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Your Holy One Will Not See Corruption (Psalm 16)

The Psalms are the prayers of the body of Christ. While this is true of all of them, occasionally we have a clear and unambiguous testimony from the Holy Spirit. Peter and Paul both directly connect this Psalm to the passion of Christ. David’s own experience informs this psalm, to be sure, but only in a partial way, just as ours does. Yet Christ fulfills this psalm to the utmost. His own struggle with His enemies has become our own. His trust has become ours. His experience fills up and informs our own, because we are in Him.

Psalm 16 presents some difficulties, but may be divided into three sections: calling on God to deliver (verses 1-4), trust in God who provides (verses 5-8), and a blessing of God (verse 9-11). The exact issue prompting this psalm is not specified. However, since David refers to idolaters and the grave throughout the psalm, it is safe to say that he faces a peril from his enemies which threatens his life. Yet the primary focus of the psalm is not the danger, but the trust in God to deliver, so that even in the grave, God will not abandon His people.

A Miktam of David. Preserve me, God, for I take refuge in you.

You have said to the LORD, You are My Lord. My goodness is not apart from you.

The term “miktam” occurs here and in the titles of Psalms 56 through 60. Like so many of the other terms in the headings of the psalms, its exact meaning is uncertain. Some associate it with another word meaning “gold,” as in Job 28:19. If this is true, a miktam is a “golden psalm,” perhaps signifying its special importance. However, its usage also in Psalms 56-60 shows that we should be cautious of reading too much into such an interpretation. On the other hand, the Septuagint rendered miktam as “inscription,” suggesting that it is suited for use as an epigram. It is equally likely, however, that the term is either a tune name or a form of poetry.

David calls on the Lord to deliver him from trouble. While the first verse is thus straightforward, the next three are the most difficult to interpret in the psalm. The second verse begins “you have said” without specifying the subject. It seems most likely he is speaking to himself or to his soul, so that some translations insert “O my soul” to this verse. Others, following the Septuagint, modify the verb to “I have said,” which is more or less the same idea. God gives the soul, after all, and is its Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:7). All good that we have is also from God, so that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

To the holy ones who are in the land, they are the mighty ones. All my pleasure is in them.

Translations differ, sometimes widely, on this verses. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it something like “To the saints who are in his land, he has made wonderful all my [or his] desires in them.” Some older translations like Luther and the King James render it differently: “But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.” Many modern translations are similar to my own. Much of the difficulty comes from an unusual word order and several ellipses.

Following the translation I have given, David associates himself with the godly, especially against the ungodly. Identifying with the body of believers is another way of associating with God. If we group ourselves with the godly, then we are by extension grouping ourselves with the Lord to whom they belong. We are, after all, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). To leave off meeting together is to separate ourselves not only from other believers but also from God (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 12:21).

They will multiply their pains. They have acquired another [god]. I will not pour out their libations of blood, and I will not lift up their names on my lips.

This verse can also be difficult, because the subject is not stated. However, since it seems to make little sense to interpret this in terms of the holy ones, David distances himself from the ungodly. Their way is a way of pain and sorrow, because they have sought another god. The verb translated here as “acquired” is identical to another verb meaning “to hasten” or “to run after.” However, as in Exodus 22:15, it can also refer to paying a bridal price. Idolators seek to betroth a false god to them, instead of the Lord who identifies Himself as the Husband of Israel (Hosea 2:16). “Hasten after,” however, carries the same idea, since they are pursuing another god.

Their libations or drink offerings may indeed be of blood, given the depravity of some Canaanite practices, but it is more likely that David means that their offerings are stained with sin (Isaiah 1:15). David also refuses to take up the names of their false gods on his lips. This is not literally avoiding naming them, since the prophets frequently give the names of false gods, but to avoid naming them in a way which shows them honor (Exodus 23:13; Joshua 23:7). There is, after all, no other name than Jesus by which we will be saved (Acts 4:12).

