A prayer of David.

Prayer translates ‘miktam’, a word of uncertain meaning.

Kidner suggests that this psalm’s unity and ardour come from the theme of having one’s affections centred on God. He also points out that Wesley’s hymn ‘Forth in thy name’ is based on vv 2,8 and 11 (cf. the last line – “And closely walk with thee to heaven’).

It is referred to both by Peter (Acts 2:25-31) and Paul (Acts 13:35).  Both affirm that the ultimate reference is to God’s Messiah, Jesus.

Milne suggests that it may well have been among those passages referred to by Jesus to confirm the witness of the OT to him and his resurrection (Lk 24:44).

Milne comments that the Davidic authorship need not be doubted: only someone ‘after God’s own heart’ (1 Sam 13:14; 16:7) could compose ‘such an intimate expression of authentic communion with God.’

‘Few psalms give rise to as many important methodological and theological questions as does Psalm 16. And few passages from the Old Testament are given a more prominent place in the New Testament witness about Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter made Psalm 16 the showpiece in his arsenal of arguments to prove that Jesus was the expected Messiah.’ (Acts 2:25-33) (HSB)

‘Psalm 16 is a small classic on the subject of the contented soul. As the litany of contentment unfolds, we find an ever-expanding list of things that add up to a good life:

  • God as one’s chosen portion and cup,
  • faith in God’s providence,
  • gratitude that one’s literal and figurative surveying lines have fallen in pleasant places,
  • a goodly heritage,
  • instruction from God,
  • a rejoicing soul and secure body, and
  • the presence of God in one’s life and afterlife.’

(DBI, bulleting added)

This psalm is quoted by both Peter, Acts 2:25-31 and Paul, Acts 13:35, who viewed it as anticipating the resurrection of Jesus. It was probably prominent amongst those OT passages quoted by our Lord himself to support his claim that he had ‘fulfilled’ the Scriptures, Lk 24:44. See also Jn 20:9; 1 Cor 15:4.

Harper’s Bible Commentary dates this psalm from the early post-exilic period, around 500 BC.  This based on parallels with Isa 56:9-57:13.  But this is to add one conjecture to another.

‘The particular events in David’s life that occasioned the writing of this psalm are not known, but three principal suggestions have been made: (1) a severe sickness, (2) a time when he was tempted to worship idols during his stay at Ziklag (1 Sam 30) and (3) his response to Nathan’s prophecy about the future of his kingdom. (2 Sam 7) my preference lies with the third option, since it fits best with the messianic content of the psalm.’ (HSB)

‘This psalm has something of David in it, but much more of Christ. It begins with such expressions of devotion as may be applied to Christ; but concludes with such confidence of a resurrection (and so timely a one as to prevent corruption) as must be applied to Christ, to him only, and cannot be understood of David, as both St. Peter and St. Paul have observed, Acts 2:24; 13:36. For David died, and was buried, and saw corruption.’ (MHC)

Thomas McCreesh identifies some of the main themes:

‘From the opening prayer for protection (vv. 1–2) through the remaining verses, the psalm uses different images to assert that the Lord is the only good and certain happiness (vv. 2, 9), a true inheritance (vv. 5–6), the only wise counselor (v. 7), a sure protection from mortal dangers (vv. 1, 8, and 10), and the guide to life (v. 11).’ (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2)

16:1 Protect me, O God, for I have taken shelter in you.

NIV:
1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.

In the first half of this psalm, see how single-mindedly and whole-heartedly the writer expresses his dependence on God: in respect to his

  • safety, v1;
  • well-being, v2;
  • associates, v3;
  • worship, v4;
  • ambitions, v5f.

Protect me, O God, for I have taken shelter in you – Wilson (NIVAC) suggests that because there is no obvious sense of distress in the rest of the psalm, ‘the plea is more a desire for continued protection than for deliverance from specific trouble.’  The psalm would, therefore, be a psalm of confidence rather than a plea for deliverance:

‘The psalmist realizes that the potential for suffering, attack, or failure is always present, and so he preemptively assumes a position of complete reliance on Yahweh as protective refuge.’

So also Jacobson (NICOT): ‘the opening appeal functions here as a confession of trust in God’s providential guidance, rather than as an appeal for God to intervene.’

Milne, on the other hand, thinks that ‘clearly some dark experience of danger lies behind this psalm…The absence of precise identification happily allows us greater latitude in applying it to our own threatening circumstances.’

Barnes, similarly: ‘This language implies that there was imminent danger of some kind-perhaps, as the subsequent part of the psalm would seem to indicate, danger of death. See Ps 16:8-10. The idea here is, that God was able to preserve him from the impending danger, and that he might hope he would do it.’

Jesus, too, prayed for divine protection:

Heb 5:7 ‘During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion.’

And he could entrust his soul to his heavenly Father:

Lk 23:46 “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

16:2 I say to the LORD, “You are the Lord,
my only source of well-being.”

NIV:
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

“You are the Lord” – NIV, ESV, NASB, NRSV, GNB, etc. ‘You are my Lord’.

This ‘is the soul’s response to Ex 20:2 “I am the Lord thy God.”‘ (JFB)

My only source of well-being – ‘Apart from you I have no good thing’ (NIV).  Cf. Psa 73:25.

David, when faced with the prospect of losing everything – even his own life – is thrown back on what matters most, namely, God himself.

This is the soul’s response to Ex 20:3 “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”…In disclaiming a goodness independent of, or adding anything to God, the Psalmist virtually recognizes God as the sole source of goodness, and rejects other gods. (Ps 115:1).’ (JFB)

Death, or danger of death, ‘concentrates the mind wonderfully’, and David is compelled to reflect on what matters most to him. His conclusion is that God himself is the highest good, the supreme treasure.

