“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.” – Psalm 133
This simile does not work for me.
I will go to some lengths to avoid having so much oil poured on my head that it runs through my beard and down inside my robes. If that’s what it’s like when kindred live together in unity, it makes me want to move far away from my kindred and start a big fight.
This type of thing is exactly why I don’t understand biblical literalists. Of course, this is a simile, so in that sense it wouldn’t be taken literally even by them. But aside from that: if you’re a literalist, do you have to believe that getting oiled up that way—or watching someone else get it—is pleasant? If not, why not? It says it’s a pleasant thing, doesn’t it?
A much more sensible approach, it seems to me, is to simply say that some similes don’t last. Not all of them can survive a leap of several millennia intact. I’m sure that oil dripping off some guy’s big beard was a delight to somebody some time, but even the best historical criticism isn’t going to make it work for me. All I really need to know is that the Psalmist thought I should try to get along with my sisters.
This simile does not work for me. The good news is, it doesn’t have to.
God, thank you for not letting my Bible be a tame book. Thank you for the weird bits, the inscrutable bits, the challenging bits, and the just plain grody ones, too. Help me to know which ones I should live my life by, and which ones I can let go. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.