Psalm 16 – The Benefits of a Life-Commitment to God
This psalm is titled A Michtam of David. The title Michtam is commonly understood as golden; others think it is related to a word meaning tocover. Since the psalms with this title (16, 56-60) are written from times of peril, some think the idea is of covering the lips in the sense of secrecy, as if this were a secret or silent psalm given in a time of crisis. This is a wonderful song relating how David found the secret of contentment and great gladness even in pressing times; it also powerfully predicts Jesus and His work for us.
A. David’s confidence in God.
1. (1-3) What David’s soul said to the LORD.
Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.
O my soul, you have said to the LORD,
“You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from You.”
As for the saints who are on the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
a. Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust: It seems that David wrote this psalm from a time of trouble, because he asked for preservation, knew that he would not be moved (Psalm 16:8), and had confidence in some kind of resurrection (Psalm 16:10). Yet the tone of this psalm is not despair or complaint; it is settled joy. Despite his trouble, David had a praising confidence in his God.
i. “This was a most powerful plea, for to trust God is the highest honour we can do him, it is to set the crown upon his head.” (Trapp)
ii. “Preserve me from the world; let me not be carried away with its excitements; suffer me not to be before its blandishments, nor to fear its frowns. Preserve me, from the devil; let him not tempt me above what I am able to bear. Preserve me from myself; keep me from growing envious, selfish, high-minded, proud, slothful. Preserve me from those evils into which I see others run, and preserve me, from those evils into which I am myself most apt to run; keep me from evils known and from evils unknown.” (Spurgeon)
b. You are my Lord: This is what David’s soul had said to the LORD. David happily said that Yahweh (LORD) was his master (Lord).
i. David knew how to speak to his own soul; Psalms 42:5 and 43:5 are other examples. It is a good thing to speak good things to our own soul.
c. My goodness is nothing apart from You: David knew that his very best – all of his goodness – was nothing apart from God.
· It was nothing when it came to making David righteous before God; he needed God to bring His righteousness to David.
· It was nothing because David’s goodness was itself a gift of God; therefore apart from Him, it was nothing.
· It was nothing because David’s goodness, as precious as it was, was of small value without his relationship with God.
i. “I receive all good from thee, but no good can I return to thee; wherefore I acknowledge thee to be most rich, and myself to be most beggardly.” (Greenham, cited in Spurgeon)
d. As for the saints who are on the earth: David proclaimed regarding God’s people on this earth, “They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” David delighted in the people of God, despite all their failings, scandals, and embarrassments.
i. This is an obvious failing for many followers of Jesus Christ today. They are so negative about the people of God that they find themselves unable to see any excellence in God’s people, unable to delight in them.
ii. “This is a practical matter, for it is a way by which we can measure our relationship to the Lord. Do you love other Christians? Do you find it good and rewarding to be with them? Do you seek their company? This is a simple test. Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him.” (Boice)
2. (4-6) The folly of idolatry and the blessing of honoring the LORD.
Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
Nor take up their names on my lips.
O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
a. Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god: David understood that those who served other gods found many sorrows in life.
i. David knew that his life, lived for God, was not an easy one. He experienced many hardships because he remained faithful to God. Nevertheless, he also knew that life lived for another god was even more difficult. It was the attitude of Peter in John 6:66-69, when he said “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
ii. “There is a distinct echo of the story of the Fall in the phrase, multiply their sorrows, since very similar words were spoken to Eve in the Hebrew of Genesis 3:16. There could hardly be a more ominous allusion to what follows from apostasy.” (Kidner)
b. Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer: David allowed his knowledge of the futility of pagan beliefs to affect his behavior. Therefore, he would not follow the pagans in their vain practices.
i. “Many heathens sacrificed to their idols (that is, to devils) with man’s blood, against all laws of humanity and piety.” (Trapp) In addition, the priests of Baal offered their own blood to their false god; some Roman Catholics and Muslims also whip themselves to blood, offering their blood to their twisted conception of God.
c. O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot: After stating that there was nothing found in the pagan gods, David explained the good he received from Yahweh.
i. You are the portion of my inheritance: David was the youngest son in a family with many sons. He could expect no inheritance from his family; yet he took joy and comfort in the fact that God was the portion of his inheritance, and he knew that he had a good inheritance. The lines that marked out his inheritance had fallen to him in pleasant places.
ii. God said to the priests in the days of Moses: “I am your portion and your inheritance” (Numbers 18:20). David understood that this was a promise given not only to the priests, but also to all who would trust God to be the portion of their inheritance. “Every godly man has the same possession and the same prohibitions as the priests had. Like them he is landless, and instead of estates has Jehovah.” (Maclaren)
iii. You maintain my lot: This described the portion of David’s inheritance. David was confident that God would maintain what He had first given to him.
iv. This attitude did not come easily or always to David. He complained to Saul in 1 Samuel 26:19: for they have driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, “Go, serve other gods.” Yet here in this psalm, he comes back to the conclusion that the LORD is his inheritance and will maintain his lot.
v. David’s words here speak of contentment. He is content with what God has given him. A mark of our age – especially with the Baby Boom generation and perhaps even more with those following – is discontentment, boredom, and restlessness. The generation with short attention spans, the constant need for excitement and adrenaline rushes, and 24-hour-a-day entertainment, needs to know by experience what David knew.
B. The benefits of David’s confidence.
1. (7-8) The benefits of guidance and security.
