George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 133

1. Structure

True fellowship is like:
The anointing of the high priest,

Northern dew on southern Zion.

2. A psalm of David

The three main ideas are:

north and south now united,
a new high priest, and
a year of Jubilee.

These point to the time when David brought the ark to Zion. Then, for the first time in long generations, the twelve tribes of Israel really shared fellowship, being bonded together by the personality of their King. Up to that time (2 Sam. 6) there had been one high priest, Abiathar, who had been loyal to David through all his outlaw days. For a reason which cannot be determined (was it due to the great failure of the first attempt to bring the ark to Zion? — Abiathar’s responsibility?), at this time a new high priest, Zadok, was appointed. Not that Abiathar was relieved of his duties. Somehow, both of them continued to operate. If this anointing of Zadok did not take place until after the ark was brought to Zion, this might explain why at that time David took on the role of high priest.

The precious ointment was, of course, the unique anointing oil (see notes, Par. 4). This unguent was poured copiously on the head of the high priest (here called “Aaron” in a generic sense), so that first it ran down upon his shoulders, where were the settings of onyx engraved with the names of the twelve tribes (Exod. 28:11,12). Thus, what seemed to be a separation of the tribes into two groups, was turned to unity, the same holy oil from above flowing down over all twelve simultaneously. The oil also flowed down Aaron’s beard, and then upon the breastplate of judgment into the front of which were fastened twelve precious stones, each with a name of a tribe of Israel. Again, the symbolism of unity of all God’s people was openly expressed by the oil flowing over all of them. And the unique fragrance of it told all who were present at the anointing ceremony, how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.

Nor was that all. This plenteous flow of fragrance went down (s.w. “ran down “) to the skirts of his garments. The hem of the high priest’s robe was adorned with alternating bells and pomegranates (Exod. 28:33, 34; twelve of each?). The bells were not merely embroidered on the cloth, but were actually small bells of gold, so that, as the high priest went about his duties in the Sanctuary, the sound of his movement could be heard by the silent worshipers in the court outside (v. 35).

The pomegranate is noteworthy as being one of the finest examples in nature of a seed packed solid with seeds — a superb visual representation of how, in the purpose of God, a multitudinous seed is comprehended in One Seed. Since the bells were in the shape of flowers (shoshannim, or lilies), here in the anointed hem of the garment was a combination of flowers and fruit. Thus was represented the slowly developing and ripening of God’s purpose through the wholesome influence of mutual fellowship.

The second illustration of this idea appears to involve an incongruity, for the dew of Hermon does not come down (again, “went down” in AV is s.w. “ran down” and “descended”) on the mountains of Zion. So, clearly, the intention is that, as with the earlier figure, a meaning beyond the literal is intended. Hermon is in the far north, whilst Jerusalem sits in the middle of the southern tribes. Thus the figure represents a joyous union of all the tribes of Israel, those from the north gladly coming to share fellowship in Zion, where the God of Israel had His dwelling place (Psa. 132:13,14).

The two similes combine beautifully with the emphasis: For there (that is, in Zion) the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. The key phrase here — “commanded the blessing” — is a straight quotation from Leviticus 25:21. This special blessing was a perfect climate and a bountiful harvest in the sixth year, thus providing adequately for the two fallow years when the Year of Jubilee was observed. This special year began on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:9), when the high priest offered the special national sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation. On this day which inaugurated the Year of Jubilee, Israel were bound together in fellowship as on no other.

There are indications of a Jubilee at the time when David was crowned king over all the twelve tribes. 1 Chronicles 12:38-40 has these two unusual features woven together. Nowhere else is there such emphasis on abundant supplies of food. Reckoning back from the established Jubilee in Hezekiah’s reign (700 B.C. — Isa. 37:30,31) in steps of 49 years (Dan. 9:25), the dating of Psalm 133 would then be 994 (or, less likely, 1043). The way in which these exceptional phenomena — the union of all Israel, the anointing of a new high priest, a year of Jubilee beginning on the Day of Atonement — all fall together in these three verses is extraordinary. What is perhaps more extraordinary is that the same features coincide again in Hezekiah’s reign; hence the inclusion of the psalm here in the Songs of Degrees.

3. A psalm of Hezekiah

Early in Hezekiah’s reign (precise dating is unsure because of the chronological chaos besetting this period), there came the demolition of the Northern Kingdom through the invasions of Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V with Sargon II. Hezekiah saw the great advantages, both religiously and politically, of reunion of all twelve tribes. So in the great Passover of his reformation, he appealed to the northern tribes to join in the celebration at Jerusalem. Some scorned the idea (as always happens with every reunion effort!), but many responded. It may be assumed that, so long as conditions permitted, these special Passovers continued throughout the reign of such a devout king, and that the more godly of the northern tribes continued to join in.

There was also a new high priest. Urijah the time-server (2 Kings 16:11-16) was replaced by the godly Eliakim (Isa. 22:20; 37:2). And there was a most blessed Jubilee (Isa. 37:30,31), by which the nation — joined together even more completely than ever before by the returning captives — was able to make remarkable and rapid recovery from Assyrian devastation.

