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

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

How Do INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs Read People So Well?

Every personality type has unique, powerful gifts. For the FJ types, one of those gifts involves an ability to read people well. Exactly how this skill shows up varies from person to person.

  • You might meet an INFJ who picks up on so much about you that it seems like they’re reading your mind.
  • Or perhaps you know an ESFJ so in-tune with how people work in groups that every event they plan is an unqualified success.
  • You might find yourself in a group lead by an ENFJ who manages to make every single person there feel included.
  • Maybe you meet an ISFJ who knows exactly how to act in dozens of different social situations and always makes the people they interact with feel valued.

The FJ types all use a mental process called Extroverted Feeling, or “Harmony” (to use Personality Hacker’s nickname). ENFJs and ESFJs use it as their favorite (or primary) mental function. INFJs and ISFJs use it as their co-pilot (or auxiliary) function. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how this cognitive function helps INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs read other people. Read more

Am I Using God’s Truth To Hurt Others Or To Help Them?

Last week we talked about the fact that speaking the truth in today’s culture can offend people. That’s something we were warned about in scripture — the world will hate us like they hated Jesus and preaching the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (John 15:18-22; 1 Cor. 1:18).

But what about in the church? God’s intention is that there be peace and unity in His church, but we’ve all experienced times when that’s not the case. People in the church fight and bicker. They offend each other. They split church groups. And most would tell you that they’re speaking the truth and the other person is the one at fault.

We always have a responsibility to follow God faithfully and to speak about His truth. And we must always try to do that in a way that points people toward Him instead of pushing them away. However, we won’t always be able to present the gospel in a way that appeals to the world. Jesus preached truth perfectly and people still turned away (John 6:64-67). Within the church, though, we should be able to talk about the truth without hurting each other. So how do we do that?

You’re Not Here For You

Near the middle of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses the question of how the people in God’s church should relate to one another. He talks about different roles Christ set up in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) and why (“for the perfection of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ”). The goal in all this is to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” We’re not to be immature Christians any more, easily swayed by new doctrines or tricky, wicked men (Eph. 4:11-14). Read more

Are You Spiritually Minded Yet?

One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.

Disunity is Ridiculous

Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)

Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.

The Mind of Christ

When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us. Read more

The Importance Of Genuine Love

Loving other people can be hard. I mean have you met people? Try to have relationship with them and you find out they’re flawed, messy, and might hurt you. Sure they can also be encouraging, positive, and fill your life with joy, but they’re not like that all the time.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just have a relationship with God and not deal with other people, at least the ones that are hard to love? It seems like a nice idea to some. “Just me and Jesus,” they say and think that’s all they need.

But that’s not how God means for His church to function. He wants an individual relationship with you, yes, but He also wants you to be part of a church that He collectively describes as the body of Christ and the temple of God. And He expects you to love everyone in that church even when it’s hard.

Because God Is Love

If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21, WEB)

Those of us who claim to love God have to love the people around us as well. If we don’t love others it proves that we don’t really love God. The reason for this statement is clarified earlier in John’s letter:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, WEB)

Being born into God’s family and having a relationship with Him changes us. When we know the God of love, we learn to love as He does. If we can’t or won’t love other people the way God does, then we don’t really understand Him and haven’t really been born of God. Read more