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Vayikra/Leviticus 24:2 ... oil of the olive, clear, crushed for the light, to bring up a light continually.
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The Hebrew text includes a number of unusual words. The adjective comes from the root - to be clean, clear and pure, both physically and morally - the verb is used in the Hif'il stem to mean "to cleanse": "If I should wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye" (Job 9:30, NASB). The adjective comes from the root - to pulverise, crush or grind - here it is passive and is often translated "beaten"; the verb is also used in an active way: "And they will hammer their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks" (Isaiah 2:4, NASB) and "He also broke into pieces the bronze serpent that Moshe had made" (2 Kings 18:4, NASB). These words are being used here in a technical sense, describing the way that olives are processed to produce the oil. The olives are broken up into pieces without being liquidised or mashed into an unrecognisable pulp.
In the years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the early rabbis recorded many of the ritual practices so that they could be re-instated when the Temple - as they then anticipated - was rebuilt. There is a lengthy description of the olive preparation process in the Mishnah (m. Menachot 8:4-5) which helps us to understand how the biblical words were implemented:
There are three [periods of gathering in the] olives and each crop gives three kinds of oil. The first crop of olives is when the olives are picked from the top of the tree; they are pounded [in a mortar] and put into the basket [and the oil oozes out and filters through the basket into the vessel below]; this gives the first oil. Then they are pressed with the beam (R. Judah says, with stone [weights]); this gives the second oil. They are finally ground and pressed again; this gives the third oil. The first [oil] is fit for the Candlestick and the others for meal-offerings. The second crop is when the olives at roof-level are picked from the tree [and processed in the same way]. The third crop is when the last olives [so low down that they will never ripen on the tree] of the tree are packed in the vat until they become overripe [lit. become rotten]; they are then taken up and dried on the roof and then pounded and [processed in the same way].
As to the first oil of the first crop, there is none better than it. The second oil of the first crop and the first oil of the second crop are equal. The third oil of the first crop, the second oil of the second crop and the first oil of the third crop are equal. The third oil of the second crop and the second oil of the third crop are equal. As to the third oil of the third crop, there is none worse than it.
Only the first oil was suitable for use in the menorah; that extracted with the minimum of processing and coercion. The first pressing was for the L-rd; the subsequent pressings were for commercial use. There is a similar classification of olive oil in the Italian and Greek oil producing families today with the first "cold pressed", "virgin" oil being highly prized and valued, sometimes never let out of the family onto the market. In this picture, we can see the way that the oil to be used in the menorah was prized and valued byHaShem - only the best, willingly and carefully given was appropriate for use in the Sanctuary.
Yeshua told a parable about a man who had two sons: "He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' He answered, 'I don't want to'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to his other son and said the same thing. This one answered, 'I will, sir'; but he didn't go" (Matthew 21:28-30, CJB). He then asked the Chief Priests and elders what they thought: "'Which of the two did what his father wanted?' 'The first,' they replied" (v. 31, CJB); what else could they say! Although he initially refused to go and work, he then did go; the second said that he would but didn't follow that up with action. "'That's right!' Yeshua said to them. 'I tell you that the tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of G-d ahead of you! For Yochanan came to you showing the path to righteousness, and you wouldn't trust him. The tax-collectors and prostitutes trusted him; but you, even after you saw this, didn't change your minds later and trust him'" (vv. 31-32, CJB). The Chief Priests and elders were needing a lot of processing, a lot of squeezing to get them to make any movement, so although they made the right noises, nothing was happening - they didn't turn up for work. The tax-collectors and prostitutes, and those who were looked down as being "sinners" because they didn't keep up to the high standards of the religious professionals, might have initially appeared to be ignoring G-d's invitation to enter the kingdom, but by their actions they were now demonstrating that they didn't need any processing or squeezing - they were only too ready to accept G-d's invitation and were lining their feet up with their mouths.
We can see this reflected again in the account of the olive processing above. The "first" pressing from all three grades - even though they were collected at different times, from olives of widely differing quality and ripeness - was considered suitable for use in the menorah. It was the amount of processing that made the difference; if the olive mass had to be re-ground or explicit mechanical pressure exerted to extract the oil, then although it could be used for meal offerings - which were largely consumed by the priests - it was not suitable for burning in the menorah as a total offering (like the burnt offering, which had to be without blemish) to the L-rd.
So it is with us. Whether young or old, whether our first religious experience or the last of many as we trawled through this, that and the other on the way to really hearing about the kingdom, G-d is interested in whether we accepted His offer willingly and followed up with our actions, or whether we were strong-armed into it, gave a reluctant verbal but not heart commitment, and then did nothing about it. Many people have a few false starts before finding the Yeshua; some resist Him for years until they really hear what it is all about, but then they can't wait to sign up and G-d's grace for them simply shines through their lives as they are turned completely around.
Yeshua never asked the first disciples to make converts; He asked them to make more disciples. He wasn't - and still isn't - after yes-men who say the words but do nothing, who have a Bible on their bookshelf but never read it, who put money into the collection when the bag goes round but never give sacrificially and unseen to the poor and needy on their doorstep. Rav Sha'ul told the Corinthians that "G-d loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7); this is much less about money than about the way that time, resources, hospitality, good-cheer, companionship and life are given: in an open-handed way, freely and willingly rather than grudgingly and belatedly after much coercion and squeezing. That is the offering that is suitable for burning in the menorah, that makes the light in the Sanctuary dance and glow even when it is dark outside.
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 13:8-12; Matthew 20:4-7; 1 Corinthians 15:58
Application: A is for Attitude. Do we always get an 'A' for our attitude towards G-d and obeying Him willingly when He asks us to do or give something? What kind of offering do we bring - is it the first pressing or the hard squeeze?
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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