Psalm 133 is a psalm of ascent, from the dogeared songbook used by those returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, sung by those coming together at the temple for one of the major festivals on the Jewish calendar. It’s a song from the road, a song that prepared the pilgrims to worship and encounter God and a song that can help us on our upward journey in life following Jesus. It is a song for our road.
(this first part of the message serves as a summary of where we have been on our journey through the songs from the road and have links to the other messages in the series for easy referencing)
The pilgrim starts their journey in a far off place. In Psalm 120 we saw a discontent with the way things were, living amongst the tents of those who were for war, when they were for peace. The pilgrim has this feeling of isolation and distance being a sojourner that started their Godward journey, their pilgrimage.
They may have started off alone or been part of a caravan travelling across the desert, psalm 121 uses the imagery of the life of a caravan as the pilgrim sees their far off destination ’I look to the hills’ and looks for help to see the journey through, my help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
In the psalms of ascent on that journey home, or climbing the stairs of the temple, the pilgrim remembers God’s goodness, God’s provision; Psalm 127… God’s provision in work and family,
God’s help in distress, Psalm130 crying out in the depth and having hope in the heights of God’s grace…God’s great works in creation and in history, saving and caring for Israel, they confess their sin… psalm 130 was a penitential psalm.
Psalm 133 is the last psalm of ascent, before they hear the benediction of Psalm 134. While they had felt alone and isolated now they are aware that they are part of a great family. There is a change of focus; they had been looking towards the temple as a place and symbol of God’s presence and blessing. Now they become aware that God’s presence and blessing are not found simply in a place but with the people. That God had always been about the covenant relationship with his people, togetherness is where God will pour out blessing.
Psalm 133 is attributed to David and it has an older setting and context. It comes from the image of an extended family. In Israel’s culture sons would stay at home with their father and as they grew and got married and had children their family would come and join the Klan. If you read through genesis you can see this in the life of Abraham and more so with Israel and his sons. When you read the story of David’s anointing as King by Samuel the prophet, you also get the picture of all the sons living together. David’s experience of this must have been a good one unlike joseph’s in genesis when his brothers didn’t like his dreams and his father’s favouritism so they plotted to kill him and eventually sold him off to slavery in Egypt. But from what we know David had a good experience of it. In the end even Joseph felt this bound so tightly that he wanted to be reconciled with his brothers and bless them. So when David is king and finally Israel is bought together as one people no longer different factions and tribes he can apply this image of brothers living together in harmony to the whole of the nation.
This family metaphor is applied to the whole of Israel down through the temple worship even into the Diaspora when Jews were spread all over the known world, it’s a metaphor that we the church, a truly global community use as well we are brothers and sister in Christ,
In our own nation’s sporting life we have great pictures of brothers and sisters…together in harmony… The Golden age of all black rugby when the Mead's and Clark's played together. The Wheaton’s when we first won the Webb Ellis cup and look at the Evers- Swindell’s , when they get in that skip together, see how they are blessed. What would happen if we were unified and together like that?
In fact it is such a wonderful ideal that the psalmist can’t put it into words he has to use two metaphors, two word pictures to help us grasp it.
It’s like precious oil being poured on the head and running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard and on to the collar of his robe.
Perhaps in our post industrial age we don’t quite see the image of having oil poured over us as being a pleasant one. We may think of oil spills and their devastating effects. For many of us we think whose going to get those oil stains out of the clothes. With the price of petrol and oil based products we may again have a fuller understanding of precious oil.
Maybe we can catch a glimpse of what is envisaged here in the growth of the boutique olive oil industry, creating scented and herb flavoured oils. As this would have been an oil with fragrances like frankincense in it.
Aaron of course was the first high priest of Israel and the picture is of him being anointed with oil not in a stingy way but lavishly having this expensive liquid poured out. It was a picture of a greater anointing as well, the anointing of the spirit. And the picture is one of that anointing coming down on all people as they gathered together to worship. They all encountered God’s blessing. One of the catch cries of the reformation was ‘a priesthood of all believers’ all of us in Christ are priests: set aside and anointed to minister and to serve God. All of us together have the blessing of standing before God. He pours out his life giving spirit, that fragrant oil, all over all of us.
“It’s as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
Mt Hermon is the highest peak in Israel it stands over 9,000 feet high to the north of the Sea of Galilee. It is the place in that part of the Middle East that can be guaranteed to have snow on it all year round. The whole of the Jordan river that feeds into the Sea of Galilee and then flows on down the rift valley down past Jerusalem and on into the dead sea has its head water in Mt Hermon. That life giving water comes from the dew and the snow on Mt Hermon. So for David he sees that our unity our togetherness causes God’s blessing to flow in a way that brings life to the whole of the nation of Israel. As people are together its like that life giving dew falls on a lower hill like Zion. Just like that river has provided water for the land from the beginning so will unity bring God’s blessing even to eternal life. Jesus for us is that life giving water that enables eternal life that is best experienced in all its abundance as we live in unity.
What then for us from this ‘song for the road’.
The first is that following Jesus is a communal endeavour. It is not the lone sojourn. Relationship with God calls us into relationship with each other. Jesus summed that up by summing up the law in loving the lord your God with all your heart and strength and mind and loving your neighbour as yourself. The call to worship we used this morning from 1 Peter 2 sums that up tying together knowing God’s grace and being a people. In Christ we are family.
Secondly, families, brothers and sisters fight and don’t always get along. This may be hard to believe but as the father of four wonderful children, I know this to be true, sometimes. A road trip and long journey can be made to feel inexplicably longer when there is tension between siblings. But as the father of four wonderful Kids, I know it is a real blessing when they all get along together. Being family calls us to be committed to one another even when there is friction and trouble, and to work it out. The two metaphors in psalm 133 give us some insights in how to do that. firstly the annointing...We are all priest’s. We are connected not because of who each other is but rather because of what Christ has done for us. That each person has been made by God, to be the unique person they are, that they have been saved by Christ, and they have been anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve the Lord. The dew on the mountain is an image of Gods refreshing and renewing of the earth each new day and we look at the people round us and see that just like us God is at work in their lives bringing them on this upward journey, and we don’t think about what they were like yesterday, we look forward to what new thing Christ will do in them today. We are on the upward journey together and we are hopefully by God’s grace further along the journey today than we were yesterday, and hallelujah we’ll be further along it tomorrow. We view people through those eyes of grace and hope.
Thirdly, our unity is a foretaste of what eternal life is like. People often put it jokingly by saying well you’d better get along now because guess what… we are going to be spending eternity together. When there is unity when diverse people from different cultures and different backgrounds get together and worship God and love one another, it is a glimpse of what eternal life will be like. It is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the realm of humanity. It is hope for our broken world.
Rock-climbing is a good picture of the upward journey and our need for one another. It’s not that we drive each other up the wall but In rock climbing a climber depends on another climber to belay them. To hold the rope and take up the slack as they climb and to keep them safe if they slip and to take the strain if they fall. Then they do the same for their companions traversing the same slope. It’s not that the belayer climbs for them, hauling them up rock face or wall. Rather the belayer is there to support them. Dietrich Bonheoffer in his wonderful book living together uses that image to talk of how we need each other for the journey.
" The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and discouraged, for by themselves they cannot help themselves without belaying the truth. They need their brothers and sisters as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation... The Christ in their own heart is weaker that the Christ in their brother or sister; their own heart is uncertain their brother or sister is sure."
So together we may arrive and complete this upward journey following Christ and hear the blessing at journeys end.