The LORD is the portion of my portion and my cup. You hold my lot.

The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed, a pleasing inheritance to me.

I will bless the LORD who advises me. Also, by night my kidneys discipline me.

I have set the LORD before me continually. Because [he is] at my right hand, I will not be made to stagger.

Having called on God to deliver, the psalm now confidently turns toward the fulfillment. There is no need to fear those who trouble us, because our inheritance is with God. Like the Levites, our inheritance is God Himself (Numbers 18:20). Indeed, the Lord is called the portion of Israel as a whole, because our hope and confidence is in Him (Jeremiah 10:16; Deuteronomy 32:9). He is our cup, because He is our salvation (Psalm 116:13). He holds our lot, because He has all things in His hand.

The imagery of “measuring lines” here hearkens back to the division of the land in passages like Joshua 17:5, where it is rendered as “portion.” The word itself means a rope or a cord, as in a surveyor staking out property. It is, however, a pleasant place, because the godly one delights in what God has given to him. It is not too small, as the portion of Joseph (Joshua 17:14-17), nor displeasing like the land of Cabul (1 Kings 9:12-13). What comes from God is pleasing, because it is meant for our good (Romans 8:28).

Kidneys in the Old Testament are regarded as the innermost part of man. This is why the word is frequently translated as “heart” in English, since we use the heart to denote the same idea. Since the heart shows the truth of the soul (as Jesus says in places like Matthew 15:34), it “disciplines” in a positive sense by calling to mind the words and promises of God. It is not necessarily a negative thing to be instructed or disciplined, as we often use the word. Rather, just as God counsels us through His Word, so He also calls forth in our memory those same words for our reflection.

Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. Indeed, my flesh dwells in security.

Glory here is a reference to the tongue, because we glorify God through praising Him with it. David also refers to his tongue in this way in Psalm 57:8, calling on it to awaken with God’s praises. Peter also, when he quotes this psalm in his sermon at Pentecost, renders it as “tongue,” following the Septuagint (Acts 2:26). His flesh or body dwells securely, not in a carnal way, but knowing that God cares also for the body (Matthew 6:25-34).

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol. You will not give your pious one/faithful one to see the pit/corruption.

On the basis of this verse, both Peter and Paul refer to Psalm 16 in direct connection with Christ. The idea is straightforward. David expresses confidence in God, knowing that God will not abandon him even in the grave. He will not cast us off once we have passed into the pit or into corruption. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26).

Yet, as Peter says to the Jews at Pentecost, this cannot be fully true of David. David, after all, died, and his body fell into corruption (Acts 2:29). Yet Christ Himself fully fulfills this prophecy, because though He died, His body did not see corruption (Acts 2:31). Paul makes the same point to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:35-37). Thus, according to the testimony of the Spirit, Psalm 16 only indirectly speaks of David, but directly of Christ Himself.

The word rendered as “pious” or “faithful” can certainly be rendered as “holy,” but it also emphasizes the obedience of Christ. Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross, and thus God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him far above all things (Philippians 2:8-11).

You make known to me the path of life. Fullness of joy is before your face. At your right hand is delight everlasting.

David thus closes this prophecy with joy. In God and in God alone is a joy which knows no end. Because Christ lives, we also will live with Him to glorify Him forever. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Christ is our highest joy. Christ is our everlasting rest and delight. We have no reason to fear anything in this world, because Christ reigns triumphant at the right hand of God, exalted above all earthly things.

The Lord Will Triumph (Psalm 9)

How can a Christian find comfort in times of trouble? When the world seeks to marginalize those who belong to Jesus, where can the Christian turn? Psalm 9 answers these questions in no uncertain terms: The Lord who has delivered His people endures forever.

