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Psalm 133

Good things come in small packages. This psalm may be small in size, but its words loom large in their implications for the Church. In a world where so many seem divided against one another, so many families broken, so many hearts in need of mending, the psalmist proclaims a truth echoed in the very heart of God: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Let the Church say amen! Right? At least, we would hope that the Church, the families we pastor, and the people we love would live in unity. How very good and pleasant it would be if the phrase, “kindred live together in unity,” were as true as “water is wet” or “the sky is blue.”

However, from Cain and Abel on, kindred have most certainly not lived in perfect unity. Many of us, as we preach or pray this passage, will attest that we have experienced disunity more often than not, and as those in our sanctuaries hear these words, the most cynical of them may say, “Ha! Wishful thinking!” However, the good news is that God is good, powerful, and faithful, and God can make unity happen. God can give the Church such good and pleasant unity, and God is forming such unity, even now, and will establish it forevermore!

Just how good is unity between kindred, particularly in the family of God? The psalmist provides two similes to help us picture what it is like to have this unity. The first is an image of oil being poured over the head and running down the beard. The practice of pouring oil over the head refers to biblical hospitality customs that are meant to honor guests.[1] The psalmist’s picture is an extravagant expression of this custom, as the oil is so lavishly given that it runs down the beard. One could see this kind of generosity in the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume in John 7. While Simon, the Pharisee, did not kiss him, give him water for his feet, or anoint Jesus’ head, the woman did all three beyond what was expected. The picture of Psalm 133 for unity among kindred that kind of lavish hospitality and welcome that goes above and beyond what we are used to or could ask for.

What is even more is that the analogy continues – “on the beard of Aaron…running down over the collar of his robes.” This mention of the first high priest has multiple implications. First, it ties together the mention of Zion in v.3, where the people of God first received the covenant and Aaron was made priest. As priests, Aaron and his sons are representative of the gathered people of God in the Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple. In entering God’s presence, priests’ robes were adorned with symbols of Israel’s worship before the Lord. Secondly, in contemporary contexts, Psalm 133 is read precisely to tie into the unity of the gathered people of God. The phrase “kindred living together” is used to refer to the pilgrimage practices of the covenant people when they gather, sit and eat together, as during the festival of Tabernacles.[2] Finally, the Psalm’s mention of Aaron’s beard itself is significant in that his beard, along with those of his sons, were never supposed to be cut (Lev. 21:5). There is enough oil here that it runs over his beard and even gets on his robes. This further highlights the extravagant goodness of unity. It is like oil extended in hospitality in such generosity that it flows beyond not only a normal-length beard, but beards like Aaron’s, which have never seen a razor!

Partnered with the image of anointing oil is the dew of Mt. Hermon, “falling on mount Zion.” Though the significance of Hermon is not clear, Zion’s significance is obvious as it is the place where newly freed Israel received the covenant in God’s presence. Being a desert mountain, Zion probably did not receive dew as liberally as Mt. Hermon. So, the picture for the psalmist is that unity is like the holy mountain Zion receiving reviving waters that nourish the ground. Likewise, God’s blessing revived a people long enslaved and wandering, longing for freedom and fulness of life. While it may be hard sometimes to image unity for the Church in such divisive times, this word reminds us that unity amongst people in God’s creation is not impossible. Unity is like dew on dry ground. While it may be a refreshment we are not used to seeing in abundance in our situations, or one that we have once known but have lost for many seasons, God created humanity in the image of God – capable of a love that reflects God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We now come to the culmination of this psalm in the second half of v.3. Why is such unity so good? It is because the Lord is at work in bringing people together in such love and camaraderie. In the Lord’s work, there is goodness that goes beyond mere sentimentality. On Mt. Zion the people gathered and received the new life of God’s covenant. When the Church gathers, we receive the new covenant, established in Christ. The unity among kindred occurs through God and brings ordination to the blessings of God. In such unity is life itself and life forevermore!

A quick note on worship: The Lord’s Supper is in itself a means of the grace of God, wherein we are – and are becoming – one with Christ and unified as the Body of Christ. It is through the very physical elements of bread and wine which themselves give nourishment and life to the body, that Christ has instituted as a means grace to nourish and give life to the Body. It is good and pleasant when the Church gathers at the Table! There, Christ makes his Body unified – not uniform, but one with one another in our diversity. God uses these outward signs of inward grace not only to sanctify us individually but also corporately, as we gather at the Table as one family. No matter how fractured we have been in the Church, in our families, or in our lives, Christ can make us whole again. It is so very good when kindred live together in unity – it is like a fresh anointing and like morning dew on dry ground. Thankfully, God has made a way for us all to know this goodness!


[1] James L. Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Knoxville: John Knox Press, 1994). 413-414.

[2] Psalms, 413.