Like other Songs of Ascents, this one focuses on Zion. The psalm is celebrating
the restoration, the rebuilding of the Temple, the reconsecration of the priesthood, and the renewal of sacrificial worship, all of which bring prosperity to the restored community. It may have been recited by pilgrims as they approached Mt. Zion or as they partook of a
sacrificial meal in the Temple, but we cannot know for sure what its liturgical setting was.
Like several other of these poems, phrases in one line are repeated in the next (vv. 1–2,
“tov,” good, fine; vv. 2–3, “y-rd,” running down, comes down, falls). The images used combine to produce a picture of great blessing in Zion. This psalm, together with the
previous one, mentions rituals concerning the king and high priest, who shared power in
the postexilic period (see Zech. 6.13).
While often taken to refer to brotherly harmony in a general sense, the v. is better understood as a hope for the reunification of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (see Ezek. 37.15–28). Brothers dwell together: “Brothers” often designates members of a group, or all Israel. “To dwell together” is a legal term for joint tenancy of land, undivided land holdings (Gen. 13.6 [“staying together; remain together”]; 36.7; Deut. 25.5). It is here used metaphorically, for the reunited kingdom, a hope found also in prophetic literature (e.g., Jer. 31.20, 24).
The NJPS translation (and many others) analyzes these vv. as two similes describing how pleasant living together is: it is like fine oil on the head and like the dew of Hermon. But it is better to disconnect the oil and dew images from v. 1 and link them to each other: oil on Aaron’s head is like dew on Hermon. The syntax of “like X, like Y” equates the two items (see also Ps. 139.12). Both oil and dew signify prosperity; here the consecration of the priest is like the dew, a symbol of God’s blessing. On the oil used for anointing Aaron, see Exod. 30.22–33; Lev. 8.12; our psalm adds the depiction of the overflowing, effulgent nature of this anointing. Mt. Hermon, on the northern tip of Israel, was very high, and therefore received much dew. The mention of Hermon, in the far north, and Mt. Zion in the south, reinforces the idea that the northern and southern kingdoms are pictured as one, with the dew flowing down from the geologically-distinctive mountain in the far north to the religiously-distinctive mountain in the south, covering the entire land with blessing. Some scholars suggest that Zion might here be associated with Mt. Hermon, as one of the northern mountains, as in 48.3 (see n. there). This is the only reference to mountains (plural!) of Zion—perhaps the hills surrounding Jerusalem are meant, though the Dead Sea Psalms scroll reads the more expected “mountain.” Blessing refers to fertility, as in Lev. 25.21, and anticipates the theme of the following psalm. Everlasting life is hyperbolic for a long and prosperous life for individuals and permanent security for the homeland. Some commentators say this refers to life in the next world. The Dead Sea Psalms scroll instead concludes this psalm: “There the LORD ordained blessing forever; / May all be well with Israel” (see Pss. 125.5; 128.6).
- The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, 2014