Topical and Doctrinal Notes
Leading Thought: Oil and Vessels
The oil about which we read in today's story is the best and most wonderful oil on earth: namely, olive-oil. This is pressed out of the fruit of a tree which grows only in warm countries, as in Palestine and adjacent lands: in the south of Europe: and also in the United States, in the southern portion of California.
I wish I could tell you about this wonderful tree, the olive-tree, or, as it is also called in the Scriptures, the “tree of oil,”' and also tell you the stories that are told about it in the word, but we cannot stop for this at present. Today we have time only to learn about the oil that is pressed from its fruit.
It is very difficult to buy olive-oil that is pure, except where the olive-trees grow. Most of the olive-oil that we buy for the table is not pure but is mixed with other oils. Still, if you will get some of this, you will have a fair idea of what pure olive-oil is like. You will notice that it has a beautiful golden color, slightly tinged with a soft green; it has a delicate aroma, a very pleasant taste, and is very smooth to the touch. And you cannot imagine all the different uses it is put to.
It is used as food. We read in the Word that the holy bread was generally made of flour mixed with oil. It was also spread upon bread like butter. It was burnt in lamps, making a beautiful soft light. It is used as medicine, both internally and outwardly: you may remember the story of the good Samaritan who poured oil and wine into the wounds of the man who had been set upon by the robbers. (Luke 10) It is used in softening the skin and the hair. It is used to prevent friction in machinery. It is used as a preservative in bottles of wine, floating on the top of the wine so that no air can get at it. It is used to make soap. And it has other uses.
But the most important use which it performed was in anointing. What was that? The oil was poured on people or things for a holy purpose. You may remember that Jacob poured oil on the stone which he had used as a pillow, the time that he had the lovely dream of the ladder that reached heaven. (Gen. 28:18) You will also remember that kings and priests were anointed, and that the Lord Himself when He was in the world was anointed. (John 11:2; 12:3) Anointing oil for the priests and for the Lord was made of olive-oil mixed with expensive perfumes.
Since oil is so very useful, it is valuable. In ancient times, kings had regular oil cellars, where the oil was stored, and they were looked upon as part of their wealth. To have a great quantity of oil was as good as having gold, and so the widow in our story was enriched by having the great quantity of oil given her by Elisha's miracle.
We can understand that oil, being so very useful and valuable, and being the very life of the tree from which it comes, corresponds to something very useful and valuable, which is the very life of humanity and performs spiritual uses corresponding to the natural uses to which the material oil is put.
This valuable, precious, useful, vital thing is love and the goodness which belongs to love. Most especially love to the Lord. Just as oil is food for the body, so love feeds the soul. As oil in lamps gives a soft light, so love yields the light of truth for the mind. When we have no love, we have no light, just like the foolish virgins in the Lord’s parable. (Matt. 25) As oil heals wounds and relieves pain and restores to health, so love heals the hurts of the spirit and helps to comfort and refresh people who suffer spiritual distress. As oil relieves friction, so love prevents people from growing hot against each other. As oil preserves, so love keeps evil from attacking and destroying the spiritual-minded person. As oil made into soap cleanses, so love helps to purify the mind, etc.
Because oil corresponds to love, and this good love is holy, therefore whenever any person or thing was to represent something holy, the person or thing was anointed with oil. The stone which Jacob used as a pillow when the dream of the Lord came to him became holy by his anointing it with oil. The weapons of war, shields and spears, because they represented the truths with which we fight against our spiritual enemies, were anointed with oil; they then represented truths which are holy only when they are used from a good love. When the altars and their vessels, and the tent of the congregation and all the articles in it were to be used for the purposes of holy worship, they were anointed with oil. And so were the priests and their garments, and the prophets, and finally the kings, In consequence, the kings were called “the anointed.” The Hebrew word for anointed is “Messiah.” The Greek word is “Christ.” The Lord's name, therefore, means “the Anointed One.” He was anointed, that is, filled with Divine Love. Beside these holy uses, it was a common custom in ancient times for people to anoint themselves and others in order thereby to express the gladness of their minds and also their good will to one another.
Do not forget, then, that “oil” signifies good, and the delight and pleasure we feel when we love and do what is good; and that the holy oil, or “oil of holiness,” which was prepared for the purpose of anointing whatever was used in worship, signified the Divine Good of the Divine Love; that is, the goodness that is in the Lord.
But we need something else beside good. The widow had a little oil, but she had it in a vessel. And her oil did not multiply until she had borrowed more vessels to hold it. Without vessels, the oil would have been of no use to her: it would have been spilled on the ground. Now what do the vessels represent? They represent truths. It is truth that holds good as a vessel holds oil. Did you ever think of that?
Can people love good unless they have the truth which tells them what good is, and you do the good thing of loving the Lord if you do not know Him? Can you do the good thing of helping poor people if you do not know them, and if you do not know that they are poor, and how you can relieve their poverty? Can you do the good thing of loving the neighbor unless you know the truth that you must shun the evil that would hurt the neighbor? We must have truth to hold our goodness. And, therefore, the Lord provides that we shall have truths. He gives us His Word and His Doctrines for the purpose.
Now, can you “borrow” truths as the widow borrowed vessels? How can you “borrow” truths? When you borrow a jug or a pitcher, you ask it of someone who has it. So you “borrow” truths by asking questions, by learning truths, from others. And we must learn many truths, just as the widow was told to borrow vessels “not a few.” The more truths we learn from the Lord's Word, the more good we can receive from Him. Those who have few truths can have but little good.
But the vessels must be “empty.” What does that mean? Do you know what it means to put yourself into a thing? If you know many things, and feel proud and puffed up and vain about your knowledges, then you put yourself into them, and then the Lord cannot be in them. The Lord alone is good, and He can fill with the good of love only the vessels of truth that are empty of self.
If, then, you want to become a really good person, that is, a useful person - one who will be very useful all through life in this world and then in heaven forever - you must learn many truths from the Lord’s Word and Doctrines, and keep your self out of them.