“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Oil running down the beard? It doesn’t strike me as a very pleasant experience. I mean, who wants to pull up the hood of their car, grab their dipstick, and let some oil drip down their face? Not I! And especially for you ladies doing No-Shave November, how would you like oil to be draining off your luscious beard!? Think with your dipstick, Jimmy!
We don’t understand David’s metaphor here. But perhaps the second one makes it clearer. “The dew of Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion.” Have you ever gone camping up in the far mountains? You wake up pretty early, no one else stirring except for you and the songbirds. The sun comes up, brightening both yours and the earth’s countenance. You wander through the woods until you stumble upon an open meadow. And there, dripping from each green sprout, is dew. The freshest substance on earth.
Refreshing. That’s what David is trying to communicate. This oil was a fragrant substance that would refresh the face of the anointed. The dew refreshed the face of Zion’s mountains. These are things that bring a sense of…sigh. Refreshment. Or, as he puts it, pleasantness. If he were writing today, David might have said “like a nice cup of coffee on a cold, early morning” (I wouldn’t know). Or perhaps an early morning jog through the woods (again, I wouldn’t know). Or a big bowl of ice cream with everything imaginable on top (that I would know!). Things that are just refreshing!
Well, what does David say is so refreshing? Brethren dwelling together in unity. How good and how pleasant! In David’s day, this would be referring to the “brothers” of Israel being unified. David had to put down several insurrectionists, and indeed, he had to cause division in his nation in order to take the throne from Saul. Even his son Absalom divided the nation against him. And just a few short decades after he died and after his son Solomon reigned, the kingdom would permanently divide into North and South. But David wanted to show the easily-divisive Israelites that unity is truly a refreshing thing!
And so it is still today, among we “brothers”—not of Israel, but brothers and sisters redeemed by Christ and adopted by His Father. We are truly a family. And as such, we are extremely divisive. Every family is—if you never argued with your siblings, you must’ve been an only child!
And if you think for one moment that the Christian family is not divisive, you must not be a part of it! Just look up all the denominations—yes, look up all the denominations within denominations (“denomination-ception”). Now, I’m not saying there is never a cause to divide from a brother—the Bible clearly specifies those times when erring doctrine is concerned. But we know that’s not what is often the main cause of the division. Most of the time, we’re divided over specific notes and rhythms on a page, words on a screen, or color of the carpet. Ridiculous! Churches are splitting right now over whether their Bible says “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”
It is a very pleasant, refreshing thing to see brothers and sisters united. That’s what I saw in Africa as we Americans joined with our African siblings in praise to our mutual Savior—the music style was very different (they actually moved while singing—perish the thought!), but the heart was the same. We all wanted to praise our Jesus! How refreshing!
Notice I’ve been using the word divisive, not different. Being different is not a bad thing. And let’s face it, we’re different. Some of us like Ohio State—some like Michigan. Some of us like coffee—others of us don’t. Some of us like hymnbooks—some of us like PowerPoint. Some of us like Paul—some of us like Apollos (See the book of 1 Corinthians). We’re different. But we need not be divisive. We need to look to the wisdom that James describes: “pure, then peaceable, gentle, WILLING TO YIELD, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Yes, willing to yield to another’s preference. Willing to read and obey Romans 14. What a concept!
Though that cup of coffee you’re holding as you launch into another week is indeed refreshing, it can’t compare to the refreshment of looking at two people completely different that are completely unified. What a pleasant experience to see us, many though we are, become “one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5).
-Matthew W., SC