‘How often the children of God have learned in the crucible of trial a new and hitherto unreached degree of intimacy with their God – the discovery that in the end he is all we can ever need.’ (Milne)

‘Significantly, the psalmist does not take refuge in anything sacred, not even in the sacred word but states that his good comes only “in you, Lord.”’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

Jacobson notes the correspondence with the 1st Commandment:

‘The psalmist not only trusts in the Lord, she trusts in the Lord alone. She spurns the culturally attractive sin of syncretism—worshipping not only the Lord on the Sabbath, but Baal, Asherah, and El on their holy days.’

(Regrettably, Jacobson lapses into absurdity when he identifies the psalmist as female, especially given that he thinks that the psalmist was probably a priest.)

Based on the NIV reading, Carson notes that

‘The text will trigger in some minds other “apart from” passages. Perhaps the best known is John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (italics added). Apart from the vine, we branches bear no fruit; and apart from him we “have no good thing.”’

(For the Love of God, Vol 1)

Think of Abraham

Milne suggests that David’s confession reminds us of Abraham

‘who, at the time of his call by God in Genesis 12, was faced with giving up all of his past, and then in Genesis 22, in the summons to sacrifice Isaac the son of promise, was faced with giving up all of his future.  Abraham thus became a man without either a past or a future; all he had left was the God to whom he clung in the present.  No wonder Abraham is the great biblical model of the man or woman of faith (Rom 4:16; cf. 4:1-25).  Such is the heart of faith in every generation.’

What do I really want?

‘What do you and I ‘really, really want’ (as the Spice Girls sang)?  For example, it has been said that our internet searches reveal a “clickstream” of desires, needs, wants, preferences.  You shall know them by their searches.

We know the answers that we would like to give: ‘I want to live a useful life; I want to be a good husband and father, friend and colleague; I want to be upright, moral, selfless, loving.  And yet even as I give these answers, I know it is a long way from the whole truth.’

(Ash, Vol 1, p77).

I never look over your shoulder

As Ash (Vol 1, p79) observes, v2b is a most extraordinary claim:

‘I never look over your shoulder, as one might at a party when speaking with someone less than exciting, to see if there is some good thing to be found apart from you.  I never think or imagine that there might be some blessing to be grasped apart from what you give me, some sexual delight, some possessions, some fame, some comfort, some success, to be sought over your shoulder.  No, never, for I know that all good things come from you.’

Even when we have lost so much

Milne recounts the later years of Corrie ten Boom, who had ‘faced and triumphed over the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp during the Second World War.’ Along with her sister Betsie her faith proclaimed that ‘there is no pit so deep but God is not deeper still’.

Later, Corrie suffered a debilitating stroke, and spent the last five years of her life as an invalid, unable to exercise any public ministry and often unable even to speak.

Her companion and nurse, Pamela Rosewell, wrote: ‘She was living for God.  I could see no difference in the attitude of the weak and silent Tante Corrie to that of the strong speaker whom I had joined three years earlier.  She served him them; she was serving him now.’

16:3 As for God’s chosen people who are in the land,
and the leading officials I admired so much—
16:4 their troubles multiply,
they desire other gods.
I will not pour out drink offerings of blood to their gods,
nor will I make vows in the name of their gods.

NIV:
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.

According to NET, then, it is ‘God’s chosen people’ and the admired ‘leading officials’ whose ‘troubles multiply’ because of their desire for other gods.  Craigie takes a similar view, even putting the words of v2 (“You said…”) as the insincere claim of those with idolatrous tendencies.

In the NIV, by contrast, these people are represented as faithful, and contrasted with the idolaters.

The interpretative question, then is: are the people identified in v4 to be identified with, or contrasted with, those in v3?  The majority of English translations favour the later, including AV, NIV, NLT, RSV, NRSV, GNB.

God’s chosen people – lit, ‘holy ones’ (just as in the NT). But this term is more often used in the OT to denote heavenly beings: hence the qualifying phrase, who are in the land.

Craigie, and some other commentators, think that qedošim refers to Canaanite deities.  This entire section (including, for Craigie, v2) would then refer to unfaithful people.

The dignity of believers

‘You are those worthies “of whom the world is not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). You are the princes “that prevail with God” (Gen. 32:28). You are those “excellent ones,” in whom is all Christ’s delight (Ps. 16:3). You are His glory. You are His picked, culled, prime instruments which He will make use of to carry on His best and greatest work against His worst and greatest enemies in these latter days.’

(Thomas Brooks)

The noble ones in whom is all my delight (NIV) – ‘The noble ones’, in contrast, perhaps, to the pagan deities.

‘Glorying in God will amke us for ever the heart-companions of those who share that single-minded goal’ (Milne).

Although this psalm is intensely personal, David’s religion is not solitary. Here, as in Scripture generally, loving God is never separated from loving God’s people. See 1 Jn 4:20f.

‘Not that David’s companions during his years in exile were the “fairest in the land” by the standards of the social elite in Jerusalem – 1 Sam 22:2 describes the company who gathered to David at the cave of Adullam as “those who were in distress or in debt or discontented.” But out of the motley crew David shaped a core of followers who were prepared to risk life for him and his claim to the throne of Israel. From that unpretentious seed there was to flower an army and an administration which became the envy of the surrounding peoples, and whose deeds of renown echoed throughout the land.’ (cf. 2 Sam 23:8-38) (Milne)

Milne offers, as a further example, the church at Corinth:

1 Cor 1:26 – ‘Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position.’

But they were God’s people, and therefore ‘saints’ in whom Paul delighted:

2 Cor 7:4 – ‘I have great confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.’

And it is no different for us today:

Heb 12:22f – We ‘have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect’

Those who run after other gods (NIV) – they actively seek them out.  they are hungry for new ‘spiritual’ experiences.

