A SHORT psalm in praise of unity and brotherly harmony. As Dr. Kay observes, "The preservation of this unity was the object of the selection of ONE place, to which the tribes should go up on pilgrimage three times a year." And the intercommunion with each other, which the pilgrimages fostered, was certainly one of the chief means by which a unity of feeling and sentiment was kept up among the scattered members of the nation century after century. The pilgrimages were to the Israelites what the meetings at the Olympic and ether games were to the Greeks—at once witnesses to a belief in ethnic unity, and a strong and efficient bond of union. This psalm was therefore admirably fitted for a "pilgrim-song," which it is allowed on all hands to have been, and must have greatly helped the various classes of pilgrims-the spiritual and secular authorities, the rich, the poor, the citizen, the peasant, and the widely divided members of the Great Diaspora—to feel themselves united with each other and with Jehovah.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! The unity described appears to be existent, and to present itself to the psalmist's vision. Hence the opening, "Behold!" All may see it, and see how blessed and pleasant a thing it is. "Brethren" is used in the wide sense of descendants of a common ancestor (Genesis 13:8; Exodus 2:11; Acts 7:26, etc.).
It is like the precious ointment upon the head. The anointing oil of the sanctuary was an ointment composed of many "precious" ingredients, as myrrh, cinnamon, sweet calamus, and cassia, besides oil olive, which was its basis (Exodus 30:23, Exodus 30:24). Not only Aaron (Le 8:12), but all later high priests, were anointed with it (Exodus 30:30). That ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard. This would be the natural result of a copious "pouring" of the oil upon the top of the head. Though not mentioned historically in Leviticus, it presents itself to the eye of the poet, on whose mental vision the whole scene rises. That went down to the skirts of his garments. Streamed even to the lower fringe of his long vesture (Kay). The high priest at his consecration was a type and symbol of unity. He bore on his breastplate the names of the twelve tribes, so that the holy oil, typical of the grace of God, when it was poured upon him, flowed down on all the tribes, diffusing everywhere an odor of fragrance.
As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion. The interpolation of the words, "and as the dew," is quite unwarrantable, and spoils the sense. It substitutes duality for unity, and destroys the parity of the two illustrations. Translate, "As the dew of Hermon, that cometh down upon the mountains of Zion." The psalmist sees the moisture which fertilizes the Holy Land, and makes it the fertile land that it is, all given forth from Hermon, the one great mountain at its head. As Dr. Kay well observes, "Physically, Hermon was to Canaan what Aaron was ceremonially to Israel—its head and crown, from which the fertilizing stores of heaven descended over the land. For not only does the one great river of Palestine, the Jordan, issue from the roots of Hermon, but the giant mountain is constantly gathering and sending off clouds, which float down even to Southern Zion." For there (i.e. in Zion) the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore. The reference is to Le Psalms 25:21, and perhaps to Deuteronomy 28:8.
Unity in the Church.
Applying the words of the psalm to a Christian community gathered together for the worship and the work of our Lord, we may regard—
I. THAT IN WHICH UNITY CONSISTS. This we find in:
1. The acceptance of the same truth in the same sense. It is not enough that all subscribe to the same Creed, or agree to use the same words in prayer or sacred song,—that is only a formal and outward unity; there must be a substantial, intelligent agreement. Not necessarily, not indeed possibly, the acceptance of Christian truth in all its particulars in the same sense; but the reception, in the mind, of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith by all professed believers.
2. Essential oneness in aim and spirit; all being animated by the same desire to promote the glory of Christ and the elevation of mankind; all having the same spirit of earnestness and holy expectation.
3. Readiness to concede and co-operate. There can be no good work without hearty union of forces, and there can be no such combining without a cheerful readiness to concede to one another. Each must "esteem other better than himself."
4. Mutual esteem and affection. This can only be attained by a disposition to recognize and to honor all that is best in other people, and a determination to make the least of anything that is unpleasing or even unworthy.
