Psalm 16

For so many individuals, the song “I’m In A Hurry And Don’t Know Why” by Alabama seems to summarize their lives and daily existence. 

“I’m in a hurry to get things done

Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun

All I really gotta do is live and die

But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”   

Life has been called “The Rat Race” by some. Others call it “The Daily Grind.” For some it is seen as “Running on a Treadmill” in which there is a lot of effort expended and very little accomplished. Day in and day out, people are rushing to get from one thing to another and almost always seem to be behind in the things they have determined to get done. 

Now the USA and other nations around the globe have been very limiting in what their citizens are able to do. Sadly, it looks like the problems associated with the pandemic may be around for a while longer. With so many modifications to what was the “normal” daily routine, now is a good time to reflect on what life is all about anyway. It is a good time for each one of us to ask ourselves important questions that the “tyranny of the urgent” has often prevented us from answering. Time continues to move on swiftly even though we have been made to “slow down.” Before any one of us realizes it our lives on this earth will be over. Now is the opportunity to ask ourselves some very fundamental questions. “What do I hope to get out of life?” “What does it take to make me satisfied and fulfilled?” In Psalm 16, David provides us with his answer to those important questions as well as encouraging us to find real meaning and satisfaction for ourselves.

As noted before, the book of Psalms derives its name from the Greek title for this book. The Greek word for “psalm” basically means “a poem or song to be sung to a stringed instrument.” The Hebrew title for this book is “Tehillim” meaning “the Praises” or “Songs of Praise.” This collection of songs was put into its present format by Ezra and served as the hymnbook for the Jewish people in their individual and corporate worship. Some of the songs were an expression of praise while others were prayers offered in a time of need. Yahweh is the focus in this collection of 150 songs as the people of God expressed their deepest emotions to Him. The psalms not only affirm that Yahweh is the only true God, but they also declare that He is a great God who is worthy of our worship, trust and praise. Yahweh is the everlasting Being who is greater than anything in this world or universe. So in Psalm 16, we find David rejoicing in sufficiency of his God.

In the Hebrew text, Psalm 16 actually contains 12 verses whereas it is only 11 verses in our English versions. The reason for this difference is that the superscription in our English versions is actually verse 1 in the Hebrew text. Therefore, the information of the first verse of the Hebrew text was part of the divinely inspired text along with the rest of the psalm even though it was not part of the song itself. Instead, when the “superscription” was penned by the author of a given psalm, it provided important information about his song. Psalm 16 is introduced by such information in the first verse (our superscription). 

“Mikhtam of David”

David does not tell us the occasion which prompted him to pen this song; but he does state that he is its author. Within the content of the psalm itself, it appears that David composed this psalm when he was in physical danger. He asks of the LORD “preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You” (Ps. 16:1) and expresses his confidence that he will be delivered by the LORD when he states: “For You will not abandon my soul to sheol; neither will You allow Your holy one to see the pit.” (Ps. 16:10) While David did not think the specific situation was important to state, he does tell us that this psalm is a Mikhtam. The exact meaning of the term Mikhtam has been debated. There have been several suggested meanings proposed including: “a golden psalm, a private prayer, epigram, an atonement psalm and an inscription.” Even though the exact meaning of the term is still questionable, it appears that a Mikhtam indicates a literary style in which “spiritual truths are being conveyed in pithy sayings.” David designed this psalm not only to express his praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for the deliverance shown to him; but also to teach important “life lessons” to those who heard and read his psalm.  

In addition to Psalm 16 being a Praise Song in which David expressed his confident trust in the Lord, it is also regarded as a Messianic Psalm because of the truths it teaches about the coming Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts, Luke includes messages given by Peter as well as Paul affirming that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fulfillment of the truth expressed in this psalm. Even though our Savior experienced physical death and was buried, He was not abandoned to the grave and His body did not undergo decay (See Acts 2 and Acts 13 for the use of Psalm 16:10). So the figurative language used by David to express his deliverance from physical death provides a descriptive statement foretelling the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.