Will suffer more and more (NIV) – This echoes the words to Eve in the story of the Fall, Gen 3:16. ‘There could hardly be a more ominous allusion to what follows from apostasy.’ (Kidner)

Eric Lane says that David’s words here indicate that, despite his own best efforts, there was much ungodliness in the land:

‘This stemmed from the idolatry which had either crept back or never been expurgated (v. 4). People were still running after other gods—run denoting eagerness or desperation. They were taking part in blood-sacrifices and uttering the names of the Baals with their lips.The Canaanites had ascribed the land’s fertility to Baal, but Israel claimed to believe it was the Lord who blessed the land with milk and honey, grain and fruit. Yet here they were ascribing it all to Baal! This was to recur in Hosea’s time (Hos. 2:17). But David is clear that this is the road to disaster: their sorrows will increase, a phrase used of the punishment of Eve in Genesis 3:16.’

Thomas McCreesh remarks that the temptation to run after other gods is no less today:

‘Human ingenuity, technological advances, and accumulated epochs of learning are our “idols,” which can finally appear to have erased the need for otherworldly realities. The story of human achievements has made the memory of God’s saving deeds vague and mysterious. Resurrection can become a modern symbol for the next human advance. Real faith, as exemplified by the psalmist, stretches the person beyond human capability and earthly realities.’

A jealous God

‘God is a jealous God, and he will not endure that we should have other gods. It is easy to commit idolatry with the creature.

(1.) Some make a god of pleasure. ‘Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.’ 2 Tim 3:4. Whatever we love more than God we make a god.

(2.) Others make money their god. The covetous man worships the image of gold, therefore he is called an idolater. Eph 5:5. That which a man trusts to he makes his god; but he makes the wedge of gold his hope; he makes money his creator, redeemer, and comforter. It is his creator; if he has money, he thinks he is made: it is his redeemer; if he be in danger, he trusts in his money to redeem him:it is his comforter; if at any time he be sad, the golden harp drives away the evil spirit:so that money is his god. God made man of the dust of the earth, and man makes a god of the dust of the earth.

(3.) Another makes a god of his child, sets his child in God’s room, and so provokes God to take it away. If you lean too hard upon glass it will break, so many break their children by leaning too hard upon them.

(4.) Others make a god of their belly. ‘Whose god is their belly.’ Php 3:19…Thus men make many gods. The apostle names the wicked man’s trinity, ‘The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,’ 1 Jn 2:16:the lust of the flesh is pleasure; the lust of the eye, money; the pride of life, honour. Oh take heed of this! Whatever you deify beside God will prove a bramble, and fire will come out of it and devour you. Jud 9:15.’

(Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

I will not pour out drink offerings of blood to their gods

Nor will I make vows in the name of their gods – ‘I will not…take up their names on my lips’ (NIV).

‘So the apostle Paul says, (Eph 5:3) “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints.” The idea in these places seems to be, that the mere mention of these things would tend to produce dangerous familiarity with them, and by such familiarity take off something of the repugnance and horror with which they should be regarded, They were, in other words, to be utterly avoided; they were never to be thought of or named; they were to be treated as though they were not. No one can safely so familiarize himself with vice as to render it a frequent subject of conversation. Pollution will flow into the heart from words which describe pollution, even when there is no intention that the use of such words should produce contamination. No one can be familiar with stories or songs of a polluted nature, and still retain a heart of purity. “The very passage of a polluted thought through the mind leaves pollution behind it.” How much more is the mind polluted when the thought is dwelt upon, and when utterance is given to it in language!’ (Barnes)

16:5 LORD, you give me stability and prosperity;
you make my future secure.
16:6 It is as if I have been given fertile fields
or received a beautiful tract of land.

NIV:

5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

In these verses, David uses the language of the Promised Land (Ash).

But he is not boasting of land or material possessions.  He is saying that the Lord has taken their place in his affections.

But ‘Psalm 16 has taken these traditional images of hope in the land and subtly shifted them in order to spiritualize the land/inheritance imagery. Rather than focus on physical land, the psalmist attests that Yahweh is his “portion” and “cup.”’ (Wilson)

You give me stability – ‘you alone are my portion and my cup’ (NIV).

There is an echo of the division of the land between the different tribes.  But Aaron and his successors received no allotment of land, for, the Lord said, ‘I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites’ (Num 18:20)

‘The image is from the tribe of Levi and Aaron the high priest, to whom the Lord spake, Num 18:20 “Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land; neither shalt thou have any part among them. I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel,” etc. So the true Israelites feel the Lord to be their inheritance, whether they have more or less of this world’s goods.’ (JFB)

And prosperity – ‘My cup’ (NIV).  ‘Since a cup can convey love, comfort, strength and fellowship, biblical writers sometimes use cup as a symbol for all the benefits God provides’ (Ryken).

The image is of ‘a sumptuous feast’ (JFB). Cf. Ps 23:5. ‘In a dry, desert-studded land where the traveler even to this day is constantly threatened with dehydration, the cup symbolized the refreshing, renewing gift of life.’ (Milne) Cf. Jn 4:4-26.

You make my future secure – ‘You have made my lot secure’.  ‘Not like earthly possessions, from which the lawful owner is often dislodged. The Hebrew means to prop one up, sustain, so as not to fall, as Aaron and Hur propped up Moses’ hands (Ex 17:12; cf. Ps 41:12; 63:8; 125:3). Satan cannot, by force or fraud, deprive the saints of their lot, once they have obtained it-grace here and glory hereafter.’ (Jn 10:28-29) (JFB)

It is as if I have been given fertile fields – ‘The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places’ (NIV).  The reference is to the lines that were used to measure and allot land at the end of the war of conquest. ‘The most favoured tribe at the allotment of boundaries, cf. Jos 19:51, could boast nothing as goodly as this.’ (Kidner, who draws attention to a scale of values that we recognise again in, eg, Php 1:21; 3:8)

Or received a beautiful tract of land – ‘a delightful inheritance’ (NIV).  An inheritance would normally have been thought of in material terms. But the priests had been taught that, though they had no land to call their own, God himself was their portion and their inheritance, Num 18:20. ‘So David, and every singer of his psalm, can now see that this is no peculiarity of priesthood but a pointer to the true riches of each member of God’s Israel, that “kingdom of priests,” cf. Ex 19:6.’ (Kidner)

Milne suggests that the historical background may be found in 1 Sam 26:19f. Here, David confronts Saul after sparing his life: He expresses the effects of constantly being pursued by Saul’s soldiers: ‘They have driven me away this day from being united with the LORD’s inheritance, saying, ‘Go on, serve other gods!’  During his long years as a fugitive, David has effectively forfeited his family and tribal inheritance in the land of Israel, to find exile in a foreign land. But David had refused to bow to other gods, and remained faithful to the Lord (cf. v4):

‘In this psalm he shares the harvest of these years of material deprivation, when life again and again hung by a thread: he has discovered his true inheritance, the Lord himself, a “delightful inheritance,” and one which has brought him ultimate security, vv6,8.’