II. ITS ATTRACTIVENESS. (Psalms 133:2.) As fragrant as the sacred oil used in priestly consecration is the odor of brotherly love. And as an exquisite fragrance attracts whilst anything offensive repels, so the presence of unity in the Church is a constant invitation, unformed and voiceless, but influential and effective. No one will come to the community where discord is the prevailing state; many hearts will be won, many feet will repair to the circle where peace and concord dwell.
III. ITS BEAUTY. (Psalms 133:3.) It is as beautiful in the moral realm as the dew on which the sun is shining is exquisite in the material. We admire unity when we see it. It shows the presence of the finest moral and spiritual qualities. It is the fair product of self-control, of obedience to the Word and will of God, of the study of the character and spirit of Jesus Christ. It is the reproduction of his own life. It is a spiritual result on which the eye of the soul rests with a pure and keen delight.
IV. ITS VALUE AS VITAL TO ALL TRUE SUCCESS. (Psalms 133:3.) "There the Lord commanded the blessing," etc. There may be the appearance of success without it, but not the reality. Other, human qualities may command great congregations, large contributions, elegant and commodious premises; but without the unity which our Lord requires in his people, there will be no Divine blessing, there will not be the communication of the "life for evermore," the eternal life which is born of his Spirit. No leader or teacher can over-estimate the value of the spirit of unity in the Church of Christ. No surrender of our own preferences can be too great to secure it. For nothing should we pray more earnestly: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;" Jesus himself prayed that "they all may be one." They who cannot achieve any great things in utterance or in organization may render essential service by breathing and diffusing a peaceful spirit, by promoting the unity which is the unvarying condition of all real success.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
This most delightful little psalm summons our attention to the exceeding excellence of this grace of unity, and by so doing it invites us to consider what are its elements and conditions. Now, we all of us have a general idea of what unity is; we need not labor after an exact definition, and we are ready to subscribe our assent to the declaration of the psalm, and say of it, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is!" These two qualities do not always go together; there are many things that are good but are not at all pleasant, and we know that there are many things which are pleasant which are not at all good. But of the grace of unity, both can be affirmed. Now, this will be seen as we consider—
I. WHAT, HERE, THIS GRACE OF UNITY IS LIKENED TO. To the sacred consecrating oil with which the priests of God were anointed (cf. Exodus 30:22-33). And also to the dew which descended on Mount Hermon.
1. Take these two similitudes together. That which is common to them both is their so descending, flowing down, that, as in the case of the holy oil, the whole person of the priest is sanctified by it; it descended from the head to the beard, and thence to the borders of the priestly garment, so that his whole service was consecrated, and all his members. And so with the dew on the lofty Hermon; it stayed not there, but descended—the word "descended" is used in each ease, it is the key-word of the psalm, like the word "keep" in Psalms 121:1-8.—to the lower heights, and thence to the plains, so that the whole land, from Hermon in the north to Zion in the south, was blessed thereby. Now, the grace of unity is in this respect like the holy oil and the dew—it is a blessing for all and every one; for all our service and ministry, for all the people, the lowly as well as those of high station, and for all the land. North and south in Palestine had been torn by discord, strife, and war; but when this psalm was written they were all "as one man," gathered and bound together in the unity of their national life and of their one faith (Ezra 3:1; Nehemiah 8:1). Happy the nation, happy the Church, happy the home, where this blessed spirit of unity comes and abides!
2. Take them separately. And:
II. WHAT ARE ITS CONDITIONS.
1. Association. We must come together; there can be no unity in solitariness. We are many members, but one body. It condemns all separatism for separatism's sake.
2. Variety. There is no unity in the mere repetition of the same things, as in a heap of sand, a flock of sheep. But unity requires harmonized varieties. Music is not a monotone, but a harmony. Acts of Uniformity cannot secure it. In a true Christian society there must be variety of thought, feeling, and opinion, of age, position, character.
