David shows us what it looks like to have a life that is fully centered on the Lord, and on the love, security and joy that we can find only in Him.
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PSALMS #4. PSALM 16:1-11
Once again, I want us to begin by letting this psalm engage us at the level of heart and soul. Stop, and pray, and ask the Lord to engage your spirit and emotions as you read this psalm. Now read it. I have formatted it below to try and show the poetic parallels.
PSALM 16: A MIKTAM OF DAVID.
1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
This psalm is a song of praise, and also a declaration of trust in the Lord. It is attributed to David, and the apostle Peter also confirms that David wrote it (more on that below). The very first line is “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” I don’t think this means that David is in trouble when he writes this psalm – the rest of it, for the most part is joyful and peaceful. But it is a declaration of trust. David is announcing that his security is in God, not in any earthly thing. The remainder of the psalm makes this quite clear. He declares his full allegiance to God: “You alone are my Lord.”
David also says, “I have no good apart from you.” I don’t think David means that his life is so terrible that he has nothing good going on except God. Instead, what he means is that every good thing he has in life comes through the hands of God, and is a gift from God. Every good thing in his life has only one source: God. This reminds me of something written by James:
16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.(James 1:16-17, NLT)
Among the gifts to enjoy for those who love God are other people who also love God. That’s the point of verse three. David delights in those who, like him, have God as their greatest treasure. Verse four gives us a contrast: if we learn to love God himself as our greatest treasure, and we treasure others who do so, we find that we do not want to participate with those who are pursuing other things. We may be friends with such people, and even love them, but we do not go the way they are going, or pursue the things they pursue.
However, I don’t think we should miss the main point David is making: the greatest treasure is God himself, not his gifts. He demonstrates this again in verse five. Let’s start with the idea of “cup,” as David means it here. In the Bible, sometimes the word “cup” is used in a metaphysical way. In psalm 23, David says, in a way similar to here: “my cup overflows.” At other times, the prophets speak about the “cup of God’s wrath.” When James and John ask Jesus for a special position in the Kingdom of God, Jesus asks: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” So, used as it is in psalm sixteen, the cup means: “the present and future that God has planned for me.” David is saying: I choose the cup that God offers me. I will drink in the life that he gives me, including all the blessings he chooses to give, and all the hardship that he allows. As it turned out, David’s life included both many hardships and many blessings. His life was very full, and almost never boring.
David also uses three key terms: portion, lot, and boundary lines. When the people of Israel came into the land of Canaan, God, through Moses, gave careful instructions about how the land was to be divided up between the tribes, and clans and families of Israel. Portions, lots, and boundary lines all refer to the dividing, and inheritance, of the land. In those days, in that part of the world, virtually all wealth came from land. Land allowed you to grow grain and pasture animals, so that you had enough to eat. It was security. It was sacred. Someone without land had nothing. Land-inheritance was a sacred right for Israelites; the land was given to them, and their families, in perpetuity, by God himself.
Now, David writes that he finds his inheritance beautiful. That could mean he is delighted with his ancestral lands. However, the way he puts it makes me think that he is saying something that would be shocking to those who first heard it. He says first: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” I think he is saying, “rather than my ancestral land, I choose the Lord. I choose him even above my land. He is the inheritance I want, and He is beautiful. He is everything I want and need.”
This fits with the psalm as a whole. To understand how shocking this sentiment is, imagine someone who inherits a sizable amount of money from his or her parents. With diligent management, that money will provide a lifelong income for this person. But that person says: “Forget the money. All I want is the Lord. He is worth more to me than my inheritance. I choose Him as my inheritance.”
David goes on to bless the Lord for counsel. God directs him, and gives him wisdom. It seems to me that is a wisdom that comes through the head, and thinking. I find it interesting that he adds: “In the night also, my heart instructs me.” He had an instinctive awareness that God speaks to us through our hearts, as well as our heads. This is part of his joyful experience of following the Lord: the Lord speaks to his head, and to his heart.
Again in verse eight he declares that his faith gives him more security than land, or anything else on earth. He once more proclaims his delight in God’s presence with him. He has chosen God above all else, and this means that his greatest treasure cannot be taken from him. He rejoices in God with everything within himself.
The last three verses are very interesting. From David’s perspective, it looks like, because of his faith in God, he is not afraid to die. The writers of the New Testament saw this part of the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. In the book of Acts, after the Holy Spirit was poured on the apostles and the group of close disciples, the apostle Peter preached a sermon. He explained what was happening with the Holy Spirit being poured out on the believers, and then he spoke about the resurrection of Jesus. He quoted directly from this psalm, psalm sixteen, and after quoting it, he said:
29 “My friends, I must speak to you plainly about our famous ancestor King David. He died and was buried, and his grave is here with us to this very day. 30 He was a prophet, and he knew what God had promised him: God had made a vow that he would make one of David’s descendants a king, just as David was. 31 David saw what God was going to do in the future, and so he spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah when he said,(Acts 2:29-33, GNT)
‘He was not abandoned in the world of the dead;
his body did not rot in the grave.’
