A song of ascents. Of David.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 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. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1-3)
The Good (and Pleasant) Life
I have been hearing a lot of talk about unity lately—from basketball teams to political debates to church policies. Everyone, it seems, is looking for a cease-fire. They are tired of fighting and arguing about every little thing. We are eager to just “get on with it.” What we really want, is more common ground, more compromise and more camaraderie. Or do we? In a recent survey by the bipartisan “Battleground Poll,” for example, 90% of Americans said they are “frustrated by the uncivil and rude behavior of politicians,” and that, “compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders.” At the same time, however, the poll found that 80% of those same respondents said they are “tired of leaders compromising values and ideals,” and they want leaders “who will stand up to the other side.”
How can we hope to find unity when everyone around us is so wrong-headed about everything!
Psalm 133 is a wonderfully short song celebrating unity. It is yet another one of the 15 “song of ascents” (nos. 120-134) sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to one of the seven “appointed feasts” or festivals prescribed in Leviticus 23. The psalmist, identified as David begins, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (vs. 1) Unity is “good,” and it is also “pleasant.” Not only is unity a good thing in and of itself, but it also makes our life more pleasant and enjoyable. Conversely, dis-unity and division among God’s people is not only contrary to God’s “good” design, but it is also unpleasing and unenjoyable for God’s people.
So how do we strive for unity when we have all the answers and no one seems to listen to us?
We might think the path to unity is through tribalism and tolerance. We seek the voices that agree with us, the friends that agree with us, the community of faith that agrees with us—and we do our best to tolerate “those other people.” For the people of Israel, that would have meant staying home for the feasts rather than encountering cousins from other tribes on the road to Jerusalem. Or at the very least it would have meant avoiding any awkward “family” conversations!
But David the worshiper isn’t preaching a gospel of tribalism and tolerance. This kind of “good and pleasant” is found only in the hard places of daily life where “God’s people live together” (vs.1). The blessing is discovered when they embrace their unity, when they stop fighting and start celebrating who they are and whose they are! It requires a change of attitude and a change of approach—bearing with one another, forgiving one another, embracing one another as God has done for them (Colossians 3:12-13).
The good and pleasant result of this unity is illustrated by the image of anointing oil being poured on Aaron’s head, running down to his beard, and spilling over onto his robes (vs. 2). This oil is “good,” (tov, in Hebrew) it is a response to God’s demand for holiness and sacrifice; but the oil is also “pleasant” (naim, in Hebrew). In Exodus 30:22-25 we learn this oil was made to exact, divine specifications, combining olive oil with myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, and cassia, to create something that was not only holy and good, but also soothing and pleasant. It embodied the full measure of the holiness, healthiness and happiness of God’s presence. It was “good and pleasant.”
Not only is this sort of divine unity a blessing to the one who practices and receives it; it is a blessing that spills out on the world around us. We carry the “pleasing aroma” of Christ among our fellow Christians, but also to “those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). David emphasizes that truth by comparing this unity to the dew that forms, little by little, on the top of Mount Hermon, until it gathers and flows over to the land around it (vs. 3). As the prophet Amos would pray, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) God’s justice and righteousness–his blessing of life upon the world–begins, gathers and flows from the good and pleasant unity received and practiced by God’s people.
The church today is struggling to live together in unity–there are some who strive to answer the call to goodness but ignore the call to pleasantness, and those who seek to be pleasant at the expense of being good. But the Spirit of God continually calls God’s people to be both. He calls us to offers ourselves as living sacrifices, “holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). That kind of unity isn’t something we can simply try harder to create—it is only bestowed as a gift from God. It is, “his blessing, even life evermore.” (Psalm 133:3)
The next time you feel the need to be right, consider what it might mean to be pleasant as well. Instead of picking a fight with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ choose God’s unity, blessing and life. As Jesus said, “If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples” (John 13:35). How good would THAT be…how pleasant? Stay thirsty, my friends!
Precious Oil (James Block) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpG8ZDjY8i8
Hineh ma Tov (Psalm 133) (Joshua Aaron) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdmDBA-DTAw