Chapter 7: Psalm 16

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by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland

INTRODUCTION

CONTEXTUALLY

CHARACTERISTICALLY

CONCEPTUALLY

Personal Dependence – vv.1,2

People Described – vv.3,4

Portion Defined – vv.5-7

Prominence Denoted – v.8

Prophetic Declaration – vv.9,10

Path Delineated – v.11

COLLECTIVELY


INTRODUCTION

What is meant by the term ‘Messianic’ is well rehearsed in this book and therefore needs no repetition. How certain Psalms in this category meet the criteria is less obvious than for others but this is not so in the case of Psalm 16. Both Peter and Paul quote from it, Acts 2.25-31; 13.35-37. Some have suggested that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also had this Psalm in mind when he penned the words, “‘I will put My trust in Him’ … that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death … and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” Heb.2.13-15.

This is the third of the Psalms designated as Messianic. The first two, namely Psalms 2 and 8, along with this one form an interesting triplet. Each one in this group magnifies the superiority of the Saviour in its own particular way. The Second highlights the ministry of His reconciliation, Ps.2.12, the Eighth the glory of His resplendence, Ps.8.1,9, and the Sixteenth the stability of His reliability, Ps.16.8.

It is also worth observing that Psalm 16 is the central one of another triplet of Psalms. These three are highly significant because of their particular focus on the presence of God. The first of these, Psalm 15, touches on our entrance into Divine courts by posing the question “LORD, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?” Ps.15.1. Clearly, conditions are to be met if communion with God in the sanctuary is to be enjoyed. Conversely, Psalm 17 draws attention to the mode of expression to be employed before God but in Psalm 16 the joyfulness of the experience of spending time in God’s presence is the aspect emphasised; something that will be developed more fully in this chapter.

CONTEXTUALLY

Psalm 16 is one of six Psalms entitled “Michtam of David”; the others are Psalms 56-60, and all in this group are accredited to David. It should be observed that the concluding five Psalms are presented to the chief Musician. Again it should be noted that the occurrence of the word “when” in the title of four of these five Psalms draws attention to particular circumstances or events in the life of David; these clearly provide a fitting historical backdrop and it is, therefore, entirely appropriate to consider the content of each of these Psalms with the relevant background in mind. While space precludes an individual examination of the various background details, it is significant to note that there is a common theme that brings them together; that is, they refer to times in the life of David when he encountered severe hardship, solitude, suffering and, perhaps the most hurtful of all, the bitter pain of rejection.

The absence of any mention of the chief Musician or any reference to a specific experience in the life of David makes the title of Psalm 16 unique within the Michtam group. Perhaps one reason for this omission is that the language employed and experiences recorded go far beyond those of the author and anticipate those of the Lord Jesus Himself. How accurate are the words of Scripture, even to the designation of the title of a Psalm; something many may be inclined to dismiss as a mere triviality.

Although the title is devoid of any hint of historical association it is generally accepted that the circumstances surrounding the writing of Psalm 16 relate to those times in David’s life when he encountered hardship at the hand of his enemies but more specifically during his flight from Saul. It is no coincidence that the five later Michtam Psalms describe in graphic detail something of his intense sufferings during these demanding, difficult and distressing phases of his life. To further enlarge our understanding of all that opposed him, Psalm 58 in a particular way offers a vivid and comprehensive description of the character, corruption and conduct of his enemies. Regardless of all that was arrayed against him David was unwavering in his trust and dependence on his God. This is the overarching theme of Psalm 16 and, in that it lays the foundation for what follows, it is to the Michtam group what the Book of Genesis is to the entire Bible. At the same time, it would be prudent to note that both the tone and the detail of its language are unique to Psalm 16 in that many of its expressions could by no stretch of the imagination be applied to David; these could only be true of David’s Lord, the One Who is our Lord and Saviour.

CHARACTERISTICALLY

Much has been spoken and written to profit about the meaning of “Michtam” and when all of this has all been considered and reflected upon there remains a depth far beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Seeing much of the Psalm relates directly to or can be applied to the Lord Jesus Christ, it should come as no surprise that there are avenues of truth that will hardly ever be fully understood. J.M. Flanigan helpfully comments, “The word comes from a root which signifies ‘to cover’ or ‘to hide’, but another view understands the word to mean ‘engraven’, perhaps in gold, as letters engraved on a monument.”1  It is not too difficult to see why this Psalm has often been beautifully referred to as a ‘golden jewel’. Drawing these observations together let us never lose sight of the Saviour’s Deity as represented in the gold and of His eternality as emphasised by the concept of engraving.

