April 8, 2021
Psalm 133:1-3 NRSV
Cameron/Ross Camp Ground UMC
Psalm 133:1-3 NRSV
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing – life forever.
This psalm is both a wonderful reminder of what Christian fellowship can be (“good and … pleasant”), and it is, at one and the same time, a poignant reminder of just how frustrating Bible study and interpretation can be.
First, the difficulty. These three simple verses are problematic. Verse 1 provides something of a “wisdom statement,” such as might be found in the book of Proverbs: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” The statement is forthright and self-explanatory. No problem there. Now one would expect a statement that either clarifies or contrasts this, such as “This is how it is in God’s service,” or “However, I do not find it among God’s people.” Instead, we are given two analogies telling us what the experience is like, neither of which are particularly helpful to readers in our day. If you have a beard, you might wonder why you would want someone to pour oil over your head and let your beard soak it in until it ran down your shirt. Likewise, you might wonder, what is so special about Mount Hermon that you would want to go there and soak in the dew? Modern urbanizes, and suburbanites for that matter, find these analogies confusing.
Ancient worshipers of Yahweh would know immediately what the psalmist was talking about and would recognize the symbolism in the phrases. The importance of the oil would denote the three key figures who dominated the life of Israel: prophet, priest, and king. All three were commissioned or designated for office by having oil ceremoniously poured over their heads and flowing onto their garments. Thus, the phrase, “even Aaron’s beard,” signifying the first priest in Yahweh’s service. David, you will recall, was anointed in this way on three separate occasions: 1 Samuel 16:1–23; 2 Samuel 2:1-7; and 2 Samuel 5:1-5. On each occasion, oil was poured over his head in just this manner as he was proclaimed king.
The dew of Hermon pictured rest and refreshment for weary travelers. After traversing harsh desert heat and burning sands, cloud-encased Mount Hermon offered a sparkling oasis where a hot, tired pilgrim could refresh himself/herself and find comfort. Recall that this is a “Psalm of Ascents,” meaning it was sung as one of the songs pilgrims sang on the travel to Jerusalem for worship at the Temple on the Day of Atonement and other festive days. This psalm served as a reminder of how worship in God’s Presence could refresh the soul.
These similes can help one see the significance of fellowship with like-minded folks as we worship God together. As wonderful and stimulating as family reunions and special occasions may be, even they pale in comparison with genuine Christian companionship. I have been privileged to belong to a men’s group that is centered around prayer, fellowship, and Christian accountability formed out of the Walk to Emmaus. We usually meet for breakfast once a week and share the concerns on our hearts. Circumstances have not permitted us to meet for nearly a year, and digital communication has proven spotty, at best. The thought of rejoining these men feels like the psalmist has captured the expression of my heart: it will feel “good and … pleasant” to fellowship together again!
How do you experience this psalm? Have you been missing fellowship with like-minded and like-souled persons? Are you yearning to be back in the routine of church life? As the difficult and challenging isolation draws near to a close, and it is getting closer every day, our hearts cry out for renewal and for fellowship, perhaps as never before. May we pray together?Prayer
Dear God, we are grateful for Your hand of protection and mercy upon us. You have brought honor and glory upon Yourself as you have guarded our hearts and lives through difficult days. You have enriched our hearts and minds in isolation. Now may You instruct us and provide renewed hope and vision as we begin to reorient ourselves back into the living expression of Your kingdom by fellowship in Your church, perhaps in ways we never thought possible before. Open to us new channels of grace and peace and enable us to be a blessing to others. Pour out Your Holy Spirit on us like You poured oil on Aaron’s head! Refresh us. Fill us. Use us as priests in Your holy service, and help us to praise you in everything we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.