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Psalm 133

The beauty of unity

Like David, who saw unity as of the utmost importance, Jesus’ great prayer for his people was that they might be truly one. Yet the church today is so often no less fractured than godless society around it.

A song of ascents. A David song.

How good and beautiful it is
when brothers and sisters
live together in unity!
2 It’s like costly anointing oil
poured onto the head so freely
that it streams down the beard—
down the beard of Aaron
till it flows onto the collar of his robe.
3 It’s like Mount Hermon’s massive dew
descending on Mount Zion’s slopes.
For that’s where
Yahveh has promised to bless humankind
with life unending.

David knew that a person’s enemies can be members of his own family, whether envious older brothers, a jealous father-in-law, or an ego-maniacal son. But the unity his psalm praises extends beyond family to the nation and world.

David likens such unity to the oil Israelites anointed guests with. But surprisingly, it’s poured so liberally that it streams down the man’s face and beard. Then we’re told it’s the sacred anointing oil empowering Israel’s high priest Aaron to serve. Our third surprise comes in the psalm’s over-the-top comparison of unity to dew from the region’s tallest mountain descending on little Mount Zion. Every Israelite knew this was geographically impossible. However, the image beautifully pictures national unity: as Israel’s northernmost mountain blesses southerly Zion with dew, Zion blesses all its pilgrims from wherever with endless life in return. As pilgrims ascended to Zion, they sang of God’s blessing descending on them, like holy oil and heavenly dew, to refresh and renew.

Aided by Internet algorithms, our hyper-individualistic culture has lately embraced disunity with gusto, rejecting anything that might moderate our “personal” viewpoint, however impersonally it’s come to us. Christians drawn into such social disintegration forget what Jesus prayed and what David said: God has made Zion’s unity the source of eternal blessing for humankind.

Jesus, your death on Mount Zion declared all of humanity at once unworthy and welcome at your table. Though egotism and gracelessness often divide your people, the blessing of your Spirit binds us together as one. Spirit of Unity and Love, descend on me now like refreshing dew. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

How good and beautiful it is
when brothers and sisters
live together in unity!

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.