‘The book of Psalms is a limpid lake which reflects every mood of man’s changeful sky. It is a river of consolation which, though swollen with many tears, never fails to gladden the fainting. It is a garden of flowers which never lose their fragrance, though some of the roses have sharp thorns. It is a stringed instrument which registers every note of praise and prayer, of triumph and trouble, of gladness and sadness, of hope and fear, and unites them all in the full multi-chord of human experience’. Thus wrote Sidlow Baxter in reference to all 150 psalms;1 these thoughts are clearly reflected in the refreshing waters of Psalm 16.
There is no doubt that this psalm is messianic in that it speaks clearly not only of David’s hope but also most clearly, in its closing verses, of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Vital truths and compelling prophecy are packed into few words and the message is clear: ‘the Lord is risen indeed’! This ‘golden psalm’ is quoted by Peter, Acts 2. 25-28 and Paul, Acts 13. 35, both declaring the words to be prophetic of our Lord’s resurrection. This psalm was written at least 1000 years before it was fulfilled.
This is a psalm of David and one of the six in the Michtam group, psalms 16 and 56-60, all of which concern the rejection of David as king. The thought is of something put on display for public appreciation and understanding. The custom was that such information would often be engraved on a pillar or otherwise displayed, perhaps in golden lettering, thus catching the attention of all. Hence, the Michtam psalms are referred to as ‘David’s golden psalms’. C. W. Leper calls it ‘the psalm of the precious secret’.2
The psalm may be divided into two parts: vv. 1-7, ‘The Way of Faith – Preservation’, and vv. 8-11, ‘The Way to Life – Pleasures for evermore’. It demonstrates how that out of fear grows faith in God and out of death springs life eternal.
The first verse makes it clear that this is a prayer for personal physical preservation. David lived in difficult days; he was hounded by the wicked King Saul who sought his death. While David had opportunities to kill Saul he would not dare to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Saul, however, suffered no such strictures and would gladly have slain the man the Lord had appointed and anointed to succeed him. David’s cry was indeed personal but was also borne out of a knowledge that should he be slain by Saul that the future of the monarchy and the fulfilment of God’s designs could be frustrated, leaving the people of God facing uncertain days and in debilitation hugely vulnerable to attacks by their enemies.
Like our blessed Lord who was persecuted by His enemies and often faced violent hostility, David trusted that God would save him from an untimely death, and that when death did eventually come in God’s own time, he would be saved through it and out of it. He seemed to view death not as the end but as the beginning of something new. In God he expected to find a place of refuge, a firm hope and an increasing confidence. His trust was in the Lord to whom he was submissive and because of that his personal experience taught him that this Lord sought only his good and blessing.
The writer uses three different names for his God in the psalm and each has significance. Here it is ‘Jehovah’, which suggests the eternal and unchanging nature of God. In such an One, David trusts. The phrase ‘my goodness extendeth not to thee’ is difficult to fathom and almost every Bible translation has something different to offer. Some commentators have it that David has nothing he can add to God, so he will add whatever he can to the people of God. J. J. S. Perowne thinks the sense may be ‘my good, my happiness, is not beyond or beside thee’.3 That is, that David’s interests are right in line with God’s interests. God is personally involved in David’s life. However, I think Congleton captures the thought nicely as he translates, ‘Thou art my Lord; Thou art my happiness: I have nothing besides thee’4 He is also encouraged by the saints that are in the earth, as they, too, clearly depend on the Lord for preservation and are living examples of God’s faithfulness. Of course, the Lord Jesus had a unique relationship with God and while here on earth He knew Him as God. He also and always was His Father. He knew that His Father would never forsake Him. He also took comfort in those who followed Him, albeit sometimes afar off. He loved them and delighted in them. We too know that we can trust God, and as far as the contemporary saints are concerned we take pleasure in them and as God blesses them we are pleased for them. The saints of the psalm were indeed the salt of the earth, and both David and God delighted themselves in them.
