“Surely the LORD is in this place … this is none other but the house of God” (Genesis 28:16, 17).
Piotr Krajcer, Poland
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The theme text was pronounced by Jacob following his dream of angels descending up and down a ladder from heaven. Do you remember what Jacob did when he awoke? “Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel” (Genesis 28:18, 19). Later God reminded Jacob of this: “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me” (Genesis 31:13).
When God gave the Law to Israel, anointing oil was used to sanctify both things and people: “Thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compounded after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil … anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony … anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Exodus 30:23-24).
The anointing oil that was used in the service of God was not to be used for anything else. It contained myrrh, cinnamon, sweet calamus, and cassia in a quantity of 1500 shekels (about thirty-three pounds) dissolved in a hin of olive oil (a little more than a gallon). Today, if we wanted to store that anointing oil, we would need two buckets. This gives us an appreciation of the amount of oil needed to consecrate the temple and the priests.
This oil is a beautiful illustration of the holy Spirit: “How God anointed him [Jesus of Nazareth] with the holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38 ASV). During our times of fellowship, God’s Spirit is poured abundantly upon all of His children. Through this Spirit we experience sanctification. Common brotherly fellowship allows the Spirit of God to work abundantly in us.
The Importance of Fellowship
“Lo, how good and how pleasant the dwelling of brethren — even together” (Psalm 133:1, Young’s Literal Translation). David’s words indicate the importance of frequent and extended fellowship. Many translations, including the King James, use the phrase “dwell together in unity.” Other translations like the Douay-Rheims say only “in unity.” “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments” (Psalm 133:1, 2).
Conventions are a common means of fellowship amongst brethren throughout the world. Those who attend within the same country or area generally know each other and share common customs. However, brethren at international conventions come together from diverse places: India, Africa, Europe, Siberia, Australia, and America for example. Although each country many have different customs, different tastes, wear different styles of clothes and have different skin color, nevertheless they strive to dwell together in unity. They learn to accept their differences. Perhaps because of that they are especially blessed.
What is it that allows brethren to overcome differences and learn to appreciate and love one another in a short time? It is the common cause of God’s Truth. The holy Spirit was sent upon the disciples when they gathered together on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4, 16-18, 33, 38). Jesus said he was among groups of even two or three (Matthew 18:20). Divisions among brethren neither uplift nor bring blessings. Many divisions occur under the pretext of protecting the Truth, when in fact the division occurs as a result of protecting one’s own opinion of the Truth. As Bible Students, we may look at some details of the Divine Plan differently, but this should not cause division and resentment. As the Apostle Paul says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part … For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12).
Gathering together in fellowship allows us to exchange points of view and to hear various, and sometimes different, perspectives from our own. This enables us to thoroughly appreciate the beauty and harmony of the Truth. It allows the most precious ointment of the holy Spirit to be poured forth upon us. When the ointment was poured on the head of Aaron, the high priest, it first ran down his beard, then down upon the collar (the opening) of his garment.
The anointing was to the entire body of the priest, as well as his robes. We, the Church of Jesus Christ, are represented in the body of the priest: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5). When we dwell together in unity, we profit more from the holy Spirit than when dwelling alone.
Psalm 133 has a special meaning for Polish brethren. Almost all of them know it by heart, and it is often sung at the end of conventions and larger meetings. The melody was composed by one who lives amongst other brethren at a retirement home. The psalms were written to be sung, which is what the Apostle Paul encourages us to do: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
“Look, how good and how pleasant is the dwelling of brothers together. Like goodly oil on the head coming down over the beard, Aaron’s beard that comes down over the opening of his robe. Like Hermon’s dew that comes down on the parched mountains. For there the LORD ordained the blessing — life evermore” (Psalm 133, Alter).
The Anointing of Jesus
There is another event connected with ointment poured out. “When Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, ‘Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her’ ” (Matthew 26:6-13).
This woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, as the evangelist John explains (John 12:3). Although John says that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, Matthew describes an incident where the ointment was poured on Jesus’ head. A closer look shows that these separate accounts are not conflicting, nor two separate anointings as some commentators have suggested. An additional incident recorded in Mark 14:3-7 talks about the same spikenard ointment. All three records cite the location as Bethany.
Mary broke a jar, pouring out the ointment (Mark 14:3). “She hath poured this ointment on my body” (Mark 14:8). It was not just on his head. Mary anointed his feet also and wiped his feet with her hair (John 12:3). Why did she do this? Perhaps it was connected with the custom of those days that guests at feasts had their heads anointed. This custom is mentioned in Psalm 23:5, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil.”
Luke records this custom in a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dine with him earlier in Jesus’ ministry. “He turned to the woman and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:44-47). Many commentators suggest that this woman was Mary Magdalene, but she is never identified by name.
Note that both incidents suggest the practice of anointing oil being poured on the head. In both cases, Jesus said the anointing was done out of love (Luke 7:47, Mark 14:9). One additional passage suggests that pouring forth oil is a gesture that depicts loving the Lord. Consider how the Song of Solomon calls the bridegroom: “Thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore, do the virgins love thee” (Song of Solomon 1:3).
Mary showed her great love for the Lord and her gratitude for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. It was a costly ointment that filled the entire house with a pleasant fragrance that permeated the whole body of our Lord. It must have been strong enough to accompany him unto the last moments of his life, for a distinguishing feature of finest perfume is the length of time it can hold its beautiful aroma.