In Thee, most perfectly expressed,
The Father’s glories shine,
Of the full Deity possessed,
Eternally Divine.
    (Josiah Conder)
1. Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock, 2001.

CONCEPTUALLY

Keeping in mind the overarching idea of a ‘golden jewel’ it is not too difficult to discern that all eleven verses combine together to constitute a most profitable collection of jewels of truth which sparkle in a compelling and complementary manner. These shine the more brightly when cast against the backdrop of the testing temporal experiences of earth, which stand in contrast to the expectation of inexhaustible and eternal joy. Such experiences, in relation to David and our Lord Jesus Christ, are woven together as a most educative and encouraging tapestry displaying the characteristics of Divine inspiration and offering clear confirmation, if it were needed, that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” 2Tim.3.16,17.

These many threads are skilfully interwoven to create this most special tapestry; the two most prominent are those which focus primarily on the life of David historically and on the Lord Jesus prophetically. At the same time, features of both overlap and merge together so that Christ and His glory are detectable throughout the entire Psalm. In this context the words spoken by the Lord Himself to the couple on the road to Emmaus are so precious, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” Lk.24.27. Again, the Saviour declared, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me” Jn.5.39.

With the twin concepts of a ‘golden jewel’ and a ‘beautiful tapestry’ ever in mind let us explore some of the precious nuggets of truth so wondrously preserved and presented to us in this truly Messianic Psalm.

Personal Dependence – vv.1,2

Realisation that is Instructive

Clearly the cry “Preserve me O God: for in Thee do I put my trust” relates in its primary association to David. We have already drawn attention to the fact that this Psalm and the others in the Michtam group were written in times of testing. David obviously felt his own particular need for preservation; it was a need that was intensely personal to him. Complacency is dangerous and brings many pitfalls; let us ever heed the exhortation, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” 1Cor.10.12. Let us remember that had boastful Peter been marked by the same sense of dependency it is most likely he would have been preserved from the bitterness and brokenness of denial, Matt.26.33-35.

These words equally apply to our Lord Jesus. He is the “Child … born” and “Son … given” Isa.9.6; He is the “Word … made flesh” Jn.1.14; He is “God … manifest in the flesh” 1Tim.3.16. Unlike us, He is impeccable and it must be emphasised that He “did no sin” 1Pet.2.22, He “knew no sin” 2Cor.5.21, and “in Him is no sin” 1Jn.3.5. It is equally true that His humanity is real: He “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” Phil.2.7. How important to notice that it is the “likeness” and not after the character of men. If He, the sinless One, moved in continual dependence upon His God, so ought we, sinful men, who have an altogether greater need. We have much to learn from the example of the Saviour Who often “went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” Lk.6.12. The Gospel of Luke gives a lovely presentation of the Lord Jesus as the dependent Man; this is so aptly illustrated by the number of His prayers recorded there. As we reflect on His attitude Godward it should thrill our souls to listen to what God said prophetically concerning Him, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth” Isa.42.1.

Loved with love which knows no measure
Save the Father’s love to Thee,
Blessed Lord, our hearts would treasure
All the Father’s thoughts of Thee.
        (C.A. Wellesley)

It is difficult for us to understand how the One Who is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father should occupy the role of Jehovah’s perfect Servant. This was not His role prior to the Incarnation. Prophetically it was written, “And now, saith the LORD that formed Me from the womb to be His Servant” Isa.49.5, and historically we read that He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant” Phil.2.7. His being a servant carries no idea of inferiority or fallibility, nor did it mean that He would be exempt from a path of suffering and rejection; rather it magnifies the dignity of the office accorded to Him. The Divine commentary on Him, in every facet of His activity in this capacity, is, “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high … So shall He sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at Him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” Isa.52.13,15. How precious to contemplate His uninterrupted dependence; it ought to be our desire to have the sufficient wisdom and grace to “follow His steps” 1Pet.2.21.

Refuge that is Impregnable

Having noted the constant need for preservation it would be remiss not to reflect on its source and its supply. David in an hour of need turned to God. All other sources will fail and disappoint. Often we turn to those no better than ourselves and the outcome is inevitable failure and we are reluctant to turn to David’s God, even though we know that “every morning doth He bring His judgment to light, He faileth not” Zeph.3.5.

