A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalms 133:1-3 KJV)
Unity is good, but why is it so hard?
Do you have kids? I have 2 kids. I had visions when I was younger that when I had kids that I would tell them what to do and they would obey me. I would see people lose their cool with kids in public or have a kid on a leash or something and I’d judge them. I would think, “I’m not going to do that when I have kids.” Then I had kids and the first time I chased my kid across 3 soccer fields (he had a huge head start) I was looking up how to buy one of those leashes… I also dreamed that they would get along, but they can find away to get on each others nerves from two different rooms in the house. Unity is good, but why is it so hard?
Anyone have to travel home for the holidays? There are four of us siblings and then most of us got married, and had kids. My parents have like 14 grandkids. Visiting is one thing, but staying is something else. Some people have room, but get a hotel room for their family to stay in when they travel just to save on the family drama. Then there is the gossip. There is always the black sheep of the family and they have always done something (by the way if you are thinking… not my family, we don’t have a black sheep… look in the mirror, you are probably it). Unity is good, but why is it so hard?
Then there is work, right? You work hard, do your best, and all of the sudden everything you were just working really hard on doesn’t count for anything and you have to start over on a new project because the higher ups had another great idea. Or your boss loves to dole out the criticism, but doesn’t seem to recognize what’s going on. You’re not the only one to notice this either. Sometimes you have a little prayer request session for the boss… never prayer… always prayer requests though… And if you’re the boss you are always wondering why people don’t just do their jobs. Why aren’t they happy with a paycheck, you don’t have time to go around and pat everyone on the head and give out golden stars… what is this kindergarten? Unity is good, but why is it so hard?
This is a Psalm of David written for the people to sing as they would come into Jerusalem, the Holy city, to celebrate one of the three major feasts they would have each year. It would be sung by travelers who met on the road headed for a common destination. They wouldn’t know each other but they would join each other in singing this song.
I find it interesting that David is the author. If anyone knew about the need for unity it was David. David was anointed to be the next king of Israel when he was a young boy. He kills the giant Goliath in battle. He serves in the king’s court as a musician. He marries the King’s daughter. But Saul get’s very envious of David and tries to kill David on several occasions. David has several opportunities to kill Saul but never does. Finally Saul and his son Jonathan die in battle and David attempts to reunite the kingdom but Saul’s family rebels and for about the first 5 chapters of 2 Samuel Israel has a civil war. People are killing their own countrymen until a truce is called, the bloodshed is stopped and David is the rightful king, but there are some that still resent his kingship.
David knows what it is like to be leader and try to unite a people who seemingly don’t want to be united. I think this Psalm (song) serves as a good reminder that some things are bigger than the petty things that divide us.
There is something that can cause unity to occur among even seemingly total strangers on the road to a common destination.
UNITY IS WORTH IT
The first thing we note is that unity is both good and pleasant! Some things are good, but they aren’t pleasant. Vegetables are a classic example of something that is good. I mean no one doubts the general health qualities of fresh raw vegetables. But unless you have acquired the taste for raw broccoli it taste and looks like a mini tree. I remember one time my wife an I stayed at a hotel and we were a bit late getting to the breakfast buffet the next morning and all the good stuff was taken and everything that was left was just “good for you.” I was scraping to get a few bacon crumbs so I could sprinkle them on my grapes and banana halves.
There are some things that are pleasant, but aren’t good. The world is full of things that we might enjoy a little too much, like a biting remark, or talking behind somebody’s back, that are not good.
But before we go on and address some of the difficulties of unity. King David wants us to know and sing up front that Unity is good but that it is pleasant. We should not only need unity, but we should want it!
What kind of sacrifices do you make for the things you want?
If you are in a hunting club, You are up there on weekends planting food plots, putting up trail cams, tracking where the deer are. Everything gets put on the back burner when dear season rolls around.
Maybe it’s your kids. No one is going to fault you for wanting the best for your kids, right? So maybe you want to get them in a better school and so you borrow grandma’s address or you move so your address will be right or you contact everyone you know so you can figure out how to get little Johnny or Suzie in the right district for school. Or maybe it’s not a district issue, it’s a private school and so that costs more money and you sacrifice there.
The first thing in this song is about how good and pleasant unity is and it’s there to drive in us a desire to go and get it. To find it, even if it costs us something, because it is worth it!
UNITY AS WORSHIP
In this next part David brings to mind the image of when the high priest would be anointed. Specifically he goes back to the first High Priest, Aaron. The high priest was someone who was set apart to mediate between Israel and God. The people know they had sinned against God and they needed someone who could make sacrifices, sin offerings on their behalf.