The Psalm itself presents a couple of unique characteristics. First, though it is impossible to see this in translation, Psalm 9 is the first of a handful of Psalms which has an acrostic structure. Acrostic poems start each line by following a pattern, sometimes spelling out words. In the Psalms, this is always the alphabet, beginning with the first letter down to the last letter. In this case, Psalm 9 begins every other verse with the next letter of the alphabet (though it sometimes misses a letter or two). This is important, because it forms the basic structure of the thought patterns in the Psalm as well.

The other unique thing about this Psalm is that it may have originally been connected with Psalm 10 in one. In Hebrew, they are two separate psalms, and I will treat them as two, but there are good reasons for considering them as one. First, the acrostic pattern continues into Psalm 10. Second, the use of Selah at the end of Psalm 9 is highly unusual, since that word appears everywhere else somewhere in the middle of a psalm. Third, Psalm 10 has no title, which is unusual in the first book of the Psalms, which range from Psalm 1 to Psalm 41. Indeed, the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, combines them into one, which explains why the numbering for many Psalms in Greek is different (and also for Roman Catholic Bibles based on the Latin Vulgate, which does the same thing).

To the choirmaster. According to Muth Labben. A Psalm of David.

“Muth Labben” can be rendered as “Death of a Son,” which has led some to speculate that it could refer to an event. However, it is most likely the name of a song.

I will praise the LORD with all my heart. I will make known all your miracles.

I will rejoice and I will exult in you. I will praise your name, Most High.

The main concern of the psalm is presented at the very end. Before David brings that petition, however, he begins with declaring why he can bring it at all. Even though the nations seem to threaten Israel, the Lord has proven Himself to be faithful in the past. While it is impossible for us to remember all the mercies of God, since they are infinite (Job 5:8-9), recalling as many as possible will lead to joy (Lamentations 3:22-24).

In the turning back of my enemies, they will stumble and they will be destroyed before your face.

For you have established my judgment and my claim. You sat down on the throne, judging righteousness.

Remembering the mercies of the Lord in general means remembering them in particular. In the past, the Lord destroyed the enemies of Israel. This is a cause for rejoicing, because it teaches us that God has not forgotten us (Isaiah 49:14-18), that God will bring justice (Luke 18:7), and that our righteousness is not in vain (Psalm 58:10-11). It is indeed good news, because the reign of Christ will be over His enemies, who will be crushed under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). If death, for example, is not destroyed, where is our victory?

You rebuked the nations. You destroyed the wicked. Their name you wiped out forever and ever.

The enemy came to an end in enduring ruins. The cities you pulled up. The memory of them has perished.

The name and the memory of the wicked has perished and will perish in the earth. This may seem odd to us, because we may assume that mentioning their name even in writing perpetuates their memory. Do we not have the ruins of those ancient civilizations and on occasion some of their writings? Yet their name has perished from the earth, because their generations no longer continue. If a man died in Israel, his brother was to take his wife, so “that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:6). Ruined cities and archaeological scraps do not perpetuate a name. There are no longer any children to bear their name. The wicked will come to an end, because their generations will cease when the Lord judges the earth, but the righteous will go on forever.

And the LORD sits forever. He has firmly established His throne for judgment.

And He will judge the world in righteousness. He will judge the peoples in uprightness.

While the wicked perish and the world knows them no more, the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the word of the Lord will never pass away (Matthew 24:35). From everlasting to everlasting, He is God (Psalm 90:2). God’s enemies will be defeated. God will judge the world and bring justice to His elect.

And the LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge for times of distress.

And the knowers of your name trust in you, for you do not abandon your seekers, LORD.

Having declared that the wicked will perish and that God will remain, David makes a natural application to his situation. Those who trust in the Lord will find a sure refuge in Him. In the midst of all of life’s troubles, especially when the enemies of God seem to be ready to destroy us, God will not leave us or forsake us. The name of Jesus is our salvation (Acts 4:12). The works of God in the past teach us that He will not abandon us, even when it meant delivering his faithless people only for the sake of His good name (Isaiah 48:9-11; Ezekiel 20).

Sing to the LORD who dwells in Zion. Make known among the peoples his deeds.

