Read Psalm 133.
We live in a culture where silencing, or cancelling, other people is the nuclear option—and one that seems to be used far too often. But it’s nothing new. Giving someone the cold shoulder, writing them off as dead, and generally ignoring their existence are tactics as ancient as sin itself. But it was never supposed to be this way.
The garden of Eden was not just the heaven-meets-earth home where we were made to dwell with God in perfect unity; it was also created to be a place where we would enjoy perfect unity with each other. But when sin entered the world, it fractured relationships in all directions. The peace and friendship we had known in the garden was lost.
But no one needs to tell us this. We see it on our twenty-four-hour cable news channel of choice and across the dinner table. We hear it in the slamming of doors and the shouts of protestors. We feel it in our bones. We know we were created to walk together, not stand apart. We know we were made to live in unity, because unity’s absence has left us feeling hollowed out.
Psalm 133 is not a how-to guide for creating peace and harmony between people. Rather, it’s a celebration of those moments when God’s people get it right—when we lay down our weapons, whether physical or verbal, and come together as brothers and sisters. The psalmist doesn’t need to argue that such a life is worth pursuing; that’s self-evident. All he does is invite us to behold “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity” (v. 1). He then goes on to describe that unity: “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe” (v. 2).
I must admit that my first thoughts when I read about oil pouring down the head and beard, running all over clothes, were about the mess. I imagined trying to get the oil stains out of fabric and making sure the floors didn’t get too slippery from the inevitable drips. I suppose this is what happens when you have small children and must remain vigilant about their safety, as well as the destruction they leave in their wake. But to the psalmist, the oil running down Aaron’s beard was not a mess; it was a thing of beauty.
In the dry Middle East, oil was used as a moisturizer for the skin. It brought relief and refreshment from the harsh elements. In the case of the oil used to anoint Aaron, Israel’s first high priest, it was also aromatic, awakening the senses of all who came near. (See Exodus 30:22–25 for the recipe.)
Beyond that, anointing oil was used to set people, places, and objects apart as sacred to God. Priests and kings were anointed with oil (Exodus 30:30; 1 Samuel 16:13), as was the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, the golden lampstand, and other holy objects (Exodus 30:25–29). Jesus is the “Anointed One” (Daniel 9:25–26), for that is literally what Messiah or Christ means. But Jesus wasn’t anointed with mere oil at the start of His ministry; He was anointed by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16; Acts 10:38).* So, too, are His followers (2 Corinthians 1:21–23; 1 John 2:20). The oil in the Old Testament, then, pointed forward to this reality—to the presence of God indwelling and empowering His people.
This is what it is like to live in unity. It is to taste a bit of the kingdom, to feel the blessing of God on one’s life, to be set apart from this world as special unto God. It is why Jesus prayed for all believers, you and me included:
… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21–23).
This sort of unity does not come naturally, but supernaturally. It is a work of God through and through, and it comes as each person submits to God. There are Christians with whom I ardently disagree about serious and important subjects, but I am not free to despise them. I’m called to love them. A fellow believer is never my enemy; he’s just a family member I need to spend more time with, and there’s always a seat at the table for him.
We may have our disagreements on theology, politics, and a hundred other things besides, but we can still stand together, arm in arm as brothers and sisters, because of our love for Jesus. In the end, that is what will unite us. And in the end, that’s all that will matter.
* Jesus was, however, anointed with oil in advance of His burial. See Matthew 26:6–12; Mark 14:3–9; John 12:1–8.