Psalm 133: Unity Like Oil and Dew

Psalm 133 is a beautiful passage of scripture. It’s always been one that puzzles me, though. I like metaphor and poetic imagery, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn from the analogy used in this psalm. It’s short, so I’ll quote the whole thing here:

Look! How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers truly live in unity.
It is like fine oil poured on the head,
which flows down the beard—
Aaron’s beard,
and then flows down his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which flows down upon the hills of Zion.
Indeed, that is where the Lord has decreed
a blessing will be available—eternal life.

Psalm 133:1-3, NET

The dew and oil analogies are linked by the word “flow.” There is something about unity among brothers that is like the way anointing oil flowed over a priest or dew flows down a mountain. I spent the past week studying this, and here’s what I’ve found so far. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this psalm in the comments!

Oil

The anointing that this psalm speaks of is recorded in Leviticus 8 and Exodus 29, though only the Leviticus passage records the oil being poured rather than just sprinkled (Ex. 29:1, 4, 21; Lev. 8:1-2, 20).

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. … He then poured some of the anointing oil on the head of Aaron and anointed him to consecrate him.

Leviticus 9:10, 12 NET

In this context, oil is used for consecration; to put something or someone “into the realm of God’s holy things” (NET footnote on Lev. 8:10). That’s what’s happening in the scene that David described when he was explaining true unity among brothers. The “brothers” in this psalm could refer siblings, of course, but in scripture “brothers” tends to be a phrase used to describe a group of people connected by belief in God (see, for example, Acts 2:29, 37; Rom 12:1; James 5:7-12). The familial unity we’re looking for here operates on a physical and a spiritual level.

Unity among physical and spiritual family members is connected to holiness and to priesthood. Indeed, Peter tells the New Testament church that God is building all of us up together “to be a holy priesthood” and that we are chosen as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). God wants us to be holy, to be united, and to be part of His “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

Dew

When David talks about the “dew of Hermon,” geographically he’s referring to Mount Hermon located in “the distant north” relative to “the hills of Zion” (NET footnote on Ps 133:3). Typically, Mount Hermon is used in the Bible as a landmark (Deut. 3:8-9; Josh. 11:3, 17; 1 Chr. 5:23) and we don’t have much information about why David chose it as the mountain to mention in this Psalm. Given Mount Hermon’s location, it’s unlikely that dew which formed there would make it to Zion. This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle.

Thankfully for us, David gives us a clue how we’re supposed to interpret dew in this passage by saying the locations he mentions are “where the Lord has decreed a blessing will be available.” Connecting dew (an important source of water for plants and animals, and by extension people) with blessing is fairly common in scripture (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:13; Zech. 8:12). Conversely, holding back dew was a punishment (2 Sam. 1:21; 1 Kings 17:1; Hag. 1:9-10).

Your dead will come back to life;
your corpses will rise up.
Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground!
For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew,
and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits.

Isaiah 26:19, NET

As we can see in this and the other scriptures I linked to, dew is connected with blessings and growth. God even promises to “be like the dew to Israel;” healing and helping them grow and thrive (Hos. 14:4-6, NET). Unity fits into all this as well, helping the blessings that God gives like dew to flow out to more and more people.

Blessings that Flow

The blessings that come from brothers living together in unity don’t just stay in one relationship, or one family, or even one church group. They flow and spread like consecrating oil and growth-enabling dew. Unity is a good, excellent, valuable (H2896, tob), pleasant, delightful, and sweet (H5273, na’iym). It’s something precious; something which we grow into.

to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4:12-13, NET

We ought to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thes. 3:12, NET. Also Phil. 1:9). Like the holiness of a priest ought to result in service to the congregation and the dew which waters the ground ought to result in growth, so ought the relationships between believers result in unity, peace, and love that grows and spreads.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

When Other People Don’t Think Like You, Focus on Thinking Like God

I’ve long been fascinated by Philippians 3 (even wrote a whole post about it). Here, Paul talks about the things he had before conversion–religious status, a good background, the best education, zeal for his faith–and then says all his “human credentials” count for nothing. Indeed, he regards “them as dung!” It is so much more valuable to know Christ “and be found in him,” not because Paul is righteous by following the law but because he has “the righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.” And then with all that as background, he talks about how he keeps striving to live a godly life and will keep doing so until the end of his life in the hope of attaining “to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:5-12, NET).

