Here it is in its short and sweet entirety, under the headingThe Blessedness of Unity. A Song of Ascents.
1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained blessing,
life for evermore.
Well, that’s a clear enough message. Bickering is sometimes part of the background noise. But is it necessary or just habitual, poor communication and self-centred attitudes? These can be changed, not always easily: but they can and should be changed, not only for quality of life with mutual respect, but also lest eventually they add to the awful statistics on domestic violence.
Looking a little more closely at the psalm and its context, and with a little historical information from the experts, a new meaning emerges from the mention in the same breath of Hermon and Zion.
In the third and final verse, we read of the dew of Hermon flowing down upon the hills of Zion. Familial harmony is now likened to a blessing spreading gently down from the snowy heights to envelop villages and streets, everyday dwellings in the foothills.
In the original historical setting, this reference to Hermon in the northern kingdom (now on the Lebanon-Syria border) and Zion, the mount of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom, suggest that this was a prayer for national as well as societal or family unity.
Zion is also shorthand for a holy habitation for all peoples. The psalms reflect other passages, such as in Isaiah, declaring the inclusivity of the temple:
Maintain justice … And the foreigners who join themselves to God … these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. God gathers the outcasts of Israel, and will gather others to them besides those already gathered.Isaiah 56:1-8
This Sunday at Woden Valley we turn again to a favourite source, Psalms for All Seasons. The variety enclosed in those blue covers is amazing. Songs come from all around the world, often in foreign languages. All, as we have just seen, are welcome in the temple. The songs also reflect varied moods, musical styles and worship traditions, from early monastic rites to modern exuberance.
PFAS 133D is a lovely song from the late Rev. Pablo Sosa (1934-2020), a pastor from Argentina, highly valued in the ecumenical world. He was professor of liturgy and hymnology at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos. The World Council of Churches, whose beautifully inspiring banners often grace our walls, noted in an obituary that Sosa’s songs:
… continue to shape ecumenical spirituality and theology locally and globally.
Here is his response to this short song of ascents, Psalm 133, in Spanish and English:
Miren qué bueno, qué bueno es; O look in wonder, how good it is.
For other comments and music, see the main page: Psalm 133: Familial harmony>