by Brad Beals
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
Here David is using two images to show just how good it is for the people of God to dwell in unity. How good is it? It’s this good: like oil on the head, running down the beard, on the beard of Aaron, on the collar of his robes!
That seems gross. Oily is bad. We shower to not feel oily. But this is the image the psalmist chose. More importantly, this is the image God the Holy Spirit chose to express the goodness of unity. So what do we make of it?
Well, it’s Aaron’s beard, and that’s important. David is alluding to a passage from Exodus 30 in which God instructs Moses on how to anoint the tabernacle. He gives Moses a recipe for the “holy anointing oil.” It requires mixing by a perfumer. It’s very expensive and very fragrant. God then instructs Moses to anoint – to consecrate – everything, including Aaron and his sons, “that they may be most holy” (v29). According to Calvin, this oil and the act of anointing the tabernacle and everything connected to it, is a type for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, we read of another anointing later in the scriptures that seems to reflect this: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (1Sam 16:13). Clearly, oil on the head and beard and collar carries great meaning in light of how God used it to consecrate his servants. It’s more than just a messy rite. It’s a HOLY anointing.
And the dew of Hermon? Mt. Hermon is the highest mountain in Palestine. It’s always snow covered, and so when the rest of the land is parched during the dry season, the melting snows of Hermon, fed by the mists that come in from the Mediteranean, provide life-giving water to the land surrounding it. In David’s time, the foothills of Mt. Hermon were famed for having rich pastures year round. Maybe, as a former shepherd, he was thinking of this when he wrote it?
If brothers living in unity is like anointing oil and like the dew of Mt. Hermon, then it is like a holy blessing, and it is like life-giving water. God’s people living in unity is an incredibly good thing! But how do we get there? How do we dwell in that kind of unity?
I think these images show us not only the value of unity, but how to achieve it. If we have been consecrated by the Holy Spirit, as Aaron was consecrated by holy oil, then we must keep close to God by walking in the Spirit. If we have received the Living Water, as the land continually receives the dew of Hermon, then we must keep close to God by being satisfied in Him.
Christ builds his church, as so as we grow closer to God, we will —we must!— grow closer to one another. Then we will find how good and pleasant it is to dwell in unity.