If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 133. Psalm 133 has been sung at Presbyterian General Assembly for probably close to five hundred years now and if you've ever been to a Presbyterian General Assembly you’ll know why it needs to be sung there because unity is not something that Presbyterians are known for at their General Assembly. It used to be said that if the Scots couldn't find somebody to fight they’d fight one another and that national characteristic has apparently followed Presbyterians historically over the decades and centuries. But perhaps in faith and as an ideal, typically our General Assembly closes every year — it will be next week in Louisville, Kentucky — with the singing of this psalm in a metrical version, an aspiration that we all have in our family.
There's nothing like unity, is there? As we experience the sense of disagreement, we value unity very highly. In our communities, we seem to live in a time where there's a great polarization in our communities and in our nation today and it makes us value unity and agreement. Sometimes it makes us wistfully look back to times when we've experienced more communal and national unity, and in the church, of course. If you've been in a church that has been blessed with a real experience of the communion of the saints them you know what a great blessing that is. I remember a friend of mine at Trinity Presbyterian Church who had joined Trinity Presbyterian Church here in Jackson from a non-denominational background and when our pastor resigned and the church set up a pulpit committee and called another man to be the pastor, this friend of mine said, “You know, this is the first church that I've ever been in that did not split when the pastor resigned and a new pastor was called.” What an enormous blessing that was for that man to experience a peaceful transition from one pastorate to another in a local congregation. If you've been in a congregation where there was dissention and disunity and disagreement it is a great blessing to experience unity.
And David is talking about this in this passage. This is a psalm of ascents. Pilgrims sing it on their way to Jerusalem for the great festivals. We don't know exactly when David wrote this psalm. Calvin thinks he wrote this psalm right after the Lord had finally given Israel into his arms and he had finally become the king over a unified Israel. That makes perfect sense. We don't know, the psalm doesn't tell us exactly when David wrote it, but he knew a lot about disunity and therefore he could highly prize unity. And that's what he does in this psalm. And after we pray we're going to give attention to it, so let's go to the Lord in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we pray that You would give us seeing eyes as we come to Your Word tonight. It will be perhaps easy for all of us to pull up in our hearts, our minds, to even feel deeply and emotionally the wounds of dissention and disunity in our experience. And it is very likely that we will think in particular of others who have been the cause of those wounds and the perpetrators of that disunity. But tonight we would search our own hearts. We acknowledge that unity does not simply happen and that we ourselves have been disrupters of the unity that You intend as a blessing upon Your people. So convict us, Lord, even while You encourage us. Open our eyes to search deeply into our own hearts and find if there is any unclean thing in us and then lead us straightway to the cross. Now bless the reading and hearing of Your Word, get all the glory for it, and do our souls everlasting good because we ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID.
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, life forevermore.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
David, the author of this psalm, knew something personally and intensely about the blessing of unity. He also knew that it is a precious, even a rare commodity. Think a little bit about David's life. The children at VacationBibleSchool this week concentrated on aspects of the life of David, the shepherd-king. One of the stories that they learned on Wednesday of this week was of course the great story of David and Goliath, when David won that great, and from a human perspective, unlikely victory over the uncircumcised champion of Gath. But that victory did not bring David the experience of unity; it brought him jealously directed at him from King Saul because the women began to sing, what? “Saul has slain his thousands but David his ten thousands!” And do you think Saul liked that song? No, and thus began a sad career in which David, at first hand, saw how jealousy and envy could pull apart a court and eventually a family. David had lived in the wilderness seeking refuge from Saul and from those that were supportive of his reign in the kingdom and he had seen dissention at first hand in that time of dwelling in the wilderness in refuge.
And then he had been involved in what was a long civil war in Israel. You know in this part of the country we still remember vividly, as if we were conversing with our fathers, the “recent unpleasantness,” as it used to be called — the war that took place in the 19th century and which took place on the soil of the southern states by and large. David had lived through a civil war as the leader of one side of that civil warfare and conflict, but that civil war was doubly deadly because it wasn't just a civil war, it was a holy war. Each side thought that the other was the usurper of God's rule and so not only was there a conflict which divided brothers but there was a spiritual conflict in Israel. And David knew the horrors of that kind of dissention. And when God finally brought Israel together and made him king, we're told in 2 Samuel chapter 5 that he realized that it was the Lord who had done this. No human being could have brought that country together. Perhaps it was in that context that David thought about the blessing of unity. He knew so much about dissention; he knew so much about disunity. He knew so much about the envy and jealousy that rips apart that he could greatly appreciate the blessings of peace and concord. You know, no one has ever overestimated the blessings of peace and concord in all the relations of life, but these things are easily taken away and broken apart.
