The Joy of Unity: Psalm 133


Psalm 133 (NIV)

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.


Today is Pentecost Sunday.  This is the day the church around the world celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It is fitting, that we start Pentecost with one of the last Psalms of Ascents as the pilgrims celebrate having entered the Temple in Jerusalem.  It is the place of God’s presence, and because of God’s presence, it is the place of unity among God’s people. Joy, Presence and Unity, these are the hallmarks of Pentecost.

The opening line is a declaration of the beauty of that unity: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (vs. 1). This is a joyful moment. The pilgrims have banded together through hardship and danger to finally arrive at Jerusalem to enter into the Temple. This is what it is supposed to be like when, after a challenging week, we join with God’s people in a place of worship and come before his presence. You may have experienced that extraordinary beauty of community and heart connection with God’s people. It is, indeed, good and pleasant.

The psalmist gives two images of the sheer delight of godly unity. Verse 2 compares it to oil – the anointing of the priest that overflows from his head to his beard to the collar of his robes. Oil was not only the symbol for anointing kings and priests, it was also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The oil upon Aaron’s head points to the Holy Spirit which is the binding source of unity and God’s presence for believers. The image illustrates abundance pouring out to overflowing. There is no shortage; the Spirit’s presence is extravagant.

In verse 3, unity is compared to the dew of Mt. Hermon falling upon Mt. Zion – a source of water coming down from the sky. Jesus said in John 7:38-39, “‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” Again, streams of living water in abundance – the Spirit’s eternal source.

Oil and water are two substances that will not mix. However, in this beautiful psalm of unity, the Spirit is the symbol of both, and is the means by which that difficult unity is realized. The church of Jesus Christ is the most ethnically, socially, and linguistically diverse movement in the history of the world. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus anticipated the challenge of this and yet prayed for those in the future who would believe the gospel. He prayed that “all of them may be one” (Jn. 17:21) and that we be “brought to complete unity” (Jn. 17:23). But the context of the prayer makes it clear that is only possible through the sending, empowering and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 15:25,26; 16:5-15).  (For more on the Holy Spirit in the psalms, see meditation on Psalm 143).

Psalm 33 foreshadows this precisely with two images, water and oil, pointing to the Holy Spirit. How good and how pleasant it is! When the Spirit is poured out upon God’s people, as this psalm concludes, “there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (vs. 3).


Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.