Summary: Living in unity means living as a priesthood consecrated to encourage one another in the path of faith--therein lies God’s blessing.
“Songs for the Road #14: Unity”
Psalm 133 talks about brothers (and sisters!) getting along and enjoying a sense of unity. Well, I grew up as an only child and so I never had brothers and sisters. I don’t know from experience what it’s like. I can think of a story from my family about two of my uncles who didn’t speak for years because of a family conflict. I know of other family conflicts, too, that have kept brothers and sisters apart for years. Of course, most of you know what it’s like to have brothers and sisters. And most of you know, too, that, in the words of our psalm, it’s not always “very good and pleasant.” Brothers and sisters disagree, argue, fight, and sometimes fail to get along. There’s conflict. Whenever there’s more than one person in the room, there’s potential for conflict.
We see the same thing in Scripture. Look at the first two brothers: Cain and Abel. Cain actually killed his brother. He told God that he wasn’t his brother’s keeper—but of course we know he was supposed to be. Look at Jacob and Esau—two brothers who were at odds with one another from birth to adulthood. We see stories in Scripture of brother set against brother. I think of Joseph and his brothers—the only kind of unity we see between them is when the rest of them agree to get rid of Joseph!
So we have our experience and we have what Scripture tells us. Both seem to confirm the same thing: brothers and sisters do not always get along. And more than that, they sometimes seek to harm one another. But of course, thankfully our experience is balanced, quite often, by the opposite experience. There are also times of harmony. Differences are put aside. Jacob and Esau meet again after years of separation and reconcile. After rising to top of the political establishment in Egypt, Joseph has the chance to reveal himself to his brothers and then, as Scripture tells us, “he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” And maybe in those moments, when there is a sense of peace and unity, we truly understand why Psalm 133 calls this “very good and pleasant.”
“How very good and pleasant it is”
I don’t know Hebrew, so what I’m about to say is something of a guess. Well, it’s partly a guess. My conclusion is true, but my evidence might not support the conclusion! Notice how Psalm 133:1 says that living together in unity is “very good.” What does that remind you of? It reminds me of the beginning of Genesis when God is creating the world and He finishes by making humanity—and what does He say? “God saw everything that he made, and indeed, it was very good.”
These may or may not be the same Hebrew words that we have in Psalm 133—and if they are, we are being told I think, that dwelling together in unity is how God made us. Dwelling together in unity is God’s intention for us. He made us for one another. Now, whether or not the Hebrew supports my conclusion, I think my conclusion is still valid: God made us to live in unity.
No wonder, then, that it is pleasant to live in unity—what could give greater pleasure than living according to how God made us? Where there is unity amongst God’s people, we are dwelling on the doorsteps of heaven.
“Like the precious oil . . . running down upon the beard”
Our psalm uses two great images to describe what this unity is like, and the first is of pouring oil on your head and letting it run down over your face, and onto your clothes. “Well,” maybe you think, “that just sounds messy!” But we’re not obviously expected to pour oil over each other. The image can be seen perhaps as an image of hospitality—but I dare you to try this on a houseguest, family or not!
The more likely meaning of this image is that of consecration. The oil is the kind used to anoint people for particular forms of service. Kings and priests were anointed—and here it is Aaron the priest that is being anointed. Being anointed means being set apart for the service of God on behalf of the rest of God’s people; it means being consecrated. Being set apart meant that something was made holy and was to be used for God’s purposes. The oil is also a symbol of God’s presence and His Spirit.
So what does this have to do with unity?
In our passage only Aaron is consecrated. Not everyone in Israel was a priest—only the Levites were anointed for this special task. But that is not true in the church. Each of us is consecrated, and when we believed in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour each of us was set apart and filled with God’s Spirit to serve. Peter calls the church “a holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood.” We are all priests. Every one of us is a priest just like Aaron.