by Stephen A Toms
(This address was given at an S. G.A. T meeting on 25th November 1994).
This psalm is described as ‘A Song of Degrees.’ There are 15 psalms (Psalms 120-134) with this title. They are short, and it is generally thought that they were the psalms that the Jewish people sung as they ascended the steps of the temple. This psalm 133 is a much-loved and oft-quoted psalm.
Differently from some of the others, this psalm has a heading naming the author. It is ‘A Song of degrees of David,’ and I believe that these titles of the psalms are inspired. To confirm this, check the heading of Psalm 18 with 2 Samuel 22: 1-2.
Men have had differing views on
the time this psalm was written. Some
have thought that it would most likely have been when David became king over
Although David had been anointed
when he was quite young, it was a long time before he actually became
king. In fact, he came to doubt God’s
Word and Samuel’s anointing, and felt that he would perish one day by the hand
of Saul. That was an
impossibility, God having appointed him to be king over
Even when Saul died, things were
We read in 2 Samuel 5: 1-3, ‘Then
came all the tribes of
1 Chronicles 12 speaks
of the different tribes coming to David and then we read, ‘All these men of war, that could keep rank, came with a
perfect heart to
Others have thought that the
psalm could have been written at the time of the bringing of the ark into
Then, although we do not feel able to accept this, there are those who suggest that David did not write this psalm but that it was written later, in the time of Ezra, when ‘the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem’ (Ezra 3: 1: see also Nehemiah 8: 1). Certainly, this psalm would have been very applicable at that time, when the people met together to worship Jehovah.
However, irrespective of when the psalm was written, it describes the Jewish nation in the millennium.
In looking at the psalm, there are three things that I would like to mention - (1) the sight of this unity, (2) the symbols of this unity, and (3) the secret of this unity.
The Sight of This Unity
The word ‘Behold’ exhorts us to take a good look at this unity; to have a sight of it.
As we see how good and pleasant
it is for brethren to dwell together in unity, let us consider the word ‘brethren.’ The
first mention of this word in the Bible is in Genesis
Sadly, this has been the story all through the centuries. Brethren somehow quarrel with each other. It happens over and over again. So, it is no wonder that the Psalmist says ‘Behold’. When brethren dwell together in unity, it is worth looking at. It is something good to see.
God is not the author of confusion. It is the devil who motivates disunity, and sadly, people who once stood for truth are brought from time to time to division and disunity. So the Psalmist tells us to look at unity among brethren when we can. It is good to have true unity in the things of God and truth, and that is something worth beholding.
Notice that the word ‘how’ is twice in this verse - how good, how pleasant. Is that not an emphasis? There are some things which are good but not pleasant. When I was young, we sometimes had to have medicine which was not pleasant but it was good. When our parents chastised us, that was not pleasant, but it was good. Then, there are things that are pleasant but not good. Hebrews 11 talks about ‘the pleasures of sin,’ and it is a fact that people see in sin, which is not good, something pleasant. But the verse of our psalm exhorts us to behold that which is both good and pleasant.
It is good because of the author of it. It is God Who gives this unity – ‘Jehovah commanded the blessing’ (verse 3). God alone gives true unity among His people. It is good because of the nature of it. Both morally and spiritually it is good. It is good because of the effect of it. The outworking of the unity spoken of in this verse is a wonderful thing.
The word ‘pleasant’ indicates ‘harmony’, i.e. as in music. An orchestra has different instruments, some string, and others percussion, and so on. Some give a high note, and others a low note. But when they all play together there is a marvellous harmony. That is the meaning of this word ‘pleasant’ ‑ a wonderful harmony among brethren. Psalm 81: 2 speaks of taking ‘the pleasant harp’, and the word is used in that musical sense - the harmonious harp, the harp that plays in harmony.
Brethren in families can be united in a wrong thing. Joseph’s brothers were united in seeking to get rid of their brother. This psalm speaks of nothing like that, but of something which is good and pleasant, as brethren in Christ dwell together in unity.
The word ‘unity’ is only found in the Bible three times. The use of the word in this psalm is the only place it is in the Old Testament. The other two references are in Ephesians 4, where, in verse 3, the apostle writes about ‘endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;’ and, in verse 13, where he refers to that time when we will ‘all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ Surely our psalm indicates that ultimately this union will be realised, but it is something which we have to endeavour to keep, something with which we should concern ourselves.
