Shemen: OIL of Joy

OIL: shemen. Masculine noun. (Strong’s 8081).

Root: שֶׁמֶן

Sounds like: sheh-men

In case you’re not aware, Chanukkah begins at sundown tonight (December 22nd, 2019). Chanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. We covered the word dedication a few years ago, and you can read about it here.

What many people don’t realize is that Yeshua (Jesus) celebrated Chanukkah in Jerusalem during His lifetime:

John 10:22-30

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah tell us plainly.” 

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

What was the celebration of Chanukkah all about… and how were Yeshua’s words connected to it? And what does it all have to do with OIL?

Chanukkah is a memorial celebration of Jewish victory over their enemies. It recalled a time when the Seleucid (Syrian Greek) king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had banished the observance of Judaism, desecrated the Temple, and horribly persecuted the Jewish people. But the Jewish people fought back and they won.

Chanukkah also recalled the story, outlined in the Talmud, of the miracle of the oil. After the Jews defeated the Seleucids (under the leadership of the Maccabee family), they decided to rededicate the Temple. The Menorah (or Chanukkiah) was, according to Jewish tradition, to remain continually lit, but they discovered that there was only enough oil to last a day. Miraculously the oil lasted for 8 days until a new batch could be produced. This was a miracle and a testament to the Jewish people… that God was on their side.

The Torah supported the tradition that the Temple Menorah was to continually burn:

Exodus 27:20-21 (See also Leviticus 24:1-2)

“You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil [shemen] of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before YHWH; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel.”

The significance of Yeshua being in Jerusalem to celebrate Chanukkah, or the re-dedication of the Temple, is puzzling. It may be just the fact that He always tried to be in Jerusalem for the feasts whenever we could (He is only recorded being in Jerusalem during festival times). Some have also said that it is connected to His declaration of being the light of the world… a continually burning lamp. But it might also have something to do with Temple rededication. The following passage comes to mind:

John 2:18-22

The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

When Yeshua came for the Feast of Dedication, which we read about in John 10, it would have been His last time to celebrate Chanukkah. He would hang on the cross the following spring. His declaration, I and the Father are one, and His promise of eternal life to all His followers came at a time when they recalled the horrific stories of Jewish persecution by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV. This was a declaration of great hope especially as they continued to live under the suppression of Roman rule, which was not too far removed from the cruelty they lived with under Seleucid control. 

Photo by StockSnap (

But how does OIL fit into the rest of the Biblical text?

Long before Yeshua, and long before there was a Tent of meeting, or a Temple, or even a sacred lampstand, oil had a significant role to play in the story of humanity.

Oil and Offering

Oil was used in the Hebrew offering system. When a man was anointed to be part of the priesthood a special grain offering was made:

Leviticus 6:19-23 

Then YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “This is the offering which Aaron and his sons are to present to YHWH on the day when he is anointed; the tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half of it in the evening. It shall be prepared with oil [ba-shemen] on a griddle. When it is well stirred, you shall bring it. You shall present the grain offering in baked pieces as a soothing aroma to YHWH. The anointed priest who will be in his place among his sons shall offer it. By a permanent ordinance it shall be entirely offered up in smoke to YHWH. So every grain offering of the priest shall be burned entirely. It shall not be eaten.”

This grain offering, prepared with oil, was a kind of holy pancake, not to be eaten but burned entirely and offered to YHWH.

A sin offering was a different story. There was to be no oil in a sin offering:

Leviticus 5:11

‘But if his means are insufficient for two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then for his offering for that which he has sinned, he shall bring the tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall not put oil [shemen] on it or place incense on it, for it is a sin offering.’

There was no anointing of sin. It was not a dedication, it was a decommissioning. The sin offering cleared your name until the next time you sinned. It acted as a bandaid, not a solution. The Messiah (the Anointed One) would be the solution.

Anointing the House of God

There’s a story about Jacob fleeing from his brother Esau. He took a break, rested, and had a dream about angels ascending and descending on ladders. YHWH stood above the ladder and said:

Genesis 28:13-15 (see also Genesis 35:10-15)

“I am YHWH, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 

When Jacob woke up he proclaimed:

Genesis 28:17-19

How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil [shemen] on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel [house of God]; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.

This land was the House of God and YHWH promised to give all of it to them. God’s house was their house… and the pouring of oil consecrated the place. It was an anointing of space, making it visibly holy. Years later, when the Tabernacle was erected God spoke to Moses, saying…

Exodus 40:9

“Then you shall take the anointing oil [shemen] and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and shall consecrate it and all its furnishings; and it shall be holy.”

The anointing of oil was a visibly action that declared something or someone as holy or “set apart”. More frequently we associate anointing with kingship or queenship. Anointing made somebody “royal”, but not necessarily “holy”… although holy and set apart was the intended idea.  Israel’s first king was anointed with oil.

Anointing the king

1 Samuel 10:1

Then Samuel took the flask of oil [pak ha-shemen], poured it on his [Saul’s] head, kissed him and said, “Has not YHWH anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?”

Oil was a part of a coronation ceremony. In fact, oil was still part of the Commonwealth coronation process when Elizabeth was crowned Queen in 1953. (Check out this article from the Telegraph: Secrets of the oil used to anoint the Queen at her Coronation). 

Although Saul had been anointed king, he disappointed YHWH and God chose to remove his kingship and replace his anointing with somebody else. Samuel had a hard time with that decision, but YHWH found a new king to anoint with oil:

1 Samuel 16:1, 10-13

Now YHWH said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil [shemen] and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons.”…

…Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “YHWH has not chosen these.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are these all the children?”

