Psalm 133 – The Blessed Unity of God’s People
Of the fifteen psalms in the series, Psalm 133 is the last of the four attributed to King David in the title: A Song of Ascents. Of David. We don’t know exactly when David composed this song, but one likely occasion was when David was finally received as king over all the tribes of Israel, ending a terrible season of national division and discord.
“It could date from the crowning of David at Hebron when the leaders of the nation were, for a time at least, of one heart and mind (see 2 Samuel 5:1; 1 Chronicles 12:38-40).” (James Montgomery Boice)
A. The blessing declared.
1. (1) Unity among God’s people is good and pleasant.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
a. Behold: Psalm 133 begins with an exhortation to behold – that is, to take notice. What follows is important and deserves our attention.
i. “It is a wonder seldom seen, therefore behold it! It may be seen, for it is the characteristic of real saints – therefore fail not to inspect it! It is well worthy of admiration; pause and gaze upon it! It will charm you into imitation, therefore note it well!” (Spurgeon)
b. How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity: David draws our attention to something good and pleasant – unity among the people of God.
· It is good because it reflects God’s heart and purpose of unity among His people (also described in John 17:20-23, Ephesians 1:9-10).
· It is pleasant because it makes life together as God’s people so much more enjoyable than seasons when constant bickering and conflict dominate.
c. How good and how pleasant: Not everything that is good is pleasant, and not everything that is pleasant is good. Unity among God’s people is such a remarkable blessing because it is both good and pleasant – and both to a high degree, indicated by the repetition of how.
i. “Precious and profitable, sweet and delectable…dainty and goodly, as Revelation 18:14. Communion of saints is the next happiness upon earth to communion with God.” (Trapp)
d. For brethren to dwell together: David had in mind the relationship that God’s people have with one another, not with the world around them. Believers should work to have good and peaceable relationships with all others (Romans 12:18), but here the focus is on relationships among God’s people.
e. For brethren to dwell together in unity: This unity is tested, because these brethren dwell together. In many ways it is easier to have some kind of unity with those distant. To dwell together means the bonds of unity and peace will be at times tested.
i. This song was especially relevant for pilgrims travelling together to Jerusalem. “During the pilgrimages, the Jews enjoyed an ecumenical experience on their way toward and in Jerusalem. The pilgrims came from many different walks of life, regions, and tribes, as they gathered for one purpose: the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem.” (VanGemeren)
B. The blessing described.
1. (2) Like oil on the head.
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
a. It is like the precious oil upon the head: In the ancient Middle East, it was common to anoint one’s head with oil, sometimes as a greeting entering a home (Luke 7:46). This was done to refresh the one receiving the oil, and to give a good smell from the fragrance that came from the perfumed oils. Among God’s people, unity refreshes and makes a pleasant atmosphere for all.
i. “The anointing oil intended for the head (Exod. 29:7) was not confined to it, nor could its fragrance be contained. Exodus 29:21 provided explicitly that after the pouring of the oil on the head, some was to be sprinkled on the robes: ‘and he and his garments shall be holy’.” (Kidner)
b. Running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron: The picture in words shows that unity is a rich and abundant blessing – as this oil overflowed the head and came down the beard. It also shows that unity is a rare and precious blessing, because the suggestion is that this was holy anointing oil, which was not to be imitated (Exodus 30:22-33).
i. Christian unity is “…far beyond that common friendship so highly extolled by Cicero, and other heathens; and is therefore here fitly compared to that nonesuch [perfect] odoriferous ointment.” (Trapp)
ii. This is a unity of holiness. “That anointing oil, poured upon Aaron, was the oil of consecration, and symbolized his separation from all evil; it was the oil of holiness.” (Morgan)
iii. “The odour of this must have been very agreeable, and serves here as a metaphor to point out the exquisite excellence of brotherly love.” (Clarke)
iv. “What a sacred thing must brotherly love be when it can be likened to an oil which must never be poured on any man but on the Lord’s high-priest alone!” (Spurgeon)
c. The beard of Aaron: The oil upon the priest’s head was good as an instrument of refreshing and greeting, as it would be for anyone else. Yet for Aaron (as high priest), it also was part of his consecration to priestly service (Exodus 29:7), which led to so many other good things.
