The Book of Psalms

Tuesday: Unity and Community


Theme: Unity That Blesses Everyone
In this week’s lessons, we see what true Christian unity looks like, and how it blesses everyone involved.
Scripture: Psalm 133:1-3
In today’s study we continue our look at the points Psalm 133 makes about unity. 
2. Unity is for the small and great alike. This is the chief point of the second of the psalm’s two images, in which the “dew” of Mount Hermon is imagined to be falling on Mount Zion. Hermon was the highest mountain in Israel, located several hundred miles north of Jerusalem. It was proverbial for the dew that fell on its lofty reaches. But here that dew is also said to fall on Zion, which is not very high. Like the preceding metaphor, dew comes from above and illustrates that unity is from God. But the chief point of this image is that the dew is for little Zion as well as great Hermon. J. J. Stewart Perowne says, “It is not the refreshing nature of the dew, nor its gentle, all-pervading influence, which is the prominent feature. That which renders it to the poet’s eye so striking an image of brotherly concord, is the fact that it falls alike on both mountains.”1
It is the same with unity. When a country, a church or even a family is at peace, it benefits not only the most prominent or most important persons, but everyone. All are blessed, especially the small, the unimportant and the weak. By contrast, disharmony or a lack of unity hurts everyone. 
3. The blessing of unity flows from one person to another. The first of these images, the anointing of Aaron, was a blessing from God for him. But he was the high priest, which meant that he in turn blessed others. The description of the oil running down from his beard “upon the collar of his robes” suggests this, too. And there is even the hint that, since the oil was “precious oil,” that is, the best oil blended with myrrh, cinnamon, cane and cassia (Exod. 30:22-24), the anointing would have been wonderfully fragrant and would have filled the air wherever Aaron went. In Exodus 30:33 this special oil is even called “perfume.” 
In the same way, a person who is at peace with himself or herself or a people who are united are a blessing wherever he, she or they go. They tend to win people to their unity and spread it. 
 4. Unity is a foretaste of heaven. This comes across in the final verse of the psalm, which speaks of “life forevermore.” Some things are good for us but not pleasant. Other things are pleasant but not good. But the unity we have as God’s people is both good and pleasant, and it is even a bit of heaven now. 
But let’s go back to what I was saying in the introduction to this study about a lack of unity since unity is certainly more noticeable by its absence than by its presence today. I spoke of America. Unity was an American ideal at one time. Our country was the great “melting pot” where diverse peoples willingly blended together with similar goals to form a common destiny. Not anymore. Today a competing pluralism is the ideal. People no longer work for harmony. Instead they struggle with each other for group advantages and individual rights. 
This has roots in our current understanding of what it means to be an individual. In the last twenty or thirty years something terrible has happened to Americans in how they relate to other people. Prior to that time there was still something of a Christian ethos in this country and people used to care about and help other people. They believed this was the right thing to do. Today the majority of people focus on themselves and deal with others only for what they can get out of them.
In 1981 a sociologist named Daniel Yankelovich published a study of the 1970s titled New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. It documented a massive tidal shift in values by which many and eventually most Americans began to seek personal self-fulfillment as the ultimate goal in life, rather than operating on the principle that we are here to serve and even sacrifice for others, as Americans for the most part really had done previously.2 He found that by the late 1970s, seventy-two percent of Americans spent much time thinking about themselves and their inner lives.3 So pervasive was this change that as early as 1976 Tom Wolfe tagged the 70s as the “Me Decade” and compared it to a third religious awakening.4
But isn’t this a good thing? Shouldn’t thinking about ourselves make us happy? If we redirect our energy to gratifying even our tiniest desires, shouldn’t we be satisfied with life? It does not work that way, as we have discovered. It fails on the personal level, and it fails in the area of our relationships with other people too. 
1J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 2, p. 420. 
2Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down (New York: Random House, 1981), pp. 10, 11. 
3Daniel Yankelovich, Ibid., p. 5. 
4Tom Wolfe, “The ‘Me-Decade’ and the Third Great Awakening,” New York Magazine, August 23, 1976, pp. 26-40. 
Study Questions: 

What does the image of the dew represent? What do the mountains indicate? How can this apply to us? 
Explain what happens as people redirect their focus from others’ needs to make personal fulfillment their ultimate goal. 

Reflection: Determine your effect on people. Do you tend to bring peace or disruption to a group? Can you think of any examples when you were responsible for either occurrence?
Key Point: A person who is at peace with himself or herself or a people who are united are a blessing wherever he, she or they go.

Study Questions
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