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Anointing Oil - From the Old Testament to Present Day

Updated on October 6, 2013
Marilynn Dawson profile image

Born-again Christian single mother of two grown kids. PC Tech, and Author of 18+ books in the non-fiction, personal/spiritual growth genres

Anointing Oil from one vendor in Israel today.
Anointing Oil from one vendor in Israel today. | Source


Exodus 30:22-25 Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 23 Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, 24 And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin: 25 And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.

The quoted passage above gives us a brief, but detailed look at the annointing oil that was used in Tabernacle priestly service. As anointing oil is mentioned in Isaiah 61 as one of God's replacements in adornment for the Bride of Christ, we will spend some time today discussing it's make up, it's usage, and what that means for the Bride of Christ.

The first thing to note about the above passage, are the ingredients. The very first list of anointing oil ingredients included the following:

Myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and olive oil.

As in previous pieces of research, the spices that God requested of Moses for the purpose of making this anointing oil had to come from somewhere. That somewhere was Egypt.

Myrrh in it's hardened form
Myrrh in it's hardened form
Vial of cinnamon essential oil
Vial of cinnamon essential oil

Make-up and Characteristics

Myrrh comes from the sap of a tree that is native to Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Due to traders being active in ancient times, it would have been relatively easy for Egypt to maintain a supply of this sweet-smelling gum. For God to specify "pure" in the above text, the need for a free-flowing gum was needed. Myrrh is known to harden fairly quickly after harvesting, so the Hebrew people had to either have kept this gum in some form of a free-flowing state, or harvested it from lesser-known locations along their desert travels.

Myrrh not only has a sweet smell and bitter taste, but it has medicinal properties as well. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, Myrrh has made it into various medical practices down through the years. Research has revealed that Myrrh has assisted with glucose intolerance, acted an an analgesic for pain, been known in Egypt to treat oral parasitic ailments, lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and inhibit some forms of cancer growth. It is no wonder this spice has made it into not only Middle Eastern pharmaceutical practices, but Far Eastern and Western medical practises as well.

Cinnamon has a long and ancient history both in harvesting and usage as well as in confusion with another ingredient in our list, Cassia. True Cinnamon, as the variant from the tree Cinnamomum verum is known, is what was referred to as the correct Cinnamon in the recipe God gave to Moses. Cinnamon was being imported by Egypt according to known records, as far back as 2000 BC, long before Jacob took his family to Egypt under Joseph's watchful gaze. It is highly likely that Egypt's traders imported it from India. According to ancient historical records, Cinnamon was a pricey spice, fetching a pretty denari in Rome at the time of Pliny.

The medicinal uses of cinnamon are ancient and long, but not unfounded. Research has verified many of the health-related claims of the spice and proposed that many others are possible. One common usage today is to mix one 1/4 tspn of cinnamon with 1 tablespoon of unpastuerized honey to produce a compound that when swallowed, aids in curing the common cold. Other research has found some variants of cinnamon to help with HIV-1, herpes, diabetes, some colon issues, and more.

Acorus calamus,May 2004
Acorus calamus,May 2004 | Source
Sticks of Cassia, typically understood in North America to be cinnamon.  Cinnamon rolls once, Cassia rolls twice from each end.
Sticks of Cassia, typically understood in North America to be cinnamon. Cinnamon rolls once, Cassia rolls twice from each end.

Calamus comes from a reed or rush-like plant and has apparently gone by a wide variety of names, including myrtle grass or sweet cinnamon. It is said that calamus has been known to satisfactorily replace cinnamon in baking. Unlike cinnamon, it is said to have a sweet as opposed to sharp scent. According to a papyrus note that was found, Calamus was imported into Egypt as early as the 1300's BC. Considering the proposed dates of the Exodus, if this dating is accurate, then Egypt may have only begun trading in calamus just years before the Hebrew nation up and fled.

According to this same papyrus, it wasn't listed as having too many medicinal uses, but was apparently included in a mix of spices in a wrap aimed at aiding stomach ailments. It was more widely used in far eastern medicines than middle eastern. To that end, this spice addition to the anointing oil may have purely been for it's scent.

Cassia, as already noted, has occasionally been confused with cinnamon, largely because it comes from the cinnamon family of plants. According to sources on Wikipedia, this is the "version" of cinnamon sold in North America, while the "true cinnamon" discussed earlier is sold in the Middle East and beyond. The cassia spoken of in our text, comes from the Cinnamomum iners plant typically grown in the Arabian area and Ethiopia. Again, this lends itself to trade with the Egyptian people. Not much is known about it's medicinal benefits other than that it is similar to cinnamon in that regard.

Research keeps pointing to cassia coming out of the Far East and possibly as close as India. So the only way Egyptians would have had access was via traders.

Olive oil has already been given a decent description over at the link to the right. So I welcome the reader to click there to learn more about olive oil.

Recipe for Anointing Oil

What is interesting about the recipe, is that the measurements used were according to the weight of a coin that has been found by archaeologists. This has allowed for a modern translation of the recipe as follows:

To quote Wikipedia:
Pure Myrrh (מר דרור mar deror) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
Sweet Cinnamon (קינמון בשם kinnemon besem) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
Sweet Calamus (קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם kaneh bosm) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
Cassia (קדה kiddah) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
Olive oil (שמן זית shemen sayith) one hin (about 5 quarts according to Adam Clarke; about 4 liters according to Shiurei Torah, 7 liters according to the Chazon Ish)
See the link for further links given in the ascribing of details above.

This transcribing from the shekel weight to modern kilograms allows for the modern recreation of this oil today.

The combination of these spices would have created a very sweet/spicey scent as it was suspended in the olive oil, very much like that of a perfume oil when all was said and done.

What does this mean for the Bride of Christ?

The annointing oil represents the Holy Spirit's desire to bring healing to the life of the believer and to present the Bride as a sweet smelling savour before the Lord.

Myrrh represents the bitterness of the suffering we are called to endure, and in the enduring to present as sweet fragrance to the Heavenly Bridegroom.

Cinnamon has often been considered the spice of joy, which also happens to be the second Fruit of the Spirit. It is said that the flowers of this tree have a foul smell, and it's also been said that cinnamon improves flavour of bitter foods. Christ asks us to find joy in the suffering we must endure while walking this earth, knowing that we share in His suffering and will one day receive a crown of righteousness.

Calamus apparently smells nice not only as a spice, but as the plant in which it grows. It has apparently been used in various perfumes due to it's rich and pleasing scent. Various places in Scripture urge the Christian to live a life pleasing to the nostrils of God, bringing the aroma of salvation to the world around them.

Cassia's flowers are purple, which as we know, is the colour of royalty. It grows in high altitudes, making the Far East a perfect breeding ground, but also speaking to the victory we are to have in Christ over sin and worldly ways. This spice has been used in incense, which in Scripture references our prayer life, and in garments in passages in Song of Solomon.

Altogether, we see that the Bride of Christ, when filled with the Holy Spirit, will find strength from Joy as a fruit of the Spirit living through her, enabling her to endure the sufferings of this present time so that she may spread the sweet aroma of Salvation to the world around her, granting victory to heaven as each soul comes to Christ.

© 2013 Marilynn Dawson


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