Green Oil

Psalm 92 is a song of thanksgiving in which the psalmist gives thanks to God for deliverance from his enemies. The psalm is the only one designated as “A Song for the Sabbath Day.”

The psalmist praises God for the greatness of his work. He thanks God for defeating his enemies and vindicating him: “My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants” (Psalm 92:11 [H 92:12]).

In thanksgiving to God for his vindication, the psalmist said: “But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil” (Psalm 92:10 [H 92:11]).

The expression “fresh oil” has been translated in many different ways: “fine oils, “the best oil,” “rich oil,” and “freshening oil.” The Hebrew word רָעֲנָן (ra‘anan) appears twenty times in the Hebrew Bible. Of these, fourteen times the word is associated with the word “tree,” once with leaves, once with branches, and once with oil. The word is also applied once to a couch, and twice to people.

When the Hebrew word רָעֲנָן appears associated with tree, generally the word is translated “green” and identifies the location where some Israelites practiced fertility religion. The expression “under every green tree” appears in Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23; 2 Kings 16:4, and several other passages.

In his study of the word רָעֲנָן, D. Winton Thomas (p. 389) said that when the word is used with trees, leaves, or branches, the word should be translated not as “green,” but as “thick with leaves, luxuriant, dense, or spreading.”

In Psalm 92:10, the word רָעֲנָן describes a kind of oil. The Septuagint translates the word as “rich oil.” The Targum translates the expression “with fresh anointing oil of a leafy olive-tree” and the Peshitta translates the expression as “aromatic oil.”

In my article on “Oil,” published in the Holman Bible Dictionary and available free on line, I wrote the following:

In biblical times, domestic oil was prepared from olives. Sometimes oil was combined with perfumes and used as a cosmetic (Esther 2:12). The extraction of oil from olives is abundantly confirmed by archaeological findings of stone presses found at several sites in Palestine. This oil, called “beaten oil,” was lighter and considered the best oil. After the beaten oil was extracted, another grade of oil was produced by heating the pulp and pressing it again.

In Psalm 92:10, the expression “fresh oil” should be translated “green oil.” Those who are familiar with olive oil know that there are three kinds of olive oil: “extra virgin olive oil,” “virgin olive oil,” and “olive oil.” The difference is that the extra virgin olive oil has a dark green color and the plain olive oil is almost yellow. The darker green the oil is the better the quality of the oil.

Paul Vossen, a pomologist at the University of California at David wrote:

The ultimate flavor of any variety can be completely changed by either harvesting the fruit green (unripe) or mature (ripe). The subtleties in between those two extremes still can have a big influence on the style of oil produced. Some producers believe that maturity can even have a greater influence on quality than the variety itself.

Green oils have the green herbaceous characteristic and riper fruit has more of an olive fruity flavor, while the oil from very ripe fruit is often buttery, less fruity to flat, and does not keep as well. The greener the fruit the more bitter and pungent the ultimate product and the longer its shelf life. Maturity is often a compromise, but is a key factor in determining the style of oil produced.

The green oil of Psalm 92:10 is the olive oil newly made, the same kind of oil used in the tabernacle, “pure oil of beaten olives” (Exodus 27:20). Green oil was the most pure and the most precious of all the oils used for anointing.

Therefore, when the psalmist says that the Lord poured green oil over his head, he was saying the Lord had greatly blessed him by anointing him with the best and most expensive oil.


D. Winton Thomas, “Some observations on the Hebrew Word רָעֲנָן.” Hebräische Wortforschung: Festschrift zum 80. Geburtstag von Walter Baumgartner. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967, pp. 387-97.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to Green Oil

  1. >Oh man, a culinary and theological lesson all in one. My wife and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and we use olive oil all the time. I think I might put that verse from Psalms up in our kitchen to remind us of God’s provision and protection. What a great object lesson. Thank you, Dr. Mariottini!


  2. >Steve,My wife and I enjoy olive oil in our cooking. In Spain people even put olive oil on french bread and eat it for breakfast. People who do not like olive oil don’t know what they are missing.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini


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