Psalm 133

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Jerusalem was a city on a Plateau, this is seen in the literal usage of the term going up to Jerusalem and going down to Egypt, in ancient times, the temple was built in high places especially on mountains. Psalm 133 is a song of ascents, a song that the Israelites sang as they climb up the mountain to go and worship God as Leslie C. Allen admits that “like Ps 122, it was sung by pilgrims in the course of celebrating festivals at Jerusalem.”(Allen, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 21 Psalms 101-150, 1983, 213.) Nancy Koester comments that “The Jewish people sang Psalm 133 to express their joy in coming together for worship at the Temple, where God promised to meet them. The Psalm imparts blessing and life to God’s people. And it proclaims oneness in faith. These themes–abundance and unity–flow from Psalm 133.” (Koester, Commentary on Psalm 133, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=274)

Concerning the poetic nature of the psalm, though not a wisdom literature in form, but it can be regarded as constituting a poetic unity because of its wisdom characteristics. Allen quoted J. K. Kunts as defining this psalm as “an expanded proverb celebrating fraternal harmony and containing a rhetorical element and the similes of vv 2-3 but no wisdom vocabulary.” (Allen, Word Biblical Commentary, 213). Allen then complemented Kunts’ view by submitting that the psalm is a song of zion in form but “influenced by wisdom characteristics.”(Allen, Word Biblical Commentary, 214). This psalm is concern about propagating the goodness that is found and express in the dwelling together of brethren in unity. Nancy L. deClaissi-Walford  commented that “Psalm 133 celebrates the goodness of kindred living together in unity.8  The psalm most likely was shaped originally as simple words of wisdom within family life in ancient Israel and, at some in its transmission history, had other elements added to it in order to render part of the larger story of ancient Israel”. (Koester, Behold, How good and Pleasant it is. An Exegesis of Psalm 133. https://libraries.mercer.edu/research-tools-help/research-guides-tutorials/swilley-subjects…)

Contents

Among the classifications of the psalm, this psalm falls under the songs of Zion or ascents. This is alluded from the fact that the psalm addressed a group of worshippers who goes up to mount Zion to worship God. Leslie C. Allen observes that, “in form, then, the psalm is probably to be regarded as a song of Zion influenced by wisdom characteristics” (Allen, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 21 Psalms 101-150, 1983, 213.)

Verse 1

Many people from the different tribes of Israel gathered in Jerusalem to worship God, this psalm was an admonition for all the tribes to live together in harmony more so that they are one nation. The use of the adjectives good and pleasant described the state of this unity.

The phrase for brothers to dwell together in harmony could serve as a commendation to the customary practice where brothers even after marriage lived with their father as a united family in their father’s household. Allen observes that

an older interpretation is of a cultic nature, in terms of the covenant nation of ‘brothers’ worshipping together in Jerusalem…the opening verse of this song of Zion may originally have been a wisdom saying commending the continuance of married brothers in the family homestead…. If so, it was evidently put to new use, to celebrate the gathering of Judean pilgrims in Jerusalem to worship at time of festival. The crowds in the holy city were a beautiful perspective of the nation bound together as it was not only by race but by covenant relationship with God. (Allen, 212).

 So shebeth “to dwell” here refers to temple worship by the various tribes of Israel together as one people and nation. Koester also comments that “According to the New Interpreter’s Bible, the word “kindred” (which may also be translated “brothers”) does not mean blood relatives, but a people joined by God’s grace.  The Psalm, though short, is “highly” ambitious: it calls all people to worship God.” (Koester, Behold, How good and Pleasant it is. An Exegesis of Psalm 133. https://libraries.mercer.edu/research-tools-help/research-guides-tutorials/swilley-subjects…)

Verse 2

Zamani Kafang comments that as the priest is anointed with the scented oil it would run down from his head and perfume his clothes so both the priest and the people around the priest would be aware of the fragrance. Similarly, Kafang submits that, “unity and peace draw the admiration of others and create a zone of peace, fellowship, understanding, love and concern for one another.” (Zamani Kafang, Psalms (90-150) in ABC, ed. By Tokunboh Adeyemo, Nairobi, Kenya, WordAlive publishers, 2006. 757).

