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
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
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
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
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
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