“A Song of Ascents. Of David.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
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!
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)
Last week’s article sought to demonstrate that a humble servant of Jesus Christ is one who prizes unified fellowship with the body of Christ. Arrogance leads to divisions and factions; humility leads to unity and fellowship. The necessity of unity amongst the people of God, however, is not just a New Testament truth. It finds roots in the Old Testament, wherein is articulated a doctrine of unity unto life.
Psalm 133 is a song of ascents. It would have been sung as the people of Israel journeyed up to Jerusalem to gather together as one, unified body bringing praise to the Lord. As such, the very context of when this psalm would have been sung is one of a unified body.
This psalm begins by commending unity itself. Unity is commended with two crucial adjectives: Good and pleasant (Ps 133:1). “Good” is the Hebrew word “Tov,” the same word used in Genesis 1 when God saw that His creation was “good,” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Other psalms - Psalm 106, 107, and 118 - explicitly state that “Yahweh is tov,” (Ps 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29). Something tov, in many contexts in the Old Testament (and especially psalms, as mentioned above), is something that is from God. It is who God is, and thus tov flows directly from His Divine, Triune nature and attributes. Applied to Psalm 133, this means that unity is characteristic of God and of His people. As such, unity is only attainable through God. While unbelievers may experience residual benefits of what is tov (i.e. an unbelievers coming to church or getting married), it remains impossible for them to truly know the sweet spiritual blessings which alone emanate from unified fellowship with the saints.
David also uses pleasant to refer to unity. After discussing unity in relation to God (through tov), he proceeds to consider that unity is also an enjoyable thing amongst men! Unity simply feels delightful. It is a thing of delight among God’s people. Pleasant is used in conjunction with good later in the Psalter to refer to Yahweh’s name (Ps 135:3) and His praise (Ps 147:1). The Lord’s name is a delight to His people, and it is a delightful thing to praise Him. So too with unity - it is tov and delightful, good and pleasant.
David offers two poetic comparisons to unity in verses 2-3a that are quite loaded and can only be briefly commented on in an article of this nature. The first is that of the good oil upon the head of a priest (Ps 133:2). “Precious” in the ESV is the word tov again, thus we might say the “good oil.” This is an intentional usage of “tov” in the comparison; it is no accident! David is demonstrating that, as the priests were consecrated and set aside to Yahweh as symbolized by the anointing oil, so does unity consecrate God’s people unto Yahweh. Unity is a good thing, and those who have it must be Yahweh’s holy ones. Unity is a key factor in determining who is the Lord’s and who is not.
The second comparison is to the dew of Hermon which falls on the mountains of Zion (133:3a). If the oil comparison expounded on the goodness of unity, then we may discern that the dew comparison expounds upon the pleasantness of unity. Some quick geography may help us understand this picture. Mount Hermon found residence at the very northern tip of Israel - contrast this to the mountains of Zion, which were South in the Jerusalem area. As such, dew from Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion seems to indicate a coming together of a far away place (Hermon) to a common place (Zion, the same place to which the pilgrims who sung this song were going). The coming together of God’s people is indeed pleasant - is it not a delight to gather together on the Lord’s Day in fellowship with one another? Psalm 122, another Psalm of ascents, expresses the pleasantness of this gathering well: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Ps 122:1). Though perhaps slightly impeded by our different geography, this picture masterfully pulls out this delight and gladness that characterizes unity in the gathered assembly.
Unity is good and pleasant. It is good like the oil which consecrates unto God, and pleasant like the dew which brings the far away ones together in delight. What is the conclusion of this short yet profound reflection upon unity?
Unity leads to life. “For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore,” (133:3b). It is not just life, but life forevermore. If humility leads to unity, then unity leads to life. Psalm 133 makes this much clear. Consider that eternal life only exists for God’s people. But eternal life is a blessing of unity. Thus, again it is implied that unity can only exist among the people of God. Unity must exist among the people of God. Unity is the righteous way, the way that Yahweh knows (Ps 1:6a). Division is the way that will perish (Ps 1:6b). So if we are the people of God, shall we not be characterized by unity?
If you have believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, you shall have eternal life (Jn 3:16; 20:31). You are in Christ; He is your Head, and you are a part of His Body. Life flourishes in a healthy body when it is working together in unity; you have this unified fellowship with all others who are in Christ. Indeed, that fellowship is reminiscent of the very fellowship that exists between the three Persons of the Trinity! In Christ and with His people you will have life forevermore - so do not act as though you will perish. Do not look for divisions with God’s people, your brothers and sisters. Divisions exist to demonstrate who is not of the people of God (1 Cor 11:18-19; 1 Jn 2:19). Let our unity together testify to the goodness of God and the pleasantness He gives to His people. Let our unity be as the consecrating oil and the dew of Mount Hermon. Let our unity anticipate the blessing Yahweh has bestowed on us: Life forevermore.