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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 133





The unity, which is in a manner so truly Oriental, eulogised in this poem, is not mere brotherhood, not political or even religious union generally, but unity at Zion, as the last clause of the beautiful little poem convincingly proves. Nor is it, as most commentators assume, the gathering of the pilgrims at the yearly feast, appropriate though the song would be for such a gathering, and adapted, or at all events arranged, as it doubtless was, for it. The “blessing” (see Psalms 133:3), the covenant blessing, which rested on Zion, where was the centre both of the political and religious life of the nation, is the subject of this psalm. For determining the date of the poem, there is not the slightest indication. The inscription may be dismissed as a Rabbinical conjecture. Perhaps we may conjecture that if the psalm had been composed before the exile, when the sacred oil was still in existence, the consecration of the reigning high priest, instead of that of Aaron, might have been selected. The step-like rhythm is just audible.

Verse 1

(1) In unity.—Better, altogether. The Hebrew particle gam, here used with the word “together,” is in our version sometimes rendered “yea,” when it plainly should be taken with the adjective to intensify it exactly like our “all.” (See, for instance, Psalms 25:3; 2 Samuel 19:30.) The common idiom, gam shenayîm, “all two” (i.e., both), exactly like the French tous deux, and the German alle beide, decides this. Many commentators, rendering also together, see an emphasis on the gathering for the yearly feasts: “How good and pleasant for those who are by race and religion brothers to unite for a sacred purpose” The allusion may be there, but the conjecture and purpose of the psalm, and not the form of the expression, suggest it. To a Hebrew, political and religious sentiment were always combined; and Jerusalem was the centre towards which their thoughts and eyes always turned. The translation of the LXX., “to the same place,” though not exactly rendering the Hebrew, perhaps brings out the thought, for the poet was plainly thinking of “unity at Zion.” This verse was quoted by the Roman legate at the meeting of Anselm and William II. at Windsor, Whitsunday, 1095. It was read at the reception of a new member into the brotherhood of the Knights Templars, and is by St. Augustine quoted as the Divine authority for monastic life.

Verse 2

(2) It is like.—The italics of the Authorised Version are wrongly inserted. Unity could not be said to flow down. The other term of the simile is implied in Psalms 133:3. (See Note.) Literally, Like the oil, the good oil, on the head descending upon the beard, Aaron’s beard, which (was) descending to the mouth of his robes. Oil meets us as the standing symbol of joy and festivity. (See Psalms 45:7, Note; Isaiah 61:3.) It is also brought closely into connection with love (Song of Solomon 1:3). But while this association, as also the pleasure derived from the fragrance of the oil, would be present here as always in the truly Oriental image, its elaboration in this passage points to a further purpose. It is the holy oil, that whose composition is described in Exodus 30:22-23, that the poet alludes to. This, while the garments of all the priests were sprinkled with it (Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 8:30), was poured on the head of Aaron (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 8:12; Leviticus 21:10), so that the description of the psalm, unpleasing as it is to Western ideas, of the saturation, not only of his head, but of face and beard, was actually true. It would run down his neck to the collar of the priestly robe. That this is the meaning of “mouth” here is plain from the actual description of the sacerdotal garments (Exodus 28:31-32): “And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue. And there shall be a mouth in the top of it, in the midst thereof: and it shall have a binding of woven work round about the mouth of it, as it were the mouth of a habergeon, that it be not rent.” (Comp. Exodus 39:23; and Job 30:18, where Authorised Version has “collar.”) To the ideas of “joy” and “fragrance,” therefore, must also be added that of “consecration.” But the point of the comparison does not lie even here; nor is it in the freshness of the dew, in the next verse, or its abundance, though dew suggests both of these (see Note, Psalms 110:3), but in the word three times repeated—descending. Our version unfortunately obscures this point, by rendering this recurrent participle each time by a different word, missing, at the same time, the marked peculiarity of the rhythm of these psalms. The oil descends from Aaron’s head over his face and beard; the dew of Hermon descends on Zion—low in actual measurement, but exalted by the Divine favour above the loftiest hills. It is not unity, then, in itself which is the subject of the poem, but the unity of the covenant under which all blessings flowed down from above, rested on Mount Zion, and took outward shape and form there in the political and religious constitution.

Verse 3

(3) As the dew . . .—Better, keeping the same word as in Psalms 133:2. like the dew of Hermon, which descended on the Mount Zion. This statement of the dew of a mountain in the north descending on a mountain in the south, appears so strange and impossible that our version inserted the words, “and as the dew.” But the sentence is constructed in exactly the same form as Psalms 133:2, and the dew on Mount Zion must be as clearly the same dew as that on Mount Hermon, as the oil running down to the beard was the same as that poured on the head. Nor may we take “the mountains of Zion “in a general way for the mountains of the country lying round Hermon like spurs, as Van de Velde does in the passage from his Travels, quoted by Delitzsch. Mount Zion itself is intended (comp. Psalms 121:1; Psalms 125:2, for this plural) as the last clause,” there Jehovah commanded the blessing,” clearly shows. Delitzsch says on the passage, “This feature of the picture is taken from the natural reality, for an abundant dew, when warm days have preceded, might very well be diverted to Jerusalem by the operation of the cold current of air, sweeping down from the north over Hermon. We know, indeed, of our own experience how far a cold air coming from the Alps is perceptible and produces its effects.” But setting aside the amount of scientific observation required for such a perception of fact, would any one speak of the dew of Mont Blanc descending on the Jura?

We must evidently take “the dew of Hermon” as a poetical synonym for “choice dew.” No doubt the height of Hermon, and the fact of its being so conspicuous, determined the expression. This choice dew, from its freshness, abundance, and its connection with life and growth, is a symbol, as the sacred oil also is, of the covenant blessing in its nature. The descent of the moisture offered itself, as the flowing down of the oil did, as an emblem of the operation of the blessing”. But the conclusion of the simile is only implied. No doubt the poet intended to write, “As the oil poured on Aaron’s head flowed down to his beard, and as the dew of Hermon flowed down on Mount Zion, so the covenant blessing descended on Jehovah’s people;” but at the mention of Mount Zion he breaks off the simile, to make the statement, “for there Jehovah,” &c. Hebrew poetry did not greatly favour the simile, and often confuses it with metaphor. (See Notes, Psalms 58:9; Song of Solomon 8:12.)


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 133:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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