The Cost of Appreciation
Judas criticized Mary’s deed harshly: “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). We are usually not sympathetic to this criticism. But consider, how much would this ointment cost today? A denarius was a laborer’s average daily wage, perhaps forty dollars by today’s standards. Thus 300 denari would be about $12,000. What do you suppose would be said in your ecclesia if a sister used $12,000 worth of perfume on a single occasion to anoint a visiting speaker? We sometimes criticize other people’s gifts. We think we know better how they should spend their money or their time. But think about it. How much do we give from what we have? Let us examine ourselves. Mary gave all she had — the dowry for her future. Are we willing to give our future to show our appreciation of the brethren? That is what the Lord asks of us — to lay down our very lives in order to anoint our brethren (John 15:13). Judas sold our Lord for thirty pieces of silver — one hundred denari — a third of the value of the precious ointment offered to Jesus by Mary. This moment of enjoyment, that Mary could offer Jesus, was worth more to her than 300 denari, but for Judas, the life of the Lord was worth less than thirty pieces of silver. The principles of worldly economics should not apply when it comes to God’s affairs. The Lord gives those who lend a helping hand a vessel like the one he gave to the widow of Zarephath in the times of Elijah. Her cruse of oil never failed (1 Kings 17:10-16).
This principle applies to all our activities for the Lord. Whenever we offer something for one specific purpose, it does not mean we will not have enough for something else, or we will lack food to eat. We are to follow the principles of divine economics. “The Lord’s followers are to be prudent, economical, but not parsimonious, not miserly, not stingy, not hoarders of wealth” (Reprint 3877).
Washing One Another’s Feet
Mary’s act shows us that in addition to pouring forth the precious ointment of love, we can serve the Lord in different ways. Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. The next day our Lord showed his disciples the meaning of that act: “After that he poureth water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded … So after he had washed their feet and had taken his garments and was set down again, he said unto them, ‘Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you’” (John 13:5-15).
What Mary did for him, he did for his disciples. He did it to show that that act was worth copying. “Their Lord, their Head and Master, had humbled himself to serve them all. Thus he rebuked their pride and at the same time set them an example that would apply to every affair of life. He powerfully illustrated how they should be glad to serve one another on every occasion, whether it be in the high things or in the common affairs of daily living. This washing of one another’s feet applies to every operation of life, any and every kindness, though especially along the lines of spiritual assistance and comfort” (The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, March/April 2006).
We do not need money to wash each other’s feet; all we need is the sincere desire of our hearts, a loving spirit, and a willingness to serve others. This precious, valuable ointment poured upon Jesus’ head, running down on his body, reminded everyone that he was the Lord’s Anointed, the long-awaited Messiah (Hebrew: Meshiyach, the Anointed One): “We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:41). This act conveyed the same thought as the words of Peter: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). In Greek, the word translated Christ means “Anointed One.”
The Two Olive Trees
In the fourth chapter of Zechariah, we read about two olive trees that empty golden oil (some translations say gold) into the golden candlestick: “And said unto me, What seest thou? and I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps which are upon the top thereof; and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof …What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? … These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:2, 3, 12, 14).
Oil in the Tabernacle was used not only for anointing, but also to give light in the Holy. The Spirit of God enlightens us to know the truth. The two olive branches (or the “two sons of olive” in the literal Hebrew) represented Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the prince. In Israel, those filling both these offices needed to be anointed. It was Jesus who united these functions because he was to be both king and priest, after the order of Melchizedek. A king is responsible for earthly things; a priest for spiritual. This wonderfully represents how the Word of God brings forth both the earthly and the heavenly promises to be fulfilled by just one individual — the Christ. Just as the Old Testament puts more emphasis on earthly service for the Lord, so the New Testament stresses heavenly service. The Word of God is the source of the Spirit of God, which is symbolized in those two olive trees that empty oil out of themselves through the golden pipes into the candlestick.
What is symbolized in the candlestick that gives forth light? There is one nation that is called the “Nation of the Book,” through which God gave light to the Gentiles. It is no accident that this nation chose the menorah, a golden candlestick, as its symbol. For ages this nation was the source of light to the rest of the world and pictured in the first candlestick. But in the book of Revelation we find a continuance of this picture of two candlesticks.
We, as Christians, are the second candlestick. We ought to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-17). The first chapter of Revelation also shows that a candlestick is a symbol of the ecclesia, the church: “And the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). So God revealed Himself through these two candlesticks, fleshly and spiritual Israel.
When an Israelite offered a sacrifice, he was to add an offering of flour with oil and an offering of wine: “When ye be come into the land of your habitations … and will make an offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the LORD, of the herd or of the flock … he that offereth [shall] bring a meat offering of a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of oil. And the fourth part of a hin of wine for a drink offering shalt thou prepare with the burnt offering or sacrifice, for one lamb” (Numbers 15:2-5).
No offering could be made without oil. The offerings we make to the Lord must contain oil — the Spirit of God must be the underlying motive. Our only motivation concerning our offerings should be a desire to serve God, and not anything else. Ananias and Sapphira offered part of what they had obtained (Acts 5). Although their gift might have had a greater value than the gifts of others, it was not done under the influence of God’s Spirit. It was done for other purposes, which is why it was not accepted by God.
Let us remember that we should pour forth the oil of the Spirit abundantly, giving sacrifices to the Lord and dwelling together with the brethren in unity. The oil poured upon the high priest represented the holy Spirit. The ointment Mary poured upon Jesus represented her love for Jesus.
Let us also remember to “anoint (our brethren) with kindly words, loving sympathies, tender expressions while they are still in the valley of conflict, before they have reached the end of the journey” (Reprint 3878).
Let us make frequent use of the golden pipes through which the Almighty sends His Spirit upon us, by reading and reasoning on His Holy Book. While there is still time, let us strive to serve Him as His anointed ones (1 John 2:27).
Categories: 2017 Issues, 2017-March/April