PSALM 133 OVERVIEW.
Title. A Song of Degrees of David. We see no reason for depriving David of the authorship of this sparkling sonnet. He knew by experience the bitterness occasioned by divisions in families, and was well prepared to celebrate in choicest Psalmody the blessing of unity for which he sighed. Among the "songs of degrees", this hymn has certainly attained unto a good degree, and even in common literature it is frequently quoted for its perfume and dew. In this Psalm there is no wry word, all is "sweetness and light", -- a notable ascent from Psalm 110 with which the Pilgrims set out. That is full of war and lamentation, but this sings of peace and pleasantness. The visitors to Zion were about to return, and this may have been their hymn of joy because they had seen such union among the tribes who had gathered at the common altar. The previous Psalm, which sings o f the covenant, had also reveal ed the centre of Israel's unity in the Lord's anointed and the promises made to him. No wonder that brethren dwell in unity when God dwells among them, and finds his rest in them. Our translators have given to this Psalm an admirable explanatory heading, "The benefit of the communion of saints." These good men often hit off the meaning of a passage in a few words.
Verse 1. Behold. It is a wonder seldom seen, therefore behold it! It may be seen, for it is the characteristic of real saints, -- therefore fail not to inspect it! It is well worthy of admiration; pause and gaze upon it! It will charm you into imitation, therefore note it well! God looks on with approval, therefore consider it with attention. How good and holy pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! No one can tell the exceeding excellence of such a condition; and so the Psalmist uses the word "how" twice; -- Behold how good! and how pleasant! He does not attempt to measure either the good or the pleasure, but invites us to behold for ourselves. The combination of the two adjectives "good" and "pleasant", is more remarkable than the conjunction of two stars of the first magnitude: for a thing to be "good" is good, but for it also to be pleasant is better. All men love pleasant things, and yet it frequently happens that the pleasure is evil; but here the condition is as good as it is pleasant, as pleasant as it is good, for the same "how" is set before each qualifying word.
For brethren according to the flesh to dwell together is not always wise; for experience teaches that they are better a little apart, and it is shameful for them to dwell together in disunion. They had much better part in peace like Abraham and Lot, than dwell together in envy like Joseph's brothers. When brethren can and do dwell together in unity, then is their communion worthy to be gazed upon and sung of in holy Psalmody. Such sights ought often to be seen among those who are near of kin, for they are brethren, and therefore should be united in heart and aim; they dwell together, and it is for their mutual comfort that there should be no strife; and yet how many families are rent by fierce feuds, and exhibit a spectacle which is neither good nor pleasant!
As to brethren in spirit, they ought to dwell together in church fellowship, and in that fellowship one essential matter is unity. We can dispense with uniformity if we possess unity: oneness of life, truth, and way; oneness in Christ Jesus; oneness of object and spirit -- these we must have, or our assemblies will be synagogues of contention rather than churches of Christ. The closer the unity the better; for the more of the good and the pleasant there will be. Since we are imperfect beings, somewhat of the evil and the unpleasant is sure to intrude; but this will readily be neutralized and easily ejected by the true love of the saints, if it really exists. Christian unity is good in itself, good for ourselves, good for the brethren, good for our converts, good for the outside world; and for certain it is pleasant; for a loving heart must have pleasure and give pleasure in associating with others of like nature. A church united for years m earnest service of the Lord is a well of goodness and joy to all those who dwell round about it.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. This Psalm is an effusion of holy joy occasioned by the sight of the gathering of Israel as one great household at the yearly feasts ... There might likewise be an allusion to the previous jealousies and alienations in the family of Israel, which seemed to be exchanged for mutual concord and affection, on David's accession to the, throne of the whole nation. --Joseph Addison Alexander.
Verse 1. Behold how good and how pleasant it is, etc. There are three things wherein it is very pleasant to behold the people of God joining in one.
- When they join or are one in opinion and judgment, when they all think the same thing, and are of one mind in the truth.
- When they join together and are one in affection, when they are all of one heart, though possibly they are not all of one mind; or, when they meet in affection, though not in opinion. When David had spoken admiringly of this goodly sight, he spoke declaratively concerning the goodness of it ( Psalms 133:2 ): "It is like the precious ointment upon the head." 'Tis so, first, for the sweetness of it; 'tis so, secondly, for the diffusiveness of it (as followeth), "that ran down even the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments."