So, in what does this ‘delightful inheritance’, v6, consist? –

  • counsel, v7;
  • security, v8;
  • resurrection, v9f; and
  • endless bliss, v11.

Calvin comments:

‘This passage teaches us, that none are taught aright in true godliness but those who reckon God alone sufficient for their happiness. David, by calling God the portion of his lot, and his inheritance, and his cup, protests that he is so fully satisfied with him alone, as neither to covet any thing besides him, nor to be excited by any depraved desires. Let us therefore learn, when God offers himself to us, to embrace him with the whole heart, and to seek in him only all the ingredients and the fullness of our happiness.… Whenever, therefore, those things present themselves to us which would lead us away from resting in God alone, let us make use of this sentiment as an antidote against them, that we have sufficient cause for being contented, since he who has in himself an absolute fullness of all good has given himself to be enjoyed by us. In this way we will experience our condition to be always pleasant and comfortable; for he who has God as his portion is destitute of nothing which is requisite to constitute a happy life.’

Jacobson, who bases his remarks on the assumption that the psalmist was a priest and had no lands of his (her?) own, perceptively comments:

‘The psalmist’s confession of faith is difficult to hear, because of the intervening centuries, which insulate our ears against hearing the psalmist’s voice. Today, land is just one more commodity that is traded. In the ancient world, however, land was the means of generating wealth and the means of sustaining life. To be born into a landless class or caste might have been experienced as something far from a blessing. Ironically and powerfully, then, the psalmist, who has inherited no land and thus no literal boundaries, is able to confess, The boundaries have fallen for me pleasantly. The reason the psalmist can confess this as a blessing is that the Lord, the very God of Israel, is the psalmist’s portion and inheritance. The relationship that the psalmist has with God is the psalmist’s all—the portion, cup, lot, boundary, and inheritance.’

16:7 I will praise the LORD who guides me;
yes, during the night I reflect and learn.
16:8 I constantly trust in the LORD;
because he is at my right hand, I will not be upended.

NIV:
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

During the night I reflect and learnlit. ‘my kidneys instruct me’.

John Walton insists that to accept that the Bible is true in all that it affirms does not mean that God ‘upgraded’ the original author’s physiology

‘All ancients believed that all cognitive processes took place in the heart, liver, kidneys, and other internal organs (they had no knowledge of the physiology of the brain). The Psalmist appears to have no advanced knowledge of how human cognition works, on a scientific level. Is the Bible in error? No, because this passage is not trying to make statements about how the human body works. It does not affirm a view of physiology. The Holy Spirit accommodated the divine message of God’s faithfulness to the cultural vocabulary of David’s time.’

‘In the Psalms we read about people who

  • receive instruction by night, (Ps 16:7),
  • sing in the night, (Ps 42:8)
  • meditate by night, (Ps 63:6 119:148)
  • commune with their heart in the night (Ps 77:6) and
  • remember God’s name in the night.’ (Ps 119:55)

(DBI)

‘The Antitype, Christ, as the servant of God for man’s sake, received the Father’s instruction by chastening in afflictions “morning by morning” (Isa 50:4-6) so as to be our sympathizing high priest. Compare, also, Jn 21:4-9; the Son was guided entirely by the Father’s “counsel” in the work of redemption. His whole life was one continued bowing of his human will to the Father’s. (Jn 4:34 6:38) Night was the season of Christ’s closest communion with the Father (Mk 1:35 and 6:47), and also of his most poignant affliction in Gethsemane. (Lk 22:53) It is the season when the believer, too, can, amidst the general stillness, commune with his own soul, and receive the inward instruction designed by God to be drawn from afflictions.’ (Ps 4:4 2:10) (JFB)

‘The meaning here is, that in the wakeful hours of night, when meditating on the divine character and goodness, he found instruction in regard to God. Compare Ps 17:3. Everything then is favorable for reflection. The natural calmness and composure of the mind; the stillness of night; the starry heavens; the consciousness that we are alone with God, and that no human eye is upon us-all these things are favorable to profound religious meditation. They who are kept wakeful by night “need” not find this an unprofitable portion of their lives. Some of the most instructive hours of life are those which are spent when the eyes refuse to close themselves in slumber, and when the universal stillness invites to contemplation on divine things.’ (Barnes)

‘All these verses 8-11 are quoted by St. Peter in his first sermon, after the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; (Ac 2:25-28) and he tells us expressly that David in them speaks concerning Christ and particularly of his resurrection. Something we may allow here of the workings of David’s own pious and devout affections towards God, depending upon his grace to perfect every thing that concerned him, and looking for the blessed hope, and happy state on the other side death, in the enjoyment of God; but in these holy elevations towards God and heaven he was carried by the spirit of prophecy quite beyond the consideration of himself and his own case, to foretel the glory of the Messiah, in such expressions as were peculiar to that, and could not be understood of himself. The New Testament furnishes us with a key to let us into the mystery of these lines.’ (MHC)

‘Any interpretation of these four verses of the Psalm, which is inconsistent with Peter’s inspired remarks upon them, is of course erroneous, and must be given up.’ (Plumer)

I constantly trust in the Lord – ‘I have set the Lord always before me’ (NIV); ‘I keep my eyes always on the Lord’ (NIV updated).

