Jesus and Spikenard Oil

I had never heard of Spikenard until I took a “Healing Oils of the Bible” class. In fact, I had never really thought of any specific oils used during Biblical times or what uses they might have. I always thought that when oil was mentioned in the Bible, it always meant olive oil. Yes, I had the impression that all that anointing was being done with just olive oil since that was the main oil mentioned. Olive oil is great, but it didn’t seem all that special in a spiritual sense.

Aromatic or essential oil is a totally different thing, though. Fatty oils, like olive oil are oils made by the plants to feed their seeds ( or nuts). Essential oils are the very circulatory juice of the plant. It is this oil that is the “Essence” of the plant. The molecules of this type of oil are much smaller, meaning that they are easier to absorb and they carry through the air. The 12 or so of these oils that are mentioned in the Bible are from plants that God gave us to stay healthy.

Essential oils are so complex that man cannot recreate them. The oils are ever changing – for a reason. Unlike man-made medicines, the oils from plants may change based on the plant’s origins and the weather. This means that bacteria and viruses cannot adapt and mutate when they come in contact with these medicines. That is something that man-made medicines have not been able to accomplish! There is biblical direction for taking care of our bodies and souls. There are no Biblical directives to adulterate and misuse any of God’s creations (plant or animal) to make medicines (that cause side effects) for obscene profit. And man-made, synthetic medicines that are prescribed for anxiety and depression may be the worst of these.

One amazing oil used for anxiety in the Bible is Spikenard. Nardostachys jatamansi (Spikenard) is also known as nard and Indian valerian root. It works as a sedative and antispasmodic for the indications of anxiety, restlessness, colic, varicose veins, and skin irritations. In the Bible, it is given to Jesus, I believe, to help with the anxiety of knowing what was ahead of him. There are several instances where Spikenard is mentioned in this way.

The very reason that this particular use of Spikenard is interesting to me goes back to my childhood. When I was very young, I thought about the crucifixion quite a bit (probably too much, in fact). I remember wondering how Jesus must have felt, knowing that he was going to be killed. Then I wondered how I would feel if it was me. Then I wondered how much it must have hurt. I wondered if he cried. I wondered why anyone would have to endure something like that. It was only a few weeks ago that I heard about Spikenard and how it must have helped Jesus during the anxiety and anticipation of the crucifixion.

According to David Stewart in Healing Oils of the Bible, Spikenard was “one of the last oils to be received by Jesus before being arrested and going to the cross, perhaps to help prepare him for the ordeal” (299). In Mathew 26:6-7, we see that a woman broke an alabaster jar and poured the contents on to Jesus’ head.[1] (As we will see, Spikenard was very expensive and was usually kept in alabaster jars.) In Luke 7:36-38, we see another lady break an alabaster box to anoint the feet of Jesus.[2] In Mark 14:3 we see how the woman at the leper’s house did indeed have an alabaster jar of Spikenard she used to anoint Jesus.[3] In John 12:1-3, Mary, the sister of Lazarus anoints Jesus with Spikenard again. This time, we see it is very expensive and a great honor to use on a guest.[4] In fact, David Stewart insists that in today’s costs, that amount of Spikenard would have cost about $2000 (220).

As Stewart explains, “anointment” was interchangeable with “ointment.” Usually, the anointing consisted of pouring oil over someone’s head and massaging it in. Keep in mind that the essential oil might have been mixed with a carrier oil, like olive oil. (So, I was partially right when I thought that they were pouring olive oil on each other.) Sometimes Spikenard was also blended with Myrrh.

Spikenard was not just popular in Biblical times. In fact, it was mentioned many times in Medieval England as early as 1350. Even later, Ben Johnson (one of my favorite dramatists of early modern England, mentions Spikenard as part of a healing decoction.[5] It is mentioned many times in English literature, either as the plant or as a biblical reference to the oil.

I love the smell of Spikenard. I love thinking that I am smelling the same smell as Jesus did all those years ago – that we are sharing something in the physical sense that I never thought possible before. In a practical sense, maybe we should take the story of Jesus being anointed with Spikenard to help with the end of life and apply it to others (the elderly and terminally ill) to help with their transition. I think it would make me feel better knowing that he smelled it too.

Notes

[1] 6And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper,

7There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he was at table.

[2] 36And one of the Pharisees desired Him that He would eat with him. And He went into the Pharisee's house and sat down to meat.


 37And behold, a woman in the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,


 38and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and began to wash His feet with tears and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment.

[3] 3And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious; and she broke the box and poured it on His head.

[4] Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

[5] “The decoction of turmericke, sesama, nard, spikenard.”

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