- It is a blessed thing to see them joining together in duty, either as duty is considered -- First, in doing that which is good; or, when, as the apostle's word is ( 2 Corinthians 6:1 ), they are, among themselves, "workers together" in any good work: we say (to fill up the text), "workers together with God." That's a blessed sight indeed, when we join with God, and God joins with us in his work. It is also a blessed sight when all the ministers of Jesus Christ, and many as members of Jesus Christ, join in any good work, in this especially, to beseech all we have to do with "that they receive not the grace of God in vain." Secondly, in turning from evil, and putting iniquity far from them; in praying for the pardon of sin, and making their peace with God. 'Tis a good work to turn away from evil, especially when all who are concerned in it join in it ... As to join in sin, and to be brethren in iniquity, is the worst of unions, indeed, a combination against God; so to join as brethren in mourning for sin and repenting of our iniquities is a blessed union, and highly pleasing to God. --Joseph Caryl.
Verse 1. How good and how pleasant it is, etc. The terms of this praise and commendation, or the particulars whereof it consists, is taken from a twofold qualification.
- Brotherly concord and the improvement of it in all occasional expressions is a very great good. This is, and will appear to be so in sundry considerations.
As, First, in regard of the Author and owner of it, which is God himself, who lays special claim hereunto. Therefore in Scripture we find him to be from hence denominated and entitled. 1 Corinthians 14:33 . "God is not the author of confusion (or of noisiness), but the author of peace". 2 Corinthians 13:11 . "The God of peace and love." Peace is called "the peace of God:" Philippians 4:7 . And God is called the "God of peace;" each of which expressions does refer it and reduce it to him, and does thereby advance it. Look, then, how far forth God himself is said to be good, so far forth is this dwelling in unity good also, as it is commanded and owned by him, as it appears thus to be.
Secondly. It is good in the nature of it; it is good, as any grace is good. It is good morally. Love is a fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22 . And so to dwell in love and unity one with another is a goodness reducible thereunto. It is good spiritually; it is not only such a good as is taught by moral philosophy, and practised by the students thereof, but it is taught by the Holy Ghost himself, and is a part of the work of regeneration and of the new creature in us, especially if we take it in the full latitude and extent of it, as it becomes us to do.
Thirdly. It is good in the effects and consequences and concomitants of it: it has much good. It is bonum utile. A great deal of advantage comes by brethren's dwelling together in unity, especially spiritual advantage, and for the doing and receiving of good.
- The second qualification is, the sweetness of it, because it is "pleasant:" it is not only bonum utile, and bonum honestum, but it is also bonum jucundum; it has a great deal of pleasure in it. Pleasure is such a kind of goodness, especially to some kind of persons, as that they care not almost what they do or part with to obtain it, and all other good besides is nothing to them, if it be devoid of this. Therefore for the further commendation of this fraternal unity to us, there is this also to be considered, that it is "pleasant." Thus it is with respect to all sorts of persons whatsoever, that are made sensible of it.
First. It is pleasant to God, it is such as is very acceptable to him; it is that which he much delights in, wheresoever he observes it; being himself a God of peace, he does therefore so much the more delight in peaceable Christians, and such as do relate to himself. How much do natural parents rejoice in the agreement of their children, to see them loving and friendly and kind and courteous to one another, oh, it pleases them and joys them at their very heart! and so it is likewise with God to those who are truly his.
Secondly. This brotherly unity is also pleasant to ourselves, who accordingly shall have so much the greater pleasure in it and from it.
Thirdly. It is also pleasing to others, indeed to all men else besides, that are bystanders and spectators of it. "Behold, how pleasant it is", etc. It is pleasant to all beholders: "He that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men", says the apostle: Ro 14:18. --Thomas Horton, --1673.
Verse 1. Pleasant. It is a pleasant thing for the saints and people of God to agree together; for the same word which is used here for "pleasant", is used also in the Hebrew for a harmony of music, such as when they rise to the highest strains of the viol, when the strings are all put in order to make up a harmony; so pleasant is it, such pleasantness is there in the saints' agreement. The same word is used also in the Hebrew for the pleasantness of a corn field. When a field is clothed with corn, though it be cut down, yet it is very pleasant, oh, how pleasant is it; and such is the saints' agreement. The same word in the Psalmist is used also for the sweetness of honey, and of sweet things in opposition to bitter things. And thus you see the pleasantness of it, by its being compared to the harmony of music, to the corn field, to the sweetness of honey, to the precious ointment that ran down Aaron's beard, and to the dew that fell upon Hermort and the hills of Zion: and all this to discover the pleasantness, profitableness, and sweetness of the saints' agreement. It is a pleasant thing to behold the sun, but it is much more pleasant to behold the saints' agreement and unity among themselves. --William Bridge.