He faileth not, for He is God;
He faileth not, His grace how good!
He faileth not, His Word is clear;
If we have God, whom need we fear?
        (Clarence E. Mason)

The translation of the opening verse by Helen Spurrell is most helpful and suggestive; it reads, “Guard me, O God, for I have taken shelter in Thee.”2 How appropriate is the concept of guarding! In this connection J.M. Flanigan comments, “The thought is of a shepherd keeping his flock, of a garrison of soldiers keeping a city; or of a bodyguard guarding the monarch.”3 He Who keeps is never caught napping, He is never off duty and is totally unaffected by time or circumstances. It is true that “He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand … The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” Ps.121.3-5,8. The parallel idea of finding “shelter” is equally instructive and fortifying. If there is no storm the need for a shelter becomes redundant. But life is full of storms, when the winds of adversity blow, when the tides of trial threaten to overflow, when problems without solutions abound, when patience is tested to breaking point and there is not a ray of light in a dark, foreboding sky. It is in times like these we have a shelter, a haven of safety and serenity. David in another Psalm wrote, “Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” Ps.61.1,2. Our God is all sufficient in every situation and no matter how great the problem He is greater still.

2. Spurrell, Helen. “A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the Original Hebrew”. James Nisbet & Co., London, 1885.
3. Flanigan, J.M., ibid.

Why should David be so confident? His dependence rested in God. The word used to describe God is El, that is, the title that gives expression to Him as the Almighty, the Omnipotent. This is the singular form of Elohim; the other Divine titles most commonly used in the Old Testament are Jehovah (LORD) and Adonai (Lord); it is no mere coincidence that all three titles appear in the opening two verses of Psalm 16. These verses could, therefore, read, “Preserve me O El [God]: for in Thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto Jehovah [LORD], ‘Thou art my Adonai [Lord]’”. J.M. Flanigan helpfully comments, “This variety of titles is both interesting and important. They present God in three aspects. He is God, the Almighty and Omnipotent One. He is the eternal, ever-existent, self-sufficient Jehovah. He is Lord and Master, Proprietor and Owner of the saints who acknowledge His sovereign rights. David says, with Elisabeth in Lk.1.43, with Mary in Jn.20.13, and with Thomas in Jn.20.28, ‘My Lord’.”3 With such a profound and varied appreciation of his God we can understand something of the security David experienced and enjoyed. If this was blessedly true of him, how much more was it so of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose knowledge of God as Father knew neither limit nor end. It is ever fitting to observe that “no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” Jn.1.18.

Reliance that is Individual

Enablement

It is one thing to speak about “trust”; it is quite something else to exercise it and enjoy the resulting safety and serenity. At the same time, we miss out on so much simply because of our failure in this aspect of Christian living. In the Psalms several Hebrew words are translated “trust” in the Authorised Version, but while there are subtle shades of variation in meaning, the unifying theme is one of fleeing for protection and having confidence in the One in Whom trust is placed. This really is the key: “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes” Ps.118.8,9.

Examples

Apart from the Lord Jesus, Whose trust in God never wavered, it is encouraging to reflect upon those who displayed remarkable confidence in God even in the face of most difficult circumstances. Job was more sorely tried than most, and as wave after wave of testing came his way, under the control of the permissive will of God, he stood resolutely, ever testifying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” Job 13.15. Another that comes readily to mind is the apostle Paul. Few suffered as he did and when those around him were turning to their schemes and plans he proclaimed, “I believe God” Acts 27.25. Let us remember that trust is not something that is preserved solely for godly men like Job and Paul. How precious to reflect upon the experience of the Shunammite we read about in 2Kings chapter 4. The boy she received in very special circumstances, and who was most precious to her, has died. Did her trust falter? When asked, “Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?” she unhesitatingly proclaimed, “It is well” 2Kgs.4.26. It is sad when others fail to rise to the same standard and, rather than looking upward and Godward, their occupation is with temporal, secular affairs. These traits sadly marked Lot; regardless of his links with a godly uncle and his description as a “righteous soul” 2Pet.2.8, he was attracted to the temporal as he “lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” Gen.13.10. Had Lot known something of the attitude of God to the territory he found so attractive it may just have regulated his thinking in a more wholesome direction! In a similar manner our hearts are heavy as we ponder how Paul must have felt when he was forsaken by Demas, one of his closest associates, when he was imprisoned in Rome. Why did this happen? Paul informed his loyal friend Timothy, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world [‘age’ Newberry margin], and is departed …” 2Tim.4.10.

