Oil, in its different forms, makes a crucial component of modern day economies and has a vast number of uses in people’s daily lives. Organic oils, extracted from vegetables and animals, play a key role in food preparation, cosmetics and in the ceremonies and rituals of some religions. The discovery and use of crude oil has revolutionized the way humanity thrives. It is from crude oil where we get fuel to power motor vehicles, airplanes and for electricity generation. Lubricants for industrial machines, paints, coolants for electric transformers, and bitumen for road surfacing all contain substances extracted from petroleum. It is thus not a surprise that countries that export crude oil, OPEC countries, tend to flourish economically or on the other end have been involved in conflict over this precious resource.
In the Bible we come across a number of references to oil as a vital substance. For instance, in the story of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) the woman and her son had been left with only a handful of flour and little oil when the Lord, through Elijah, performed a miracle to supply their need through that whole famine. In 2 Kings 13, we also meet another widow whose deceased husband had left her a debt. Similarly, the woman did not have many possessions to repay the debt save one vessel of oil. Again God, this time through Elisha, performs a miracle to provide an abundant supply of oil to fill the many vessels that the woman had borrowed. The woman then sells the oil and repays her debt. In Matthew 25, we meet the parable of the ten virgins told by Jesus and in that account there is reference to oil, and there is an oil crisis in that story as well.
According to Eastern culture, a wedding ceremony would take a number of days. The bride and her guests would wait at some place for the arrival of the bridegroom, who when he arrived, would take the whole company, with their shining lamps, in an evening procession to the bridegroom’s home. This is the scene we meet in Matthew 25. Part of the guests include ten virgins who are waiting on the bridegroom. In possession they have lamps and oil; however there is a difference, five of them have extra oil in containers and the other five do not have. The oil is the one that fuels the lamps so they can shine. In the story, it happens that the bridegroom is delayed and does not arrive at the anticipated time, and we are told that all the ten virgins “slumbered and slept”.
As we submit to Him, the Spirit of God works on our hearts to apply the truth of God into our lives, helping us to overcome sin and transforming our characters after the similitude of Christ.
However, at midnight a call is made “Behold, the Bridegroom comes, go out to meet him”. It is at this time that a crisis emerges. As the virgins arouse from their slumber, they trim their lamps so they can join the procession to the wedding feast. At this time five of the virgins, the foolish ones, realize that their lamps were going out and they did not have sufficient oil to take them through the procession. In the emergency they request oil from the other five, and to their surprise they are told it was not possible to share the oil with them. As they rush to buy oil, the procession goes to the marriage feast and the door is shut. On returning they knock at the door and seek admittance but they are denied and the bridegroom tells them “I do not know you”
There are key lessons we learn from this parable. Firstly, we have to notice that the story is symbolic and represents the experience of the “kingdom of God” in the last days. A woman in Scripture symbolizes a church (2 Corinthians 11:2, Jeremiah 6:2) and the fact that they were virgins indicates that they have a pure faith, in other words they are not contaminated with false doctrines. The lamps are a symbol of the Word of God that they have (Psalm 119:105) and the oil represents the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives (Zechariah 4:1-6). Again the context of the story shows that it applies to the last days as the church is waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus back to earth.
It is important to notice that the foolish virgins missed out on the heavenly kingdom because they did not have enough oil, that is, they did not experience the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to prepare them for God’s kingdom. So what does the Holy Spirit do in a Christian’s life? Christ tells us, He says “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” John 16:13. As we submit to Him, the Spirit of God works on our hearts to apply the truth of God into our lives, helping us to overcome sin and transforming our characters after the similitude of Christ. As this work is done, the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ will be seen in the Christian’s life. We are told in Galatians; “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” Galatians 5:21,22. As Christians, along with our lamps-the Word of God, we are to daily ask God for fresh supplies of the Spirit, the oil, that He may prepare us for the kingdom of God. If we do this work faithfully we shall be found among the wise virgins who will be ready when the Bridegroom comes.