The emblems of the Spirit of God used in the Scriptures, with their deep and varied significance, are better recognised and appreciated after some acquaintance with the doctrine of the New Testament. The obscurity of some past-age ordinances and practices is removed when they are studied in the light of this. The principal symbols are:
The first mention of the dove in Scripture, ‘Also he (Noah) sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground’, Gen. 8. 8, and the associated context, point to the gentle ministry of assurance and earnest of the Spirit. The dove made known what was invisible to the ‘prisoners of hope’. This bird of love and mourning fittingly sets forth the tenderness of the Holy person who rested upon the Man of sorrows. We read, ‘And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him’, John 1. 32. Upon no other man could the Spirit descend with such complacency and delight.
The descent of dew in a calm atmosphere, under cloudless skies, with a temperature above freezing point, is a symbol of the refreshment and fructifying power of the Spirit. There are many passages of holy writ where this emblem is used (e.g., Ex. 16. 13-14; Jud. 6. 36-40). Dry and fruitless will our labour be without the presence of the Spirit.
Tongues of fire leap from point to point until they have consumed the whole mass. This directs attention to the penetrating power and testing of the Spirit. This was much in evidence in Pentecostal days (see Acts 2. 3; Rev. 4. 5).
In eastern lands particularly, a brook of water is needed to make the earth rejoice and cause the soil to bring forth fruit. Achsah requested of her father Caleb ‘springs of water’ in addition to ‘the field’ for this very reason (see Jud. 1. 11-15). This denotes the life-giving and productive power of the Spirit.
Wind has its laws as has every physical agent, but these are so complicated and evasive that it has always been a symbol of freedom. The event of Pentecost and the effectiveness of the testimony of the early church has made it clear that the sovereign and irresistible ministry of the Spirit is symbolised by the wind (see Acts 2. 2; John 3. 8).
The practice of anointing with oil, or with oil intermingled with certain perfumes, seems to be of great antiquity in the warm regions of the South and East. The spheres of use were both common and sacred; in the former, oil was used for the purpose of invigoration or refreshment, in the latter as a symbol and means of consecration.
The anointing oil suggests the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. When Saul was anointed to be king, Samuel said, ‘the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee’, 1 Sam. 10. 6; contrast 16. 14. When David was appointed king in the room of Saul we are told, ‘Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward’, 1 Sam. 16.13. The same connection is brought out by Isaiah prophetically, where he records the words of the Messiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek’, 61. 1; cf. Luke 4. 18-19. Again, in the New Testament, the same thought is expressed. Peter in his speech to Cornelius and his household said, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power’. Acts 10. 38. Of Christians generally it is said, ‘ye have an unction (or anointing) from the Holy One, and ye know all things’, 1 John 2.20. The place given to ‘anointing’ throughout the Scriptures encourages a careful examination of the commands regarding the holy anointing oil in Exodus 30. 22-33.
Only the top quality, the most highly esteemed perfumes were used in the compound, referred to as ‘principal spices’, v. 23. The best is provided for sanctuary purposes, being a reminder that what God has been pleased to impart to His people cannot be improved or supplemented by anything of man’s devising. The modern, jaded, restless innovator will waste his days by ignoring the commands of God regarding the sacred ministries which are of pleasure to Him. Our estimate of what is acceptable to God is not what matters. Whether we see His design and purpose or not, there must be humble submission to God’s declared choice. Faith will accept this as best, await illumination on all matters, and the reward of patience.
These were pure myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus and cassia, vv. 23-24. They are all the produce of trees, the result of vegetation and life, and represent the excellencies and perfections of Christ as Son of man, ‘the chiefest among ten thousand’ and ‘altogether lovely’. His humanity was so excellent and perfect that even the most bitter of His opponents admire His character as depicted in the four Gospels.
Pure or free-flowing myrrh. ‘The trunk of the myrrh tree is covered with a light grey bark which, as well as the wood, emits a strong balsamic smell. The characteristic gum-resin exudes in small, tear-like drops which dry and harden on the bark, and its flow is increased by wounding the tree’ (Imperial). Myrrh has a bitter taste, a strong perfume, and a soothing power in pain, all suggestive of Christ’s spontaneous ministry of conviction and comfort. In His faithful dealings with the Pharisees our Lord said, ‘I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins’, John 8. 24. That was a ministry of ‘bitterness’. But a soothing ministry of comfort was known by the repentant woman when He said, ‘Thy sins are forgiven’, Luke 7. 48.
Sweet cinnamon. This was obtained from the inner bark of a tree. In Scripture it is always mentioned as a perfume (see Prov. 7. 17; S. of Songs 4. 14; Rev. 18. 13). It was part of the inside of the tree covering suggesting the affability of Christ as known by those who walked with Him closely.
What deepened impressions were made on the hearts of the apostles after He opened to them at the final Paschal feast secrets of the most intimate of spiritual relationships. He did not gratify the natural desires, yet His tender words drew forth their love and confidence, and in this is moral power.