Psalm 16 consists of three distinct sections. It begins with The Petition of David (Ps. 16:1) for the Lord to intervene on his behalf. In the second section, there is The Perspective of David (Ps. 16:2-6) in which he expresses his conviction that for one to experience fulfillment and joy in life, life must be lived with a central focus upon the Lord. The final section consists of The Praise of David (Ps. 16:7-11) in which David affirms the blessing that comes from the Lord to those who have a theocentric (God centered) outlook on life. Such an outlook on life doesn’t mean an individual never faces any problems or that everything works out as in a Walt Disney Fantasy World of fun and excitement. David himself wrote these words after being delivered from a life threatening situation. What David is teaching us is that those who have the Lord as central in their lives will have fulfillment and joy in life regardless of what happens to them. 

Psalm 16 begins with an urgent cry of David to the Lord to intervene on his behalf. He was in a situation that could not be resolved by human ingenuity or resources. He prayed:

“Preserve me, O God,

For I take refuge in You.”

Psalm 16:1

While David uttered his urgent cry to the Lord for deliverance, the rest of the psalm affirms that his plea for the Lord to intervene on his behalf was not one of panic. While he was in a hopeless situation from a human standpoint, he rested confidently in the sufficiency of the Lord. The Hebrew term translated by the English word “preserve” has as its basic meaning: “protect, guard, keep, keep safe.” David petitioned the Lord to keep him from physical death since the Lord Himself was his refuge or place of safety and security.  We too live in a dangerous world. Many issues we face either individually or as a group, are beyond our ability to solve or correct. Those who trust in the LORD find that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

After David recounted his plea to the LORD (Yahweh), there is the Perspective of David in which he described his God centered outlook on life.

“I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.’

As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor shall I take their names upon my lips.

The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.”

Psalm 16:2-6

In this section of his psalm, David affirmed a number of important truths regarding his relationship with the Lord. He began by affirming that Yahweh (LORD) was his master or lord (Adonai) by saying to Yahweh “You are my Lord.” (While some translations do not show the distinction as seen in the Hebrew text, the first term LORD is in all capital letters indicating it is a translation of the personal name of God or Yahweh. The second term Lord should be a capital L with the other letters in the lower case as it is the Hebrew word “Adonai” which means lord or master.) David acknowledged that he was a servant of Yahweh and delighted to do what pleased his lord or master. In addition, David indicated that Yahweh Himself was his only good, or supreme good. “I have no good besides You.” The person of God was the highest treasure in David’s life.

As one who found his chief good to be Yahweh Himself, David also declared that his delight was in the saints or holy ones of God rather than in those who followed false gods. The term saint or holy one means “a set apart one” indicating that the individuals who trust in Yahweh are in a unique position before the Lord and in the world. These are the individuals who have a genuine relationship with the Lord through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. During the lifetime of David, there were others in the nation of Israel who had turned from Yahweh (bartered for another god) and worshiped the false gods of the gentile nations around them. Those who have abandoned the worship of the true God will have sorrows in this life with no one to deliver them as well as the bleakness of a hopeless eternity. In contrast, David enjoyed the company of those who trusted in Yahweh. The people of God were his delight as well as those whose character set them apart from others. Even though God’s children are sinners saved by grace, David referred to them as the “majestic ones” on the earth. In other words, the working of God’s grace within believers makes them men and women of honorable character. 

David concluded this section on his God centered perspective on life by declaring again that Yahweh was his supreme good as the beneficial inheritance he received. The terms “cup” and “lot” can be used either literally or figuratively in literature. In this case, they are being used figuratively by David to express his situation or portion in life. He stated that same truth in Psalm 23:5 when he said “my cup overflows.” As a member of the nation of Israel, he had a physical land inheritance given by the Lord to all the tribes except for the tribe of Levi. Yahweh Himself was the inheritance for the priestly tribe of Levi. David considered himself doubly blessed. Not only did he have a portion of land as the inheritance from his family, more importantly, he had the personal eternal inheritance of Yahweh Himself who is the supreme good for any man or woman. 

The final portion of this psalm is The Praise of David. In verses 7-9, David affirmed the blessing that was his with Yahweh as his counselor and strength. Because of this relationship with the Lord, David had a confident composure even during the storms of life. Then in verses 10-11, David directed his words to Yahweh Himself as he expressed the genuine joy and delight that he experienced in the Lord. 

“I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore, my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh shall dwell securely.

‘For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Neither will You allow Your Holy One to see the pit.

You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.’”

