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.
[Heb., ʽets sheʹmen].
The identification of this tree is doubtful. The Hebrew name indicates a “fatwood” tree, rich in oil or similar substance. It has long been considered to be the oleaster (Elaeagnus hortensis or Elaeagnus angustifolia), which is a small tree or shrub common in Palestine, bearing gray-green leaves similar to those of the olive tree and producing a fruit from which an oil is obtained, much inferior to the oil of the olive. While its wood is hard and fine-grained, making it suitable for carving, it hardly seems to fit the description given of the ‘oil tree’ at 1 Kings 6:23, 31-33. There it is stated that, in the temple construction, the two cherubs, each nearly fifteen feet (4.6 meters) tall, as well as the doors to the Most Holy and the “foursquare” door-posts for the main entrance to the temple, were made of the wood of the ‘oil tree.’ The oleaster seems much too small a plant to fit these requirements adequately.
The Authorized Version and Revised Standard Version refer to wood of the olive tree at 1 Kings 6:23, and it is suggested that the cherubs may have been constructed of several pieces joined together, since the olive’s short trunk does not provide timbers of great lengths. Still, the fact that the olive tree is alluded to as distinct from the oil tree at Nehemiah 8:15 would seem to rule out this suggestion.
For this reason some authorities recommend the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), which they believe could have been called the “oil tree” because of its producing tar and turpentine. This lofty pine is one of the most common evergreens in Palestine, and there is evidence to show that the region around Jerusalem once had a sizable forest of it. It grows to from thirty to fifty feet (9.1 to 15.2 meters) tall, with smooth gray bark, light-green needles and reddish-brown cones. Its wood is said to be of a quality approaching that of the cedar. This tree could, therefore, fit the requirements for the temple building; however, in view of the lack of positive evidence the New World Translation renders the Hebrew term simply as “oil tree.”
Branches of the oil tree, along with those of the olive, myrtle and palm trees, were used in Jerusalem at the Festival of Booths. (Neh. 8:15) The oil tree is also one of the trees foretold to grace the wilderness, in Isaiah’s restoration prophecy.—Isa. 41:19.
OINTMENT AND PERFUMES
The Hebrew terms relating to ointments may apply, not only to salve-like preparations that liquefy when rubbed on the skin, but also to compounded oil preparations that remain liquid at normal temperatures.—Ex. 30:25; Ps. 133:2.
In the past as now, ointments were used chiefly as cosmetic and medicinal preparations, their advantage being mainly due to their oil content. The property that fats and oils possess, of absorbing and retaining odors, made it possible for the ointment maker to produce perfumed preparations that were highly prized for their fragrance. (Song of Sol. 1:3) The cleansing power and skin-softening characteristic of the oil, plus the fragrance of the additives, made such ointments very useful for the prevention of chafing and skin irritation, and for a body “deodorant” in hot countries where water was often very scarce. Offering guests such a preparation upon their arrival at one’s home was certainly an act of hospitality, as noted by what Jesus said when someone greased his feet with perfumed oil.—Luke 7:37-46.
When perfumed ointments of special make were used in preparing a corpse for burial, they no doubt served primarily as disinfectants and deodorants. (2 Chron. 16:14; Luke 23:56) With such usage in mind, Jesus explained that the anointing he received in the house of Simon the leper consisting of very costly perfumed oil, the scent of which filled the whole house, was in a figurative sense “for the preparation of me for burial.” (Matt. 26:6-12; John 12:3) Precious perfumes, such as the spikenard used on this occasion, were usually sealed in beautiful marblelike alabaster cases or vials.—Mark 14:3; see ALABASTER.
HOLY ANOINTING OIL AND INCENSE
The first ointment mentioned in the Bible was the holy anointing oil used to sanctify the dedicated articles of the tabernacle and its priesthood. (Ex. 30:25-30) Personal use of this special ointment was prohibited, under penalty of death. This law shows the sacredness attached to the tabernacle and its personnel.—Ex. 30:31-33.
Jehovah gave Moses the formula for the holy anointing oil. Only “the choicest perfumes” were to be used: myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia and the purest olive oil, and each in specified amounts. (Ex. 30:22-24) Likewise, Jehovah gave the formula for the holy incense. It was not just a substance that would smolder and smoke; it was a special perfumed incense. (Ex. 30:7; 40:27; Lev. 16:12; 2 Chron. 2:4; 13:10, 11) To make it, specific amounts of stacte, onycha, perfumed galbanum and frankincense were used, God further describing it as “a spice mixture, the work of an ointment maker, salted, pure, something holy.” Some of the incense was finely powdered and probably sifted to obtain a uniform product, suitable for its special use. Private use was a capital crime.—Ex. 30:34-38.
In making both the anointing oil and holy incense,