This discussion is framed by Paul addressing a contentious issue in the church. He warns the Philippians to “beware of the dogs” (false teachers, see NET footnote), “beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh” (those who wrongly teach physical circumcision is still necessary” and those who “rely on human credentials” (Phil. 3:1-4, NET). That is why Paul brings up his own credentials. He’s not attacking these other teachers and saying their credentials mean nothing because Paul doesn’t have any and wants to make himself look better. Rather, he has the credentials and he still says they’re worthless because “human credentials can produce nothing that is pleasing to God” (NET footnote on v. 15). It is with this foundation that Paul then says what I want to focus on today.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

Phil. 3:13-16, NET

So often, when we disagree with someone in the church we instinctively want to defend our point of view. But what Paul indicates is that our first response should be to ask God to reveal His mind.

The Mind of Christ

One of the central goals of our Christian walk is to learn to think like God does. He fills us with His spirit to transform us and make us part of His family. We have received the Spirit “from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12, NET)

The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Cor. 2:14-16, quoting Isa. 40:13, NET

We must “arm ourselves with the same mind” Christ had so that we can live “for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2, WEB). Part of the “will of God” involves living in harmony with our brethren. That only happens when all of us are trying to think like Christ.

Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.

Rom. 15:5-7, WEB

Like Minded in Him

When scripture says that Christians are to be like minded, it does not mean we reach whatever mutual consensus we want. Our like-mindedness comes from all of us putting on the mind of Christ. That “we have the mind of Christ” verse I quoted earlier is preceded in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians by this:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose

1 Cor. 1:10, NET

Paul goes on to talk about how ridiculous it is to divide the church over which teacher to follow (1 Cor. 1:9-17), the fact that there is no room for human boasting before God (1 Cor. 1:18-31), that our faith is based in God’s wisdom, and that through His spirit we get to put on Jesus’ mind (1 Cor. 2:1-16). It has quite a few parallels with Philippians 3, where Paul talks about the uselessness of human credentials and then urges continued faithfulness, which includes living in peace with your brethren.

It’s a familiar refrain in Paul’s letters. “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:15). “Be of the same mind … being united in spirit” (Phil. 2:2). “Agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). The more like God we become, the fewer disagreements we ought to have with others who are also becoming more like God.

Continue Aligning Yourself With God

The principle we’re discussing is simple in theory: put on Christ’s mind and you’ll all be united. In practice, we’re all at different levels of growth. None of us have fully put on the mindset and attitudes of Jesus yet, and we don’t always agree on what putting on His mind looks like. Returning to Philippians 3,

Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

Phil. 3:15-16, NET

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let’s walk by the same rule. Let’s be of the same mind.

Phil. 3:15-16, WEB

When we disagree, we can ask God to reveal His mindset and align us with truth. When seeking this sort of like-mindedness, always ask for God’s perspective so you can understand what He wants you to see–not to help you understand human teachings or teachers. Our goal for spiritual growth is to be like our Father. Unity with other believers happens as a result of that goal, not as the central goal itself.

Paul also admonishes us to “live up to” or “walk by” the standard we’ve already attained. This goes along with verses like the one in James that says if you know to do good and don’t do it that is sin to you (James 4:17) and passages in Romans that indicate we’re judged based on how well we do God’s will rather than how well we understand the law (Rom. 2:10-16). Though we might not always agree with other Christians on the best way to follow God, we need to live in peace with others as much as possible, follow God as faithfully as we understand how, and always be seeking to align our thinking and mode of living more closely with Him.

Featured image credit: Pearl via Lightstock

Staying Loyal to Our Core Identity as Children of God, and Using It to Create Unity

Who and what are you?

We can all answer this question a variety of different ways. Our identities are multifaceted things — human, female, Christian, daughter, American, writer, friend, white, Midwestern (to give you some of mine). Some are chosen by us, some are given by God, nature, or other people. The things we identify with, wherever those identities come from, shape who are are.