We were saying “unity is good, but why is it so hard?” We’ll it is difficult because of our sin, isn’t it? We are sinful people. We sin against others and we are sinned against. Whether it be my sinful children terrorizing each other, or a family bickering about a situation, gossip at work, or even quarrels at church.
Sin separates us from one another and it separates us from God! When we sin we put a break or tear in our relationship. Just take the 10 commandments. If you steal from someone it affects your relationship to them. If you commit adultery it affects relationships in two families and then creates wider trust issues in the whole community. If you lie, if you disrespect your parents, if you murder… these things all have relational consequences. There is no unity where sin is practiced and tolerated.
The biggest problem we have with unity is that we are all sinful people. Not only are we separated from one another but we are separated from God by our sin! Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The prophet Isaiah wrote, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 50:2).
For true Unity to exist, Sin has to be addressed!
In the context of this Psalm the high priest would be the one who would address the sins of the Nation of Israel before God. He would make a sacrifice to atone or pay for their sins. Every year on the day of Atonement there would be a national day of repentance and this high priest would reconcile the people to God.
The imagery here is that of the anointing of Aaron this man who was Israel’s high priest. When he was anointed they would use a ton of super fragrant oil that would pour out and all who were present would be able to smell it and thus were taking part in the ceremony. It covered his head, his beard, his robe, it covered everything.
This is important because it was abundant. It wasn’t anointing on a budget, but extravagant. It was this way to show what great love God has for us in that he would deal with our sins. His love is poured out on us. We deserve the wrath of God for the sins that we have committed but we receive the Grace of God through his appointed mediator.
The priest would be wearing a special vest that would have twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and as the oil flowed down it would cover over them all! This was another symbol of unity that this man didn’t make atonement or offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness or sins of just one tribe, but of all the tribes.
In our context we know that Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5); He is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). We have the benefit of looking back on this now. We don’t have a high priest like Aaron. We have one better. We have Jesus Christ who made atonement for sins! He paid the price so that we might know God and have fellowship with him. His blood was poured out so that we might live.
The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to purify us from all unrighteousness.” Also in Acts 3:18 we are told, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” It is through the work of Jesus on the cross that we can even know God and come into a relationship with Him through the forgiveness of our sins.
When we do we become a part of his church. Unity is one of the hallmarks of Christianity. Where there is no real unity, the devil has crept in and there is no real Christianity. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”
Our unity is worship because it is evidence that our sins have been forgiven and that we have forgiven each other.
However, we’ve all seen or been in social situations where folks put on a plastic face and smile for the camera, but you know there is deeper tension beneath the surface. There is a sin issue that has to be resolved. I’ll never forget there was a woman in my former church who HATED me. I didn’t know why. She tried to get me fired! I didn’t know what was going on until someone told me.
My pastor said to leave it alone, but I couldn’t leave it alone, because for unity to exist, sin had to be addressed. For all I knew I had sinned against her somehow. If that was the case, her reaction was wrong, but while there was this issue between us, there would be no unity in the church. So I pulled a Matthew 18 and went to see her and her husband, asked point blank what I had done to offend them and sought reconciliation.
And do you know what… we were reconciled! It was a misunderstanding. She thought she heard something and rather than give me the benefit of the doubt she assigned me thoughts and motives that weren’t even there at all. She said she was sorry for saying all those mean things about me and trying to get me fired. I said I was sorry for not being clearer in what I said.
Unity is a WITNESS
This last part can appear a bit mystical. If you don’t know your bible geography very well you’ll always read these passages and just consider them as difficult names. However if you have the book of maps in the back of your bible you can look for these. If you see a map of Israel and in the north above the Sea of Galilee is Mount Herman. In the south is Jerusalem which is often referred to as Zion. There is over 100 miles between the two.
Mount Herman is the tallest mountain in the region and often has snow on the top. The mountain of Zion in the summer months especially is dry and arid. There is no way the abundant dew from Herman literally fell on mount Zion.
So this is what we see when we read this, the song writer David says Unity is an abundance of refreshing dew, that doesn’t occur naturally where we are… in other words it’s supernatural! It is something that can only happen because God has commanded it!
When we are united in Jesus Christ it sends a message to the world that something supernatural is taking place in our midst. We are drawn together not because of our love for bowhunting, or a particular nascar driver, or even for an SEC football team, but because of Jesus Christ.