Exhortation

It would be relatively easy to become judgmental of others without seriously reflecting on our own spiritual outlook. Let us take to heart the exhortation, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” 1Jn.2.15. Again we are exhorted to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” Col.3.1,2, and may we be entirely distinct from those “who mind earthly things” Phil.3.19. These features ought to be the hallmark of our lives in an increasing manner, particularly in view of our Lord’s soon return for His own. We should ever be mindful that “our conversation [‘citizenship’ Newberry margin] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change [‘transform’] our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” Phil.3.20,21. Well may we ponder “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation [‘behaviours’ Newberry margin] and godliness” 2Pet.3.11.

Recognition that is Instructive

The concluding expression of v.2, “My goodness extendeth not to Thee”, has attracted quite a degree of helpful, if not conclusive, comment. Broadly speaking there are two views and while each is worthy of consideration the matter to be determined is one of primary interpretation. The first main school of thought favours the view that David is not claiming any personal merit whatsoever and is acknowledging that everything he has received of a good nature has come from God (Jehovah). This finds its basis in the Revised Version rendering, “I have no good beyond Thee”. Others prefer the Authorised Version wording and take it that David, in a very genuine but humble frame of mind, is recognising that he has absolutely nothing of a pleasing nature which he can offer to God. In his transparency before God, he appears to adopt a position of contrition and unworthiness. Spurrell’s translation, “My charitable gifts are nought to Thee”,5 would tend to give credence to the second point of view. While it is always good to reach the proper interpretation, it is vital that we, just as David did, learn that we really are nothing before God and that He is supreme and gloriously sufficient. A greater understanding of God and His greatness will inevitably produce a fitting and accurate assessment of self. In this context it is difficult not to remember how Abraham felt before God, Genesis chapter 18; how Isaiah felt about himself when likewise exposed to the Divine presence, Isaiah chapter 6; John’s reaction to being occupied with the Lord Jesus, Revelation chapter 1; and maybe a faint picture is presented of all of this when Mephibosheth was graciously sent for and found himself at the table of and in the presence of David, 2Samuel chapter 9. It will ever be the case that “no flesh should glory in His presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, ‘He that glorieth, let him glory in the LORD’” 1Cor.1.29-31.

5. Spurrell, Helen, ibid.

People Described – vv.3,4

Having come to a sound conclusion about himself, and fully appreciating that it would be impossible for him to contribute to enhancement of the character of God, David turns his attention to those whom he describes in a beautiful way as the “saints” and the “excellent”. This twin title establishes their true credentials; they are the aristocracy and nobility of earth. Primarily they are infinitely precious to God, but the language employed by David reveals that he too found much delight in those who in the first place belonged to God. Such an appreciation would guard against petty fault finding, preserve from unprofitable gossip and deliver from the hurtful and damaging pangs of envy. May we ever try to appreciate just a little of all the Lord finds in His people. Moses, who valued them perhaps more than others did, affirmed, “the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” Deut.32.9. With this in mind let us observe the following:

Their Designation

Verse 3 speaks of “the saints that are in the earth” and of “the excellent, in whom is all my delight”. These twin titles highlight their holiness and their stateliness. It is most reassuring and at the same time challenging to note that it is possible to live distinctive and dignified lives for the delight and pleasure of God. The Lord Jesus Himself, Who always did those things that please the Father, Jn.8.29, is of course the supreme example but Enoch is another who comes readily to mind; he lived in a very dark and difficult day but nevertheless prior to his translation “he had this testimony, that he pleased God” Heb.11.5. Job also falls into this delightful category; remember how “the LORD said unto Satan, ‘Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?’” Job 1.8.

Their Location

The earth has always had, and ever will have, a central role in the outworking of Divine purpose. Whether it be creatively, nationally, redemptively, governmentally, judgmentally or eternally, God’s plan in relation to earth will be brought to realisation, and at the heart of it all lies the unwavering principle that “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God” Rev.21.3. There can be no deviation from the fact that “the earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” Ps.24.1. Sadly, earth has been blighted by sin and its dreadful consequences, but down through the ages, even in the darkest days God had those, albeit at times few in number, who were faithful to Him. Many of this character paid dearly for their faithfulness and perhaps we ought to reflect more deeply on those who were “tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” Heb.11.35-38. How hostile and cruel is the attitude of the men of this world! Regardless of suggestions that the world is developing and improving, its opposition remains unaltered and the Saviour found it necessary to instruct His disciples that “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” Jn.15.18,19. John never forgot this vital truth and in another context he wrote, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” 1Jn.3.13.