For he who seeks bloods remembers them. He does not forget the cry of the wretched ones.

The Lord declared to Noah that He would seek vengeance for the shedding of blood (Genesis 9:5-6). “Vengeance is mine, and recompense” declares the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35). Those who are oppressed by evil in this life will find a certain deliverance in the Lord, whether that comes now or in the life to come. It will come to an end.

Show favor, LORD. Look on our affliction from those who hate us, our lifter from the gates of death.

So that I may recount all your praises/praiseworthy deeds. In the gates of the house of Zion I rejoice in your salvation.

Having laid the groundwork for his petition, David now calls on God to look upon his situation. God has delivered from evil in the past, so therefore God will also deliver from evil in the future. Like so many of the psalms, David promises to give thanks to God as a result. God’s action leads to man’s reaction, so to speak, when the elect will tell others about what God has done. To be in the “gates of the house of Zion” is to be in God’s house, declaring to the congregation all the mighty works of God. Thus, while praising God is important for our own faith, it is equally important for building up the faith of others. This is not merely a personal favor or an individual deliverance that David has in mind.

The nations have sunk in the pit they made. In the net which they hid their foot has been caught.

The LORD makes himself known. He has made judgment. In the work of his hand the wicked is trapped. Higgaion. Selah.

The Lord rules over all things and shows His power by using the very evil planned against His people for the destruction of the wicked. Haman was hung on the gallows built for Mordecai (Esther 7:10). The dogs licked up the blood of Ahab in the place where Naboth had been slain (1 Kings 21:19). The wicked lay their own trap, and the Lord brings justice to His people in that way. Higgaion is an uncertain term, but it is related to the word translated “meditate” in other places. This is the muttering or reading in a low voice that Psalm 1 connects to a godly man, and the muttering or plotting in Psalm 2 of the wicked. I am of the opinion that its use here, connected with Selah, is a call for us to especially meditate on these two lines. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me” (Psalm 118:6)?

The wicked will return to Sheol, all the nations who forget God.

For not forever shall the needy be forgotten. The hope of the afflicted shall not perish forever.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). The wicked will come to an end, and their name will perish from the earth. The afflicted saints of the Lord may suffer for a time, but they will persist in the Lord. Even if evil seems overwhelming, it will crumble into nothing.

Get up, LORD. Do not let man defy/be strong. Let the nations be judged before your face.

Set fear on them, LORD. Let the nations know they are men. Selah.

This psalm closes with another call to God. Do not let the nations imagine themselves to be strong, when in fact they are mortal. The word for “man” in these two verses carries the extra suggestion of mortality. They are but “mortal men.” Though they imagine themselves to be strong, they will perish. “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:20). The word translated here as “fear” is unique and a little uncertain. Most translators translate it as “fear,” which would then mean something like “bring them to realize their weakness, Lord, for they are but men.” The Septuagint, however, rendered this word as “law-giver.” The Vulgate, Luther in his German Bible, and even some English translations, also translated it this way. The sense in that case would be something like “teach them to fear you, Lord, so that they recognize their weakness.” I think “fear” is the most likely, since it fits well with the rest of the psalm. God certainly sets fear and dread upon the enemies of Israel, because He fights for His people (Deuteronomy 2:25).

Christians certainly have no fewer enemies than Israel did. Jesus reminds us that if they hate us, they hated Him first (John 15:18). This psalm is a wonderful prayer in the midst of that turmoil, because it reminds us to remember all the mercies of God. If God has preserved you until now in so many ways, He will not forget you in the new day of trouble. Let the enemies of the world rage against us. God remains our fortress forever.

