Remember your leaders: Psalm 133 in an Aboriginal context
Psalm 133, which has been translated into Pitjantjatjara, had a big impact on people when it was preached on in 2018. Following H C Leupold’s insights, the Pintupi–Luritja listeners were taught that the image of Aaron’s long, oily beard showed how God’s blessing can flow to a whole community.
Psalm 133 – ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.’
As in traditional Aboriginal society, the elders among God’s Old Testament people were discouraged from trimming their beards (Lev 19:7). The high priests, descendants of Aaron, were forbidden from cutting their beards under any circumstances (Lev 21:5).
So when the olive oil flowed down from the anointed high priest’s long beard it would touch his clothes. These clothes included the twelve jewels representing God’s people. In the Old Testament, the hair symbolised life. And the oil indicated God’s Holy Spirit.
This seems to suggest that a parallel blessing is unity, when head and body are of one mind. The blessing of unity seems to drip down from the leading spirits in the nation to the members of less importance in the official and social scale. The blessing drops down on all and infuses itself into them. The Spirit’s blessings thrive so much more richly when brotherly unity prevails …*
At the present time, two Pintupi–Luritja elders are worth mentioning in this regard.
Kumantjayi Anderson was an important Papunya community leader for a long time. He died from cancer late in 2018. His funeral was held in February 2019. Many dignitaries attended. During the last year of his life, he expressed a desire to undergo confirmation instruction and to receive the Lord’s Supper. The story of his death had a huge impact on the people of Papunya. Several people openly stated that they were awed by the gospel’s power.
Nosepeg Tjunkata Tjupurrula was a prominent Pintupi man during Papunya’s and Kintore’s early years. He had an especially long beard. He was an interpreter for author Douglas Lockwood and he appeared in several movies, the last being Quigley Down Under in 1990. One of his younger relatives now realises that the best way to help the community and to advance Aboriginal interests is to proclaim the gospel. He sees himself as completing the work of caring for his community that Nosepeg Tjupurrula had begun by learning more of God’s word.
Neither Kumantjayi nor Nosepeg was a regular churchgoer for most of his life. But both men’s stature in the wider community has nonetheless provided an example for others, drawing them back to God.
So please remember your leaders – in church and community. They are especially important in Australian Aboriginal society. And next time you see the traditional Indigenous man on the Australian two-dollar coin, ponder the meaning of his beard. Then, remembering Psalm 133, pray for the Spirit’s blessing to trickle down, via the leaders, onto many Indigenous communities.
Paul Traeger is the Ministry Support Worker for the Pintupi–Luritja language area.
* See H C Leupold Exposition of the Psalms. Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg Press, 1959