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The Lesson of Aaron’s Oily Beard

T he Bible is a book of many metaphors. Almost all of its most valuable truths are taught via vivid word pictures. Even a brief look through its pages will turn up hundreds of them—God as shepherd, his people as sheep; Jesus because head, the church because his body; the Scriptures as nourishment, its phrases as honey and water. On and on it will go.

One metaphor that has usually intrigued me is at the center of one of the shortest psalms—Psalm 133. The purpose of the psalm is created obvious in its opening series: “Behold, how good and enjoyable it is when brothers live in unity! ” This can be a poetic celebration of brotherhood, of harmony. It is good—objectively right—when there is unity between brothers, between those who are kids of a common Father. In fact it is more than objectively good, additionally it is experientially pleasant, pleasing to the hearts of both Lord and man. It is great in every way when God’s people experience unity.

It is not enough for the psalmist to merely state this as truth. He is a poet to know he can emphasize the facts with the illustration, and, as is therefore common in the Bible, really does so through a metaphor. “It is like the precious essential oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the facial beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of their robes! ” And I’ve always wondered, what does Aaron’s oily head, oily facial beard, and oily clothing have to do with unity? It’s probably not the metaphor I would turn to—in fact, it’s type of repulsive to me—, yet it’s the one David utilized. Why?

What’s clear is that David has in mind the particular anointing of the high clergyman, a ceremony that included oil. “You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head plus anoint him, ” said God through Moses. This oil was both liquid and fragrant—it would flow and it would smell, also it seems that both properties integrated an element of symbolism. Yet it’s the liquid property Brian has most in mind right here. The repetition of the word “down” helps unlock the particular metaphor. The oil has been poured on Aaron’s mind and flowed downward, from the top of the head, to the beard, to the collar, and beyond. This downward movement demonstrates the fact that source of unity is apart from the priesthood—it is extrinsic to them. In the same way that essential oil was poured onto Aaron by someone else, unity had been poured onto the people by God. In the same way that essential oil spread from Aaron’s head to his beard to their clothing, unity was to flow from God towards the priest to the people. The particular oil, after all, would get onto the breastplate which usually bore a stone for every of the twelve tribes. Oneness was God’s gift in order to his people given with the mediation of the High Clergyman. It was an objective reality these people needed to understand, enact, and foster.

God’s people today, such as God’s people in that time, have been given his gift of unity. It was goal reality for them and it is a target reality for us. God put out his Spirit in the great and final High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church. Such as oil flows from locks to beard to training collar, the Spirit flows from Head to body, from Christ to church. And wow, how good it is when we embrace that unity, when we practice it, when we foster and treasure it. The session of Aaron’s oily facial beard is a lesson of oneness. It is so good, such a blessing to us and such a pleasure to God, whenever we diligently and deliberately live like children of a typical Father. How good and pleasurable it is when brothers dwell in unity!