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.
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.