And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance. And YHWH said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil [ha-shemen] and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of YHWH came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

One of David’s most famous writings (“The Lord is my Shepherd”) is a poem of thankfulness for being chosen, protected, and anointed by God. 

Psalm 23:4-6

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil [ba-shemen]; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of YHWH forever.

David had been “made holy”, or “set aside”, and because of it his life would be forever blessed. God’s goodness and lovingkindness would eternally surround him, even when he was surrounded by enemies. David would dwell in God’s house forever. He would find himself always in God’s presence, able to see Him, face to face.

YHWH clarified this in Psalm 89:

Psalm 89:20-37

“I have found David My servant; with My holy oil [b-shemen] I have anointed him, with whom My hand will be established; My arm also will strengthen him. The enemy will not deceive him, nor the son of wickedness afflict him. But I shall crush his adversaries before him, and strike those who hate him.

My faithfulness and My lovingkindness will be with him, and in My name his horn will be exalted. I shall also set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.

He will cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.’ I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My lovingkindness I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall be confirmed to him.

So I will establish his descendants forever and his throne as the days of heaven. If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes.

But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David.

His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful.” Selah.

Anointing ourselves as “kings”

Oil and anointing were inextricably connected. It was the symbolic action of announcing royalty. But it was not always God who anointed. Sometimes we want to make ourselves royalty… we want to be queens and kings of our own choosing:

Amos 6:6-8

[Woe to those…] who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint themselves with the finest of oils [sh’manim], yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.

Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles, and the sprawlers’ banqueting will pass away. The Lord YHWH has sworn by Himself, YHWH God of hosts has declared: “I loathe the arrogance of Jacob, and detest his citadels; therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.”

When we try to be gods, kings and queens on our own, we end up cursing ourselves… and we end up exiling ourselves away from God’s presence. That’s exactly what happened when the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon leaving God’s presence on earth (the Temple) behind, and that’s exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. Eve and Adam cursed themselves when they disobeyed God and tried to become gods of their own choosing. But YHWH didn’t want them to be cursed; He wanted to bless them. Because they specifically disobeyed Him, they couldn’t stay in the Garden, but God found a way for them to come back. He would anoint a new King… a Saviour for all of the people.

The Anointed Saviour

The word for Anointed in Hebrew is Mashiach, or Messiah. Yeshua (Jesus), whose name means “salvation”,  became the Messiah for the people. One of His first actions was to go to His hometown of Nazareth and read from the sacred scrolls in the synagogue:

Luke 4:16-20

And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The passage that Yeshua read was taken from the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Lord YHWH is upon me, because YHWH has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favourable year of YHWH and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness (joy) [shemen sasown] instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of YHWH, that He may be glorified. 

God’s Anointed One, would demolish mourning and loss, and bring great comfort. In this new freedom we would rise up and be anointed with the oil of joy and be dressed in praise.

Of course the Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries. And when He came they expected that He would be identified and crowned as King. He would be anointed with oil in front of all the people and He would become their victorious saviour King. He would defeat their enemies and return Jerusalem and all of Israel back to them. They would no longer be under heavy yoke of Roman rule; they would be masters of themselves.

But the arrival of Yeshua brought none of that. How could this man be their Messiah? This was a miracle worker, yes, but he wasn’t an anointed militant king.

And they were right. Yeshua wasn’t anointed as king… at least not in the traditional sense. His anointing did not come at the beginning of his “reign”, it would come at the end.

Mark 14:3-9 (see also Luke 7, Matthew 26, John 12)

While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard [oil]; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time.

Oil of Joy

Yeshua wasn’t anointed to live as a King, he was anointed to die as a Servant. The highly regarded prophet Samuel anointed king David, but it was a woman who anointed Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah). In first century Greco-Roman culture women were not highly regarded. The fact that Yeshua accepted her completely, and was anointed for burial by her hand, was extraordinary.

In Luke and John’s account the woman anointed Yeshua’s feet with oil, not His head. This was a symbolic statement: Yeshua was was not your typical king. He was not a militant giant, but a humble servant. His head wasn’t anointed, His feet were. He did not dine with royalty, but chose to eat with the poor and marginalized. This was a very different kind of King. 

As for Judas, this woman was the last straw for him. The book of John (John 12:4-6) tells us that Judas used to pilfer from the disciples money box. If she had only given them the money, rather than buy the expensive perfumed oil, Judas would have been much richer. He had missed out on that money, but He knew where he could get more. The catch? He would have to betray Jesus to get it, and in his greed, he did just that. Kingship for Judas was great wealth, and he wanted it for himself. But all he received, by his own doing, was a curse. He shut himself out of the Garden and never looked back. 

Yeshua’s duty was to die and redeem humanity by removing the curse we placed upon ourselves. His death, and subsequent resurrection, paid the entrance fee to bring us all back to the Garden… the place where oil comes from.  Only through this sacrifice could we, once again, see God face to face. 

We’ve all been Judas. We’ve all, at some point in our lives, sold out our faith, betrayed our God, and removed ourselves from His presence… but we can stop, turn around, and come back. Jesus bought our way back into the Garden and anybody who chooses to be His disciple will be anointed and will face YHWH after their heart ceases to beat:

Psalm 45:7

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy [shemen sasown] above Your fellows.

May you all have great joy this season! Do not forget that you have been anointed by God. You are an anointed one, and you hold a ticket to the Garden which has no expiry date! Let that be your peace this holiday season!

Next week: the end

3 thoughts on “Shemen: OIL of Joy”

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