It was one of the least interesting things on the Israel itinerary… or so I thought.
After all, it was up against sites like the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and the tomb where Jesus was supposedly buried. How could a piece of equipment even compare?
It didn’t help that we’d been hiking all morning on a sweltering summer day. Although we’d enjoyed a brief respite from the heat whilst visiting an underground cave, our group was more than ready to head back to the comfort of our air-conditioned coach.
“Wait,” our tour guide said urgently, motioning to us to come back. “We need to go see the olive press now.”
Visually speaking, an olive press doesn’t look very impressive. It’s basically a crude millstone on top of another stone. Traditional olive presses harnessed a donkey that would pull a lever around the millstone and crush the olives in the process.
To be honest, I might have tuned out a little during the guide’s explanation of how it worked. But my ears pricked up when I heard the word “Gethsemane”.
What does Gethsemane have to do with olives? Well, the word “Gethsemane” comes from two Hebrew words “Gat” and “Shmanim” and it means “the place where olive oil is pressed.”
Prior to this trip, I’d only ever heard the word “Gethsemane” as part of the Bible—the Garden of Gethsemane being the place where Jesus went to pray just before His crucifixion. Our tour guide’s information about the olive press gave me a new insight into this.
Olive trees thrive in the rocky hard soil where most crops are not able to grow. As you may have guessed from the name, they are abundant on the Mount of Olives where the Garden of Gethsemane was located. The olive trees in this garden are thought to be among the oldest in the world.
"Suddenly, the olive press was so much more than a crude millstone. . ."
As olives go through the crushing process, they gradually produce a paste that is smeared onto burlap fabric. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for ‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed’ but it can also be translated as ‘smeared’. Fully crushed olives produce a reddish liquid that looks similar to blood. This brings to mind Luke 22:44, which describes Jesus’ sweat falling to the ground like great drops of blood.
Gethsemane. The place where olives are pressed to make oil. The place where Jesus prayed before the pressure of the world’s sins would crush the life out of Him.
Suddenly the olive press was so much more than a crude millstone. And a few days later, when we did visit the Garden of Gethsemane, I had a much deeper appreciation of the Bible story that I associated with it.
But the word ‘press’ is significant in the Bible in other ways too. Here are three Bible verses that resonated with me, and the lessons that I took from them.
- “And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.”—Luke 8:45.
Have you ever been in a really busy crowd? Jesus was on a constant basis—He had a multitude following Him wherever he went! Yet in the midst of the people jostling for His attention, he managed to feel the touch of one individual—the bleeding woman who needed healing.
You might be in need of healing—physical or spiritual—today, but feel that you’re too insignificant for God to notice or care about. Ignore that voice in your head! Jesus might be King of the Universe but He’s also a God that cares about personal relationships. Reach out to Him – He cares about you.
- “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…” —2 Corinthians 4:8.
You’ve probably heard it before but I’ll say it again—Jesus has gone through everything we could possibly go through—and much worse. He’s experienced all the temptations, been hurt in any way we could be, felt each and every human emotion. There will be days when you’ll feel discouraged and wonder why your life is the way it is. Rest in the assurance that we may be afflicted, but we will not be crushed… because Jesus went through the crushing for us.
- “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”— Philippians 3:14.
When life gets you down, press on. When your faith feels weak, press on. When you feel like you can’t continue, press on. And encourage one another. We can only persevere as we keep our minds on the end goal—eternity with Jesus, the One who was crushed for our sins yet loves us with an everlasting love.