Psalms for Families: Devotions for All Ages, Psalm 133
Psalms for Families, by Robert J. Keeley and Laura Keeley, is a devotional book for the entire family designed to help parents explore the riches of the book of Psalms with their children and teens. These devotionals will help parents learn more about the psalms as they teach their children about praise, prayer, and lament. This book contains four devotionals on each of our selected psalms as well as notes for adults that provide additional information and background.
A song of ascents. Of David.
1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 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.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Your blessings surround us. Help us to get along with each other. Help us to act like your people to everyone we meet. Amen.
Devotional 1: A Psalm of Ascent
Does your family do anything special when you travel long distances in the car? Our family always celebrated when we cross state lines. We also looked for every letter of the alphabet on road signs, and we tried to find license plates from as many different states and provinces as we could. We always looked for things to do in the car because sometimes long car trips can be boring. Once in a while our kids would fight in the car. Do you ever do that in your family? Do your parents ever tell you to quit bickering and get along?
Families in ancient Israel traveled too, although they didn’t have cars. They usually walked. Every year they would gather in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. We know that Jesus and his family traveled there from Nazareth when he was twelve, because that story is in the Bible. Years later, Jesus and his disciples also went to Jerusalem for the Passover. The last time he went to Jerusalem, Jesus was greeted by people waving palm branches and singing as he entered the city.
One of the roads from Jericho to Jerusalem is very hilly. The people had to walk up and down mountains. Calling this route a “road” is not very accurate. In many places it was just a narrow path about two feet wide. There are places where the mountain goes up steeply on one side and the other side is a huge drop-off of up to 100 feet. There are no guardrails. This path was (and still is) scary, tiring, difficult, and dangerous.
Now think about a lot of people walking on this path. They are walking single-file (and not looking down). But at times they have to make room for someone coming toward them from the other direction, or maybe a faster group decides to pass them. This makes a tricky and scary situation even worse.
Read Psalm 133. Think about how the people of Israel might have thought about or sung these words on their long, and sometimes dangerous, trip to Jerusalem.
Enter the Psalm: Think about a car trip that you took together as a group. Talk especially about times you had fun together on a trip. In your prayer, thank God for those times and for the times when he kept you safe as you traveled.
Devotional 2: Anointing Oil
Read Psalm 133.
Psalm 133 paints us a picture of oil running down Aaron’s head. Personally, I don’t find the idea of oil running down my head very appealing. When I think of oil I think of the stuff that we put in cars or lawn mowers or maybe the oil that I cook with. Now, the writer of Psalm 133 was referring to olive oil. But you know what? That still sounds messy and greasy to me. And in this psalm we’re not talking about just a drop of oil—it’s all over Aaron! But that is supposed to be a good thing. How can that be?
In Bible times, people poured oil on someone’s head when that person was chosen for a special task. For example, kings were anointed with oil. Remember how Samuel poured oil on David’s head when David was chosen to be king? Prophets were also anointed, and so were priests. Aaron, the person mentioned in this psalm, was a priest—and not just any priest. He was the high priest. So when this oil runs down on Aaron’s beard and onto the collar of his robe it isn’t just a regular robe—this is the robe of the high priest.
Now, the high priest’s robe was really special. He wore something called an “ephod” on the front of his robe, which had the names of all the tribes of Israel on it. So the olive oil (which, remember, is a good thing) is not just running down on Aaron’s head, it is running down on all of Israel. It’s as if all of God’s people get to join in the blessings of this anointing.
We’re God’s people too, and when we make a point to get along with other brothers and sisters in Christ it is a very good thing, not just for us, but for everyone. It is like a blessing of God is being poured over us and running down our heads.
Enter the Psalm: We generally don’t pour oil on people. Do we do anything else to show that people are given a special task? Talk about those things. (Think about ordaining pastors or inaugurating a president, for example.)
Devotion 3: Together in Peace
Why do you go to church? That’s a question with a lot of possible answers, isn’t it? Lots and lots of things happen at church: we worship God together, we learn, we talk to each other, and we serve other people together.