Their Appreciation

They were unappreciated by earth but nevertheless they were described as “the excellent, in whom is all my delight” v.3. There can be little doubt that, while David really valued the worth, status and character of those he so fittingly described, the overriding thrust of the title “excellent” reveals the Lord’s appreciation of them. As noted above, heaven’s record is that the world was not worthy of them but the fact of the matter is that no higher accolade could be ascribed, truly they are “princes in all the earth” Ps.45.16. Against this background our Lord Jesus comes swiftly to mind; He is “despised and rejected of men” Isa.53.3; “We will not have this man to reign over us” Lk.19.14; “They all say unto him, “‘Let Him be crucified’” Matt.27.22. It is with adoration and worship that we ponder the heavens being opened and “the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” Matt.3.16,17. Earth, in its blind rejection, gave the Lord Jesus a tree of shame and humiliation but in sharp contrast “God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Phil.2.9-11.

Every mark of dark dishonour
Heaped upon Thy thorn-crowned brow,
All the depths of Thy heart’s sorrow
Told in answering glory now.
        (Centra Thompson)

Vital questions arise: what price do we place on the commendation of heaven? Or are we more concerned about attracting the plaudits of men? Pleasing men may be easy and popular but this is not the way of Christ, Who “pleased not Himself” Rom.15.3. Rather, He declared, “I do always those things that please Him” Jn.8.29, and if that was His goal then it certainly ought to be ours as well, especially when we recall that there was no possibility of Him ever being a men-pleaser, whereas for us it is a real threat. Sadly, there is a very grave danger that we could lose sight of our “heavenly calling” Heb.3.1. Let us ever be mindful “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” Rom.8.18. How important it is to remember that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” 2Cor.4.17,18.

Their Distinction

While David was quick to extol the “saints” and the “excellent” he was equally swift to condemn those of an entirely different ilk altogether. His reference, in v.4, to those whose “sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god” introduces the only note of sadness in the entire Psalm. The practices mentioned (drink offerings of blood) are blatantly idolatrous. Several translations change “sorrows” to “idols” and this affirms the seriousness of idolatry; it also demonstrates the principle that once people are on a course of idolatry there is no telling how far it can go or where it will eventually end.

In spite of God’s hatred of idolatry it was something that repeatedly plagued the nation of Israel. J.M. Flanigan comments, “The nation had worshipped a golden calf in the wilderness, so soon after their redemption from Egypt. The days of the judges were idolatrous times, and Israel was again to be plagued with idolatry in the reign of certain kings who were to follow David.”6  The Gentile practice of drinking the blood of their sacrifices, indeed betimes the blood of human sacrifices, is condemned with abhorrence and revulsion. David is uncompromising in his attitude and will “by no means make mention of their names within my lips”.7  It is most likely that David had in mind the instruction to “make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth” Ex.23.13. There is, however, a real danger that, while such things would not be mentioned openly, they could in a much more serious way dwell in the hidden depths of our affections. At the moment of salvation we, like the Thessalonian believers, “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven” 1Thess.1.9,10. The exhortation remains unchanged, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1Jn.5.21.

6. Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
7. Spurrell, Helen, ibid.

Portion Defined – vv.5-7

In sharp contrast to the evil world of idolatry David makes his position clear and unequivocally declares, ”The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup” v.5. Spurrell’s translation, “O Jehovah, my satisfying portion and my cup”7  is most helpful; it confirms what a rich fulfilling portion David found in God (Jehovah) and of course this could be said of David’s greater Son in an even grander way; this is just one of the many instances in Psalm 16 of how the application to David and the Lord Jesus are skilfully interwoven in the tapestry format referred to earlier in this chapter.

Background

What is really meant by the term “portion”? Strong (4490) gives the meaning as something weighed out like an allocation, a ration, or a part that belongs to someone. One possibility is that the background lies in the fact that while God had not allocated any territorial inheritance to the priestly tribe of Levi in the land, He Himself had promised to be their inheritance: “I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel” Num.18.20. Although it is fully appreciated that David belonged to the tribe of Judah, the precious principle remains of God Himself being his all-sufficient portion. How reassuring to know that David’s God is our God and that we enjoy a similar portion.

