The Lord’s Pilgrim Extolling The Blessings Of Brotherly Unity

a brief study of Psalm 133, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 25 Nov 2011


Psalm 133 is another Pilgrim Psalm, and a very familiar one. The pilgrims of old on their annual pilgrimage would, no doubt, have reserved this psalm to sing together with one another when they have all arrived.

This is a song extolling the unity among God’s people. Many suppose that David wrote at the time when the Northern and the Southern Kingdom became united as one under him. You see, after King Saul died, David was anointed as King of Judah. But the Northern Kingdom refused to acknowledge his kingship, and so there was civil war between the two kingdoms for the next seven and a half years. This period must have been a very painful one for David.

But eventually, by the good hand of God, the war came to an end, and David was able to settle in Jerusalem or Mount Zion, which he appointed as the capital of the kingdom. Now, it is likely that as David settled into Jerusalem and contemplated on the new era of unity under his leadership, that he wrote the psalm.

We may entitle this psalm, “The Lord’s Pilgrim Extolling the Blessings of Brotherly Unity.”

There are three verses in this psalm, each expressing a beautiful thought about true unity.

In verse 1, we have an expression of the loveliness of true unity. In verse 2, True unity is linked to the anointing of the Anointed One. Finally, in verse 3, true unity is likened to the refreshing dew of Hermon.


1. True Unity is Good & Pleasant

1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Oh what beautiful words to describe an exquisite blessing. David must have written these words with a heart filled with thanksgiving and joy especially after those years of sorrow as he saw the people of God fighting against one another.

Whether he is involved or not, nothing saddens the heart of a conscientious child of God more than to experience discord among brethren. Indeed, if you think about it, you will realise that there are very few things that will bring more grief in your Christian walk than disunity and quarrels among brethren. This is the experience of leaders in the church, whether king, or prophet, or pastors, or elders. It is also the experience of every member in the church whether young or old.

On the other hand, the experience of dwelling together in unity with the brethren does deeply thrills the soul. It is not only good objectively, but it brings refreshing joy to our heart.

Indeed, the goodness and pleasantness of brethren dwelling together in unity ought to so excite our hearts that we yearn for it. It ought to be something to be longed for, prayed for, and live for.

We ought not to be content with superficial unity. It does not mean that since we are in the same church, and we all come together for worship, we are therefore truly united.

No, no, we know in our heart of hearts that we are truly united only when we dwell together as one in brotherly love. In such a unity, the brethren identify with each other as members of the one body that they are all part of and enjoy unity of heart, mind, and purpose. They are not suspicious about one another and they have no misgiving against one another. Their fellowship with one another is pure and sincere.

This is the unity that the church during the days of the apostles experienced. Read the account in Acts 2:44-47.

You will see how they did not just attend worship together. They were concerned with each other’s lives and were involved with each other’s lives and they had a singleness of heart.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in such unity! It is lovely and attractive, and greatly honours Christ. It must be highly prized and desired by everyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, as the second verse reminds us…


2. True Unity flows from the Anointed

2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;

This, we must realise, is an illustration to teach a truth about unity. The picture that is being painted is that of Aaron kneeling before the LORD at his ordination or consecration to be the high priest. The precious anointing oil is poured on his head by Moses. The oil runs down his beard, and down his priestly garment, and no doubt, its fragrance fills the entire sanctuary. 

But what exactly does this picture illustrate about unity? Many commentators have attempted to give a meaning to the verse down through the centuries. Many focus on the anointing oil being made of different spices and of the fragrance it emits, but David says nothing about that. Others swing to the other extreme and opine that it simply speaks of the joyfulness of dwelling in unity just as there is joy in the occasion of Aaron’s anointing.

Personally, I think there must be more to it, because of the specific reference to Aaron and to the anointing oil. You see, Aaron lived more than 400 years before David came on the throne, and the anointing of Aaron was not a particularly celebrated event during those 400 years. In fact, apart from the Pentateuch, this is the only reference to Aaron’s anointing. If David merely wanted to talk about the joyfulness of the occasion, he could have used many other illustrations, for after all even in the Pentateuch, the event of Aaron’s anointing is not depicted as a particularly joyful occasion. It was depicted more as a solemn occasion.

What then is the significance of the picture painted? Well, I believe that David, under the inspiration of the Spirit, is not just giving an illustration to what he said in verse 1. He is telling us something more. He is telling us that there is a spiritual dimension to true unity. In particular, it appears to me that he is alluding to the fact that true unity enjoyed by God’s people is a holy, sacred unity centred on Christ.

John Calvin in his commentary on this psalm agrees. He says:

We must hold, that when mention is made of the Priest, it is to intimate, that concord takes its rise in the true and pure worship of God, while by the beard and skirts of the garments, we are led to understand that the peace which springs from Christ as the head, is diffused through the whole length and breadth of the Church.”

Let’s look at the picture painted in our text. What is happening? Aaron is being anointed with oil. What is the Hebrew word for the anointed one? It is the Messiah! What is the Greek word? It is Christos: Christ! The prophet, priests and kings in the Old Testament were anointed with oil because there were appointed to serve as Christ. There is little doubt that Aaron typified Christ in this picture of his anointing.