3. Liberty. There is no unity where there is no freedom. No real agreement exists where none is allowed to disagree. A lump of ice binds together a whole mass of most discordant things, but there is no unity in such a mass. They are fettered together by the frost force; let that be loosed, and each goes its own way at once.
4. Life. There is no strife in a graveyard; dead things do not quarrel A dead Church is peaceful enough.
5. Intelligence. The unity that is produced by priestcraft and superstition, where education and intelligence are lacking, where if light came it would at once be dissolved,—that is not true unity. But without these conditions (verses 1-3) unity is not.
III. WHAT ITS REAL SOURCE. The Holy Spirit of God. Like as one life animates our bodies and makes them one, one common feeling the passion-swayed multitude; so when the Spirit of God comes into a community, then, as at Pentecost, there is one body, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:1-32.).
IV. WHAT THE FRUIT IT BEARS. "There the Lord commanded the blessing," etc. (verse 3). It is ever so.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The topic of the psalm is the joy felt in the reuniting of the nation in its restoration from the scattering and depression of the Captivity. Strictly there is no Hebrew equivalent for the words rendered "in unity." The Hebrew simply means, "How pleasant a thing it is for (those who are) brethren to dwell together also!" The idea has been thus expressed, "How good it is for those who are united by the ties of kinmanship to be united yet closer by the possession of one common place of abode!" A race in possession of a common country merges individual in national interests. The two illustrations represent the pervading influence of this sympathetic spirit. The anointing oil which reached to Aaron's feet. The dews of Hermon, which were wafted over all the land.
I. THERE IS THE POSSIBLE UNITY OF SIMILARITY. The oneness of a common life; common pleasures; a common love. The similarities may concern very simple things, and yet be deeper than all diversities, and may gain triumph over everything that may tend to separate. Similarities in language, art, scientific interests, political principles, skill in games, suffice to unite men. How much more should religious feeling, and share in Christian work! Illustrate by the uniting bond of Freemasonry.
II. THERE IS THE POSSIBLE UNITY OF DIVERSITIES. There is no necessary form in which any life is bound to express itself. However life genuinely expresses itself, the expression will be found in harmony with every other expression. The pictures in the Academy are set, oftentimes, in painful color-contrasts one with another. The flowers of a garden are always harmonious. True unity consists in each being his best along his own line.
III. THERE IS THE POSSIBLE UNITY OF MEEKNESS. Meekness means voluntary putting one's own interests aside in order to fit ourselves to the service of others. And, in this sense, meekness is the deepest secret of unity. That kind of unity we should get in
For that, however, we need special grace, in order to triumph over sinful self-pleasing. The triumph of the Christian relationship is the unity that comes through altruism, for Christ's sake.—R.T.
Fragrance of the brotherhood.
"True concord is a holy thing, a sacred oil, a rich perfume which, flowing down from the head to the beard, from the beard to the garment, sanctifies the whole body." We get a better idea of the figure if we think of scent, or perfume, rather than oil, which Western people dislike, save for special uses. There can be little room for doubting that the psalm is a rejoicing over the restored unity of the Jewish nation. "Ephraim no longer vexed Judah, or Judah Ephraim." The mutual jealousies of the tribes had ceased; and those who returned to Jerusalem belonged to all the tribes. "That at this time there was a real unity of heart and mind in the nation may be inferred from the narratives in Ezra and Nehemiah" (Ezra 3:1; Nehemiah 8:1). The point of comparison does not lie in the preciousness of the oil, or in its all-pervading fragrance; but in this—that, being poured on the head, it did not rest there, but flowed to the beard, and descended even to the garments, and thus, as it were, consecrated the whole body in all its parts. All the members participate in the same blessing (for the composition of the anointing oil, see Exodus 30:22-33). The point to unfold is that the consecration of God, which binds the Church in unity, secures the unity of a common fragrance.
