The Blessedness of Spiritual Unity – Psalm 133
This “Song of Ascents” was composed for one of the occasions when Israel would gather together for the yearly feasts; the joy of seeing the whole brotherhood united peaceably, to celebrate God’s goodness in providing abundant harvests, had to burst out in song. These were the high points of Israel’s existence as a nation, some of the sweetest foreshadows of our spiritual unity in the Church today, and foretastes of the eternal blessedness of heaven. The unity here described can come only from God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to his people – it is essentially a spiritual unity. The anointing with oil is a clear symbol of the outpouring of the Spirit; and the dew from heaven is another common sign of the Spirit. It is only by the Holy Spirit that eternal life can come, which is a blessing the psalmist remembers that God has commanded for Zion. Thus, the psalm takes the occasion of the typological feasts to look ahead to the more substantial blessing of eternal life; and he takes the symbols of oil and dew to remember God’s promise of his Holy Spirit, to be poured out upon his people to bring that eternal life.
We may learn from this psalm that spiritual unity in the Church is an essential part of God’s promised blessing of eternal life. Where there is discord, the ancient enemies of the image-bearers of God, sin and its offspring, death, are at work. Eternal life can dwell only where there is unity. Any division brings a kind of death, and the eternal death is a separation from the Head and the Oil that flows down over the whole body. To be separate from a member of the body is to be separate from the Head and the Oil, and to be separate from the Head and the Oil is death.
When sin first caused a separation from the God of life, its fruit became discord and murder between the first brothers of the human race; and that murder led to a loss of fruitfulness in the ground. These tragic results must be overturned before life can reign again; brotherly discord must be changed to unity; and barren ground must be restored to fruitfulness.
Brotherly discord had led to a loss of fruitfulness, in the case of Cain and Abel; but later, when God had started the work of restoring his people, it would be the loss of fruitfulness that would lead to brotherly discord. When the land was no longer fruitful enough to bear both Abraham and Lot, there was strife, which led to separation (Genesis 13); and that separation resulted in the brother nations of Moab and Ammon, Lot’s children by incest, who would become inveterate enemies of Israel, the children of Abraham. Later, when the land was unable to bear both Jacob and Esau, there was another separation that led to Edom, another brother-enemy to Israel. A restoration would require renewed fruitfulness, symbolized by the outpouring of dew; and also a reconciliation of divided brothers, symbolized by the uniting of the twelve brothers on the breast of the oil-anointed Aaron. But how would this twofold restoration come about?
1. Spiritual unity comes through God’s anointed high priest.
The ministry of Aaron
- He alone (and his sons after him) was anointed with holy oil (Ex. 30:30-33)
- This consecrated him for God’s service
- By this means, he was given the Holy Spirit to empower him for his consecrated ministry
- This ministry was to bear the twelve tribes of Israel on his breast before the Lord, to make atonement for them and reconcile them to a holy God
- Hence, the image of the oil running down upon Aaron depicts the spiritual unity of Israel; though twelve tribes, they were united in this one person; and though they could not make the holy oil themselves, or be anointed with it, it still ran down upon them, inasmuch as they were borne on the anointed breast of Aaron. Thus they shared in the Holy Spirit through their participation in the Aaronic priest.
The ministry of Jesus
- It was prophesied of the Messiah, the Anointed One, that it would no longer be with the type of oil, but directly with the Holy Spirit, that he would be anointed (Isaiah 42). Hence, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came down upon him at his baptism (Mat. 3).
- Just as Aaron bore the twelve tribes on his breast, so Jesus bears us all in his breast. And just as Aaron went before God to make atonement with the types of bulls and goats, so Jesus offered himself up to God to make full atonement with his own precious blood.
- Just as the oil anointed Aaron alone, but from his head flowed down to the garments whereon were engraved the names of the twelve tribes, so the Spirit was given to Christ alone; but from him, the Spirit flows down to all his members.
- By the Spirit, we were baptized into the body of Christ, and are his members. Therefore, when we who are baptized into the Church sin, it is not as when the world sins – for we are defiling the members of Christ. Likewise, when we are at strife with one another, we are tearing apart the body of Christ, just as the Roman nails and thorns at one time did. 1 Cor. 6:15 – Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
Transition: 1 Cor. 12:12-14 – For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. The baptism compares to the oil; this is the first sacrament, whereby we become Christ’s members. The drinking compares to the dew of Hermon; this is the second sacrament, whereby we grow in fruitfulness.
2. Spiritual unity grows from God’s ongoing supply of grace to his Church.
- The second sign of spiritual unity is dew from Hermon, falling on the mountains of Zion. Hermon was a high mountain in the far north of Israel. It likely symbolizes God’s throne in heaven. [Isaiah 14:13 – You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;]
- Dew from heaven symbolizes God’s sustaining grace to his Church. Dew is often spoken of as a sign of divine grace [e.g. Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:28]; furthermore, it is often used in prophecies to speak of the spiritual blessings of the times of Christ [e.g. in Hosea 14; Zech. 8; Micah 5; Isaiah 26].
- It is only on the mountains of Zion that this heavenly dew falls. So it is only on the true churches that God pours out his Spirit. You cannot be a Christian and be separated from the Church any more than a finger could live when separated from the body. You cannot grow in holiness and be separated from the Church anymore than the soil can grow vegetation when cut off from all water. The dew of the Spirit falls only on the Church.
- Just as Christ fulfilled the sign of the anointed Aaron, so he fulfills the sign of the dew from Heaven; first, in that he dropped down as the true Manna from heaven (John 6); and second in that he came to pour out heavenly waters of life upon the people. As the gospel explicitly says, this water of life is the Spirit. John 7:37-39 – On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
- Hence, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper in faith, we truly receive the Spirit in an ongoing, sanctifying way. We are quick to devise all sorts of spiritual disciplines that do not have God’s solemn promise of efficacy, while neglecting the one practice which certainly does. In the bread, we receive the dew of manna from Heaven, which is the body of Christ, spiritually given to us by the Holy Spirit; and in the cup we receive the dew of the blood and water which flowed from the side of Christ, which is the atonement and the purifying Spirit that comes to us from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
- The Spirit then causes us to be fruitful in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc., just as dew causes the earth to be fruitful. We can no more be fruitful in true virtues without the Spirit than the earth can be fruitful without water.
- And just as it required a fruitful land for the brethren of Israel to be able to dwell together in unity, so it requires fruitfulness in the virtues of the Spirit for us to dwell in the pleasantness of unity.
3. Spiritual unity results in the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal life.
- Why did the dew fall on Zion? Because it is there that the Lord commanded the blessing of eternal life to be. So, according to God’s command, spiritual dew fell to cause that life to spring up.
- Truly, the commandments of the Lord are not burdensome (1 John 5:3)! They are nothing but the blessing of eternal life!
- What is this commandment of the blessing of eternal life? That we love one another. Spiritual unity and love is necessary for eternal life. A couple passages from John’s gospel and first epistle:
John 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
1 John 3:14-15 – We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
1 John 4:7-8 – Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- Hence, when Jesus our High Priest prayed for us, he asked for us eternal life; this life he defined as knowing the only true God and Jesus whom God has sent; and in knowing him, being truly united to all who are in him, even as the Father and the Son are united with each other (John 17:2-3, 22-24 – …glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent….The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.).
- Thus, unity in our churches is not just one of the things we strive for so that we might be blessed; it is itself the eternal blessing God has commanded for us. As image-bearers, we display the unity of the blessed Trinity by our own unity in the body of Christ. This is our greatest and eternal joy even as it is the greatest reflection of the glory of God.