· Service unto God and His people.
· Atonement of sins.
· Offerings of peace, fellowship, and thanksgiving.
· Compassionate ministry to the people of God.
i. The illustration is wonderful. When there is unity among God’s people, it is not only good and pleasant in itself, but it also leads to so many other good things. When the people of God struggle with each other, there are so many other good things they are not doing and enjoying.
ii. God intended the priests to represent His righteousness and salvation to a watching world. Spiritually speaking, this anointing made that possible. Unity among God’s people has a similar effect.
d. Running down on the edge of his garments: What an abundant blessing unity is! It is like oil poured out so richly that it flows from the head to the beard, and then down to the very edge of the priest’s garments.
i. There is some debate whether the edge of his garments refers to the collar (as Maclaren and others say) or to the bottom hem of his priestly robes. Either way, it was an impressive flow of oil.
ii. Boice commented on the New International Version translation of Psalm 133:2 (…running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe): “In verse 2 the threefold repetition ‘running down,’ ‘running down,’ and ‘down’ – the Hebrew uses the same verb each time – emphasizes that the blessing of Aaron’s anointing was from above himself, that is, from God.” (Boice)
iii. “In short, true unity, like all good gifts, is from above; bestowed rather than contrived, a blessing far more than an achievement.” (Kidner)
2. (3) Like the dew of the mountains.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—
a. It is like the dew of Hermon: King David used a second word picture to show how wonderful unity is among the people of God. It is also like the rich dew that covers Mount Hermon, making it green and moist. It is a distinct contrast to the dry wilderness found in other parts of Israel. Unity among God’s people makes life thriving and healthy.
i. “On this mountain the dew is very copious. Mr. Maundrell says that ‘with this dew, even in dry weather, their tents were as wet as if it had rained the whole night.’” (Clarke)
ii. “The dew was ever the agent of renewal, of refreshment, of fertilizing force: that out of which life was maintained in strength.” (Morgan)
iii. “It refreshes the thirsty ground and quickens vegetation; so fraternal concord, falling gently on men’s spirits, and linking distant ones together by a mysterious chain of transmitted good, will help to revive failing strength and refresh parched places.” (Maclaren)
iv. “To the Jew it seemed as though the Hermon range overtowered the land and was able to drop its dews across the intervening distance upon the mountains of Zion. Thus, from the glory of His exaltation Jesus drops the dew of the Holy Spirit as blessing upon the lowlands of our life – that blessing which is life forevermore.” (Meyer)
b. Descending upon the mountains of Zion: This blessing comes upon Jerusalem, which David established as the center for Israel’s worship. In Jerusalem their unity would be displayed and enjoyed.
i. “This dew is not to be taken literally [in Jerusalem], for the falling of the dew availed very little to the refreshment or improvement of the hills of Zion and Moriah, especially as now they were filled with buildings; but allegorically, for the favour or blessing of God, which is frequently called and compared to the dew, as Proverbs 19:12,Isaiah 18:4,Hosea 14:5,Micah 5:7.” (Poole)
c. The LORD commanded the blessing–life forevermore: The blessing of unity is something God commands, something the previously cited New Testament passages teach (John 17:20-23, Ephesians 1:9-10, Romans 12:18). Since we will have life forevermore with the people of God, we should work hard to enjoy unity with them now.
i. “O for more of this rare virtue! Not the love which comes and goes, but that which dwells; not that spirit which separates and secludes, but that which dwells together; not that mind which is all for debate and difference, but that which dwells together in unity.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “O, come the day when division shall cease, and enmity be done away; when the tribes of the spiritual Israel shall be united in a bond of eternal charity, under the true David, in the Jerusalem which is above; and saints and angels shall sing this lovely Psalm together!” (Horne)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org