Stayed upon Jehovah,
Hearts are fully blest;
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest.
        (Francis R. Havergal)

Bounty

The language David employed to describe his portion in Jehovah is metaphorical and measured. His blessings were personal to him; he lived in the full enjoyment of them and it is a joy to hear him refer to “mine inheritance”, “my cup” and “my lot”. To many, an inheritance spells material enrichment but Scripture describes these as “corruptible things, as silver and gold” 1Pet.1.18, and we should ever be aware of the pitfalls of covetousness “for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” Lk.12.15. There is something more than material gain, and when seeking to encourage suffering, tried and poverty-stricken believers, Peter reminds them that they have “an inheritance incorruptible [its character], and undefiled [its condition], and that fadeth not away [its continuity], reserved in heaven for you [its certainty]” 1Pet.1.4. How blessed to appreciate that when we believed, we “were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest [‘pledge’ Newberry margin] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” Eph.1.13,14. We shall be thankful eternally to “the Father, which hath made us meet [‘fit’] to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” Col.1.12.

If the expression “mine inheritance” epitomises our spiritual enrichment, the term “my cup” magnifies our inexhaustible, sufficient enjoyment. In metaphorical language a “cup” speaks of a person’s lot in life. It can be employed in an evil sense, for example, this is the case in the first mention in the Book of Psalms: “Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” Ps.11.6, whereas in the last reference, Ps.116.13, we read, “I will take the cup of salvation”. It would be entirely inappropriate not to mention Ps.23.5, “my cup runneth over”. In this connection Arthur Clarke comments, “‘Portion’ is what belongs to a person, whether he enjoys it or not: ‘cup’ indicates actual enjoyment. With our Lord, His portion and His joy were one.”9  Our Lord knew nothing of inconsistencies in His life. What a challenge, to be more like Him!

9. Clark, A.G. “Analytical Studies in the Psalms”. J. Ritchie, Kilmarnock.

“My lot” concerns our situation and standing. It is a great mercy to be brought into the enjoyment of such bounty and blessing, and to be preserved therein is something of infinite worth. Just as the Psalmist turned to God for preservation in the opening verse, he again acknowledges that the safe keeping of all he possesses rests entirely in the hands of our God: “Thou maintainest my lot” v.5. This is the only occurrence of the word “maintainest” in the English translation of the Bible, though the root Hebrew word, taw-mak, occurs twenty-one times. Its primary meaning is ‘to sustain’ and by implication, according to Strong (8551), it also means ‘to keep, to hold and retain’. All of these aspects combine to demonstrate that all we have rests in the safest of hands and that there is not the slightest possibility of the Divine grip ever being released. Again, Spurrell’s translation, “Thou wilt take fast hold of my lot”10, is a fitting endorsement of the security and the sufficiency of the portion of every believer. Let us appreciate that “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD Jehovah is everlasting strength” Isa.26.3,4.

10. Spurrell, Helen, ibid.

Boundary

With the concept of “lot” or allotment still to the fore, David’s statement that “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places” adds an interesting and important dimension. The backdrop to this lies in the ancient custom of dividing land by lot and “the measuring of it off by ropes and lines. David believed in an overruling destiny which fixed the bounds of his abode, and his possessions; he did more, he was satisfied with all the appointment of the predestinating God”11. He was more than content with the quantity and the quality of his blessings; they were both “pleasant” and “goodly”. While there may be an allusion to the earthly practice of allocating land, David’s mind is clearly focused on what to him could only be called a heavenly or spiritual heritage. We too should live in the good of our heritage and be ever grateful to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” Eph.1.3.

11. Spurgeon, C.H. “The Treasury of David”.

Blessing

David’s reflection on all that had been so graciously bestowed upon him produced a spirit of praise and adoration within his soul. In a delightfully spontaneous way he exclaims, “I will bless the LORD, Who hath given me counsel” v.7. To be overwhelmed with His goodness is one thing; to richly enjoy His guidance is quite another. David was ever mindful that God was his Counsellor; he has left on record the Divine promise, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee” Ps.32.8,9. How precious that we too have One described prophetically as “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” Isa.9.6. Our Lord Jesus shall ever be the great infallible Counsellor and right to the end of the era of local assembly testimony-bearing His appeal will be, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see” Rev.3.18.