So Hezekiah had every reason in the world to rejoice in the extraordinary repetition of these events of his father David’s reign, and therefore to include 133 in his Songs of Degrees.

4. A psalm of Christ

Christ is the one mediator between God and man, and the only means by which those who are separated (man from God, Gentile from Jew) might be joined together again (Eph. 2:12-22).

Christ is also especially symbolized in the precious ointment. This was the holy anointing oil of the priests, with which the tabernacle, ark, tables, lampstands and altars were also anointed (Exod. 30:23-33). It consisted of four spices mixed in a base of olive oil:

Myrrh, from a root word meaning “to drop, or distill”. Myrrh is bitter, yet purifying, soothing, and cleansing. It was a gift from the wise men to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:11), and it was used in the anointing of his dead body (John 19:39). It symbolizes sacrifice, and especially the sacrifice of Christ, bitter in its experience yet purifying and cleansing to those who partake of it.
Cinnamon, from a root signifying “to stand upright”. A fragrant wood used for purification. It symbolizes the purifying qualities of an upright character, without which the actual death of Christ would have been meaningless.
Calamus, a reed cane which is extremely aromatic. This quality of sweet scent reminds us of the sweet-smelling odors of incense, which symbolize the prayers of the saints (Psa. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:4).
Cassia, from a root “to bow down”. Another aromatic wood. It symbolizes the humility of Christ (Phil. 2:5-8).

The oil descended first and in greatest measure upon the head (Christ), and then descended to the very skirts of his garments (that is, upon his “body” as well). Thus Head and Body were all united by the blessing that descended from above. (It was this very skirt which the woman with an issue of blood touched in order to be cleansed: Matt. 9:20/Mark 5:27/Luke 8:44; cp. Zech. 8:23. And it is by “touching the skirt” of Jesus that we all may be cleansed and united with him.)

The unity of brethren dwelling together, in David’s day and Hezekiah’s, is here compared to the descending dew of Hermon. The anointing oil has suggested the death of Christ (“For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” — Matt. 26:12). Here, the dew symbolizes his resurrection — completing the cycle. (No study of dew should omit the beautiful passage of John Thomas in Eureka, vol. 1, pp. 140-142. See also Psalms Studies, Psa. 110, Par. 5 on v. 3.) Spiritual “death” and “resurrection” in baptism (Rom. 6) are the means — the only means — by which sinners are joined together in unity with Jesus and his Father.

“Hermon” is the name given to a range of three peaks, nine to ten thousand feet in elevation, which dominates the northern part of Israel, and which is visible over the entire Holy Land. Because of its great height it is covered with snow most of the year. In late summer this snow begins to melt, the run-off feeding reservoirs and springs to supply water to the thirsty lands of the south. The obvious symbolism of Hermon is that of the divine blessing, stored up in the providence of God until the proper time, when it is most needed. And as pertaining to Christ especially, Hermon may symbolize the blessing of eternal life which is stored up in heaven with Christ, until the time for him to return — bringing that eternal life with him (Col. 3:4).

5. A psalm of Pentecost

Just before the crucifixion Jesus was anointed as a high priest. This was doubtless the intention and insight behind Matthew 26:7. Then at Pentecost, one of the first effects of his intercessory work was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (like the “dew” of Hermon), resting upon the head of each believer. Here again there was a fusion in godliness of believers from the north (Acts 2:7) with men of Jerusalem (2:5), all with one mind (2:1; s.w. Psa. 133:1, LXX) (cp. also Psa. 68:27).

So here, once again, there was a union of fellowship of north and south under a new High Priest, and with the same assurance of “life for evermore”.

Tertullian says that Psalm 133 was regularly used by the early church at the Breaking of Bread service. If it were regularly used today, perhaps its message would begin to have some effect!

Hebrews 3:1 is also very relevant here:

“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling [i.e., the invitation, from heaven, to a feast], consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.”

6. A psalm of the kingdom

Before long this psalm will have its most amazing fulfillment of all. There, in Zion, brethren in Christ who are Jews and Gentiles, and even those who at present will not tolerate one another’s fellowship, will put aside all past foolishness and unbelief as they celebrate a blessed unity. Then division and mutual recrimination will be not only things of the past, but also forgotten. The fragrant oil, which anoints their High Priest, will anoint them also. In his Person all will be united. The dryness of Zion will be ended by the refreshing dew of Hermon, and by the copious rain of blessing with which the last and greatest “Jubilee” is heralded.

And for all, “life for evermore”!

7. Zion the place of blessing

There (in Zion) the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. This reads like a plain statement that saints in Christ will be made immortal in Jerusalem. Despite the fact that the earliest Christadelphians seem not to have thought of such an idea, there is an astonishing amount of support for this conclusion (Psalms Studies, Psa. 68, Par. 8).
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