Notice that this verse speaks in a positive way – ‘for brethren to dwell together in unity.’ It is not a negative statement. It does not say how good and how pleasant it is for brethren if they do not disagree, or do not have division among them. It is a positive statement about dwelling together in unity.
Surely this infers a delighting in one another. When God’s people meet together they rejoice in each other’s presence. How foolish the world considers us to be when we love to go to the Lord’s Day services and the prayer meeting every week, and see the same faces and hear the same voices! But we like to be there. Our pre-eminent desire should be to meet with the Lord, but there is this added delight of being with one another. Surely that is what this verse speaks about – ‘How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.’
David, who was used of God to write this psalm, knew sad disunity in his family. How distressing it must have been for him to see his own offspring murdering each other, and seeking to overthrow one another. So, although he thought and wrote about this unity, he did not experience it in his own family.
The devil sows disruption and
trouble in families and in churches. It
is error, not truth, that divides people. And what
happens in families and churches, occurred among the
The blessing of brethren in unity, of which David speaks is, in reality, earth being conformed to heaven. It is similar to the situation in heaven, where there is perfect unity. Such unity will ultimately come on earth, because God has purposed it. In the prayer described as the Lord’s Prayer, the Saviour taught His disciples to say ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6: 10). So that will come. The Lord Jesus did not teach us to pray for something that will never happen. There will be a time when unity will be seen on earth.
The word ‘dwell’ should be noted. A dwelling is home, the place where we stay. This is the picture here. It is not merely meeting with believers occasionally, but desiring to be united to the Lord’s people, dwelling in that situation of unity.
It is a unity of mind. 1 Corinthians 1: 10 says ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind.’ Brethren should be one in mind, in thinking. It is not really possible for us to be in unity with those who do not think and believe as we do.
But in Acts 4: 32 we read of a unity of heart. ‘The multitude of them that believed were of one heart.’ So it is a case of being united in our minds and in our hearts ‑ in thinking and loving.
Mr Spurgeon commented on this unity, saying, ‘It is good in itself, it is good for ourselves, it is good for the brethren, it is good for our converts, it is good for the outsider.’
The Symbols of This Unity
There are two symbols ‑ (1) oil and (2) dew. The precious ointment that ran down Aaron’s beard (verse 2), was fragrant. Although the ointment may have remained on Aaron and his garments, the fragrance would have spread to all around.
The instruction of Jehovah for the anointing of Aaron is recorded in Exodus 30: 23-33: ‘Take thou ... principal spices, of pure myrrh ... and of sweet cinnamon ... and of sweet calamus ... and of cassia ... and the oil olive ... and thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment ... it shall be an holy anointing oil (notice that holiness is involved) ... and thou shalt anoint Aaron ... This shall be an holy anointing oil unto Me throughout your generations. Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you. Whosoever compoundeth any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people.’ So it was something very special.
Leviticus 8 tells about the consecration of the priests and it is very interesting to notice that before the bringing of the sin offering, Moses ‘poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him, to sanctify him’ (verse 12). Then, afterwards, ‘Moses took of the anointing oil ... and sprinkled it upon Aaron ... and upon his sons’ (verse 30).
This type of the precious ointment upon the head that ran down Aaron's beard is very special and precious. It was only ointment, but God regarded it as holy. Now think of that in relation to the unity of brethren. It is special, precious and holy.
We notice too from those verses in Exodus, that the ointment was of Divine composition. It was God Who said how it should be made up. Similarly, this unity comes from God. That word ‘precious’ is in Psalm 133. It is true that the unity of God’s people is precious. Leviticus 8 shows that Aaron could not minister until he was anointed. That is how precious and how holy it was.
Once the oil was poured onto his head, it went down over his beard, and spread as it went to the skirts (the bottom) of his garments. There was no stopping it and no pushing it back. Once it started it did not cease. And that is how it will be with true, God‑given unity. It does not stop, but goes on and on. The fragrance is evident as it spreads.
You may think that it is not very desirable to have oil on your garments. But there is a lesson in that. God teaches His people that things are not always what we would desire.