I trust the Lord ‘as the grand object before my mind’s eye, to be contemplated, loved, and worshipped; the scope and rule of my acts; the all-seeing Spectator of my ways; my Helper and Saviour, whence I have no fears, but am confident of deliverance. The Antitype alone realized this perfectly. (cf. Isa 50:7-9) In this his believing members copy their Head.’ (Isa 50:10) (JFB)

‘If this clause be taken in such a modified sense as makes it declare sincerity and integrity of character, yet admitting want of absolute perfection, then indeed it might apply to David. But Peter’s aim on the day of Pentecost was to prove that the passage quoted by him had no application whatever to David.’ (Plumer)

‘By night as well as by day; in my private meditations as well as in my public professions. I have regarded myself always as in the presence of God; I have endeavored always to feel that, his eye was upon me. This, too, is one of the certain characteristics of piety, that we always feel that we are in the presence of God, and that we always act as if his eye were upon us.’ (Barnes)

He is at my right hand – to support and protect, particularly in court or in battle. ‘It is impossible that any real hurt can befall those who have the Lord always at their right hand.’ (JFB)

Peter refers this closing paragraph of the psalm specifically to the Messiah in Acts 2:25.

16:9 So my heart rejoices
and I am happy;
My life is safe.
16:10 You will not abandon me to Sheol;
you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit.
16:11 You lead me in the path of life;
I experience absolute joy in your presence;
you always give me sheer delight.

NIV:
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

So… – This is the word upon which the logic of the psalm turns.  ‘Because’ I trust completely in God, ‘therefore’ my destiny is secure.

My life is safe – ‘My body also shall rest secure’ (NIV 1984).  ‘That the phrase, ‘my flesh shall dwell in confident security,’ refers in the ulterior sense to Messiah’s body resting secure in the grave, appears from Isa 26:19; Acts 2:26.’ (JFB)

David’s hope is not in some vague ethereal existence, but ‘in a bodily future with bones, muscles, sinews, tongue, heart, blood, brain.’ (Ash)

‘In the primary and imperfect sense in which David, as the type, used the words, he may have intended only to express his confident hope of deliverance from his imminent dangers. Thus, “the pains of hell” (Sheol or Hades) are used of the greatest straits, in Ps 116:3; or his hope that he should not be given over to ruin (cf. the use of hell, Mt 11:23); and that he, as a saint of God, should not see corruption, or destruction (as the same Hebrew is translated, Ps 107:20), or the pit. (Eze 19:4, Hebrew) But the Spirit, by him, (1 Pet 1:10-12) used language which has its full and mainly designed accomplishment only in Christ’s resurrection from the grave and ascension to heaven, and in the resurrection and ascension of all believers hereafter through him.’ (Rom 8:19) (JFB)

‘‘My flesh,’ saith David, ‘shall rest in hope,’ Ps 16:9. O Christian! bestir thyself to redeem thy hope before this sun of thy temporal life go down upon thee, or else thou art sure to lie down in sorrow. A sad going to the bed of the grave he hath, that hath no hope of a resurrection to life.’ (Gurnall)

This security (hope) ‘is the opposite of despair. As used here, it would refer to a state of mind in which there was an expectation of living again, as distinguished from that state of mind in which it was felt that the grave was the end of man. What is particularly to be remarked here is, that this trust or confidence extended to the “flesh” as well as to the “soul;” and the language is such as would be naturally used by one who believed in the resurrection of the body. Language of this kind occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament, showing that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was one to which the sacred writers were not strangers, and that although the doctrine was not as explicitly and formally stated in the Old Testament as in the New, yet that it was a doctrine which had been at some time communicated to man. See the notes at Isa 26:19 Dan 12:2. As applicable to David, the language used here is expressive of his belief that “he” would rise again, or would not perish in the grave when his body died; as applicable to the Messiah, as applied by Peter, (Ac 2:26) it means that when “he” should die it would be with the hope and expectation of being raised again without seeing corruption. The language is such as to be applicable to both cases; and, in regard to the interpretation of the “language,” it makes no difference whether it was supposed that the resurrection would occur before the body should moulder back to dust, or whether it would occur at a much more remote period, and long after it had gone to decay. In either case it would be true that it was laid in the grave “in hope.”‘ (Barnes)

See Ps 127:2.

You will not abandon me to the grave – ‘Admittedly some commentators see here no more than recovery from an illness; (cf. Isa 38:9-22) but the contrast in Psa 49 and 73 between the end of the wicked and that of the righteous supports a bolder view. And at its full value, as both Peter and Paul insisted, Acts 2:29 ff 13:34-37, this language is too strong even for David’s hope of his own resurrection. Only “he whom God raised up saw no corruption,” Acts 13:37.’ (Kidner)

The grave is sheol, the place of the dead. ‘The state of the dead is not differentiated with respect to good and evil persons; there is no clear distinction here between heaven and hell. Sheol was conceived as a kind of underworld…In Sheol persons were believed to exist as forms of semi-life, at rest, yet not in joy, for they had not the fullness of life which made possible the richness of relationship with the living God. Death was thus to be dreaded.’ (Craigie)

‘In the context this refers to not allowing someone to be put to death at the hand of malicious enemies. The psalmist will not be consigned to Sheol; he will not see decay because his life will be spared. (see Ps 30:2-3) An early Sumerian text recounts the tale of an individual who is facing capital punishment for the crimes of which he is accused. Instead, however, he finds himself snatched from the jaws of destruction and praises the goddess Nungal for his deliverance.’ (OT Background Cmt’y)

The following OT texts teach, or at least allude to, the resurrection of the dead:- Job 19:25-26; Ps 16:8-11; 17:15; 49:12-15; 73:24; 102:25-28; Isa 53:10-12; Dan 12:2.

