Oil in the Holy Land

Reuven Doron
2020-07-23

All through the Bible, Oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit of God and the special impact the Spirit brings upon a person, a place, or an article of worship God chooses. Oil was used by the priests, prophets and kings of Israel in special ceremonies, and became a central part of Temple services, worship celebrations, sacrifices, healings and more. Oil signifies consecration, joy, abundance and a sure sign of God’s favor and blessing.

Oil’s first appearance in the Scriptures is found in the account of Jacob’s dream when he fled from his brother’s wrath to find shelter with uncle Laban. We read in Genesis 28 that when Jacob stopped to rest on his journey, “… he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: ‘I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 

Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall 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 spoken to you.’ Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-El…”

The Oil Jacob poured upon that stone sealed that great promise and indicated his FAITH in God’s FAITHFULLNESS. It indicated that the stone, and the promise given there, are now consecrated to God for a Holy purpose of great importance. The site of Beth-El, just north of Jerusalem, is open for visitors, and many of our Pilgrims enjoy it each year.

Oil in our lives

Not only were kings and prophets anointed with oil all through the Old Testament, Jesus used the metaphor of oil in His parable about the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25. In that story which speaks of the preparedness and watchfulness needed for His disciples, Jesus hints that the Virgins’ supply of oil is a symbol of the presence of God’s Spirit in their lives. 

So how can we get this oil? For while it is a gift, an undeserved grace God bestows upon us, yet it is a treasure that we must desire, prioritize, and sometimes sacrifice to obtain.

All over the land of Israel one can find olive orchards covered with precious fruit that will be ready for harvest in the fall. When the fruit will be ripe and ready, working one tree at a time, the harvesters will shake, rattle and beat the branches with long rods, and proceed to collect the falling olives on the large canvases and blankets stretched on the ground under the trees. From there the olives are transferred to the olive presses, which were used in the Middle East for thousands of years.

At the press, the olives are first ground into an olive paste using a large and heavy millstone. It is important that olives are well ground, allowing the enzymes enough time to produce the rich aromas. After grinding, the olive paste is spread on fiber disks or flat gunnysack bags stacked on top of each other, which are placed into the press. Traditionally these bags were made of hemp or coconut fiber, but in modern times they are made of synthetic fibers which are easier to clean and maintain.

Pressure is then applied on the full gunnysack bags, compacting the olive paste within. The liquids are extracted under pressure, separating the fluids (oil and vegetation water) by the ancient process of decantation when the oil rises above the water. This traditional method is used all across Israel until today, producing high-quality olive oil for both domestic use as well as exports. Modern presses will use centrifuges for the separation.

In Bible times, as it is today, olive oil was evaluated according to its level of purity. The purity was determined by the amount of pressure that was applied to the crushed olive paste. As the image of this ancient olive press shows, increasing weights were applied to the olive paste in progressive stages, producing successive harvests of oil as more and more weights are applied.

  • The first and slightest weight generated the purest virgin oil which was used for priestly duties in Temple services. 
  • The second weight generated the second harvest, which was used for healing anointing. 
  • The third was used for cooking.
  • The fourth for cleaning.

All four harvests were important and useful for human life, but we always remember that the first fruits belong to the Lord and therefore the first harvest, the purest of all, is appointed for the highest purpose

In a similar way, life’s pressures extract the precious oil of God’s Spirit in our hearts as we go through suffering and trials. Each test we endure, each pain we embrace, whether it be health challenges, disappointments, or stress, will “squeeze” our soul to bring forth the priceless fruit of patience, endurance, forgiveness, long-suffering and faith. 

Therefore, as the Bible instructs us, let us give thanks for ALL THINGS. Why? Because we know and believe the great truth that God is able to make all things work together for good for those who love Him and continue in His purpose.

We are looking forward to host you in Israel soon, show you this ancient Olive Press, and together learn the lessons of the Olive Oil and its’ historic and biblical uses.

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