The Dew and Oil Bucket Challenge (Psalm 133)

The big craze that has swept the country like few things I’ve ever seen is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Along with the fund-raising component, it serves to bring awareness to the awful Lou Gehrig’s disease. People essentially baptize themselves in identification with this worthy cause of researching for a cure.

In today’s brief little Psalm of only three verses, there is a statement of the blessing of God’s people living in unity, with two illustrations that may seem to us in our modern age as rather unusual … of a downward flow of oil and water.

Psalm 133

A song of ascents. Of David.

1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

This final week of studying Psalms: God’s Playlist we are looking at a category of psalms known as Songs of Ascent. This is helpful in understanding the meaning. Again, these are pilgrim songs – sung by the Jewish people on their travels in “going up” to Jerusalem for the three big feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

These feasts were a time when all of the nation came together before God in worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. We’re speaking of the 12 Tribes of Israel … and what are the tribes? They are the families of the 12 brothers who were the sons of Jacob (Israel). Many translations use the term “brethren” in verse one to translate the Hebrew שֶׁבֶת אָחִים גַּם יַחַד (that was fun to put that in there)… like the American Standard Version “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Diana and I always liked it when the “brethren” of our five boys dwelled together in unity! They really do like to get together and do things with each other now, but it wasn’t always that way!

So when the nation came together for these feasts, the assembled pilgrims were essentially a gigantic family reunion. It was an opportunity for them to have a renewal of their unique relationship with each other and with God through the Covenant made together.

But families don’t always get along, and bitterness from past wrongs and conflicts get in the way of unity. Over my years of preaching there is one sermon that I have given now three separate  times at the Christmas season called, “Dealing with the turkey at your table and the sap in your family tree” … and is about a godly model of dealing with the crazy relatives at the holidays. Without any doubt, this is by far, far, far, far the most commented-upon sermon I’ve ever done!

There were some bad feelings here and there in the family of Jacob (Israel). It went all of the way back to that time the brothers threw Joseph into a pit and sold him to slave traders. Though he would save the family from destruction and all would be reconciled, it was far from the last time there would be national/family strife.

The picture in verse two of the oil flowing over Aaron’s head looked back to his consecration as the high priest at the outset of the sacrificial system. In Leviticus 8:10-12 it says, “Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar seven times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin with its stand, to consecrate them. He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.”

So the picture in Ps. 133 is of this oil running down and off his beard and onto the priestly garments that included the breastplate – which represented the 12 tribes. In Exodus 28:29, this article of clothing is spoken of, “Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord.” Putting this all together it pictures the unity of the nation in covenant relationship with the Lord.

In verse three is another sort of “running down” picture of water coming off Mount Herman in the north of Israel. Heavy dews bring the life-giving water for the otherwise arid areas of Palestine.

The idea of “brethren” was a part of the earliest days of the church. For example, it says this in Acts 16:40, “After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them.” And then Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Unity is a big deal; it is important. Discord should not be an acceptable pattern of behavior in the church community. One of the ideas involved with communion is that of a coming together of the family to be reconnected and restored to one another in the body of Christ – to put away divisions and conflicts … because it is good for brothers to dwell in unity.

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Think of Church as a Family Reunion – Psalm 133

Any of us who have gone on a vacation with our children remember the most famous travel question of them all:  “Are we there yet?”

One of my favorite scenes in all of filmmaking is from the Shrek 2 movie when Donkey says to Shrek, “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?”

To which Shrek responds, “The Kingdom of Far, Far Away is far, far away!”

And Donkey moans, “I’m just so darned bored; there’s no in-flight movie or nothing!”

Finally, Donkey’s “pop, pop, pop (sounds)” leads Shrek to yell “DONKEY, can you just stop being yourself?”

Vacation and travel is supposed to be a fun time for a family – an adventure. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it creates new stresses not seen at home. Everyone is living together in a packed hotel room, or, as in the case of some of my own family’s epic vacation disasters, in a tent.

Living in a tent is not always the greatest of fun—in my humble opinion. My family of origin didn’t go camping; we had the good sense of living in a vacation house or hotel. Diana’s family camped … a lot … even for an entire summer one time – touring the whole USA. So when I married Diana, I knew some camping was part of the deal; we even did it on our honeymoon … bet y’all can’t top that!

Well, we camped a lot with our boys as they grew up. No, it was not always awful, but, there were more than a couple of epic trials, especially with the weather. But it was cheap, and that was the driving motivation for doing it.

So, eight years ago we were in a tent at Yellowstone … in June. And it was so cold that there was ice on the inside of the tent walls. Nobody could sleep … in June! About 3:00 in the morning, I looked at Diana through the darkness and said, “Diana, I have something to confess to you that I’ve kept a secret from you for all of these 30 years that I’ve known you. And I want to tell you what it is … I HATE CAMPING; I’VE ALWAYS HATED CAMPING, and I only ever tolerated it because I love you. But this is the end. NO MORE CAMPING!”

Notice that our short three-verse Psalm for today has the following superscription (and remember that these words are divinely inspired, just like the verses) …

Psalm 133

A song of ascents. Of David.

Again, a Psalm of ascent was one that was sung by Jewish pilgrims at the time of the three festivals in Jerusalem when thousands of people flocked to the city for the holy days. There was no place to house them all in town . They were encamped around the hillsides ascending to Jerusalem by the thousands, living in all sorts of make-shift shelters.

Do you suppose there was some need for them to be reminded about unity? Verse one says:

1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

These festivals were a time in the calendar for the whole nation to gather together as one people … one family … which they were – all of them descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

There are two illustrations given as to what this should be like.

The first illustration is about the oil poured over the head of Aaron, the High Priest …

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.

This verse looks back to an event described in Exodus 30 …

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 24 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. 

30 “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. 31 Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come.

So this was a very special and expensive anointing that spoke of the unique relationship of God to his people, and of his people to one another.

The second illustration is about Mount Hermon …

3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Much of Palestine is a rather arid and dry land. Mount Herman in the north is the source of moisture for four tributaries that create the Jordan River. Life flows down from Mount Herman with the heavy dews that give vitality for the entire region.

Likewise, life and vitality comes from the unity of God’s people with one another.

In the 1970s, I fell in love twice. Yes, once was with my life-long camping partner mentioned above. The other time was with the institution and family known as the Church of Jesus Christ. My local church family meant so much to me through my high school and college years; I was so blessed by so many people who cared for me and encouraged me in untold ways. They were my family, more than my family was my family. I was never tempted by the allurement of the world and the partying culture of my public high school. I had a family of friends in a youth ministry that was different and so much healthier in every way.

And so, I knew my life was going to be invested in the local church. More times than not, it has been a great blessing. Where it has not been is related to the very theme of this little Psalm. Unity makes for rich experiences; disunity makes for extreme pain and disappointment.

When we come together on Sunday, we are like pilgrims who are all a part of the same family. We have come from our homes to spend time together in our worship of the Lord – the patriarch of our family. His sacrifices for us are so great, that, when you think about it, it is really silly that we not spend our time together in harmony and unity.

Jesus cares about this; he prayed for it in his final intercessory prayer in John 17. We should care about it also.