Sweet Calamus. This is produced from the pith of a stalk or cane, the very heart of the plant, and draws attention in symbol to the character of Christ. The fragrance of Christ’s character came of His predominant passion to obey the Father. The thought, feelings and affection of the Saviour were all set to do the will of Him that sent Him. Even in the hour of His agony in the garden this was made manifest by His prayer, ‘not my will, but thine, be done’, Luke 22. 42.
Cassia. This is a product of the outer bark of the tree, and a reminder of the attractiveness of Christ. He was morally beautiful. The weak were drawn by the magnetism of His charm; children were at home in His arms; strong characters submitted to His guidance; crowds listened to His words transfixed by their power and appeal.
These different spices were weighed for compounding ‘after the shekel of the sanctuary’, which means probably no more than an exact shekel. Christ alone has satisfied the holy estimate of God as regards the virtues of manhood.
Oil olive. This ingredient is a consistent symbol of the Holy Spirit, from the ‘olive leaf pluckt off’, Gen. 8. 11, to the ‘two olive trees’, Rev. 11. 4. The spices being mingled with this oil brings to mind the expression ‘the Spirit of Christ’ (see Rom. 8. 9). This draws our attention to the virtues of Christ who was made ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’, and who ever moved in the power of the Holy Spirit. The sanctifying operation of the same Spirit imparts to the believer the graces of Christ, just as the fragrance of the spices was spread by the oil in which they were mingled.
According to Jewish tradition, the essences of the spices were first extracted, and then mixed with the oil. The great proportion of solid matter compared with oil makes this probable. The holy anointing oil was compounded in a manner which produced the most fragrant and refreshing anointing, ‘after the art of the apothecary’, v. 25. In this delightful and exhilarating influence on the bodily sense, it aptly represents the blessed effect of the Spirit’s grace on the soul. By even diffusion of the essences through the whole of the hin of oil olive so that no one perfume took precedence above another, we learn another wonder of the Person of Christ. No grace in Him interfered with or suppressed another. All is perfect and harmonious in His character which through the power of the Holy Spirit is sent up to God in a perfection of fragrance.
THE TWOFOLD USE
i. The sanctuary and its furnishings, vv. 26-29. The ‘tent of meeting’, R.V., draws attention to the assemblings of the people before God; ‘the ark of the testimony’, to the responsibility of making known the divine revelation; ‘the table’ of shewbread, to the fellowship of the priesthood; ‘the lamp-stand’, Newberry, to the ministry of illumination; ‘the altar of burnt offering’, to consecration; ‘the laver’, to practical fitness for the service of God; the whole sanctuary with its different vessels was pervaded with one perfume. And so with the present day churches of the saints, the privileges, services and devotions are to be fulfilled in the power of the one Spirit who alone can impart the fragrance of Christ to God in the same.
ii. Aaron and his sons, v. 30. Aaron is a type of Christ, our high priest, anointed in resurrection and ascension (see Acts 4. 25-27). Aaron’s sons are a type of believers. The anointing of Aaron constituted his sons as priests, and so our Lord having been anointed in glorification has ‘shed forth’ the Spirit upon His people constituting them ‘a holy priesthood’, (see Acts 2. 33; 1 Pet. 2. 5-9). The Spirit’s anointing of the believer means his setting apart to God to function in His presence. The believer is now part of a spiritual unity, and is independent of human opinion and reasoning (see 1 John 2. 20, 27).
THE PERMANENCE OF THE PRESCRIPTION
‘This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations’, v. 31. The insistence upon the use of the provision made for the sanctification of the priests has its far reaching import for the believer-priest of this present unique age. What God has accomplished through His Spirit is no mere formal act, but in the language of the beloved apostle it ‘abideth in you’. ‘Changing times’ were all anticipated in this provision by the God of grace. Therefore the believer in the good of the power of his anointing will not falter in the discharge of his spiritual responsibility. His calling and authority has a force which is ever up-to-date.
It was strictly forbidden to use the holy anointing oil for any common purpose, ‘Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured’, vv. 32, 33. This command denotes that there cannot be the least congeniality between the flesh, sinful and corrupt as it is, and the graces produced by the Holy Spirit. Nature in the highest state of cultivation, in its most amiable traits, cannot be owned in the service of God. There is a deep and growing necessity to insist upon this where there is a subtle substitution of man’s thoughts and opinions for the inspired Word of God. Intellect is almost deified in the modern world, but the believer must remember that there is a limit to the power of the human mind, and it can by no means enter into the precincts of divine revelation (see 1 Cor. 2. 10-14).
Further, it was not to be imitated. ‘Whosoever compoundeth any like it,… shall even be cut off from his people’ v. 33. Such an act of sacrilege would meet with the judgment of God. At the beginning of the different ages of time God manifested His displeasure in the breaches of His will. The judgment upon the spurious consecration of Ananias and Sapphira is an example in the present age (see Acts 5. 1-11). Their imitation of the work of the Spirit is the counterpart of the forbidden things in our text. Let us take heed to the principle embedded therein, and refrain from substituting the energy of the flesh for the power of the Spirit of God after the manner of the guilty pair. Genuine communion alone is life!
To be followed by ‘The Leading of the Spirit’.