P.S. Johnston thinks that this psalm may well move beyond the idea of a preserved and prolonged earthly life into that of a life in which separation from God – even beyond this life – is inconceivable.  Enjoyment of the Lord continues for ever.  If this is so, then ‘this experience is tantalizingly vague, without name, spatial location or any other details.’ (DOT:WPW, art. ‘Afterlife’).

‘In the prayers of Ps 16:10; 86:13 lies a first hope of life in the divine presence beyond the grave. The Psalms do not speculate in such a way that Sheol is turned into a place of life and hope; instead, the strength of God stands proof against death itself. Even Sheol is not hidden from Yahweh (139:8; cf. Pr 15:11). God does have the power to vindicate the faithful in the face of death (Job 19:25-27; 33:18-28; Ps 30:3; 49:14-15; 55:15-16; Pr 15:24-26; Jon 2:1-9 MT 2-10). Still, this expectation is not a doctrine of resurrection: in most cases (cf. Ps 68:20 MT 21) it merely suggests a temporary deliverance from death and offers a direction in thought upon which later doctrine will build.’ (ISBE)

‘The writer does not express the thought that he hopes merely to escape from death, but rather the bolder thought that death shall never get dominion over him. Never did faith wax bolder in dealing with this problem. It ranks on a par with Rom 8:31 ff.’ (H.C. Leupold)

Nor will you let your Holy one see decay – See Acts 2:27.  Although some think that David’s confidence is only in being protected from a premature death, ‘even in its Old Testament context, the idea of not seeing decay and enjoying eternal pleasures in God’s presence seems to point to something beyond the grave.’ (Longman)

‘Suddenly the range of this psalm reaches out into the eternal future and embraces not only the psalmist’s own personal destiny, but also the glory of the resurrection of Jesus, and hence beyond that to the return of the Son of Man and the resurrection of the dead of all ages.  In its final reference this simple song, drawn from the worship of God’s people centuries ago, embraces the final destinies of every man, woman and child in the entire universe.  It also therefore embraces ours.  Here in the heart of the Old Testament we encounter an unshakeable conviction of the hope of heaven.’ (Milne)

‘Peter and Paul both regard this as a distinct prophecy that the Messiah would be raised from the grave “without” returning to corruption, and they argue from the fact that David “did” return to corruption in the grave like other men, that the passage could not have referred mainly to himself, but that it had a proper fulfillment, and its highest fulfillment, in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Barnes)

A sermon theme, based on vv10f: ‘Jesus cheered in prospect of death by the safety of his soul and body; our consolation in him as to the same.’ (Spurgeon, The Treasury of David)

‘A common understanding of death in the OT is that it signifies final separation from the land of the living and even from God as well. We see this quite clearly in such passages as Ps 6:5; 30:9; 31:18; Isa 14:11; 38:18-19 and Job 3:13-19. The key word used here is the Hebrew s- eo’l which, at least in these passages, refers to the unconscious, decaying (or sleeping, cf. Job 3:13) state of the body in the grave. The psalmist wishes not to go there, since no one remembers or praises God from the grave. (Ps 6:5) For Job, as for Homer, the afterlife is a shadowy oblivion-a place where “the wicked cease from turmoil” and “the weary are at rest,” (Job 3:17 NIV) “a land of gloom and deep shadow,” of “deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder.” (Job 10:21-22 NIV) The best that can be said in this vision of the afterlife is that the troubles of life have ceased: “Captives … no longer hear the slave driver’s shout…. And the slave is freed from his master.” (Job 3:18-19 NIV) Other passages reinforce the relative paleness of OT images of the afterlife, which picture the afterlife as something one would wish to avoid rather than look forward to. (Ps 16:10 86:13 102:26) There is a sense in which the OT imagery of afterlife is gripping precisely by virtue of its absence. Since there is no afterlife, these texts enjoin the readers to focus on their relationship to God in the here-and-now. It would be wrong, though, to suppress the images of a positive afterlife that emerge occasionally in the OT. The writer of Ecclesiastes, in describing the moment of human death, differentiates between the dust returning to the ground and the spirit returning to God who gave it. (Ec 12:7) The accounts of how Enoch (Ge 5:24; cf. Heb 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) are taken to heaven after their earthly lives seem to suggest some notion of conscious existence in a transcendent world. Some commentators argue on the basis of the imagery of the Psalms for a clearer belief in an afterlife than is sometimes granted. Ps 1:3 compares the godly person to a tree whose leaves never wither, an archetypal symbol of immortality. Ps 49:15 claims that “God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (NIV); while in Ps 73:24 the poet predicts, “Afterward you will take me into glory” (NIV). Ps 16:10-11 claims that God “will not abandon me to the grave” but will instead “fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (NIV); Ps 139:24 speaks of being led “in the way everlasting” (cf. Pr 12:28, which claims that “in the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality”). The closest OT approximation to the NT confidence and ecstasy about the afterlife is Job’s eschatological confidence that his Redeemer lives and that, after his skin has been destroyed, in his flesh he will yet see God.’ (Job 19:24-27) (DBI)

We learn from Acts 2:24-32 and 13:34f that the ultimate subject of the psalm is none other than the Messiah. ‘Suddenly the range of this psalm reaches out into the eternal future and embraces not only the psalmist’s own personal destiny, but also the glory of the resurrection of Jesus, and hence beyond that to the return of the Son of Man and the resurrection of the dead of all ages. In its final reference this simple song, drawn from the worship of God’s people centuries ago, embraces the final destinies of every man, woman and child in the entire universe. It also therefore embraces ours. Here in the heart of the Old Testament we encounter an unshakeable conviction of the hope of heaven.’ (Milne)

v11 ‘The refugee of v1 finds himself an heir, and his inheritance beyond all imagining and all exploring.’ (Kidner)

You will fill me with joy in your presence – lit ‘in your face’. ‘That is surely heaven’s highest delight and final exhilaration, to be “face to face with God,” Rev 22:4, to look into that Face of endless, unfathomable love, to gaze upon him who is the Desire of all the ages and the Beloved of all the orders of creation, to see “him whom our soul loves.” “We shall see him,” 1 Jn 3:2. It is enough!’ (Milne)

