He Anoints My Head With OilThe desperate family seeking help from The Salvation Army becomes the object of God’s affection and blessing.
Oil was one of the most critical resources of the ancient world. It was used for food, for cooling, lamp oil, medicines and currency, as well as for important civic and religious ceremonies. Syrian scholars have noted that 2000 years before Jesus’ birth, the value of olive oil was five times that of wine. Of the 191 times that oil is mentioned in the Old Testament, 176 are specifically references to olive oil.
The first reference comes in the middle of a controversial and convoluted story of blessings. Jacob, with the help of his mother, deceived his father Isaac and received the blessing reserved for the older brother Esau (see Genesis 27).
Though banished, the Lord spoke to Jacob in a dream, restoring the same blessing he had received from his earthly father. God renamed him Israel. Jacob set up a memorial stone and anointed it with olive oil (see Genesis 28). This was the first of many anointings to come.
For David, the act of anointing was more than a beautiful metaphor or a recognition of Israel’s history. These words from the 23rd Psalm would have reminded David of how the prophet Samuel anointed his head with oil to identify him as Saul’s successor as King of Israel (see 1 Samuel 16:13).
What David did not know at that time but began to understand as he wrote Psalm 23 was that anointing brings with it both pressure and intimacy, most acutely for those who lead.
Bene Edwards captures the significance of David’s circumstances after he was anointed as king. “Then do you find it strange that this remarkable event led the young man not to the throne but to a decade of hellish agony and suffering? On that day, David was enrolled, not into the lineage of royalty but into the school of brokenness.”
Olive oil is held deep in the meat of the olive. The olives themselves must be broken and have pressure applied to harvest the precious oil they contain. David was often under immense pressure, particularly after he was anointed as Israel’s future king—pressure from Israel’s enemies, from Israel’s mad king who sought to destroy him, even pressure from within his own family. You can hear it in David’s often repeated lament to the Lord, “How long?”
- How long must my honor be turned into shame? (Psalm 4:2)
- How long, O Lord? Will you forget me…? (Psalm 13:1)
- How long, O Lord Will you hide yourself…?” (Psalm 89:46)
This is a reality for anyone anointed to lead. It is tempting to believe that if the Lord has called and anointed us to lead that we are exempt from the weighty pressure of this world. The opposite is true. Those called and anointed to lead will experience pressure. The greater the stakes, the greater the potential pressure. David was off to slay a giant, comfort a capricious and malicious king and prepare to lead God’s people.
Take the example of Jesus, the greatest leader ever. We read in Mark 14 how in the darkness of night when Jesus is only hours away from being heartbreakingly betrayed, cruelly beaten, wrongfully arrested and brutally crucified, He goes to a place called Gethsemane in order to pray. With his three closest followers and friends nearby, He confesses that his soul is “sorrowful, even unto death.” Gethsemane is literally translated as “oil press.” There He experiences the weight of a world desperate for redemption.
David the shepherd would have known that anointing is an up close and personal process.
Timothy Laniak, an expert of shepherding in the Near East, writes that “One ancient remedy for parasitic tormentors was olive oil. Rubbing it around the nose and eyes of an animal would create a protective coating. The ancient’s aspirin, oil, was used as a general salve for most injuries.”
The Lord is a close-quarters Shepherd. We are the beneficiaries of the Lord’s closeness and affection when he blesses us. God pours His love onto you as one who is dearly loved. It doesn’t stop there. It moves out to those with whom you have connections.
As the ancient Israelites made their way up to the temple to worship and pray, they would recite a number of Psalms to prepare themselves to be in the close presence of the Lord. Psalm 133 is a beautiful picture of the concept of God’s anointing moving out from the individual to the community. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!”
Eugene Peterson describes it this way: “Living together means seeing the oil flow over the head, down the face, through the beard, onto the shoulders of the other—and when I see that, I know that my brother, my sister, is my priest. When we see the other as God’s anointed, our relationships are profoundly affected.”
It is an incredible act of grace that God chooses to anoint and bless us as His followers. It is a profound mystery why God chooses to allow us to become instruments of those blessings to others.
When we understand the Lord’s intention to anoint and bless us and to share it in community, we begin to recognize those we encounter as sons and daughters of the Lord on whom He desires to pour his oil of blessing. Those we work with are no longer seen as competitors, but as those God wants to generously bless. The panhandler is seen as His dear child. The desperate family seeking help from The Salvation Army becomes the object of God’s affection and blessing.
As believers, we are called to bless others and model this community of the blessed. Who has God called you to bless today? It is not always the most likely choice—remember Samuel went through all of Jessie’s older and stronger brothers until the Lord said of David “this is the one you are to bless.”