Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. (Psalm 133)
When I was younger, I remember sneaking around to be able to watch the TV show Cheers. You know that ’80s sitcom where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. I always identified with Norm—don’t ask me why. Maybe because he was fat and had curly hair (and so did I). Perhaps because he always seemed to be snarky and yet funny at the same time. Who knows why. I was a kid. But it wasn’t until I was an adult and going through seminary that this psalm began to stick in my mind. What I longed for then and what I long for now is a place where I am accepted and known and dwell with people who are glad I am there.
Here the psalmist paints a picture of the people of God dwelling in blessed unity. He gives us an idealized vision of the kingdom of God as something more than just the fragmented relationships that we encounter now. We walk in and out of churches, and we feel like outsiders. We don’t fit in. We put on our church faces and act like our lives are put together, but when we leave, we realize that no one really knows us. This Psalm is a hope-giving Psalm, a Psalm of Ascent. It was written to be sung as the people of God walked to the Holy City, in unison.
King David wrote it. Put on your imagination hat for a second (if that is really a thing; I don’t know, just go with it). David is sitting in his royal house, maybe on the rooftop looking at a procession of a million people walking and singing in unison all in anticipation of the holy days, all in anticipation of the celebration of God’s deliverance, or God’s protection, or the forgiveness of sins. And he can’t control himself. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Even as I sit here in my small office, listening to Gregorian chants, I am struck by the beauty of a few voices singing in harmony with one another. Imagine millions of voices. Jaw-dropping beauty, joy-inducing music, brothers and sisters in unison, singing.
David likens it to really good-smelling beard oil. I love this metaphor because I have a beard, and I know how pleasant it is when my beard smells good. But this oil is a different sort of oil than just good beard oil. It is a deluge of a certain type of oil. In Exodus 30:23–25 and Leviticus 8:20 we read of this type of oil. It was anointing oil—oil that was used to consecrate Aaron for service. It was made of olive oil and mixed with very fragrant spices so that the smell would be sweet, and it was not to be replicated for common use. Why? Because God wanted the people when they came around their priests to smell the sweetness of the oil, the distinctiveness of this anointing oil. Now as a pastor I am very aware of the way I smell. Literally, it is a kind of neurosis of mine. When I go to hug people, I smell all sorts of things: coffee breath, sweat, leftover food, and cigarette smoke. Yet periodically when I hug someone and I smell them, it is a beautiful aroma. God is saying that when we dwell in unity, it is like hugging Aaron and smelling the sweet mixture of spices.
David then talks about Mt. Hermon and the dew that runs down and waters the land, bringing abundant provision, blessing, and fertile ground. Where the people of God dwell in unity, it brings these very things. We all long to be in a community of believers that gives us life and makes us feel loved and where we experience real, fruitful community. This comes as we announce the gospel to one another. This happens as we are known, our good and our bad, and we have people who speak the words of life into our lives. It happens when our brothers and sisters see our struggles, and they tell of the life, death, resurrection, and present intercession of Christ for us. That is like dew running down Mt. Hermon, bringing much-needed nutrients to our souls.
Last, we get this picture of heaven. The blessing, commanded by the Lord, is eternal life. As we dwell in unity here on earth, we experience in part what it is going to be like when we are in heaven. We experience the joy and warmth of deep communion. On a Sunday night, I was at church, and it came time to walk to the table and receive communion. We began to sing the old hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood” acapella as we got in our lines and walked to the front. As I was walking to the front, it dawned on me, sinner and saint, young and old, addicted, struggling with same-sex attraction, transgender, proud, rich, homeless, highly educated, uneducated, healthy and broken, burdened and rejoicing, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, all were walking in unity, singing in unity coming to the very thing that unites us: Christ’s body and blood.
It was in that moment, as we sang, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains” that I was struck how by how good and how pleasant it was when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. It was a little taste of heaven.