See 1 Chron 16:27; Job 22:21-26; Ps 9:2. ‘Christ’s resurrection was followed by his ascension, and his ascension by his session at the right hand of God. There his joy is perfect. There he is exalted. There he is glorified.’ (Plumer)

‘Joy is a by-product of life with God. Joy is not found by seeking it as an end in itself. It must be given by God. (Job 8:21; Ps 4:7; 36:8) Therefore, it is received by faith with the gift of salvation. (1 Sam 2:1; Ps 5:11; 13:5; 20:5; 21:1,6; 33:21; 35:9; 40:16 Isa 12:1; 25:9; Hab 3:18; Lk 1:47; 2:10) In the OT, joy comes with God’s presence. (1 Chron 16:27; Job 22:21-26; Ps 9:2; 16:5-11) In the NT that presence is identified as the Holy Spirit.’ (Ac 13:52; Rom 15:13; Gal 5:22; Eph 5:18,19; 1 Thess 1:6) (DBI)

Eternal pleasures at your right hand – What those pleasures are no mortal can comprehend, but they are such as forever ravish the pure spirits around the throne. They satisfy the God-man, Christ Jesus for all his toils and sorrows.’ (Plumer)

‘The glorified Saviour did not take possession of the heavenly inheritance in his own name merely. He entered into his rest as a public person, and all the members of his body, the church, shall share with him the perfection of the bliss which he now enjoys.’ (Morison, quoted by Plumer)

‘What gives the characters and writers of the Bible most pleasure is God. The Psalms, where we find “the language of hedonism everywhere” (Piper 1986, 17), ring the changes on the theme of the pleasures that believers find in God and his works. Psalm 16 is a small classic on the subject, with its famous images of “the lines” that “have fallen for me in pleasant places,” of “fulness of joy” found in God’s presence and of the “pleasures for evermore” that are at God’s “right”] hand.” (Ps 16:6,11 RSV) ‘ (DBI)

‘Because he lives we shall live also. The believers, therefore, can also say, thou wilt show me the path of life. This life means the blessedness reserved in heaven for the people of God after the resurrection. It has three characters. The first regards its source -it flows from his presence. The second regards its plenitude-it is fulness of joy. The third regards its permanency -the pleasures are for evermore.’ (William Jay)

‘The Gospel mentions not riches, honours, beauty, pleasures; it passes these over in silence, which yet the Old Testament everywhere makes promise of. They were then children, and God pleased them with the promise of these toys and rattles, as taking with them. But in the Gospel he has shown us he has provided some better things for us; things spiritual and heavenly.’ (Thomas Goodwin)

The path of life – is ‘an elemental image of the believer’s life with God in the present, a “walk” down the path of life, day after day.  But it moves on imperceptibly beyond that, echoing the experience of Enoch, who “walked with God…and God took him away” (Gen 5:24).  At the end of the journey lie the “ternal pleasures” of life with God on the other side of death.’ (Milne)

  • Like the light of dawn, Pr 4:18.
  • To be heeded carefully, Pr 5:6.
  • Contrasted with the way of error, Pr 12:28.
  • Many to seek it, Isa 2:3.
  • Narrow and hard, Mt 7:13f.
  • To be delighted in, Ps 119:35.
  • Wisdom leads to, pleasantness and peace are found, Pr 3:17-18.
  • Taught by wise parents, Pr 4:11.
  • The Lord leads in, Ps 23:2-3.
  • Full of steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep the Lord’s covenant, Ps 25:10.

(Source unknown)

Joy in your presence – is, lit. ‘in your face’.

Joy in the presence of God

‘Here is one of the clearest expressions of biblical hope.  It indicates complete satisfaction; “pleasures”, “joys” (the Hebrew is plural) and “fullness” all indicate a complete satisfaction of desire.  It indicates endless diversity, “joy in your presence”.  Who God is, is complemented by what God gives – “pleasures at/from your right hand”.  It indicates unimaginable intimacy: “in you presence” is literally “in your Face”.  That is surely heaven’s highest delight and final exhilaration, to be “face to face with God” (Rev 22:4), to look into that Face of endless, unfathomable love, to gaze upon him who is the Desire of all the ages and Beloved of all the orders of creation, to see “him who our soul loves”.  “We shall see him” (1 Jn 3:2).  It is enough.!’ (Milne)

We shall see him

  • This is the privilege of ‘the pure in heart’, Mt 5:8.
  • It is fulfilled by Christ, Acts 2:28.
  • It is anticipated in this life, 2 Cor 3:15ff.
  • We are brought to our journey’s end by the power of God, Jude 24.
  • We shall see him, Ps 17:15; 1 Jn 3:2.
  • There is joy, Ps 21:6.

On worship and service, Rev 7:15; 22:3ff.

Eternal pleasures at your right hand – ‘How should even the innocent pleasures of life sink in your estimation, when you think of those pleasures that are at the right hand of God!’ (C. Wolfe)

These verses are quoted at length by Peter, on the day of Pentecost:

24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.

What is to be made of the connection between the two passages?

Jacobson (NICOT) ignores entirely both the hope expressed in Psa 16 and also Peter’s inspired application to Jesus Christ in Acts 2.  This is perverse and inexcusable.

Longman thinks that David is writing prophetically here:

‘Peter cited Psalm 16:8–11 (Septuagint) in his Pentecost sermon and applied it to Christ (Acts 2:25–28). He pointed out that David himself died and was buried, so he must have had someone else in mind, namely Jesus Christ, who was his descendant and the Messiah. Later, Paul cited Psalm 16:10 (Septuagint) during a sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:35) and also applied it to Christ, who was raised from the dead and thus was a fulfilment of the promise that ‘you will not let your holy one see decay’.’

