Text: Psalm 16
Are you contented?
Alexander the Great conquered the known world. But he was not contented. After all his victories, he wept, because, he said, “There are no more worlds to conquer.”
Voltaire was a brilliant philosopher and a critic of organised religion. He was not contented. He wrote: “I wish I had never been born.”
Lord Byron lived a life of hedonistic pleasure. He was not contented. At the age of 35, he wrote:
My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.
Edward Elgar was one of the greatest of our English composers. But he was not contented. At the end of a decade of creative activity, he prefaced his 2nd Symphony with the words of Shelley: “Rarely, rarely, comest thou, spirit of delight.”
Jay Gould had all the money he wanted: he was a millionaire. But he wasn’t contented. At the end of his life, he said: “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.”
I want to introduce you to someone who was contented.
1. Contented although in danger. Notice the urgent and heartfelt plea in v1: “Keep me safe.” The most likely context for this psalm is that period in David’s life when he was being constantly pursued and hounded by King Saul and his henchmen. David was forced to become a fugitive and an exile, and he was in constant danger of his life. His plight is recorded in 1 Sam 26. Verse 19 of that chapter contanis the following words, “They have now driven me from my share in the Lord’s inheritance and have said, ‘Go, serve other gods.'” The deep contentment that he will go on to express in this psalm is not therefore mere escapism, or an attempt to bury his head in the sand, or an obstinate determination to ‘always look on the bright side of life.’ David is a realist. He knows that he is in danger, and yet can still find true contentment. I wonder if you are feeling hard-pressed today. It may be your health, your finances, your relationships, your job, your self-esteem, your reputation, that are under threat. Take encouragement from the experience of David, which shows us that it is possible to contented, although in danger.
2. Contented with God alone. Verse 2-4 ‘I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing…The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.”‘ David is far away from home, surrounded by the tempting allures of foreign gods and idols. But he has not forgotten that his contentment is in the Lord alone. There is a vital lesson her for us today. There are plenty things that would tempt us away from God. We usually think of an idol as a religious figure carved out of wood or stone, perhaps in some primitive tribe far removed from civilization. But we have our “idols” today, because an idol is anything that you worship in place of the living God. Some people worship the idol of beauty or sexual pleasure. Some people worship the idol of money and security…Some people worship at the shrine of power. But to worship and serve created things rather than the Creator is, as Paul points out in Romans 1, to exchange the truth of God for a lie. And here then is another debt that we owe to David in this psalm, as he teaches us to be contented with God alone.
3. Contented with God himself, vv5-8. Verse 6: ‘I have a delightful inheritance.’ We perhaps expect to read an inventory of his possessions: his houses, his wives, his children, his servants, his bank balance. But actually, as we have seen, David has been driven far from his home, his family, and his possessions. He has nothing left except the Lord himself. But this is what he calls his ‘delightful inheritance’. He enjoys the Lord’s counsel, v7 (‘I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.), and the Lord’s very presence, v8 (I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken).
Jonathan Edwards wrote: ‘The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied…Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean.’
4. Contented with God for ever. Verses 9f ‘Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.’
This is a remarkable and, for the OT, unusually clear intimation of life beyond the grave. But there’s even more. When Jesus Christ rose from his grave, both he and his apostles insisted that this had happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures. Which Scriptures? Well, on the Day of Pentecost, that Peter made these verses from Psalm 16 the lynchpin of his proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Acts 2:23ff “Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 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.
Peter quotes Psa 16:8-11, and argues that the primary reference cannot have been to David himself, but to ‘great David’s greater Son’:
“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 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. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
And please note that the prospect is not merely one of endless existence: it’s far more wonderful than that: v11 ‘You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.’
This was the experience of Christ, who, in the words of another prophet, ‘will see the fruit of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.’ Or, in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, ‘who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’
This is the experience of all those who are in Christ. For ‘if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
May you know true, complete and lasting contentment with God, anticipated so wonderfully by David, consummated so gloriously by Jesus Christ. And ‘may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’