In this psalm tonight, in three parts, David celebrates the blessings of peace and concord, the joy of unity, and I'd like you to look at the three parts with me now. The first part you’ll see in verse 1. There, David ascribes two qualities to unity and I want to give attention to those in a few moments. Then, in verses 2 and 3 he expresses the blessing of unity by two illustrations. And then third and finally in verse 3, he explains that unity is poured out by God. It is something that is initiated by God. It is given and gifted by God. It is poured out by God on His people. Let's look at these two or three things together.
UNITY IS GOOD AND PLEASING
First of all, David tells us in verse 1 two aspects of unity. He attributes two qualities to unity. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” In other words, David tells us it's not just pleasant, it's not merely pleasing to experience unity, it is actually good. You know there are some things that people seek that are pleasant but they’re not good. David says unity is not one of them. Unity is both pleasant and good. It has the moral quality of goodness. It is good to experience unity. And so he pauses and he announces that it is both good and pleasant when brothers dwell in unity. It's so important for us to remember that this unity can be very easily fractured. Unity can be taken apart by gossip and slander, backbiting, nosiness, even other sins like adultery and fornication. It's obvious how adultery could bring disunity in a marriage but adultery can even bring disunity in a church.
I remember in another church many years ago a woman who was the mother of five children, married to a policeman, a godly family, they were there every time the church doors were open — Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night — and then she simply decided that she no longer loved him and she had an affair. And the affair not only broke up her family, it ended up breaking up the church because the people took sides and they didn't respect the way that the elders were trying to deal with the situation and it set families against families. Sin brings disunity and not just those sins that are directly poised to strike at unity but those that bring collateral damage to unity. So David pauses here and he says, “We need to appreciate the goodness and the pleasantness of unity and not take it for granted because it is so easily fractured.”
UNITY IS A BLESSING POURED OUT BY GOD ON HIS PEOPLE
Then he gives two illustrations and you see those in verses 2 and 3. The first illustration comes from the priesthood and the sacrificial ritual. “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 robe!” You see the picture of the priest being anointed with oil. The oil is poured on the top of his head. It runs down the sides of his head and his cheeks and down onto the collar of his robe. It's a picture of blessing being poured out. As the priest has offered the sacrifice and the robe is on his head and the robe is now filled with fragrant perfume from the precious oil of anointing.
I'm going to tell a story on Billy Joseph. On Friday morning at ministers’ meeting, Billy came to ministers’ meeting anyway even though he had to go to Vacation Bible School and continue his career as a famous puppeteer, and he walked in and he said, “Ligon, do you have any Aqua Velva?” And I said, “No, but I have Old Spice,” and he said, “That’ll do,” and off he went into my room and he came back out and I said, “What was that about?” And he said, “Well, I have to wear this shirt and it's been in a my car a few days and I didn't want the ladies who had to be next to me to smell that shirt,” so he anointed that shirt with Old Spice! And it's the same kind of picture here in Psalm 133:1. That priest was in some dirty and smelly business but that oil, which anointed his head, flowed down the side and around even his collars touching his garments, was filled with a pungent, pleasing aroma that countered the other displeasing aromas which would have surrounded him in the context of that sacrificial system.
And then the illustration changes. Look at verse 3. Suddenly we're in the mountains and David's talking about Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel, a mountain which was notorious amongst the Israelites even though it was situated in a place in which there was an arid plain around it, it was notorious for having extraordinarily heavy dews. And that was a picture of the flourishing of the plants and the fauna because of that heavy dew, even situated in an arid plain. Hermon was blessed because of those heavy dews that God had poured out. And so in these two pictures we see pictures of the blessing of unity. The blessing that God pours out is unity and unity is a blessing that He pours out.
UNITY IS A BLESSING: A BLESSING THAT GOD COMMANDS
And that's the third thing that I want you to see in verse 3 — “For there, the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore!” David here is emphasizing that the Lord is the one who has commanded this blessing of unity. You know if you can remember all the way back to our study of Ephesians, one of the things that we said in the study of Ephesians is that God does not tell us to create unity; He tells us to preserve it. Only God can create unity. God has given us unity. He has given us union and communion with Jesus Christ. It's not our job to create that; we can't, but it is our job, as he will say later in Ephesians, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. He creates the unity, He gives the unity; it's our job not to disrupt the unity, not to break up the unity, not to take for granted the unity but to maintain the unity. And here, David is emphasizing that it's the Lord who has commanded this blessing, life forevermore.
