A fly in the ointment

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—  Doctor, Doctor, there’s a fly in the ointment!

—  Yes, he’s recovering from a nasty soup burn.

Ehem. “A fly in the ointment” is that minor detail that causes major irritation. The phrase has evolved from its biblical origins in Ecclesiastes:

“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”  (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

The KJB renders it “The ointment of the apothecary” as though this were the work of the pharmacist.  But, Scripturally speaking, these Hebrew words refer almost universally to the ointment of the priests.  This is the perfumed ointment you’d find in the temple.  In fact it’s more literally the scented “oil” which is being ruined by the stench of death. We’ve thought previously of how kings, priests and prophets were anointed with oil in the Old Testament.  And how the oil of the High Priest was meant to flow down to bless others. But in Ecclesiastes 10 there is a problem.  One who is meant to be wise and honourable acts foolishly.  It is usually kings who are described as wise and honourable.  So here is a priestly king whose rule is ruined by folly.  It might seem like only a little folly.  But then the fly in the ointment is only a little fly.  Yet through this seemingly small intruder, the oil of blessing is ruined.  Instead of life flowing down, it is death that spreads. And so it was with Adam.  He was meant to rule in wisdom and honour.  But through folly he spread death everywhere.  It might have seemed a slight thing, his eating of forbidden fruit, but it was the ultimate fly in the ultimate ointment.  Life should have flowed out from that garden but, through sin, it was death that spread from Adam. Thank God for a true Ruler in wisdom and honour.  This King is also our High Priest.  And as Hebrews declares,

such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).

And so through Christ the undefiled oil of His Spirit flows out for the blessing of the world.

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