They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
Matthew 25:3-4 (KJV)
Oil – There’s been much debate over exactly what the oil represents in this parable. I know I’ve had many conversations on this topic myself. Is it the Holy Spirit? Is it our faith? What is the oil?
Well this is a parable, so the symbolism within can often perplex, confuse, or even astonish us. Yeshua often times used parables in His messages as was the tradition of the Rabbis. In fact Jewish/Rabbinic literature is filled with parables. Each one was intended to speak to the people listening at the time and would have been perfectly clear to those in the audience. But for those of us who are far removed from the Hebrew culture, we struggle with the symbolic nature of parables from time to time.
But remember, the Bible is a perfect interpretive source for itself. It can help reveal the meanings within by witnessing comparable nuances in other parts of the text. And so we dig. We dig into the Word and search for the answers.
To place the symbolism of oil properly in its context, I’ll quickly define some of the other symbolism within this parable.
The 5 wise virgins are those who obey the commandments. This is interpreted from Psalm 19:7, and Yeshua also used this definition in Matthew 7:24.
The 5 foolish virgins are those who despise instruction. This is found in Proverbs 1:7 and 10:8. Yeshua again, emphasizes this in Matthew 7:26.
The Lamp is the commandment of YHWH which is supported in Proverbs 6:23.
This ultimately leads us down the line to the oil. What is the oil?
The Oil is the desire for obedience. The interpretation can be found in Leviticus 24:2, but requires the understanding that the Lamp is the commandment, and the Light is the Torah (law).
Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually.
Leviticus 24:2 (KJV)
So we see that the oil is beaten from the olives (fruit) and placed into the commandment for the law to burn continually. We are known by our fruit, and according to Matthew 12:33, only good trees can produce good fruit. And that fruit is the proper application of the Word of God. So when applying the Word of God in our lives, it is recognized that there will be persecution for the sake of the kingdom. This persecution is the pressing of the olives into oil which then causes the Word of God, His Torah to go forth into the world. This happens all the time, and we see a good example of this in Acts 8:1 when many believers were scattered because of persecution, and as they were scattered, they brought the Torah to other regions.
Now let’s review the parable in full with these terms defined. The words in brackets have been added by this author.
1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps [commandment], and went forth to meet the bridegroom. 2 And five of them were wise [obedient], and five were foolish [disobedient]. 3 They that were foolish [disobedient] took their lamps [commandment], and took no oil[desire to obey] with them: 4 But the wise [obedient] took oil[desire to obey] in their vessels with their lamps [commandment]. 5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. 6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil [desire to obey]; for our lamps [commandment] are gone out. 9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. 11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Matthew 25:1-12 (KJV)
Did you notice that the wise instructed the foolish to go and buy more oil? This is a direct reference to another proverb.
Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.
Proverbs 23:23 (KJV)
The instruction, wisdom, and truth all define Torah, God’s law.
And finally we touch on the part where the remaining foolish virgins cry out “Lord, Lord”, but the answer is that He doesn’t know them. This is a perfect reflection of Matthew 7:22-23
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Matthew 7:22-23 (KJV)
The word “iniquity” above is defined as those who are “lawless”. They are the one’s who disobey the law – the foolish virgins.
Yes, all 10 virgins slept. God’s people have been in slumber for a long period of time, but they are waking up now and the wise are moving into obedience of God’s instructions. There is a movement happening and it’s happening even in your religion. Take a look around. Are you a part of it? Are you committing yourself to obedience toward the law of God, or are you going to be the one crying “Lord, Lord” after the gates have already been shut?