And look specifically at what David said. “For there, the Lord has commanded blessing.” Where's the “there”? Well look back at the last word of the first sentence of verse 3 — Zion. The Lord has commanded unity there. Now if Calvin's right and David is writing this psalm after the Lord has established him as king and in that time where he has made Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, his capital, and when the ark of the covenant has been brought up to Jerusalem and now not only is the king's throne in Jerusalem but God's tabernacle and eventually temple is in Jerusalem so that the throne of God and the throne of the king is brought together and there is a symbol of God's presence right in the midst of His people where David and his heirs will rule, then David is pointing out that it is God — just like he does in 2 Samuel 5 — that it's God who brought unity to Israel, symbolized in the unity which is now experienced between the king and between the religious leadership in the temple and in the palace there in Jerusalem. There, God has commanded blessing. God, in Mt. Zion, has given the blessing of unity which had been so elusive from Israel in the years before. There had been disunity in the days of the judges, there had been disunity in the days of Saul, there had been disunity in the days of the civil war, but finally the Lord has brought an unprecedented peace. In 2 Samuel 5 and 2 Samuel 7, the author of 2 Samuel emphasizes that the Lord gave rest to David from his enemies on all sides. There was an unprecedented peace.
You know we speak of that period of time around the initial days of Jesus Christ in the Mediterranean world as the Pax Romana, the Roman peace, which allowed Christian missionaries to go all the way around the Mediterranean world and spread the Gospel because there wasn't constant warfare going on in that region because there was a stable government provided by the Romans. Well this is the Pax Davidica. This is the peace of David that the Lord has given, an unprecedented peace on the land. There the Lord has commanded blessing.
But I want you to think about something. Isn't it a little bit ironic that David, who had experienced so little peace in his early life and now is acutely aware of the blessing of peace and unity and is announcing in verse 3 that the Lord has commanded the peace that Israel now experiences in Zion, David himself will destroy this peace in Zion. One morning, while his armies are at war, he will get up in this very city and he will look out and he will see a beautiful woman bathing on the roof of her house. And the choice that he makes that day will lead the Lord to say to him through one of His prophets, “The sword will never depart from your house.” But on that same mount, a thousand years later, the Son of God will die to give us peace. And what does Paul say about Him in Ephesians 2:15? “He Himself is our peace.” David disrupted the thing that he so valued in Israel; only Jesus can give it back.
Are you experiencing a lack of peace and unity in your life? The restoration of that blessing in your experience will begin when you go to Jesus because the greatest tension, the greatest disunity, the greatest disease, the greatest lack of peace there is, is when you are at enmity with God. And there's only one person that can remedy that and He did by becoming cursed for us that we might be united to God through Him and united to one another again through Him. He has broken down the walls of separation in His death on the cross. Oh, David knew very little of peace in his life and so he prized it very highly, but he brought much disunity on his people. May we prize peace highly. May we pray for the Lord to prosper unity in our congregation. May we hate and deplore strife. And may we mortify those things in us that promote disunity amongst the brethren. How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.
Many of you know Sidney Robinson who's a ruling elder emeritus in our congregation. When he was an active ruling elder, probably at least twice a year, during the prayer times at Session meetings — and by the way, I wish every member of the congregation could see our elders pray for you every month as they gather. It's, I still think, the best prayer meeting in the church. About twice a year he would remind us before we prayed of the blessing of unity in our Session and in our church and then he would pray for it. Let's all remember that and pray.
Our Lord and our God, we do not take the unity that we experience lightly in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our nation, in our church. When we experience peace and agreement and unity, we recognize this is a blessing that only You can give. But we also recognize, Lord, that we can disrupt that unity so quickly and so easily ourselves. Lord, make us careful to study, to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. Help us to treasure that in homes so that wives want their husbands to come home and husbands want to come home to their wives, so that children want to be with their parents and parents with their children, so that friends are not ripped apart by disagreements, and families are not torn apart by dissention, so that our congregation experiences the unity which only comes where there's forgiveness and forbearance and a great prize on the blessing of unity, not a unity at expense of truth but a unity amongst brothers. Give us that unity. Thank You for the way that You've given that unity to us over the years. Give us more, in Christ's name we pray, amen.
Would you stand for the Lord's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.