Psalms of Ascent: 133

A song of ascents. Of David.
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

The main idea of Psalm 133 is no big surprise: Unity. These are words sung by a scattered people in the process of coming together. “Why are we journeying so far? What’s so important about being united to the people of God?” They may have asked themselves. This Psalm is the answer. There are several metaphors used here that might seem strange to us, but that greatly help our understanding of this passage.

This first is that unity is like oil running down Aaron’s beard. Oil was frequently used in Middle Eastern culture, sometimes as a greeting as a guest entered a home. It smelled good, and was a way to refresh those entering. It was also used in religious practices. For Aaron, the brother of Moses, it was used to consecrate him as a priest.

Unity is also like dew on Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon was green and lush, unlike much of the desert wilderness that surrounded it. The dew gave the environment life. And David imagines this life pouring out from Mount Hermon and into his home in Mount Zion, which is Jerusalem.

These metaphors show us poetically how beautiful unity between God’s people is. It refreshes us and leaves us with a pleasant feeling. It’s a holy blessing that encourages us to be closer with God. It’s like dew that gives us contagious life and helps us grow. Unity within the people of God is one of the greatest and most profound gifts that God gives us. And the tragedy is that we so often despise this gift.

We want people to leave us alone. We don’t want genuine, honest, life-giving community because it’s too hard. There are people we don’t want to be united with, so we make excuses for why unity with them would be bad. They’re weird and will annoy me. They disagree with me politically, so they must be stupid. They disagree with me theologically, so they must be evil. They are terrible sinners and will be a bad influence. I’m a terrible sinner, and I don’t want anyone to know.

Dear church, unity within the people of God is so much more important than whatever excuse you give to isolate yourself. (I’m of course talking about emotion and spiritual isolation, and not physical isolation which is important for our health and safety during this time.) Unity doesn't mean we all look, act, think, and behave the same. It means that we love each other even when we look, act, think, and behave differently. The picture of unity we get from David in Psalm 133 is not homogenous, it’s harmonious. It’s not about everyone being the same. It’s about the beauty that’s created when people who are different come together.