All Saints Day: Revelation 7:2-17

John’s vision in Revelation 7:2-17 comes in the midst of judgments. The Lamb is breaking open each of the seven great seals which enclose the scroll He took in Revelation 5:6-8. While the breaking of the seals tend to symbolize various judgments and fearful things happening on the earth, there is a comfort in knowing that the Lamb is the one doing these things. Such things are not beyond His control. As God permitted Satan to afflict Job (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6), so also His fearful judgments of sinners will accomplish exactly what He intends them to do (Isaiah 55:10-11). Therefore, just before the seventh seal is broken, John sees a vision of angels numbering the sons of Israel. The destroying angels are restrained for a time according to the will of God, apart from whom nothing can happen.

The numbering of the tribes itself is noteworthy for several reasons. First of all, unlike parallel numberings of Israel in passages like Numbers 1, the tribes are identical in size. Israel wandering in the wilderness had yet to come into their inheritance. Even within the promised land, they awaited a better country (Hebrews 11:13-16). Now, in this vision, Israel has come into her own. John sees in the people what Ezekiel had seen in the land: the portions are the same and God is in their midst (Ezekiel 48:1-29).

However, unlike in Ezekiel, the names of the tribes have changed. Notably absent are two tribes: Dan and Ephraim. Further, while Manasseh is present, Joseph also appears separately in the list, which was not typical for this list in the Old Testament. As far as Dan is concerned, this tribe was the first to fall into gross idolatry in the promised land (Judges 18), and Jeroboam set up one of his golden calves in that territory (1 Kings 12:28-30). Dan’s absence therefore seems to be an indirect way of describing Israel finally purged of the idolatry for which she suffered so much. As for Ephraim, the prophets frequently, but not exclusively, referred to this tribe as the tribe of Joseph (Zechariah 10:6 and Ezekiel 37:15-23, for example). This may also recall Israel’s blessing of the sons of Joseph and the preference shown to the younger Ephraim (Genesis 48).

Third, Israel is sealed prior to the vision of the great multitude later in the passage. This is not an incidental detail. As Paul says regarding Israel according to the flesh, “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:5). Christ also says on several occasions that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). After all, God promised that the offspring of Abraham would be as numerous as the stars, and “in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 26:4). Through Israel, as the elder brother, the blessing of Christ would come to all nations.

Paul, of course, clarifies that belonging to Israel according to the flesh is not enough. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). But the Israelite who believes is a natural branch returning to his own tree. John sees Israel no longer hardened. “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob” (Romans 11:26). Therefore, in that moment, the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down, and the two have become one (Ephesians 2:11-22). Israel and the nations have become one people, even as the honor shown to the believing and purified older brother persists to his glory for all time.

John also sees the great ingathering of the nations. They have entered into their Sabbath rest, resting from all turmoil and pain and worshiping God who has delivered them (Hebrews 4:9-10). Thus, the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in the great Sabbath. What we experience now in the midst of toil, work, and pain, often only one day in seven, shall become the totality. Even our imperfect liturgical forms will give way like shadows before the light in the fullness of that great Day. No longer will our hearts be burdened with distractions and worries! No longer will our lips only mouth words of praise! “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

One of the elders asks John a question which John does not know how to answer, much like Zechariah (Zechariah 4:1-14). This elder seeks to instruct John, and us through him, so that the vision may be clear. Revelation is not a sealed book, like many of the apocalyptic books in the Old Testament (Daniel 12:9-13). It is meant to comfort those who are in tribulation now, for by knowing “the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1), those who hear this prophecy will not be caught unawares.

But the message is clear: here, in the midst of turmoil and tribulation, these saints now rest from their labors. The pains and sorrows of this world will soon come to an end. Purged of their sins, they will worship God in purity and sincerity. Free from their sorrows, they shall know a joy which knows no end. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Those of us who still toil and labor can rejoice knowing that our Sabbath rest awaits us. But we can also take heart knowing that those who have departed in the faith now rest in Christ awaiting His glorious return. Then, as Israel and the nations have become one man in Christ, so we who are left until His coming will be caught up together with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The Church will no longer be at war, but she will be His people, one holy Bride, resting blameless in His sight and alive in Him, never to die again.