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Psalm 133

In my mind, this Psalm about unity falls a little short. At first glance, this beautiful picture of the blessing and goodness of a peaceful community seems almost beyond reproach, but upon careful inspection the final words of the Psalm provide a contrived conclusion that is (thankfully) inconsistent with the thrust of the verse.

The beginning phrase of Psalm 133, “how good” echoes the “it was good” of the Genesis creation narrative by utilizing the same Hebrew word.

Verse 1 points out that it is not the brotherhood itself, but living together in unity that is worthy of being called “tov.” Tov means good or appropriate. It means the brotherhood fulfills the purpose that it was designed for. For brotherhoods, it seems that unity is the point and the purpose of their creation.

The “good” of vs. 1 is repeated in vs. 2. This time the NRSV translates the word as “precious.” In the Hebrew you get this sense of continuity. You realize the song is going somewhere, that there is something happening.

The repetition doesn’t stop there though. The unification of brotherhood is likened to both oil and dew. It’s setting is on the top of heads and of mountains. The oil and the dew runs down from the top. Three times the same word, “yarad” is used. The oil and dew “goes down” and covers the head, the beard, the mountain.

The oil and the dew reaches out farther. The oil covering the adjoining collar. As it continues to flow, the dew from Hermon spans the 200 kilometers between it and Mt. Zion.

Psalm 133 is progressive. It starts with brothers, but by the end of it, the blessing has stretched and covered the nations of Israel. The repetition of terms not only emphasizes the terms themselves, but builds momentum. The language sends us shooting through the text and out the end into the future. The images grow too. First, the brotherhood image expands to the priesthood Aaron represents. Then it stretches again to Mt. Zion and covers the space of separation of the North and South kingdoms. Finally, what was a temporal and limited experience in verse 1, brothers who live together in unity, becomes metaphysical in verse 3 with the ending line of God’s blessing resulting in “life forevermore.