32 God has raised this very Jesus from death, and we are all witnesses to this fact. 33 He has been raised to the right side of God, his Father, and has received from him the Holy Spirit, as he had promised. What you now see and hear is his gift that he has poured out on us.
So what does all this mean for us?
I think David is a model for us. He shows us the joy, comfort and security we have when we choose the Lord above all else. The best this world can offer us is only temporary joy, temporary pleasure, temporary security. But when our deepest treasure is God, we can be joyful and secure even when things are not great in our outward circumstances. He writes:
8 I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
As it turned out for David, this was an extremely important lesson, one that he must have relied on again and again during the many occasions when his life was in danger, and he had nothing to his name. He writes that because the Lord is at his right hand, he shall not be shaken. Well, we know that his circumstances were shaken again and again. But he was not shaken, because everything he really wanted and needed he had in the Lord.
Something else is worth remembering here. David is saying that his entire life is centered around the Lord. As we think about this we should remember that David was not a priest, nor was he any kind of full time minister for his vocation. David felt this way about the Lord, and arranged his life around his relationship with the Lord, and he kept up that heartfelt attitude to the Lord in the midst of “ordinary life.” He didn’t retire to a monastery (those hadn’t yet been invented). We know that David loved to worship with others who loved the Lord, and he did so joyfully whenever he had the chance. But his life was spent mostly as a warrior, and a king (and also a short gig as a professional musician).
As I just mentioned, for a time he was a professional musician for King Saul. He also engaged in military maneuvers, and in battles. He spent many years actively running for his life from other military units. Later, he became a king, and he had to have meetings with advisors, and engage in formal ceremonies, and do a lot of administration. In short, he always had a “secular job.” He wasn’t just sitting around praying, and contemplating God. And yet, whatever he was doing (with the exception of one or two horrible sins) he did with an awareness of God’s presence, and a desire to be used by God. He was a full-time God lover in all that he did.
I think this is a very important point. Sometimes, we compartmentalize our faith. On Sundays, we get encouraged in faith, and we seriously think about the role of the Lord in our life. But it’s easy to forget the presence of God in the middle of a phone call with a superior who is blaming you to cover her own mistakes. It’s easy to forget that we can be secure in the Lord when we’ve just been laid off, or when someone we love tells us that they are angry with us. It’s also easy to forget our Lord when we are kicking back with our friends and some cold beverages.
But the kind of faith that we read about in the Bible is meant to be for every day, and every situation. We are followers of Jesus (who is the Lord) at all times: at work, with our families, and when we are relaxing, or with friends. David understood, and rejoiced, that faith is a way of life. We don’t merely “practice it” on Sunday mornings, or whenever we happen to remember. It is full time. David shows us that anyone, no matter what their circumstances can live a life that is centered on the Lord.
I also think it is really important to connect with David’s word: “Apart from you, I have no good thing.” This doesn’t mean that the only good in the world comes through Christians, or things created by Christians; that is not remotely what it says. But it does mean that every bit of true joy we’ve ever had was originated by God, and brought to us by God, whether we know it or not. Paul, preaching a sermon in the town of Lystra, said this:
We are here to announce the Good News, to turn you away from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven, earth, sea, and all that is in them. 16 In the past he allowed all people to go their own way. 17 But he has always given evidence of his existence by the good things he does: he gives you rain from heaven and crops at the right times; he gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.”(Acts 14:15-17, GNT)
All good things come originally from God, and we can and should receive them as such. I receive a lot of music as goodness from God, even when I know the musicians don’t believe in Him. He exists, and he is kind to us, and sometimes uses us to bless others, whether we believe it or not. The same is true of many books I read. It is true in the company of the people we love, and in awe-inspiring encounters with nature. These moments of joy, happiness and goodness are hints of what life is like in the full presence of God. Right now, our sin prevents us from experiencing more, but we are promised the fullness of God’s joy in the New Creation. I think that is what David means when he writes:
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11, ESV)
I think it is good for us to learn to recognize the goodness of God in every moment of joy and happiness we experience. The more we do so, the more we will start to feel the way David feels, as expressed in this psalm. It is easier to love God, and choose him above all else, when we realize how wonderful he is, and how kind he has been to us. This is not something we can do just once. I think the key is to develop a habit of gratitude, and a habit of recognizing the hand of God in everything around us.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now!