Sometimes our identities might be in conflict with each other, or with those of other people. We need to be able to handle and resolve those conflicts. On the small scale, it might be something like “student” vs. “friend” (such as finding a balance between needing time to study and finding time to maintain friendships). On a larger scale, it might be something like “national” vs. “religious” (such as wanting to uphold your country’s ideals, but finding some of them at odds with your faith, and needing to choose between them). Or it could be an interpersonal situation where you find yourself interacting with people who have different political affiliations, ethnicities, faiths, and priorities than you do.

How we resolve these inner and outer conflicts says something about who we are and what we value. As Christians, we have an identity that is meant to be first in our priorities and underlie every other part of our lives. But we don’t always live as if this is truly the case. Sometimes we choose to put other beliefs and identities first, and if we do that too often it can damage our relationship with our primary identity as children of God.

Staying Loyal to Our Core Identity as Children of God, and Using It to Create Unity | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Claudine Chaussé via Lightstock

The Problem of Conflicting Identities

I recently listened to a podcast episode titled “A First Step Toward Racial Reconciliation,” which was an interview with Mark Vroegop. His book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens A Door For Racial Reconciliation is coming out next month. In this interview, he talks about how the church should be the best place to resolve racial differences because “the gospel creates an identity that gets underneath all other identities.” Read more

Don’t Give Up! Keep Running Your Race of Faith Without Looking Back

Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).

Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.

The Cage Door Is Open

One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.

I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes. Read more

What Laodicea Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Us

In Revelation, the church in Laodicea received a warning and correction from Jesus that had to do with how they saw themselves.

To the angel of the assembly in Laodicea write: “The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of God’s creation, says these things: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.'” (Rev. 3:14-17, all scripture references from WEB translation)

The things that the Laodiceans didn’t know about themselves were a threat to their spiritual position in Christ. He threatens to vomit them out of Him if they are not zealous to repent (Rev. 3:19). That’s pretty serious, and we can learn from His advice to them how to avoid similar mistakes.

Those who see the letters in Revelation as pictures of eras in the church tend to agree that we are currently living in the Laodicean era. And even if that’s not the case, those who “have an ear” are still instructed to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22). If we, like the Laodiceans, are ignorant of about our true spiritual condition then we need to heed this warning to wake up to the truth and change how we’re living.

Wretched and Miserable

Jesus starts out by telling the people who think they’re okay that they are in fact “wretched and miserable.” It reminds me of what Paul said in one of his letters: “let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Each of the words translated “wretched” and “miserable” are only used one other place in the Greek New Testament.

What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 7:24-8:1)

Paul’s mindset was completely different than the Laodiceans. He knew he was in a wretched state and the only solution was to turn to Jesus for deliverance. This is reflected in his use of the word for miserable/pitiable as well. Read more

The Christian Community and Our Godly Identity

In last week’s post, I talked about the new identities God gives us when we enter a relationship with Him. For those of us with a Western cultural mindset, “identity” is typically connected with “individualism” — who you are that makes you unique from everyone else. But the Bible was written by people with an Eastern cultural mindset, where identity is a more collective concept that involves how you fit in to a group or family.

When we find our identity in God, it is a collective as well as an individual thing. The Christian life isn’t meant to be an isolated one. We’re part of a community, a family. If we neglect to recognize that, then we’re missing out on a huge part of our identity as believers. And if we purposefully cut ourselves off from the community, we reject an incredible blessing.

Being in Christ Is Being in Community

I recently read a fascinating book called Participating In Christ by Michael J. Gorman. One of the key points he makes is that “to be in Christ is to be in community” (chapter 10). We miss this in English far more easily than we could if we read it in Greek.

“This life in Christ is lived not in isolation but only in community. (We must keep in mind that most of the words for ‘you’ in Paul’s letters are plural pronouns, and most often the imperatives are given in the second- [or third-] person plural form.) — (Gorman, Participating In Christ, Chapter 1)

“You (plural) are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). “By grace you (plural) are saved” (Eph. 2:5). We often read these verses, and many others like them, as a deeply individual thing but they’re addressed to a community. Our individual relationships with God are vital. But so is our communal relationship with God and His people. Read more