I. THE BROTHERHOOD IS NOT A UNITY OF SAMENESS, God never makes the brothers of a family alike; and when he remakes men, he does not shape them to a pattern, he gives them a new common life. The oil is represented as not stopping with intellectual people, who are as the head; it goes on to the strong people, who are as the beard; and to the useful people, who are as the limbs. All the members of the body retain their individualities.
II. THE BROTHERHOOD IS A UNITY OF GRACE RECEIVED. The new bond uniting all the members of the body, and all the relations of the life (which are represented by the garments) is the oil of Divine grace which reaches to and sanctifies them all.
III. THE BROTHERHOOD IS A UNITY OF COMMON RESPONSE. Every part gives forth fragrance, and it is everywhere the same fragrance—the fragrance of that godly character and godly living which grace sanctifies. Scents are dependent on the substances on which they lie. Some absorb and destroy fragrance. Others freely give it forth. The unity of the Church is the fragrance of the holy living of each one of its members.—R.T.
Lessons of the dew.
Palestine is a land of dews. It is very dependent on them. Destitute of rains for many months at a time, it relies for securing crops on the heavy fall of dew which is secured nightly by its multitude of mountains. Hermon is no more conspicuous in the sight than in the peculiar abundance of its dews. They become rain for the thirsty land. Mr. Porter says that one of its hills is appropriately called "Father of the Dew," for the clouds seem to cling with peculiar fondness round its wooded top. Dr. Tristram says, "We had sensible proof at Rasheiya of the copiousness of the 'dew of Hermon,' spoken of in this psalm, where 'Zion' is only another name for the same mountain. Unlike most other mountains which gradually rise from lofty table-lands, and often at a distance from the sea, Hermon starts at once to the height of nearly ten thousand feet, from a platform scarcely above the sea-level. This platform, toe—the upper Jordan valley, and marshes of Merom—is for the most part an impenetrable swamp of unknown depth, whence the seething vapor, under the rays of an almost tropical sun, is constantly ascending into the upper atmosphere during the day. The vapor, coming in contact with the snowy sides of the mountain, is rapidly congealed, and is precipitated in the evening in the form of dew, the most copious we ever experienced. It penetrated everywhere, and soaked everything. The floor of our tent was saturated, our bedding was covered with it, our guns were dripping, and dewdrops hung about everywhere. No wonder that the foot of Hermon is clad with orchards and gardens of such marvelous fertility in this land of droughts." Dr. Geikie gives quite a fresh explanation of the ordinary dew of the country. "There is no dew, properly so called, in Palestine, for there is no moisture in the hot summer air to be chilled into dew-drops by the coolness of the night, as in a climate like ours. From May to October rain is unknown, the sun shining with unclouded brightness day after day. The heat becomes intense, the ground hard, and vegetation would perish but for the moist west winds that come each night from the sea. The bright skies cause the heat to radiate very quickly into space, so that the nights are as cold as the day is the reverse. To this coldness of the night air the indispensable watering of all plant-life is due. The winds, loaded with moisture, are robbed of it as they pass over the land, the cold air condensing it into drops of water, which fall in a gracious rain of mist on every thirsty blade. In the morning the fog thus created rests like a sea over the plains, and far up the sides of the hills, which raise their heads above it like so many islands. At sunrise, however, the scene speedily changes. By the kindling light the mist is transformed into vast snow-white clouds, which presently break into separate masses and rise up the mountain-sides, to disappear in the blue above, dissipated by the increasing heat." Dew seemed to the Israelites a mysterious gift of heaven, as indeed it is. (For Bible associations of the dew, see 2 Samuel 1:21; 2 Samuel 17:12; 1 Kings 17:1; Job 29:19; Job 38:28; Psalms 110:3; Proverbs 19:12; So Proverbs 5:2; Hosea 6:4; Haggai 1:10 (Gideon's dew on the fleece is familiar, 6:36-40; Isaiah 18:4; Isaiah 26:19, etc.) God's blessing is like the dew in these particulars—
I. IN ITS MYSTERIOUSNESS. The dew differs from the rain in this, that we feel as if we understood the rain, but we never seem to understand the dew. We can see the clouds that distil in rain; we cannot see the moisture of the atmosphere which distils in dew. It is God working in secret for our good. Then, too, it is not always what it seems. It seems to be a cold night mist, that chills us, and we think must chili everything. It is (God's blessing always is, whatever form it takes) the very thing that vegetation most pressingly needs.