The ointment went downward. The psalm says it ‘ran
down.’ That indicates speed. Then the second phrase in verse 2 says that it ‘went
down.’ It is noteworthy that this
verse should be in a song of degrees.
The people sang this psalm as they went up, step by step, at the temple
Some may say, What a waste of such valuable ointment, to pour it over the head and clothes! Similar words were said during the earthly life of our Lord Jesus, 'To what purpose is this waste?' (Matthew 26:8). But it was used as a symbol of something precious to God, Who by it was teaching His people.
The second symbol is that of the
dew. Dew brings fruitfulness. One of the meanings of the word ‘
Part of this verse is in italics. It is literally ‘As
the dew of Hermon, that descended upon the mountains
towers up high, and
As we think too of Mount Hermon giving of her plenty to refresh
The Secret of This Unity
This secret is found in the last
sentence of the psalm. 'There (In
We hear a lot these days about the unity of the church. But it is not unity at all. It is merely a uniformity. Religious leaders are content to forget what they profess to believe and are not concerned about doctrine. They talk about Christ’s prayer, that we all may be one, being fulfilled. But uniformity is not unity. Mr Fromow used to say that uniformity is organised but unity is organic. That is true.
When Scripture says
Unity and blessing go together. Persons in churches may find the most mundane and foolish matters on which to disagree. But when people are united in truth, they are a blessed people.
It is not men who command the blessing or bring it down. Men can and should pray for blessing. In Ezekiel 36 God, says ‘I will yet for this be enquired of’. We ought to pray but God has to command the blessing. When God blesses, it is true blessing. Many people think they are having blessing when it is only an imagined thing. They try to create a situation where they feel that they have the Holy Spirit. How foolish! But when God commands the blessing, then it is real and it is lasting, because it is ‘even life for evermore.’ It is not blessing today but not tomorrow, saved today and lost tomorrow! When God blesses, it will be for ever.
In this particular sentence, we can see that Jehovah has the right (authority) and the might (power) to give the blessing. Some people have authority but not ability to do certain things. Others have ability but not authority. But God has right and might, so that when He commands the blessing, it is certain.
We read in Psalm 132:13 ‘Jehovah hath
Turn to Leviticus
25: 21: ‘Then I will command My blessing.’ When
Many scriptures confirm
2: 2-3 says ‘It shall come to pass in the last
days, that the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established in the top of
the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow
unto it. And many people shall go and
say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the
God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths:
for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.’ This is repeated in Micah
4: 1-2. Incidentally, there will
be no quarrel about manuscripts or versions at the time spoken of by these
prophets. The pure Word of Jehovah will
go forth from
Isaiah 11 tells
of the good and pleasant unity of
Jeremiah 3: 18 says, ‘In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers.’
Ezekiel 37: 15-28 tells
of the two sticks being put together. Verse 19 says, ‘I will
take the stick of Joseph ... and the tribes of
It will be a blessing for
Mr B W Newton’s comment on this psalm in the booklet ‘Dark Sayings Upon The Harp’ is, ‘the power of grace causing unity and harmony according to truth, not diverse teaching.’ It is not a unity which will come by ignoring differences, or by diverse teachings ‑ ritualists, unitarians, all agreeing in one God and Saviour, so that they think they can all be happy together! It is nothing like that. It is a unity in truth, brought about by grace, which means that there is certainly coming a time when men will sing this psalm and witness the literal fulfilment of it.
* * * * * * *
Necessity for Christ’s Reign on the Earth
“Does it not follow that the great scheme of redemption requires Christ’s return? As He once came with a sin-offering, He should come a second time without? He should come a second time to claim His inheritance? He came once, that His heel might be bruised; He comes a second time to break the serpent’s head! With a rod of iron to dash His enemies in pieces! He came once to wear a crown of thorns! He must come again to wear the diadem of universal dominion. Make you sure of this, that the whole drama of redemption cannot be perfected without this last act of ‘the second coming!’ The complete history of paradise regained requires this!”
C. H. Spurgeon.
Study it carefully, ponder it prayerfully;
Deep in thy heart cause its precepts to dwell.
Slight not its history, think of its mystery;
None can e’er prize it too fondly or well.
Faithful its prophecy, better than sophistry;
God’s book is holy, and each word is pure.
Why doubt His faithfulness? Why question truthfulness?
Things God hath spoken are certain and sure.