Developing the theme of counsel and guidance David adds, “My reins also instruct me in the night seasons” v.7. J.M. Flanigan explains that the reins are expressive of “the innermost being of a man, his emotions and his feelings, his affections and deepest thoughts”12  and Spurrell’s translation, “Verily my inner self shall instruct me in the night seasons”13  is equally helpful. What a wholesome activity! May we be able to harness our inner feelings in the quietness and stillness of night and stir within affection and gratitude to our God. Maybe David was reflecting on those occasions when his watchful eye was upon the sheep by night and when his heart arose in gratitude to God. Doubtless this is also a beautiful foreshadowing of our Lord and Saviour, Who experienced “the night seasons” in a deeper way than any other. Night seasons can be dangerous but if used aright they can be very profitable and rewarding.

12. Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
13. Spurrell, Helen, ibid.

Prominence Denoted – v.8

Up to this stage in the Psalm the threads of the tapestry have been mainly focused on David and his experiences with precious hints of the Lord Jesus interwoven but more in the background. From this point onwards the threads are markedly Christological and prophetic and while references to David continue, they are not so prominent; the One of Whom David speaks takes centre stage. How appropriate that this should be!

No Distraction

It is quite evident that David could not say truthfully, “I have set the LORD always [‘continually’] before me” v.8. Only the Lord Jesus could say, “I do always those things that please Him [the Father]” Jn.8.29. Had this been true of David he would have been preserved from the less honourable features of his life. Whether in His relationship as Son or His role as Servant, the intimacy the Lord Jesus enjoyed with His Father never did nor ever could know a single moment of interruption. It could not be otherwise; speaking most reverently, it was something the Lord Jesus treasured as He continually and consistently placed the Lord (Jehovah) always before Him.

No Distance

While there is a possible allusion to a future day of exaltation in the reference to “My right hand” v.8, the primary focus is on the proximity of one Divine Person to another and emphasises both the willingness and the ability of the Father to protect and preserve the Son. This was particularly true of our Lord Jesus in His capacity as Jehovah’s perfect Servant as He consistently moved in total dependence on the One at His right hand. He Himself said prophetically, “He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the learned” Isa.50.4. May we too realise that our God is not remote and unapproachable. Often we only come to Him in times of need, but let us never fail to realise that “it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God” Ps.73.28.

No Disturbance

It comes as no surprise whatsoever, but with much joy, that such intimate communion was the rock bed of perfect tranquillity; the Lord could say so assuredly, “I shall not be moved” v.9. Being moved is suggestive of two main dangers. One is that there is a real possibility of being distracted or deflected from a particular pursuit, and the other is of being distressed or disturbed. Neither of these impacted upon the Saviour; nothing could deter Him from doing His Father’s will and even when confronted with all the hardship and suffering of the path He alone could travel, He was unmovable, knowing that He was ever in the mind of His God. None of these things minimised the extent and intensity of His immeasurable pain, agony and grief but He looked beyond it knowing that “the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand” and that “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” Isa.53.10,11. As we compare ourselves with Him we must surely recognise our potential to fall short of the standard required; it therefore behoves us to be in a continual state of dependence, looking constantly to the One Who “holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved” Ps.66.9.

Prophetic Declaration – vv.9,10

The unfolding of the Psalm now moves beyond the temporal and addresses the glorious prospect of resurrection, and for this reason Psalm 16 has often been referred to as the ‘Resurrection Psalm’. While David had his own resurrection in view and was evidently in the full enjoyment of it, he was also speaking prophetically about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is neither speculation nor mere conjecture. In his great address on the Day of Pentecost Peter quoted extensively from this Psalm and showed that David wrote in a prophetic capacity concerning the “Holy One” v.10. On the basis of Peter’s quotation, Acts 2.25-28, it is evident that verses 8-11 of Psalm 16 apply to the Lord Jesus. It is important to notice that these words are more than a prophetic statement; they are the actual words of Messiah spoken when confronted with death and they convey a telling insight into His intimate relationship with and unshakable confidence in God. David Gooding helpfully comments that He was “utterly unswerving and undeviating in the concentration of His heart’s love, His soul’s energies, His mind’s power and His body’s strength on God, He never knew a moment when His inner vision was not fixed on God in uninterrupted obedience and devotion. He was God’s ‘Holy One’, absolutely loyal and perfectly sinless. He ‘saw the Lord always before Him’ and was conscious that God ‘was at His right hand’ so that He should ‘not be moved’. It gave Him a rock-like stability that opposition, persecution and even death’s approach could not abolish.”14