II. IN ITS PROMISCUOUSNESS. No one can keep the dew wholly for himself. It will bless his neighbor too. Nobody can limit or imprison God's blessings. They come on evil and on good.
III. IN ITS GENTLENESS. Contrast the deluges of rain in Eastern rainy seasons. The blessings of God are often missed by us because they come so silently, so unexpectedly, and so gently. The psalmist says, "Thy gentleness hath made me great."
IV. IN ITS GOING TO THE ROOTS OF THINGS. Dew is no surface-blessing. Its refreshing goes to the roots of the plants. God's blessings are often unobserved because they do not change our circumstances, but refresh and renew us; they give us new life.—R.T.
Old Testament eternal life.
"Even life forevermore." There is a curious legend attaching to the dew of Hermon. "An old pilgrim narrates that every morning at sunrise a handful of dew floated down from the summit of Hermon, and deposited itself upon the Church of St. Mary, where it was immediately gathered up by Christian leeches, and was found a sovereign remedy for all diseases." This legend suggests one of the connotations of the term "life for evermore."
I. IT MEANS ALWAYS AVAILABLE. The natural processes which form the dew of Hermon will go on as long as there is a Hermon; and God's blessing will be prepared for his people as long as he has a people. Dew and blessing are always available, so long as they are needed. But everything depends upon our using what is available. The dew of Hermon practically fails when the leeches neglect to gather it. The blessing of God practically ends when men no longer care to seek or receive it. Man's blessing from God is "life for evermore;" but man can himself put the limit to God's "evermore."
II. IT MEANS REALITY, NOT MERELY APPEARANCE, We think chiefly of God's blessing as a prosperity of our circumstances, and that can never be, and had better never be, continuous. It is altogether better to have that kind of blessing from God changeable, because our circumstances cannot remain long the same, and the relation of circumstances to us, and the influence of circumstances on us, are constantly varying. If God were to imprison and fix one set of circumstances for ever, and give us to choose which we would have thus fixed, we should be hopelessly puzzled, and God would be doing us no kindness. People talk about "for ever" and "everlasting," without thinking to what alone those terms can be applied, if they are to represent any real blessing to us. The entire sphere of the sensual cannot be "for evermore." It is of its very nature that it begins and ends. The "fashion of this world passeth away." It is life that is for evermore. It is the spiritual being that man is that lives forever. It is the spiritual character that man wins that abides forever. And helping him to win that character is the blessing—the "life for evermore" which God bestows.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Herder says of this exquisite little song that "it has the fragrance of a lovely rose." Nowhere has the nature of true unity—that unity which binds men together, not by artificial restraints, but as brethren of one heart—been more faithfully described, nowhere so gracefully illustrated, as in this short ode. True concord, we are here taught, is a holy thing, a sacred oil, a rich perfume, which, flowing down from the head to the beard, from the beard to the garment, sanctifies the whole body. It is a sweet morning dew, which lights not only on the lofty mountain-peaks, but on the lesser hills, embracing all, and refreshing all with its influence.
I. TRUE UNITY.
1. Is the unity of brethren. They feel that they have a common Father, and are children of the same household.
2. But it is unity in variety. Variety of thought, but unity of heart. A unity of the utmost extremes—from the head to the edge of the garments of society. From the heights of Hermon to the humbler hill of Zion.
II. ITS GOODNESS AND JOY.
1. Unity can come only from love. And love is the greatest goodness, and the highest, deepest joy.
2. True unity is the most fragrant and refreshing fact of life. In the individual and in the Church, and in society.—S.