Treasury of David
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 120 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 of the covenant, had also revealed the center 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 godly 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 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.
Verse 2. It is like the precious ointment upon the head. In order that we may the better behold brotherly unity David gives us a resemblance, so that as in a looking-glass we may perceive its blessedness. It has a sweet perfume about it, comparable to that precious ointment with which the first High Priest was anointed at his ordination. It is a holy thing, and so again is like the oil of consecration which was to be used only in the Lord's service.
What a sacred thing must brotherly love be when it can be likened to an oil which must never be poured on any man but on the Lord's high priest alone!
It is a diffusive thing—being poured on his bead the fragrant oil flowed down upon Aaron's head, and thence dropped upon his garments until the utmost hem was anointed therewith. Even so does brotherly love extend its benignant power and bless all who are beneath its influence. Hearty concord brings a blessing upon all concerned; its goodness and pleasure are shared in by the lowliest members of the household; even the servants are the better and the happier because of the lovely unity among the members of the family.
It has a special use about it; for as by the anointing oil Aaron was set apart for the special service of Jehovah, even so those who dwell in love are the better fitted to glorify God in his church.
The Lord is not likely to use for his glory those who are devoid of love; they lack the anointing needful to make them priests unto the Lord.
That ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard. This is a chief point of comparison, that as the oil did not remain confined to the place where it first fell, but flowed down the High Priest's hair and bedewed his beard, even so brotherly love descending from the head, distills and descends, anointing as it runs, and perfuming all it lights upon.
That went down to the skirts of his garments. Once set in motion it would not cease from flowing. It might seem as if it were better not to smear his garments with oil, but the sacred unguent could not be restrained, it flowed over his holy robes.
Even thus does brotherly love not only flow over the hearts upon which it was first poured out, and descend to those who are an inferior part of the mystical body of Christ, but it runs where it is not sought for, asking neither permission nor license to make its way.
Christian affection knows no limits of parish, nation, sect, or age. Is the man a believer in Christ? Then he is in the one body, and I must yield him an abiding love.
Is he one of the poorest, one of the least spiritual, one of the least lovable? Then he is as the skirts of the garment, and my heart's love must fall even upon him.
Brotherly love comes from the head, but falls to the feet. Its way is downward. It "ran down", and it "went down"—love for the brethren condescends to men of low estate, it is not puffed up, but is lowly and meek. This is no small part of its excellence: oil would not anoint if it did not flow down, neither would brotherly love diffuse its blessing if it did not descend.
Verse 3. As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion. From the loftier mountains the moisture appears to be wafted to the lesser hills—the dews of Hermon fall on Zion. The Alpine Lebanon ministers to the minor elevation of the city of David; and so does brotherly love descend from the higher to the lower, refreshing and enlivening in its course.
Holy concord is as dew, mysteriously blessed, full of life and growth for all plants of grace. It brings with it so much blessing that it is as no common dew, but as that of Hermon which is specially copious, and far reaching.
The proper rendering is, "As the dew of Hermon that descended upon the mountains of Zion", and this tallies with the figure which has been already used; and sets forth by a second simile the sweet descending diffusiveness of brotherly unity. For there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. That is, in Zion, or better still, in the place where brotherly love abounds.
Where love reigns, God reigns. Where love wishes blessing, there God commands the blessing. God has but to command, and it is done. He is so pleased to see his dear children happy in one another that he fails not to make them happy in himself. He gives especially his best blessing of eternal life, for love is life. Dwelling together in love we have begun the enjoyments of eternity, and these shall not be taken from us. Let us love for evermore, and we shall live for evermore.
This makes Christian brotherhood so good and pleasant; it has Jehovah's blessing resting upon it, and it cannot be otherwise than sacred like "the precious ointment", and heavenly like "the dew of Hermon."
O for more of this rare virtue! Not the love which comes and goes, but that which dwells. Not that spirit which separates and secludes, but that which dwells together. Not that mind which is all for debate and difference, but that which dwells together in unity.
Never shall we know the full power of the anointing until we are of one heart and of one spirit. Never will the sacred dew of the Spirit descend in all its fullness until we are perfectly joined together in the same mind. Never will the covenanted and commanded blessing come forth from the Lord our God until once again we shall have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Lord, lead us into this most precious spiritual unity, for your Son's sake. Amen.