Verse 1. Brethren. Abraham made this name, "brethren", a mediator to keep peace between Lot and him: "Are we not brethren?" saith Abraham. As if he should say, Shall brethren fall out for trifles, like infidels? This was enough to pacify Lot, for Abraham to put him in mind that they were brethren; when he heard the name of brethren, straight his heart yielded, and the strife was ended. So this should be the lawyer to end quarrels between Christians, to call to mind that they are brethren. And they which have spent all at law have wished that they had taken this lawyer, to think, with Lot, whether it were meet for brethren to strive like enemies. --Henry Smith.
Verse 1. Brethren. Some critics observe that the Hebrew word for a brother is of near brotherhood or alliance with two other words, whereof the first signifies one, and the other alike or together, to show that "brethren" ought to be as one, and alike, or together; which latter is by an elegant paranomasia joined with it: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity", or, as we put it in the margin, "to dwell even together." So then, the very word whereby "brethren" are expressed notes that there ought to be a nearness, a similitude, yea, a oneness (if I may so speak) between them in their affections and actions. -- Joseph Caryl.
Verse 1. To dwell is a word of residence, and abode, and continuation. There is also pertaining to the love and concord of brethren a perseverance and persistency in it; not only to be together, or to come together, or to meet together for some certain time; but to dwell together in unity, this is which is here so extolled and commended unto us. It seems to be no such great matter, nor to carry any such great difficulty in it, for men to command themselves to some expressions of peace and friendship for some short space of time (though there are many now and then who are hardly able to do that); but to hold out in it, and to continue so long, this endurance is almost impossible to them. Yet this is that which is required of them as Christians and as "brethren" one to another, even to "dwell together in unity;" to follow peace, and love, and concord, and mutual agreement, not only upon some occasional meetings, but all along the whole course of their lives, while they converse and live together. --Thomas Horton.
Verse 1. Together in unity. If there be but one God, as God is one, so let them that serve him be one. This is what Christ prayed so heartily for. "That they may be one:" John 17:21 . Christians should be one,
- In judgment. The apostle exhorts to be all of one mind. 1 Corinthians 1:10 . How sad is it to see religion wearing a coat of divers colours; to see Christians of so many opinions, and going so many different ways I It is Satan that has sown these tares of division. Matthew 13:39 . He first divided men from God, and then one man from another.
- One in affection. They should have one heart. "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul": Acts 4:32 . As in music, though there be several strings of a viol, yet all make one sweet harmony; so, though there are several Christians, yet there should be one sweet harmony of affection among them. There is but one God, and they that serve him should be one. There is nothing that would render the true religion more lovely, or make more proselytes to it, than to see the professors of it tied together with the heart strings of love. If God be one, let all that profess him be of one mind, and one heart, and thus fulfil Christ's prayer, "that they all may be one." --Thomas Watson.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. Christian unity.
- Its admirable excellences.
- The signs of its existence.
- The causes of its decay.
- The means of its renewal.
Verse 1. The saints are here contemplated,
- In their brotherhood.
- In their concord.
- In their felicity. --W. J.
Verse 1-3. Six blessings which dwell with unity.
- God's blessing.
- Eternal life.
- The contemplation: brethren dwelling together in unity.
- In a family. 2. In a Christian church. 3. Brethren of the same denomination. 4. Of different denominations.
- Its commendation.
- Literally: "good and pleasant."
- Figuratively: fragrant as the priestly anointing; fruitful as the dew on Hermon.
- Spiritually, it has a blessing from God, that gives life, and continues for evermore! --G. R.
Verse 1-3. On Christians dwelling together in unity as a church.
- Its propriety, on account of fraternal relationship: "For brethren." The Christian brotherhood is so unique, sacred and lasting, that a lack of unity is a disgrace. They are brethren,
- Because born of God, who is "the God of peace." Their claim to the brotherhood is dependent upon likeness to Him: Matthew 5:9 .
b) Because united to Christ, who as elder brother desires unity: John 17:20-21 . Not to seek it is virtually to disown Him.
d) Because destined to "dwell together in unity", for ever in heaven; therefore we should aim at it here.
- Its peculiar excellency: both "good and pleasant."
b) Pleasant, as productive of happiness: as pleasing to God.
- Its promotion and maintenance.
- Seeking the glory of God unites; in opposition to self honour which divides.
b) Love to Christ as a constraining power unites each to the other as it binds all closely to Christ.
c) Activity in ministering to others, rather than desiring to be ministered unto, binds heart to heart. --J. F.