The Jews, on their ascent to Jerusalem, sang many songs in preparation for their festivals. Psalm 133 was one of them:
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing: life forevermore.
From this text, we learn that harmonious living between brothers and sisters is both good and good for us. The phenomenon that is the church’s unity—the church’s commitment to one another—is astounding and almost unbelievable.
First, the psalmist says that “brothers living together in harmony” is “good.” Unity is good. It’s what God wants. Love and peace, after all, are a part of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5. God’s desire is that his people would be a true brotherhood, not joined necessarily because of their relation to one another, but because of their relation to God, himself. And thus, the “brothers” mentioned in verse 1 aren’t just the narrow kind of “brothers,” as if blood relation is required. Also in mind is a broader kind of “brothers”: the nation of Israel, which according to Scripture, included debtors, slaves, and offenders. So, the language here is familial, but the family being spoken of is the family of God—the people of God, which then, was Israel, but is now, the church. So, it’s no wonder that Luke describes the church as he does in Acts 2:42-47, one of the most essential texts on the church.
Second, the psalmist says that “brothers living together in harmony” is “pleasant.” Unity is pleasing. So, not only is our unity good, in and of itself, but unity is also practical: it is good for us. My own church’s purpose is to “live in light of the gospel through worship, community, and mission.” We believe that “the gospel enables and empowers Christians to develop intimate relationships with one another, as it frees us from having to disguise our sins and short-comings.” Gospel-centered relationships made “intentionally with other church members,” help serve the “purpose of encouragement, accountability, and spiritual maturity.” During the hardest days of COVID-19, this is why we missed gathering together. This is why we missed regularly seeing one another, face to face. We were missing out on one of the most pleasant blessings that God has given the church.
Why is this unity both good and good for us? Why should we be so intentional about community and unity in our local churches? That’s what verses 2 and 3 tell us. We are offered two metaphors to explain what is so “good and pleasant” about harmonious living—about church unity, community, and fellowship.
#1 – Harmonious living is “good and pleasant” because it makes us holy.
In verse 2, David says that harmonious living is “like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.” The anointing mentioned here was a unique process. We might envision a picture of good, fine, precious oil on the head of Aaron, running down his beard, and then onto his robes. There’s certainly a noted abundance. This anointing is mentioned in Exodus 30:22-33. It’s the ordination oil on the head of Aaron and his descendants. It’s oil that made priests holy. When Moses speaks of this oil in Exodus 30, the word “holy” is mentioned five times.
Our harmony or unity with one another is like this oil: it’s holy. A part of our becoming separate from the world is our unity with one another. In the Old Testament, we are reminded, at times, that it was the norm for people—even relatives—to separate over trivial reasons such as the distribution or use of land. So, what God’s people did—dwelling in unity—was radically different from what was expected. As the New Testament tells us, in our unity, we are carrying out our calling in the world to be holy (Matt 5:16; John 13:35).
What we seek to do in the local church—living as one family with one mission—makes us odd and strange in the world’s eyes.
- Our corporate gatherings…
- Our community groups…
- Our daily living together…
- The ways that we pray for and keep up with one another…
- The fact that we recognize our dependency on one another for physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being…
All of it makes us set apart from the rest of this world. Harmonious living is “good and pleasant” because it makes us holy.
#2 – Harmonious living is “good and pleasant” because it makes us fruitful.
In verse 3, David says that harmonious living is “like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing: life forevermore.” Like the oil, the dew mentioned here is significant because of its abundance. David says that our unity is not like some normal dew; it is the dew of Mt. Hermon, a high, snowcapped mountain at the northern end of their land. The dew that came down in this region was an unnaturally heavy dew. For those who lived there, this dew led to a rather nice crop; that is, it led to fruitfulness.
Dew was crucial for vegetation, especially during dry seasons. The Bible notes this over and over again (e.g., Gen 27:28; Zech 8:12). When harmonious living becomes our reality, we get the fruitful “blessing” of “life forevermore” (v. 3). And this “dew,” be it normal or heavy, is all of God himself. Proverbs 3:20 tells us that, “By his knowledge… the clouds dripped with dew,” and in Haggai 1:10, that God “[withholds] the dew and the land its crops.” And so, our unity is only possible through the sovereign Lord.
So, the thought here is that harmonious living—which only comes through the sovereign enabling of God—leads to a “fruitful land.” Holiness, which is exhibited in our love and affection for one another, is what will lead to fruitfulness. Our harmonious living doesn’t guarantee fruitfulness, but it seems to be near impossible without it. If we want to see the fruit we so desperately long for in our churches, we need to set ourselves apart through our harmonious living. We want to be known for our community and for our unity.
These reminders of the goodness of harmonious living should remind us of someone else. As John 15:13 reads, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” As we dwell on Psalm 133, we are reminded of our ultimate brother and our ultimate friend, Jesus Christ, for he is the reason our community exists in the first place. His work on our behalf is the grounds for our salvation and the motivation for our mission. According to Hebrews 2:11, Jesus is “the one who sanctifies,” and we are “those who are sanctified,” and together, we “all have one Father.” And so, the writer of Hebrews says, “That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters.”
Though COVID-19 still tries to make its presence known and still seeks to dominate our lives, we are anxious and hopeful for better days. Our hope should be that, in the days to come, churches all around the world will get to gather together in full to experience God’s gift of harmonious living. The stench that COVID-19 has been should make the gift that much sweeter.