But look, the precious anointing oil is flowing down his head, down to his beard, down his collar and down his priestly robe. What does this symbolise? What does the New Testament tell us about Christ and His Church? “Christ is the Head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the Body” (Eph 5:23).

Do you see the symbolic significance of the picture now? As the oil flows down the head of Aaron and down his body, we have a beautiful picture of the anointing of Christ flowing to all who are united to Him as the body is united to the head. The apostle John speaks about the anointing which we have received of Christ. This anointing, beloved, refers to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Christ (cf. 1Jn 2:27).

True unity, in other words, comes about through our union with Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. Any unity that is without Christ or centred upon the worship of God in Christ is meaningless and false. But unity wrought by the Spirit of Christ and a common purpose of the glory of God in Christ is good and pleasing in God’s sight. Such a unity is pleasant and refreshing for the children of God.


3. True Unity is Refreshing

3 As the dew of Hermon, [and as the dew] that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

Here’s another analogy to describe true unity. It is as the dew of Hermon that descends upon the mountains of Zion. Mt Hermon is a high mountain of more than 3000 metres and covered with snow at its peak all year round. The dew of Hermon is proverbial. It descends from the mountain in the form of moisture-laden mists, and wherever it passes, it leaves a train of refreshing and invigorating dew upon the land. But Mt Hermon is situated more than 150 km north of Zion. It can hardly be possible that the dew of Hermon could actually descend on Mt Zion, that is perhaps why the translators of the Authorised Version have inserted those words in italics in our text to suggest that it may not be the dew of Hermon that descends on Zion, but a dew from a different source.

But the original is clearly referring to the dew of Hermon descending on Zion.

You see, David is not speaking about reality. He is painting a picture concerning the effects of brotherly unity. The picture speaks of how brotherly unity in the Lord is refreshing and invigorating like the dew of Hermon. As the dew of Hermon descends on the mountains of Zion, the fields and the trees are refreshed.  In the same way, true brotherly unity in Christ refreshes the soul of all who are in it and of all who observe it. This is why David adds: “for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

I think we can appreciate what David is saying. Disunity is always unhappy, painful and draining. But where there is unity and peace, there is blessing and joy. The more unity there is in the church, the more blessings we will receive from the Lord.

The apostle Paul in his final letter to the Corinthians said to them a most important last word:

“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).

Let none of us say: “I can’t help it. I just can’t be one with the church.” The apostle Paul will not command us to be of one mind and to live in peace if we have no control at all on these things. We must labour for unity in the truth by studying and confessing the truth together. When we do, then the God of love and peace shall be with us.

And moreover, the Lord Jesus has given us a new commandment to love one another as He has loved us (Jn 13:34-35).

Now, you will realise that we are actually talking about a different kind of unity in this verse as compared to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:11. There it is doctrinal and practical unity which involves having the same mind and living in peace. Here it is unity of love. This is why we always pray for unity of faith and unity of love. If we have no unity of faith or doctrine, or we are working towards it, we must at least have unity of love. Because if we do not, then we have no marks at all to distinguish us from any heathen organisation to the world. But if we do, we shall enjoy more and more of the blessedness which we sing in Psalm 133.

Beloved, think again of the picture that David is painting. David is not painting a thunderstorm or even a drizzle. He paints for us dew-laden mist descending on the mountain. Think of how calmly and gently it refreshes all that it touches. And think of how it touches everything and leaves refreshing droplets on all things in its path in such a gentle and quiet manne

 

This, beloved, is the way in which unity and love will work in the church. Like the dew of Hermon, true brotherly love and unity touches the lives of everyone regardless of our personality, our social standing, our intellect, or our convictions. The church of Christ must not be characterised by hardness and coldness like a military force. Yes, we are called to earnestly contend for the faith, and we must do that, but that is a pleading form of contending. We should not be attacking harshly as if we are holier or better than others. Indeed, it would be very sad for a church to be known for orthodoxy and militancy but no love.

But where there is brotherly unity and love, the Lord commands His blessings, even the blessing of eternal life. Sinners will be converted to Christ; saints will be strengthened in our knowledge and enjoyment of Christ.


Conclusion

Dearly beloved brethren and children, as we sing this psalm together, let us resolve to work on unity in this church.

Over the years many have asked me on a number of occasions: Is it better for me to leave if I do not fit into the church or if I cannot agree with the doctrine of the church? Such statements always generate a lot of pain. My response would always be: stay on as long as you can.

Indeed, I would even urge: stay unless you are convinced this church is no longer biblical in our practice or doctrine. You are part of the church. You are part of the body. A church is not just a social club. It is a body. You cannot just excise part of the body because you do not like it, and at the same time no part of the body should yank itself off because it thinks itself to be unfit for the body.

The church, we must remember, is the body of Christ. We must humble ourselves and work on unity together. As long as we can recognise the church to be part of the body of Christ, we must seek never to cause division or grief and sorrow by departing from her. We should rather work together in Christ, hope together in Christ, pray together in Christ, and seek to exalt Christ and His church above our individual differences.

May the loveliness of brotherly unity which we sing about in this psalm encourage us to pursue this unity for the sake of Christ. Amen.