Psalm 16:7-11

David began his praise by declaring that he will bless Yahweh. In other words, he is going to speak well of the Lord and enhance the glory due to God in the eyes of others as they hear his testimony of praise. David stated that he had two reasons for the praise he offered to the Lord. First, he praised Yahweh for the way He guides, directs, teaches, instructs and comforts him. Even at night when one’s thoughts can be so unsettling, David found that the Lord provided him with the counsel and guidance he needed so he was not consumed with worries and fears. Instead, the Lord was continually the focus and priority in David’s life so he had a sense of peace and wellbeing, even in fearful circumstances.

Second, David expressed his praise to Yahweh for his security and safety. David declared that Yahweh was at his right hand indicating that the Lord was in the place of honor. The apostles James and John requested of the Lord Jesus that they would be seated at the right and left hand of the Lord in the promised kingdom. Their desire was to be in the position of highest honor next to the Lord. David considered Yahweh as the One having the highest honor in his life. Therefore, David was the one blessed and cared for by the Lord. In addition, the biblical concept of the “right hand” not only conveyed the idea of the position of honor but also the provision of power. Since most people are right handed, this term became the figurative expression of one’s power or ability. The right hand was the arm that wielded the weapon for protection and conquest. In the mind of David, Yahweh was his source of strength and power. Yahweh was his weapon against the foes before him. Therefore, David was at peace and could say “I shall not be shaken.” David found the Lord to be his protector even as Luther did when he stated that God is “a mighty fortress, a bulwark never failing.”     

In the final two verses of this psalm, David spoke to the Lord Himself. Yahweh is the One who was watching over him and would not give him over to physical death. Yahweh will not allow him to see the pit or grave. God is the One who delivered him from this life threatening situation. Figuratively, the language used by David for his thanksgiving to the Lord for delivering him from physical death anticipated a literal fulfillment of this verse in the bodily resurrection of the truly “Holy (Unique) One”, the Lord Jesus Christ. While He actually did taste physical death, His physical body did not decay in the tomb. He was raised in a glorified physical body never to be subject to death again. In His resurrection, we have the promise of the resurrection for all who, like David, are trusting in Him for eternal life.

David concluded his expression of praise to the Lord by affirming that Yahweh is the One who provides him with understanding in the way or path of life. God is the only One who can enable us to comprehend the spiritual truth that is for our good and benefit. The things of God are foolishness to the natural man and cannot be understood by him (I Cor. 2:14). Man in all his wisdom is not able to know God or understand His ways (I Cor. 1:21). It is God who makes Himself and His ways known to the objects of His grace (I Cor. 1:22-31). David recognized that he was greatly blessed of the Lord by being able to comprehend the things of God. The Lord makes known “the way of life” that leads into the presence of God and delivers one from the judgment justly deserved. In Proverbs, the term “way of life is used to contrast with only other option for any one of us. “The path of life leads upward for the wise, that he may keep away from Sheol below” (Prov. 15:24). Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

And just what is the portion and future for those who are the objects of God’s gracious salvation? It is to be in the presence of God! Not only will the children of God see the august grandeur of the Triune God, but they well experience unending joy that surpasses anything imaginable. “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” The saints of God have a joy and peace that the world cannot give or take away (John 14:27-15:11). The Lord is the source of true peace and joy. 

What important truths are found in this “Mikhtam” of David! This psalm provides us with the understanding that “a rich and satisfied life” is not found in the things of this world. Instead, the greatest of all treasures for any one of us is a genuine personal relationship with the Lord. With the LORD as one’s portion, there is peace, joy and security in this life along with the anticipation of joys and pleasures beyond description in the life to come. Having a theocentric (God centered) outlook on life provides one with an inner calmness even in the face of some of the most difficult situations in life. A dear brother in Christ who went through some great physical difficulties during his final years in this world would sign the letters he wrote with the simple phrase: “satisfied in Jesus.” Having known him well, I know this statement of praise was not merely a catch phrase but rather an expression of his satisfaction and contentment in his great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now he is in the presence of the One he loved and served in this life and enjoying the pleasures that are at God’s right hand forever. May our wonderful Lord graciously give to us this same understanding so we may each truly say: “Satisfied in Jesus.”

Soli Deo Gloria!