In Old Testament times, a common practice was to appoint priests, kings, and sometimes prophets to their positions by the ceremony of anointing. Holy oil was poured over the head of the person as a sign that he was set apart for the service of God. He now had the right, and the responsibility, to perform the duties that his position required (Exod 28:41; Num 3:2-3; 1 Kings 1:39; 19:16; 2 Kings 9:3; Ps 18:50; 28:8; 105:15).

(Concerning the everyday eastern custom of anointing the heads of visitors and guests see HOSPITALITY.) Things as well as people could be anointed. Moses anointed the tabernacle and its equipment to indicate that they were set apart for sacred use (Exod 30:22-30). The oil used to anoint the priests and the tabernacle was prepared according to a special formula that was not to be used for any other purpose (Exod 30:26-33). Official anointing carried with it the authority of God, and therefore no one could lawfully challenge the appointment (1 Sam 10:1; 24:6). Anointing was also associated with the gift of God’s special power, or the gift of his Spirit, for carrying out some specific task (1 Sam 16:13). Originally, such anointing was a physical ceremony, but because of this spiritual significance, people began to use the word ‘anoint’ solely in a spiritual or metaphorical sense.

It symbolized the outpouring of God’s Spirit in equipping a person for God’s service (Isa 61:1; Acts 10:38). This usage of the word was later extended even further, so that the Bible could speak of all who receive the Holy Spirit as being anointed (2 Cor 1:21-22; 1 John 2:20,27). Jesus was in a special sense God’s Anointed (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:26-27; 10:38; see MESSIAH). Concerning the practice of anointing in relation to such things as burial, massaging, healing and showing hospitality, see OIL; SPICES.

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