gladness, symbolic of Godís Spirit and His healing power, of brotherly love in the Church. Praise the Eternal for olive oil!
This article with minor editing was taken from Study #180
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