The psalmist in an attempt to convey the importance of the united brotherly fellowship as stated in v.1, he used the analogy of the consecration of Aaron as high priest. Allen here applies the use of this analogy to the fellowship of the pilgrims in Jerusalem when he comments that “the sacramental anointing was a divine commissioning (cf 1 Sam91) of this majestic prototype, so that he might be Yahweh’s mediator at the sanctuary. The family of God was gathered at the cultic place where fragrant grace flowed down.” (Allen, 212). Koester comments that “and though the oil is precious, God is not stingy with it. Indeed the oil is poured out so lavishly on the head of the priest; it runs down the beard of Aaron and onto the collar of his robe. “The generous quantity of oil adds to the picture of the community gathering as ‘a sweet pleasant time together.’” (Koester, Commentary on Psalm 133, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=274). If the dwelling of brethren together in harmony is compared to this precious and costly oil that God lavishly poured on Aaron to consecrate him as a priest, the psalmist is also portraying the preciousness of this united brotherly dwelling.

            The adjective tob is used in verse 1 as ‘good’, but in verse 2, the same adjective is in a construct state with the noun cashemen which led to the supply of a definite article to tob to be hatob which instead to be translated as an adjective ‘the good’, it is regarded here as a noun ‘perfume’ in connection to cashemen.

            The verb yarad in v 2a was emended to sheyarad  for conformity and to show the flow of the oil from head to toe. Allen comments that “Gunkel emended zaqan ‘beard’ to kezaqan ‘like the beard’, thus obtaining three similes, Aaron functions as a prototype of the high priest. The antecedent appears to be the immediately preceding beard rather than the earlier oil; otherwise the line is hardly viable poetically.”(Allen, 212).

Verse 3

Mount Zion in Israel alongside the land of Israel is very dry and parched. Mount Hermon in the far north has heavy rainfall and dew in abundance. Mount Hermon’s dew was so precious because as it melts, it flowed down into the valley and feeds the Jordan River which serves as a great source of water for the people in Israel. Though the dew flowed down from a far distance, the people of Israel solely depended on on the water that comes from this distant source.  Kafang comments that “when there is unity, it feels as if Mount Zion in the dry interior is receiving the same blessing. The dew of unity falling on Mount Zion will create a stream that flows out from the centre to those around, refreshing them, comforting them, and encouraging them to live in peace with one another.” (Kafang, Psalms (90-150), 757).

Nancy Koester, comments that “Like the oil that flows down the beard of Aaron, so the dew of Mount Hermon reaches far beyond its point of origin and gives life to faraway lands. God’s generosity calls people to worship. And in worshiping this God of abundant life and love, we become one family.” (Koester, Commentary on Psalm 133, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=274)

            The second analogy the psalmist used to explain the importance of brotherly unity is the dew of Mount Hermon. The dew, as explained in the introduction to verse 3 was very precious as it flowed down from a great distance to serve as a source of life and refreshment to the people of Jerusalem. The dew here connotes divine grace and blessings which flows directly from God to the people. Allen admits that “the last line of the psalm is then generally understood as subordinate to the first, a commendation of brotherly unity as a prelude to divine blessing.” (Allen, 213.)

            The preposition ke translated as ‘for’ is generally taken here as causative is on the other hand, as Allen stated “probably emphatic rather than causal”. (Allen, 213).

Conclusion

In the world today where favoritism, tribalism and ethnicity are prevalent, Psalm 133 is a great lesson and a model for the church of God in this century. The need for Christians to live and dwell to gather irrespective of their tribe, ethnic background and denomination is highly needed so as to enable the church and believers to be united to propagate the gospel, serve and worship God and fight against the common enemy of believers today.