Sunday, September 26, 2010

When brothers live together in unity

Psalm 133

A song of ascents. Of David.

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

David introduces a couple similes to describe the glory of unity. He says that it is like precious oil poured on the head. David also says that it is like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion. Understanding these similes unlocks the meaning of the Psalm. Understanding the similes requires little bit of Bible history and geography.

Mount Zion, or the temple mount, is part of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Hermon is a mountain on the historical northern border of Israel (part of Lebanon and Syria today). Hermon is a snowy mountain, the Mount of Olives is not parched, but it is warmer and more arid than Hermon. Psalm 133 is a Psalm of ascent, which Israel sang as they climbed up toward Jerusalem on their way to a feast. These three required feasts occur in the more arid and warmer months of the year. As the people climbed the mountain towards Jerusalem, they sang of the refreshing dew of Hermon. We can stretch the metaphor a bit by acknowledging that Zion and Hermon were very different mountains. Brothers living together in unity does not necessarily mean homogeneity. Rather the image in the Psalm demonstrates one supplying what the other lacks. If only the cooling dew of Hermon would fall on Zion as worshippers trekked their way to the temple! Brothers living together in unity is refreshing.

Exodus 30 speaks of the special anointing oil in the Tabernacle. The anointing oil was a blend of myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and olive oil. Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests using this oil. The cinnamon and cassia poured over Aaron's head would have induced a warming sensation. The aroma would have been overpowering for anyone in the vicinity. Brothers living together in unity is warming and stimulating.

Within the images of the Psalm you have the cooling dew of Hermon and the warming fragrant oil of anointing both used metaphorically for brothers living together in unity.

Nevertheless, for the Christian there is a prophetic dimension to these metaphors. The word, Christ, means "anointed one." So naturally, we should pay close attention to the anointing of the Christ. In the Gospels, there are three accounts of Jesus' anointing by women. In Luke 7, Jesus' feet are anointed by a sinful woman in the city of Nain in Galilee. In John 12, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, also anoints Jesus' feet at a dinner in Jesus honor prior to the Triumphal Entry. In Matthew 26, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus' head on the night before the Last Supper and Jesus' subsequent arrest. Some very bad Bible scholars categorize these three anointing as one event with differing recollections. Anyone, taking the time to read the Gospels can see that they are three distinct events. Twice Jesus' feet are anointed and once his head is anointed.

The sinful woman in Nain anointed Jesus' feet early in Jesus' ministry. The feet of the prophet were anointed to spread the Gospel. Mary, Lazarus' sister, anointed Jesus' feet prior to the Triumphal Entry near the end of his earthly ministry. The feet of the king were anointed prior to his entry into the city. Finally, the unnamed woman anointed the head of Jesus the high priest. When we see Aaron's anointing as the prototype for Christ's anointing, then the dimension of the Psalm takes us to Calvary where Jesus, our high priest, offered his own blood as the atonement for our sins. The unity we have we have in him.

When we see the oil of anointing in Psalm 133 from the New Testament perspective, then we can look again at the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion and perhaps recall Peter's words, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." Acts 3:19 (NIV) Peter's reference to "times of refreshing" came at Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, during which the Jews would have sung Psalm 133 on their ascent to the temple. While we might not draw a direct correlation between Psalm 133 and Acts 3:19, there was a general anticipation of God's blessing on the nation of Israel.

Perhaps the refreshing dew of Hermon reminds us of Christian baptism. As Peter also said at Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." Acts 2:38-39 (NIV)

Baptism declares our unity, as Paul writes, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV) Likewise, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, saying, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:3-6 (NIV)

We are called to unity. In our collective unity with Christ, God directs his blessing. When we experience the unity we have in Jesus Christ, as Psalm 133 says, we experience what is "life forevermore."

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