Oil, especially olive oil, was a delicious and plentiful substance in ancient Israel. You usually wouldn't want to pour it all over your head. But you might do it if you got to be king afterwards.
Oil's Well That Ends Well
Anointing had a bunch of purposes in the Hebrew Bible. Some oils were used as medicine. People also rubbed sweet-smelling oils on them as perfumes. (The desert could really make you stink). High priests or prophets were also anointed to signal to everyone how special and important they are.
But when Chronicles talks about anointing, it's mainly talking about the king:
- "They anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord by Samuel." (11:3)
- "They made David's son Solomon king a second time; they anointed him as the Lord's prince." (29:22)
First, David's anointed, then Solomon. Basically, this was just an ancient way of marking out one man to be the king, like a coronation. A priest or prophet would pour oil over the head of the future king and mark him as "God's anointed" and—poof—there's the guy you should be following. Just follow the aroma of cinnamon—the recipe for this special oil is found in the Book of Exodus, and it contains myrrh, cassia, and cinnamon to be mixed with the olive oil. People weren't permitted to use the recipe for anything other than anointing.
But anointing didn't just leave the king's hair feeling shiny and soft; it was a symbolic way of transferring divine power and acceptance. The special oil was a sign of God's approval over this choice for king. It also meant that God's spirit was with the king at all times. The Almighty would favor and protect the king and his people from anyone who wanted to mess with them—"Do not touch my anointed ones'" (16:19-22).
Waiting for Anointing
Back in the day, Jews believed that a messiah would come and save the people from tyranny. The word messiah actually means, "anointed one," and the bible says that he will be a descendant of King David. Christians, of course, believe this messiah has come in the form of Jesus. The word "Christ" isn't Jesus' last name. It's actually the Greek word for "anointed one." The disciples believed that they had "found the Messiah (which is translated Anointed)" (John 1:41) and that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:38). Of course, this anointing isn't literal like it was for David and Solomon, so Jesus, sadly, had to skip the good hair day. But the divine stamp of approval was there.
In Pop Culture
Anointing isn't just for thousands-year-old king though. Book and movies still bring it up today:
- The TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a character called the Anointed One, who is actually a super evil little boy. He's chosen for wickedness.
- In the A Song of Fire and Ice books, a whole bunch of warriors are knighted by priests with seven oils. There's so many of them to knight that it takes the entire day.
- Shakespeare wrote in Richard II, "not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm off from an anointed king."
- Roman Catholic priests anoint folks to this day. It's a sacrament called Anointing of the Sick and the oil is supposed to bring healing and blessings to anyone in need.