Psalm 133: In Search of Unity

friends

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) dwell in unity!” (1)

How good, indeed! But how often is it found? Both political parties are struggling to reach a hard to find unity.

There have been times in my life when I have joined with others in community, praying together, acting together, trying to put Gospel values into action, and experienced this unity. Other times not so much, as we have struggled to work together and understand each other. But having experienced this, I know just how good it is when there is unity, not a forced unity, but one of acceptance of the differences among us.

Psalm 133 is a wisdom psalm, imparting instruction on matters of moral significance. Written in the post-exilic time, it remembers an earlier, idealized, time when families all lived under one tent. During the Babylonian exile, many families were broken up and scattered, disrupting the Hebrew family structure. Solidarity of family was an important aspect of Hebrew social and religious structure and thus highly valued.

This unity is described in lavish terms, “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” (2) This image may not be readily understood by our generation. If you use an abundance of oil during a baptism or an anointing of the sick, the recipient is usually quick to wipe it off, but in Old Testament time this would have been a rich symbol.

This unity is also described as dew, “It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.” (3) In a desert, water in any form is precious, life-giving, a blessing from God.

But how accurate is the image painted in this psalm? How often is this true unity found within families, churches, or political structures? Think of the first family, Cain and Abel and the sibling rivalry present there; or the fighting of Jacob and Esau even in their mother’s womb. Remember how Joseph’s brothers treated him. Domestic violence continues to be a problem, more volatile because of the high level of emotions we invest in our families. There is something within human nature that strikes out at others and causes dissension within the most close-knit family.

When it is found, unity truly is wonderful. Its value is greater for being so rare. And so we have reason to pray for unity within families, within our churches, and between churches and society.

Have you experienced this unity in your life, in your family or another group? How was this unity achieved? How long did it last? I would love to hear from you!

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