How very good and pleasant it isNew Revised Standard Version
when kindred live together in unity!
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.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
When we consider the Songs of Ascent as a preparation for worshiping God, this psalm, speaking of interpersonal relationships, might seem out of place. We might think worship is about our relationship with God, and nothing in this psalm speaks to that relationship.
But to think that way is to divide matters that God considers inseparable. Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 made it clear that there is not one but two greatest commandments. He quoted both Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 when he taught:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day separated the two, and lost their ability to love God when they ignored the need to love others. We know organizations and movements today that choose to love God more than humanity, or humanity more than God, and both choices are wrong. There is no choice—we must love God and humanity with divine Love, or that Love cannot take root in us.
The word translated in the NRSV as “kindred” needs to be understood in the context of the tribal order of Israel at the time. This word meant everyone, not just relatives or tribal members. With New Testament examples of Jesus’ love, I think we should understand this word as going beyond the nation of Israel, and beyond our worldwide Christian community, to refer to all people. We might not be comfortable with this expanded definition of peace as a prerequisite for worship—but neither was the Pharisee to which Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
Then again, we recognize that concepts like peace are often easier to espouse at a global level than they are at a personal level. Yes, we want wars to cease and nations to live peacefully together. For most of us, all we can do to make that happen is to voice our opinion and support governmental leaders whose vision for achieving peace makes sense to us. On the other hand, we cannot delegate to governments the responsibility for keeping peace with our families. We have a long and emotional personal history with our families, and our past experiences and our long-standing attitudes may provoke us to react to family members in ways we would never consider with others. God calls us as individuals to be at peace with other individuals, no matter what they did to us when we were eight years old! We might think that peace is geopolitical, but we’d be wrong. Peace is personal.
The psalmist also made it clear that peace is holy and worshipful. We might miss the point of the psalmist’s imagery of Aaron, but the description of oil running down his beard is a powerful images of worship. Aaron was not merely the brother of Moses, but he was the first high priest of the Israelites. This fragrant oil that was poured on his head and flowed down his beard was the final step of preparation before he or the other priests could approach the altar of God in the tabernacle. If we do not seek peace with each other, the psalmist states that we will not be prepared for worship.
In addition to the image of Aaron, the psalmist also included a reference to the “dew of Hermon” that warrants a geography lesson. The northernmost point in ancient Israel was the mountain range containing Mount Hermon. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary (© Copyright 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers), the highest ridges and peaks in this mountain range are covered with snow for nine months of the year, and the range receives about 60 inches of precipitation each year. This snow, rain—and the dew that falls as clouds are pushed across the ridge—makes this mountain range the headwater of the Jordan River. Both symbolically and factually, the water that sustained life in Israel came from the dew on Mount Hermon.
True worship of God requires us to seek peace with all the persons in our lives. The grudges and resentment we carry towards other people block us from God. The animosity we express or the indifference we show to others infects the adoration we try to express to God. But this duality of love works both ways, for our path to peace with others is through God’s Love, as we in humility serve as vessels of Love.
Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.