Those who decide to follow (run quickly after) other gods are destined not for blessing and preservation, but for sorrows. Just as David was steadfast in his worship of the true God and spurned idolatry, so we too should not be attracted to idols, as, without question, that is the road to sorrow and ruin. David determined to steer well clear of idolatry and not even speak of its adherents. Satan attempted to seduce the Lord Jesus into worshipping and serving himself, but was pointedly rebuffed, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord God, and him only shalt thou serve’, Luke 4. 8.
Here David acknowledges the Lord as his allotted portion. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land each tribe was given a geographical portion of it. The Lord gave to each the portion He judged was best for them. The Levites, however, had no material portion. Their blessing was to serve the Lord God of Israel. It was not theirs to tend the ground nor to be distracted by material things. David sees this special place of nearness as something freely given to him by God and he rejoices in it. It is from this position that he now mentions other blessings that flow from it: my cup; my inheritance; my lot; my lines; my heritage; my reins; and, additionally in verses 8 to 10, my right hand; my heart; my glory; my flesh; and my soul. Interestingly, in quoting this psalm, Acts 2. 25-28, Peter adds, ‘my tongue was glad’. The repetition of ‘my’ would indicate an intensely personal relationship between God and David. The reference to ‘my cup’ seems to suggest the enjoyment of these things, while ‘my inheritance’ declares that these blessings for him are totally undeserved. They go on to express thoughts relative to his current circumstances assigned by God, and also his daily security.
This list of things which express David’s appreciation of his special place would also depict for us how the Lord Jesus appreciated similar blessings from the Father as He lived the thirty-three years of His life here on earth. In spite of complaint, persecution and rejection, no word of protest ever crossed His mind, nor His lips. He was here to do the will of God and understood what was to be done and how it would be achieved to the glory of God and thus provide temporal as well as eternal blessings to the saints who in daily life today enjoy these things also. Verse 7 is an acknowledgement of divine direction both day and night.
Clearly David had determined that the Lord would be his unshakeable goal and constant companion. The Lord was at his right hand so ensuring, as indicated in other psalms, power, safety, favour, support and victory. No wonder he was confident that he would not be moved; indeed He set His face as a flint to ensure the fulfilment of His mission. In response to this David cries out in thanksgiving because of the gladness, joy and hope provided. He speaks of his heart, glory and flesh – perhaps another way of saying spirit, soul and body, i.e., his whole being. He believed that such a blessed relationship on earth could not be ended with death – these blessings must and do lead to life beyond the grave. This, of course, was true of Jesus, now crowned with glory and honour, and will be realized in our personal experience too.
Having started out with a plea for preservation on earth, the psalm ends on a very high note involving resurrection and eternal life and glory. For David the grave would not be the end and the corruption of a sinful human body would be overcome in resurrection and the provision subsequently of a body of glory. This is likewise true of believers today and we know that whether our bodies are alive or dead at the rapture we shall rise to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord – blessed assurance! Verse 11 speaks of the path, the presence and the pleasures. Death is but a path to life and to the enjoyment of eternal closeness and mutual pleasure in His right hand; death is swallowed up in victory, and that for evermore.
These verses undoubtedly prophesy the resurrection of the Lord Jesus who Himself alone is the ‘Holy One’. His body was not left in the grave, nor His spirit in Sheol, neither did His sinless body see corruption in the three days and nights it was in the earth. In Him is demonstrated the path to life, the fullness of joy that heaven affords and pleasures undiluted by the sorrows that had been His, and ours, during the experience of human life on earth. When one sinner comes to faith there is joy in heaven among the angels. When all the saints of all ages are gathered together there will be fullness of joy.
As we gaze into the limpid lake of this psalm we see that it indeed becomes a river of tremendous consolation, and we praise God for that and trust Him to complete His good work in us.
Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, Vol 3, Zondervan Publishing House, 1960, pg. 83.
Charles W. Lepper, Things Concerning Himself, Drummonds Tract Depot, pg. 76.
J. J. S. Perowne, The Book of Psalms, Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, pg. 192.
Lord Congleton, The Psalms, a New Version, James E. Hawkins, 1860, pg. 23.
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