But the key word here is “together.” God created us to be in community. It is certainly true that we can have a personal relationship with God, but it is easy for us to forget that we also have a “corporate” relationship with God. In other words, when we gather together in worship we aren’t just a bunch of separate individuals, we are a community called by God to be his people in this place at this time.
In the story of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds were out watching their flocks and they saw an amazing choir of angels announcing that Jesus, the Savior of the world was born. Then the angels exclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Of all the things the angels could say in this very important announcement – perhaps the most important announcement ever – the angels talk about peace. They didn’t promise money, land or even good health. Jesus brought peace. Sometimes we forget that one of the greatest gifts from our heavenly Father is peace.
Read Psalm 133 again.
Just like the people of Israel, we have disagreements and we complain. It is good to recognize how important God thinks it is that his people get along. God calls us to be a community together, to live in peace.
Being a good member of the community means that we have to consider the other people in our community. You should not just be worried about how you are doing in your relationship with God; you also should be part of and participate in a community of faith. It is our job to help bring God’s peace to the people around us.
Enter the Psalm: Send a text, an email, or a card to someone in your church or faith community to encourage them.
Devotional 4: A New Command
Jesus had been with his disciples for a couple of years, and now he was having his last supper with them. It was just before he was captured and crucified, and it was time for him to really make his point. He said, “A new command I give you: love one another.” Then he said that the way people will know that we are his disciples is if we love one another.
Jesus didn’t say “I’ve got an idea” or “I have a new suggestion for you.” He said “I have a new command for you.” A command is not just a good idea—it is what Jesus says we need to do. Christians have not always done a very good job of showing the world that we are Jesus’ disciples through our love for each other. But Jesus says that love is not optional.
Read Psalm 133 again.
Psalm 133 points to another reminder about loving one another. Mount Hermon is one of the high mountains in the area where the people of Israel lived. It actually looks like it has three peaks. Because of its height, the peaks are snow-covered year round. The snow provides needed moisture for the area around Mount Hermon, which is very dry. Melting snow feeds the streams and rivers, including the Jordan River, and provides water for plants.
Another mountain in Israel, Mount Zion, does not have snow on its peak, so it does not have water to nourish plants and animals. Psalm 133 paints a picture of how good it would be if the dew from Mount Herman would also water Mount Zion so plants and animals could thrive there also. Psalm 133 says that living together in unity covers the whole land with good things. Loving one another is not only Jesus’ command, it is the best way for us to live.
Enter the Psalm: People will know you follow Jesus by the way you show love to others. Talk about what that actually looks like in your church and in your family.
Good and Pleasant—Notes for Adults
Psalm 133 is a short psalm and one that, at first glance, does not have much content. It can be summarized briefly: it is good when God’s people get along! In some ways there isn’t much more to it than that, but a little background might help us think about this a bit more deeply.
Psalms 120 through 134 are known as the “psalms of ascent.” While these psalms were probably not written as a group, it could be that they were grouped together after the exile in Babylon and used when Jews would travel to Jerusalem every year. The themes in these psalms reflect travel (Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes to the hills . . .”), attending worship together (Psalm 122: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’”), and, as in Psalm 133, being part of the people of God.
This set of psalms begins with a call to God from the wilderness (Psalm 120: “I call on the Lord in my distress . . .”) and it ends with a brief psalm of praise encouraging those who praise the Lord to “lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).
Psalm 133, though, celebrates how good it is when God’s people get along. This is a theme that shows up in the New Testament as well. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Psalm 133 takes this simple yet profound sentiment and extends it through the use of two metaphors: oil being poured out on the head, as in anointing; and rich morning dew. These metaphors likely don’t mean too much to us, since we’re not very familiar with anointing ceremonies or the weather and geography of Mr. Hermon and Mt. Zion. But we can figure out what these metaphors are meant to convey, and in these devotionals we try to do that.