The fatty liquid most familiar to the Hebrews was that obtained from olives. Fully ripened black olives gave the most oil, but those yet green, though beginning to change in color, produced the oil of finest quality. After the fruit was carefully removed from the trees, and the twigs and leaves were cleaned from the olives, they were carried to the oil press.
The pulp of the ripe olive berry is about half oil, which varies in grade according to the method of processing the pulp. The very best, called “pure, beaten olive oil,” was produced by a simple process before the olives were put into the press. (Lev. 24:2) First, the olives were placed in a mortar and beaten until they were well bruised, or they were sometimes trodden by foot. (Mic. 6:15) Next, the bruised fruit was transferred to strainer baskets wherein it “bled” oil until the “virgin” or “first expressed” oil was released. The pure, beaten oil was stored in earthenware jars and the pulp was moved to the olive press.
A common grade of oil was prepared by thoroughly crushing the olives in a mortar or hand mill. After the oil ran off from the pulp, it was allowed to clarify in clay jars or vats.
The lowest grade of oil was that pressed from the pulp refuse in an olive or wine press after the crushing process. The pulverized mass of pulp was packed into baskets and stacked between the two vertical pillars of the olive press. A weighted lever was applied to the stack of baskets to press out the oil, which was then channeled into large reservoirs for clearing. There, the oil would rise to the surface, separating from the bits of pulp and the water below before it was drawn off into large earthenware jars or special cisterns for storage.—Compare 2 Chronicles 32:27, 28; see PRESS.
A SYMBOL OF PROSPERITY
Great prosperity was signified when reference was made to the ‘press vats overflowing with oil.’ (Joel 2:24) Suffering Job longed for his previous days of plenty when “the rock kept pouring out streams of oil” for him. (Job 29:1, 2, 6) Jehovah caused “Jacob,” or the Israelites, figuratively to suck “oil out of a flinty rock,” apparently from olive trees growing in rocky terrain. (Deut. 32:9, 13) Moses declared that Asher would become “one dipping his foot in oil,” indicating that this tribe would enjoy material blessings.—Deut. 33:24.
AN IMPORTANT TRADE AND FOOD COMMODITY
Olive oil became an important trade commodity in Palestine because of its abundance there. Yearly, Solomon gave King Hiram of Tyre “twenty cor measures [1,162 gallons; 4,400 liters] of beaten-out oil” as part of a payment for temple construction materials. (1 Ki. 5:10, 11) Judah and Israel were once Tyre’s “traders” for oil. (Ezek. 27:2, 17) Perfumed oil and olive oil are also among the items purchased by mystic Babylon the Great from the “traveling merchants” of the earth.—Rev. 18:11-13.
Olive oil, a high-energy food and one of the most digestible fats, was a principal food in the Israelite diet, probably taking the place of butter for table use in many cases, also for cooking purposes. (Deut. 7:13; Jer. 41:8; Ezek. 16:13) It was a common lamp fuel (Matt. 25:1-9), and “pure, beaten olive oil” was burned in the lamps of the golden lampstand in the tent of meeting. (Ex. 27:20, 21; 25:31, 37) Oil was used in connection with grain offerings presented to Jehovah. (Lev. 2:1-7) As a cosmetic it was applied to the body after bathing. (Ruth 3:3; 2 Sam. 12:20) It was considered an act of hospitality to grease the head of a guest with oil. (Luke 7:44-46) Oil was also employed to soften and to soothe bruises and wounds (Isa. 1:6), sometimes along with wine.—Luke 10:33, 34.
RELIGIOUS USE AND SIGNIFICANCE
Jehovah commanded Moses to prepare a “holy anointing oil” that contained olive oil and other ingredients. With it, Moses anointed the tabernacle, the ark of the testimony, the various sanctuary utensils and furniture. Moses also used it in anointing Aaron and his sons, to sanctify them as priests to Jehovah. (Ex. 30:22-33; Lev. 8:10-12) Kings were anointed with oil, as when Samuel, anointing Saul, “took the flask of oil and poured it out upon his head.” (1 Sam. 10:1) A horn of oil was used when Solomon was anointed.—1 Ki. 1:39.
Foretelling the joy-producing effects of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, it was said that he would give “those mourning over Zion . . . the oil of exultation instead of mourning.” (Isa. 61:1-3; Luke 4:16-21) It was also prophesied that Jesus would be anointed personally by Jehovah with the “oil of exultation” more than his partners, indicating that he would experience greater joy than his predecessors of the Davidic dynasty.—Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:8, 9; see ANOINTED, ANOINTING.
As the applying of literal oil to one’s head is soothing and refreshing, so also is the application of God’s Word to a spiritually sick person to soothe, correct, comfort and heal him. Thus, the older men of the Christian congregation are admonished to pray over such a man, figuratively “greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah,” an essential measure in effecting his spiritual recovery.—Jas. 5:13-15; compare Psalm 141:5.