I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
I have set the LORD always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
a. I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel: The false gods of the nations could never give counsel the way the LORD gave it to David. When David needed guidance, God gave it to him, and therefore David praised God.
b. My heart also instructs me in the night seasons: David’s heart was instructed first by God and His Word, and therefore his heart could also instruct him in the ways of God. This is an example of the benefits that come from the transformation of thinking spoken of in Romans 12:1-2.
i. Solomon says in Psalm 127:1-2 that it can be vain to stay up late to try to figure out your problems. Yet David, Solomon’s father, knew the joy of communing with God in the night seasons and receiving guidance from Him.
ii. “Methinks I hear a sweet still voice within me, saying, This is the way, walk in it; and this in the night season, when I am wrapped in rest and silence.” (Trapp)
c. I have set the LORD always before me: This speaks of a decision David made to put God first in his life. He determined that God would always be his focus, his perspective.
i. In the ultimate sense, only Jesus did this perfectly. He was always in the intimate presence of His Father. “The method taken by Christ, as man, to support himself in time of trouble, and persevere unto the end, was to maintain a constant and actual sense of the presence of Jehovah…he then feared not the powers of earth and hell combined for his destruction.” (Horne)
d. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved: This was the plain result of David’s decision to put God first. There was a standing and security in David’s life that would not have otherwise existed.
2. (9-11) The benefits of joy and preservation.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
a. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices: David continued to describe the benefits of his decision to set the LORD always before him (Psalm 16:8). This decision brought a gladness and a glory to David’s life.
i. For those who do not live out a true commitment to God, it is easy for them to think of what such a commitment costs them. This is not entirely bad, because this kind of decision to set the LORD always before one’s self does have a cost, and the cost should be counted and appreciated. It may cost certain pleasures, popularity, anonymity, family relationships, life goals, career choices, financial priorities, and so forth.
ii. Yet David also tells us some of the benefits of such a life decision: my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. There was happiness and a glory David knew by this life commitment that he would not have known otherwise.
iii. David could maturely understand both the costs and the benefits, and sing a song of praise about his life decision.
b. My flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol: David described a further benefit of his life decision to set the LORD always before him. It was the confidence of God’s care and blessing in the life beyond. David had the settled hope (a confidence, not a simple wish) that God would not leave his soul in the grave (Sheol), but that his life would continue on in the presence of God.
i. This statement is a wonderful declaration of trust in some sort of resurrection and afterlife. Yet, Psalms contains both such confident statements and other more doubtful words about the life beyond (such as in Psalm 6:5 and 88:11). This cloudy understanding of the afterlife in the Old Testament does not surprise the reader of the New Testament, who knows that Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).
c. Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption: Wonderfully (and perhaps unknowingly), David spoke beyond himself. In one sense David was indeed the Holy One of God, whose soul would not be left in the grave. Yet in a greater and more literal sense, only Jesus Christ fulfills this in His resurrection.
i. This was perceived by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, who said that these words went beyond David who was obviously dead, buried in a grave, and whose body had long ago decayed into dust (Acts 2:25-31).
ii. In quoting and applying this passage from Psalm 16 to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Peter showed an inspired understanding of the work of Jesus on the cross. He understood that because Jesus bore our sin without becoming a sinner, He remained the Holy One, even in His death. Since it is incomprehensible that God’s Holy One should be bound by death, the resurrection was absolutely inevitable. As Peter said: It was not possible that He should be held by death (Acts 2:24).
iii. The fact that Jesus remained God’s Holy One despite the ordeal of the cross demonstrates that Jesus bore the penalty of human sin without becoming a sinner Himself. It also shows that this payment of sins was perfect and complete, the only type of payment a Holy One could make. In these ways (as Peter understood), the resurrection proves the perfection of Jesus’ work on the cross.
iv. We might imagine Jesus applying this promise to Himself in the agony before and during the crucifixion, and even afterwards. “It was as though our Lord had stayed his soul upon these words as He left this world and entered the unseen…He sang, as He went, this hymn of immortal hope.” (Meyer)
d. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy: With these words David seemed to understand that the benefits of this life commitment to God were received in both this life, and the life beyond.
i. The path of life is something enjoyed by the believer both now, and in eternity. God gives us eternal life to enjoy as a present gift, extending into eternity.
ii. In Your presence is fullness of joy: This was a joy David could experience now (in the context of his previously mentioned gladness and rejoicing), but also ultimately receive when in the more immediate presence of God.
iii. Peter also quoted these lines in his message on the Day of Pentecost. They show that instead of being punished for His glorious work on the cross, Jesus was rewarded, as prophetically described in this psalm.
e. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore: David had full confidence that his life with God – both now and forevermore – would be marked by the highest and best pleasures. This is life lived above shallow entertainments and excitements.
i. These pleasures are enjoyed at a place: “We are also told that heaven is to be enjoyed at the right hand of God. The right hand, even on earth, is the place of favor, and the place of honor, and the place of security. The right-hand place is always regarded as the place of dignity and nobility in all courts. God is not going to give his people any left-handed heaven, but they are to dwell at his right hand for evermore.” (Spurgeon)
ii. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore: This tells that both in this life and the life beyond, true pleasures forevermore are found at the right hand of God, not in separation from Him.
iii. In his fictional work The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote in the voice of a senior devil, complaining about the “unfair advantage” that God has against the devils as they do their dark work: “He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures forevermore’. Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”
iv. The conclusion of this psalm is especially wonderful when we consider how it began. “The refugee of verse 1 finds himself an heir, and his inheritance beyond all imagining and all exploring.” (Kidner)
v. When we go back to the first verse, we remember that this life of gladness and rejoicing and fullness of joy is not a problem-free life. It is a life that may be challenged and face attack on many levels. Yet in that a life commitment to God has been made and is enjoyed, it is a secure, happy, blessed life.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org