Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to live together in unity!
Psalm 133 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
Running down upon the beard,
As on Aaron’s beard,
The oil which ran down upon the edge of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For the Lord commanded the blessing there—life forever.
It seems like a very simple and natural statement that the psalmist makes: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to live together in unity! When we look at scripture, we see that it is not always so simple. Look at the account of the first brothers in the Bible in Genesis 4:2-8: Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a cultivator of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought an offering, from the firstborn of his flock and from their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his face was gloomy. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why is your face gloomy? If you do well, will your face not be cheerful? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain talked to his brother Abel; and it happened that when they were in the field Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Later we see the account of the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. The division and rivalry between these two extends to our time today. Both Arabs and Jews claim the promise of their father Abraham. The division between brothers is continued in Isaac’s sons Esau and Jacob. In Genesis 27:30-38 it says: Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of his father Isaac, that his brother Esau came in from his hunting. Then he also made a delicious meal, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who then was he who hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate from all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me as well, my father!” And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” Then Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has betrayed me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and I have given to him all his relatives as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me as well, my father.” So Esau raised his voice and wept.
The division among brothers continues in Jacob’s sons as well. In Genesis 37:17-36 it says: Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. When they saw him from a distance, and before he came closer to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! Now then, come and let’s kill him, and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A vicious animal devoured him.’ Then we will see what will become of his dreams!” But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands by saying, “Let’s not take his life.” Then Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—so that later he might rescue him out of their hands, to return him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the multicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. But as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying labdanum resin, balsam, and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. And Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him out and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. So they brought Joseph into Egypt. Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood; and they sent the multicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, “We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.” Then he examined it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A vicious animal has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!” So Jacob tore his clothes, and put on a sackcloth undergarment over his waist, and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters got up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.
When there was only two brothers, they could not live in unity. Cain killed Abel. Thousands of years later, in John 17:20-21, on the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He prayed in the garden saying: “I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” What, people could not do on their own, Jesus accomplished by His prayer and His act of intercession for us. Because of the cross, we are unified with Him and the Father, and so we can have true unity with each other. We can finally fully know the blessing of unity in Christ.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, Running down upon the beard, As on Aaron’s beard, The oil which ran down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For the Lord commanded the blessing there—life forever. Amen.