14. Gooding, D.W. “True to the Faith. A fresh approach to the Acts of the Apostles”. Hodder & Stoughton.

The verses from Psalm 16 cited by Peter in Acts chapter 2 provide a precious eightfold presentation of the Messiah. These eight features highlight His unchanging perfection and glory; they are indicative of a new beginning and mark the Lord’s glorious invincibility. Not even the power of death could hold Him. In summary we note His:

  • Contemplation – “I foresaw the LORD always before My face”;
  • Fortification – “He is on My right hand, that I should not be moved”;
  • Adoration – “Therefore did My heart rejoice, and My tongue was glad”;
  • Anticipation – “Moreover also My flesh shall rest in hope”;
  • Resurrection – “Because Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell”;
  • Preservation – “Neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption”;
  • Education – “Thou hast made known to Me the ways of life”;
  • Jubilation – “Thou shalt make Me full of joy at Thy countenance”.

It should not be overlooked that Paul also quoted from Psalm 16 during his Antioch address, Acts chapter 13; on that occasion he quoted from the Second and Sixteenth Psalms. From Psalm 2 he established the fact of resurrection, whereas from Psalm 16 he established the fruit of resurrection; David had prophetically decreed, “Thou shalt not suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption” Acts 13.35; in this particular setting the focus is on the Lord’s unique incorruptibility. By sharp contrast, it was altogether different in the case of Lazarus; his sister Martha reckoned that “by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days” Jn.11.39. Death could neither humiliate nor hold the Lord Jesus!

Much has been written about the statement, “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell” v.10, and it would appear that more has been read into it than it actually says. The context and the meaning of the word “hell” are deciding considerations. David is fully satisfied that he would die, but he is equally sure that he will not be left to remain in the place of burial; this is confirmed by the Hebrew word sheol, which can also, according to Strong (7585), be rendered ‘grave’ or ‘pit’. Just how much David understood at that time is debatable, but this does not change the fact that he was making a prophetic announcement about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead; this, as we have seen already, is affirmed in Acts chapter 2. The important point to observe is that the Lord Jesus actually died, was buried and “rose again the third day according to the scriptures” 1Cor.15.3,4. In the language of Ephesians chapter 4, the One Who descended has now ascended in glorious victory.

Path Delineated – v.11

We have been reflecting upon the life, death and resurrection of David’s greater Son. Now there is opened to our gaze what is beautifully described as a “path of life”. For Him it was a path of humiliation, shame, suffering and sorrow but these have all been exchanged for “Thy presence [‘face’] … fulness of joy … pleasures for evermore” and a seat “at Thy right hand”. Commenting on this J.M. Flanigan observes, “The perfect Servant now rests in the light of the countenance of God.”15  Let us ponder the Person, the position, the pleasures and the possessions, but it would be sad if we lost sight of the permanence of it all. Spurrell writes so appropriately about “an eternity of enjoyments at Thy right hand”16. How different are the pleasures of sin, which are only “for a season” Heb.11.25. Psalm 16 closes with a note of rejoicing. It cannot really be otherwise as we ponder the “fulness of joy [plural, ‘joys’ Newberry]” and “the pleasures for evermore”. As we reflect on these things may we have the spiritual enablement to anticipate a day when we shall not only be with Him, but we are going to have an eternal resemblance to Him. We can say with David, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” Ps.17.15.

15. Flanigan, J.M., ibid.
16. Spurrell, Helen, ibid.

COLLECTIVELY

As we have noted, Psalm 16 has a compactness and completeness that gives it a fitting unity in keeping with its overall tone, theme and teaching. With this in view the main lessons from the Psalm include:

  • The character of God’s preservation;
  • The comfort of God’s presence;
  • The completeness God’s provision;
  • The certainty of God’s promises;
  • The control of God’s power;
  • The consistency of God’s precepts;
  • The consolation of God’s pleasures;
  • The consummation of God’s purpose.

May we be encouraged to delve a little deeper into this the third of the Messianic Psalms. Each and every one is a treasure in its own right, full of instruction, but above all may our hearts be stirred in fresh devotion and loyalty to the Messiah Himself.