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In most cases the oil that the Bible mentions is olive oil. Olive trees were grown extensively in Palestine, and Israel exported oil to other countries (1 Kings 5:11; Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1). Other fruits and plants were also a source of oil. Workers obtained the oil by crushing the fruit, flowers or leaves. This was sometimes done through grinding the substance, using either a thick stick in a bowl or a stone roller in a hollowed out rock. Sometimes the oil was trodden out in a press, other times squeezed out from a sack by twisting it with sticks (Exodus 27:20; Deuteronomy 33:24; Micah 6:15).

People used oils in the preparation of food (Exodus 29:2; Leviticus 2:4; 1 Kings 17:12-14), as fuels for lamps (Exodus 27:20; Zechariah 4:2-3; Zechariah 4:12; Matthew 25:3-4), as medicines and ointments (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34), as cosmetics (2 Samuel 14:2; Esther 2:12; Psalms 104:15; Song of Song of Solomon 1:12; Song of Solomon 5:5) and for rubbing on the body to bring soothing and refreshment (Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 12:20; Amos 6:6; Luke 7:37-38; John 12:3). The use of oil in anointing the sick may have had some medicinal purpose, but its chief significance may have been symbolic, demonstrating faith (Mark 6:13; James 5:14).

The custom of anointing a person’s head with oil was an ancient way of showing the person honour (Mark 14:3). This was particularly so when a host welcomed a special guest (Psalms 23:5). On festive occasions anointing contributed to the joy and merriment of the occasion. As a result oil, like wine, became a symbol of rejoicing (Psalms 45:7; Psalms 104:15; Isaiah 61:3; Joel 1:10).

Besides being widely used in Israel’s everyday life, oil was frequently used in its religious rituals. It was part of some sacrifices (Exodus 29:2; Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 8:26; Numbers 6:15; Numbers 7:19), was offered as both firstfruits and tithes (Exodus 22:29; Deuteronomy 12:17), was used as fuel for the tabernacle lamp (Exodus 27:20) and was put on people in certain ceremonies (Leviticus 14:10-18).

Oil was used to anoint priests, kings and at times prophets, to symbolize their setting apart for God’s service and their appointment to office (Exodus 28:41; 1 Samuel 10:1; Psalms 89:20-21; 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Kings 19:16; Zechariah 4:11-14). It was used also to anoint things that were set apart for sacred use, such as the tabernacle and its equipment (Exodus 40:9-11). The oil used to anoint the priests and the tabernacle was prepared according to a special formula, which was not to be used for any other purpose (Exodus 30:23-33; cf. Psalms 133:2). (See also ANOINTING; SPICES.)

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Oil'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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