A Word for Today – Mashah


Mashah (Anointing)

Most office holders today are usually appointed without a great deal of ceremony. But this was not the case in Old Testament times where those who were appointed as prophets, priests, and kings were subject to what Stephen Renn describes as the ‘theologically significant phenomenon of anointing’.1 This formal anointing ritual involved the use of sacred oil made from various spices, Exod. 25. 6, to consecrate an individual to the service of God and thereby confirm fitness for the office, e.g., Exod. 28. 41. The Hebrew verb mashah is used in the Old Testament to describe the actual process of anointing, and the related word mashiah is used to describe the person who has been anointed (’the anointed one’). A second derivative of mashah is the restricted term mishhah, which refers to the actual anointing oil used in the formal anointing ceremony;2 the verb is used both generally and technically in the Old Testament. Eastern culture set great store on the custom of anointing individuals, either on the head or the body, with some form of oil. It is recorded of Ruth that prior to her meeting with Boaz at the threshing floor, she was instructed by Naomi to bathe and then anoint herself (‘perfume yourself’, Ruth 3. 3. NIV). Anointing would also be regarded as a mark of respect towards an honoured guest, hence David’s comments in Psalm 23 verse 5, and why our Lord took such great exception to the lack of courtesy shown by Simon the Pharisee in Luke chapter 7 verse 46. On the other hand, it was inappropriate to anoint with oil when in mourning, 2 Sam. 14. 2; Dan. 10. 2, 3.

Even though the Hebrew verb mashah is used only on one occasion to describe the anointing of a prophet, 1 Kgs. 19. 16, this was probably not unprecedented,3 and references to the anointing of priests and kings are numerous in the Old Testament. In Leviticus chapter 4 verse 3, we read of ‘the anointed priest’, which may refer to Aaron as the High Priest who was, ‘The priest who is exalted above his fellows, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been ordained to wear the vestments’, Lev. 21. 10.4 Similarly, of the initiation right of Israel’s first king, Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it upon Saul’s head, thus acknowledging that God had authorized Saul to be ruler over His people Israel, 1 Sam. 10. 1. Whilst this procedure is replicated by Samuel in respect of David, 16. 13, nonetheless, throughout his life, Saul would be the Lord’s anointed, hence David’s reticence to kill him despite considerable provocation, 24. 7, 8; 26. 9. As John Oswalt observes, ‘Not only did the anointing presuppose special obligations, it was also considered to convey special status; this was the Lord’s anointed, 2 Sam. 23. 1. To touch this person was in some sense to touch the Lord himself’.5 Successive kings would also be designated ‘the Lord’s anointed’, e.g., Abishai refers to David in this context in 2 Samuel chapter 19 verse 21, again emphasizing God’s choice of the individual, cp. Lam. 4. 20. According to W. E. Vine, ‘In Isaiah 10.27, the yoke of Assyrian tyranny was to be destroyed “because of the anointing" that is, because of the consecration divinely appointed for God’s people Israel, by reason of their union with their king, “The Lord’s anointed”. Their deliverance is due to identification with him’.6

In the Septuagint (LXX) the Hebrew word mashiah (‘anointed one’) is translated by the Greek word Christos hence the transliterated word ‘Christ’ that appears so frequently in the New Testament. Occasionally, the Aramaic form of mashiah (Messiah) is also found in the New Testament, see John 1. 41; 4. 25. The fact that prophets, priests and kings were ‘anointed’, pointed unmistakably to one who would come later and also be described as the ‘anointed one’ – Christ. This was reflected in the prophecy of Daniel chapter 9 verse 25, as well as in the literature of the intertestamental period, where the eschatological hope of a coming Messiah or Christ, was maintained even into our Lord’s day.

In the New Testament, anointing confirmed our Lord’s ministry as He read from the prophet Isaiah, Luke 4. 17, and was anointed by the Holy Spirit in fulfilment of Isaiah chapter 61 verse 17 – the use of oil being a symbolic emblem of the Holy Spirit, Heb. 1. 9. In Psalm 2 verse 2 we see the title ‘anointed’ given to our Lord amidst the clamour of worldly opposition, and, later, the title is vindicated by the Holy Spirit who subsequently empowers the disciples to boldly preach the word of God, Acts 4. 25-31. The Holy Spirit is thus clearly linked with this sacred anointing, which for the believer means that they too ‘have been anointed by the Holy One’, 1 John. 2. 20, 27, ESV; cp. 2 Cor. 1. 21, and set apart to serve God. May our service for Him therefore always be Spirit-filled.

For further reading/study


  • Anoint, Anointing in Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words, W. E. Vine, pp. 10-11.


  • Anointing in Dictionary of the Old Testament – Historical Books, Arnold and Williamson (Eds), pp. 32-36.



Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, pg. 37.


The anointing oil was not to be used for cosmetic purposes nor for any other purpose, Exod. 30. 34-38.


See Psalm 105. 15. (Tanakh translation), ‘Do not touch My anointed ones; do not harm My prophets’.


Quoted from the Tanakh Translation which can be accessed at http://biblehub.com/jps/leviticus/21.htm. In Psalm 45 verse 7, a similar comment is used of a king, and this text is then applied in the New Testament by the writer to the Hebrews to prove the superiority of God’s Son over angelic beings, Heb. 1. 9.


New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Willem A. VanGemeren, Zondervan, pg. 1125.


Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words, pg. 11. Vine is following the RV's translation of verse 27, i.e. ‘because of the anointing’. The meaning of the Hebrew is, however, unclear. Motyer concludes that the ‘because of the anointing’ is ‘probably the nearest to a satisfactory meaning of the text as it stands’, Prophecy of Isaiah, pg. 119.


Compare Matt. 3. 16; Acts 4. 27; 10. 38.


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