Wilson thinks that the psalm admits of a double meaning.  In its original context, it held out no hope of resurrection for David or any other human being, but only for the coming Messiah:

‘There is no clear belief in immortality or resurrection expressed here. Although Acts 2:25–31; 13:35–37 quotes this passage and interprets it to explain the resurrection of Jesus, the interpretation assumes that in its original context the psalm held out no hope of resurrection to David or other humans, only for the Davidic Messiah yet to come in Jesus. Thus, most likely the psalmist’s immediate hope is for divine intervention to prevent death in his present circumstance.’

Zuck (following and quoting Moo) thinks that this section of the psalm has a single meaning, and that the primary referent is to David himself.  But,

‘Though David had himself in mind, Peter and Paul pointed out that from the New Testament perspective the psalm refers to Christ. Like David, Christ suffered at the hands of His enemies, but He went further and actually faced death—but was resurrected. This seems to be a case of the Old Testament being expanded or heightened to refer to Christ. Psalm 16:10 still retains a single meaning—not being “abandoned to the grave”—but with two referents, namely, David and ultimately, in the fullest sense, Christ. If Psalm 16 is taken to refer only to Christ, then one is still faced with the question of what that psalm meant to David. This does not mean “that Psalm 16 takes on added meaning in the light of further revelation but that further revelation enables us to understand the ultimate significance of David’s words.”’

Donald Williams notes that

‘as the Son of David (Rom. 1:3), sitting on his throne (2 Sam. 7:16), Jesus also inherits all the promises given to and through David. Moreover, David can speak prophetically beyond his own age and experience, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter is right. David is dead and the fulfillment of the promise “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” is given to His resurrected Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.’

The joy of heaven

‘The noted philosopher and Harvard University professor Alfred North Whitehead once asked a friend, “As for Christian theology, can you imagine anything more appallingly idiotic than the Christian idea of heaven?” But the focal point of heaven is not gates of pearl, streets of gold, or even angels and glorified saints. The central glory and joy of heaven is Jesus Christ (Rev. 4–5). The path of life that He shows us on earth today will end in even greater life when we enter heaven. Then we shall be in His presence and experience fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. A foolish caricature of heaven shows white-robed saints with halos and harps, resting on little white clouds; but the Bible gives no such description. In our glorified bodies, we shall be like Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:1–3), and we shall worship and serve Him forever. The pleasures of heaven will be far beyond any pleasures we have known here on earth, and as we enjoy the Lord and serve Him, we will not be restricted or encumbered by time, physical weakness, or the consequences of sin. So magnificent are the glories of heaven that the apostle John had to ransack human language to find words to describe it (Rev. 21–22).’

(Wiersbe)

Who can pray this psalm?

Christopher Ash argues that neither David nor we ourselves can make this psalm completely our own, because our desires are not focused on God alone.

What about Jesus?  Of course, we cannot see his heart.  But ;the acid test for the Psalm 16 Man is that he cannot die and stay dead.  For this reasons the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the proof positive that he, and he along, is the Psalm 16 Man (Acts 2:25-32).’

The resurrection of Jesus proves that his desires were ‘entirely and intensely focused on the will and the presence of God his Father.’

Our proper response is

(a) a heartfelt thankfulness that Jesus has done this on our behalf, to secure forgiveness of sins in his name, Acts 13:38f.

(b) by the Spirit of Jesus to long for this single-hearted love for God; for our desires to be focused more and more on him and the source of all true and lasting good.

A lectionary perspective

In some lectionaries, this Psalm is one of the readings set for the second Sunday of Easter.  Deborah Block reflects:

‘The worship service preaches, “Jesus Christ Was Risen Last Sunday.” The alleluias have faded, the lilies have wilted, the congregation has dwindled, the pastor has gone on vacation. “Our triumphant holy day” is now “Low Sunday,” a sanctioned holiday from even the usual order of service. We are “churched out” and enervated, as if we had preached and prayed and sung Jesus out of the tomb by our own efforts.’

Let us not, urges Block, present a diminished act of worship today.  Last Sunday, we preached that Christ is risen, Alleluia!  But Jesus remains alive and present to bless us with his peace and forgiveness (Jn 20:19-31).

The words of this Psalm were on Peter’s lips on the day of Pentecost.  Having quoted it,

‘in the next breath of that sermon, there is witness to life, joy, and gladness; again the psalmist’s words offer a script to the heretofore ineloquent Peter (Ps. 16:11 and Acts 2:28).’

(Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2)

God can be trusted here and hereafter

Milne remarks that two thoughts dominate: the psalmist’s deep intimacy with God, and his conviction that this joyful intimacy does not end with death.  ‘On the one hand, here is a high-water mark in the Old Testament experience of personal union with God…On the other hand, here is a remarkable Old Testament expression of hope that life with God continues after death.’

The first is the basis of the second.  The awareness of the love of God stretches forward into eternity.  ‘The God who has assured the psalmist of his personal care and love had proved himself worthy of trust in the face of death.  There, too, he will not fail.  There, too, he will be proved Lord.  There, too, his love with triumph.  He will not abandon to the grace.  The “path of life” leads on and on for ever, before the Face of Everlasting Love.’

Milne quotes R.A. Mason:

‘The presence of god, his unfailing companionship through all the vicissitudes of life, becomes the bedrock of his hope, not only for all that lies in wait for him in this life, but in all that must follow it.  For it finally becomes unthinkable to him that the God who has proved to faithful now could ever let him arrive at the point of his pilgrimage where he says he is now leaving him to fend for himself.’

Milne concludes:

‘It is this linkage which in its way anticipates Paul’s argument in Rom 8:31-39, albeit immeasurably enriched and deepened by the fires of Calvary, that a love which “did not spare his own Son” is one from which “nothing can separate us in time or eternity.’

 

Note: in additional to the usual commentaries, the relevant chapter in Bruce Milne’s The Message of Heaven and Hell (IVP, 2002, pp73-82) is of particular interest and help.