What Gethsemane means

Olive tree

Olive oil is pressed from
the fruit of the olive tree

The Garden of Gethsemane, on the side of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, is where Jesus went to pray before His ordeal on the cross of Calvary.

The Bible says that Jesus was troubled and overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of sweating drops of blood. Three times Jesus prayed that if it were possible the cup of suffering would be taken from Him, but that the will of the Father would nevertheless be done.

Chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” and that He did this “for the joy set before Him”. In other words, although He was under immense pressure, and in torment at the suffering He was undergoing, He pressed on, firstly, because it was the will of the Father and, secondly, because, by faith, He knew that He would have great joy on the other side of the suffering.

The setting of His spiritual travail before the crucifixion, at Gethsemane, and even the name of the place, is deep with meaning.

“Gethsemane” is a corruption into English of two Hebrew words GAT and SHMANIM. As others have pointed out, it is taken to mean “the place where olive oil is pressed”.

Olive presses are to be found in Israel and throughout the Mediterranean region.

The more pressure, the more oil

At an olive press, olives were gathered into rough sacks and stacked one on top of another. A beam was lowered onto the stack and increasing weight was added to the end of the beam to press oil from the olives. The more pressure, the more oil.

Olive oil, in the symbolism of the Bible, is a picture of the presence of the Spirit of God [Genesis 28:16-18]. Oil was used for anointing priests [Exodus 29:7 and Leviticus 8:12], and kings [1 Samuel 10:1 and 2 Samuel 2:4]. It was also used to bring light [Exodus 27:20 ) from the menorah in the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

Genesis 28:16-18

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it”

Exodus 29:7

Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head.

Leviticus 8:12

He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.

1 Samuel 10:1

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?

2 Samuel 2:4

Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah …

Exodus 27:20

Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.


Olive oil is produced under pressure. It brings joy to those who produce it [Psalms 45:7, Isaiah 61:1-3, and Hebrews 1:9].

Psalms 45:7

…God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning…

Hebrews 1:9

“… God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”


Insights from the Hebrew

Now, here is a further insight into the Hebrew words GAT and SHMANIM.

Trials and tribulations, pressure and suffering, are part of the human condition. Christians do not escape.

GAT, as a Hebrew word by itself (Hebrew: gimel, tav), means a winepress.

SHMANIN means oils, and is the plural of the Hebrew word SHEMEN, for oil.

A literal translation of GAT SHMANIM would be “winepress of oils”.

Adding the imagery of a winepress brings an extra dimension to the picture. The Bible says that wine “gladdens the heart”. Wine is not to be taken ‘unto drunkenness’, but it is a gift from God. There are several pictures in the Bible of wine and oil symbolising the favour of God [Psalms 104:14-15, Hosea 2:8, Hosea 2:21-22 and Joel 2:24].

Psalms 104:14-15

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

Hosea 2:8

“… I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold …”

Hosea 2:21-22

“In that day I will respond,” declares the LORD – “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil …”

Joel 2:24

The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.


The suffering and sacrifice of Jesus allowed the Holy Spirit to be poured out on those who believe in Him. There is joy in our salvation, and joy in the promise of what is to come in eternity.

Trials and tribulations, pressure and suffering, are part of the human condition. Christians do not escape.

However, Christians have the joy of knowing that God is with us through times of pressure and suffering, and that He allows it because the final outcome will be good [James 1:2-3, and Romans 8:28].

James 1:2-3

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.


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