Psalm 16 begins with a prayer for safety. That might suggest to us that this psalm — like many of the others we’ve studied — is a psalm of lament. In the psalms of lament, the psalmist cries out to the Lord for help because of the trouble he’s in. However, it’s more likely that Psalm 16 is a psalm of trust, because he professes his faith in the Lord who will not abandon the psalmist in this life and who will fill the psalmist with joy in the life to come.
And the psalm can be divided into four parts. In verses 1 and 2 after the psalmist’s prayer, he makes clear his faith in the Lord. Then in verses 3 and 4 he refers to the ungodly who trust in the wrong thing, because they trust in false gods and not the true God. Then in verses 5 to 8 he praises the Lord for his kindness to him in this life. And in verses 9 to 11, he expresses his hope for the life to come. So, let’s look at those four parts now.
Verses 1 and 2
The psalm opens with this brief prayer:
Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.
Although there’s no indication from the text what kind of trouble he’s in or what threat he faces, nevertheless, by praying for safety and by saying he takes refuge in God, it’s clear that he needs help from the Lord. Then in verse 2, we have this statement of faith. The psalmist turns to the Lord and he declares that ‘the LORD is his Lord’. As you know, ‘LORD’ in capital letters is God’s special covenant name, the name he revealed to Moses and which speaks to us of his steadfast love and faithfulness and his commitment to his people. In Hebrew, it’s the word ‘Yahweh’. On the other hand, ‘Lord’ in lower case letters means Master or Ruler. In Hebrew, it’s the word ‘Adonai’. So, whereas the pagans might say, ‘Baal is my Master’ or ‘Molech is my Master’, the psalmist says, ‘Yahweh is my Master.’ By doing so, he’s expressing his commitment to the Lord. Furthermore, he knows that whatever good thing he enjoys here on earth has come to him from the Lord. The Lord his God is the source of every good thing in his life.
And so, verse 2 is like a statement of faith. If you go to the website of a Christian organisation, very often you’ll see their statement of faith on one of the web-pages. It a way of making clear that this is what we believe about God. Well, this is what the psalmist believes about God: He is my Master and he is the source of every good thing in my life.
Verses 3 and 4
In the next two verses, he refers to the godly and the ungodly. First, he refers to the godly. He calls them ‘the saints who are in the land’. The word ‘saints’ is literally ‘the holy ones’, because these are the people the Lord has set apart for himself. The Lord has chosen his people and he’s set them apart from the rest of humanity to belong to him. So, David is referring to God’s people, who, at that time, lived in the land of Promise. And David also refers to them as ‘the glorious ones in whom is all my delight’. He delights in them, because they’re the Lord’s people. On the other hand, there are those who run after other gods. David could be referring to the pagan nations who did not know the Lord and who worshipped false gods and idols. Or he could be referring to Israelites who have turned away from the Lord to bow down to images. Whoever they are, the psalmist declares that their sorrows will increase. Their sorrows will increase, because their false gods — being nothing — cannot help them. And their sorrows will increase because so long as they remain disobedient to the Lord, they are under God’s wrath and curse and they are liable to all miseries in this life and the next. Unlike the ungodly who run after false gods, the psalmist will not pour out what he refers to as ‘libations of blood’. A libation is a drink offering and so, presumably David is referring to some kind of sacrificial offering which the ungodly present to their gods. Well, the psalmist will not worship these false gods. In fact, he will not even mention the names of these gods.
Whereas the ungodly go after and worship their false gods, the psalmist will only worship the Lord.
Verses 5 to 8
And so, in verses 5 to 8 he praises the Lord for his kindness to him in this life He says that the Lord has assigned him his portion and his cup. The imagery here goes back to the time when the land of Canaan was divided up among the people tribe by tribe and clan by clan and family by family. Each family received their portion of land. The image of the cup conveys a similar idea, because it too refers to our lot in life. To the ungodly, God gives the cup of his wrath, but to the godly, he gives the cup of blessing.
By referring to his portion and cup, he’s saying that God has been good to him and has blessed him in many ways. Furthermore, he says that God has made his lot secure, which is way of saying that God has kept him safe. And he mentions that the boundary lines of his portion have fallen in pleasant places; and that his inheritance from the Lord is delightful. The image we’re to have in mind is of a man who goes out to survey his land and he’s pleased with it, he’s delighted with it, because it’s good land. In other words, God has been good to him. Whereas the sorrows of those who trust in idols will increase, he has received only good things from the Lord.
And then, in verse 7 he praises the Lord for counselling him and for instructing him. This too is a blessing from the Lord, because he needs good counsel and instruction from the Lord to show him how to live his life and show to cope with life’s troubles.
And then, in verse 8, he tells us that he has set the Lord always before me. Well, when there’s something I need to take with me before I go out, I might set it in front of my eyes so that I can see it. And so, setting the Lord before him is a way of saying that he’s determined not to forget the Lord and he always wants to think about the Lord and how to please him. And God is at his right hand, he says. God is with him to protect and help him. And since God is at his side, he will never be shaken. Though he may have enemies and troubles to face, he feels safe and secure, because he knows the Lord is with him.
So, back in verse 1, he appealed to the Lord for safety. And no matter what trouble he faced, no matter what threats were before him, he was confident that the Lord would indeed keep him safe.
Verses 9 to 11
God has helped him and has blessed him in this life. And he’s thankful. But in verses 9 to 11 he turns to think about the life to come. And so, he says that his heart is glad and his tongue will rejoice because he is sure that his body will rest secure. And he means that his body will rest secure in death. How do we know he’s referring to death? Because he says in verse 10 that the Lord will not abandon him in the grave and the Lord will not let his Holy One see decay. When he says ‘Holy One’, he’s referring to himself. And so, he’s able to praise the Lord, because he knows the Lord will not let the psalmist’s body decay in the grave. God has made known to him the path of life. The path of life is the path which leads to eternal life in the presence of God. And in the presence of the Lord, he will be filled with joy and he will enjoy eternal pleasures at God’s right hand.
So, he praises the Lord for all the goodness to him in this life. And he praises the Lord, because he knows the Lord has even better things in store for him in the life to come.
I’ve been trying to show you that each of the psalms points in one way or another to the Lord Jesus. And this psalm is no different. In fact, the apostle Peter quoted this psalm on the day of Pentecost and applied it to the Lord Jesus. During that sermon, which he preached to the crowds in Jerusalem, Peter said that Jesus of Nazareth was handed over to the Jews by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. And the Jews, with the help of wicked men, put Jesus to death by nailing him to the cross. However, God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because — Peter said — it was impossible for death to keep hold of him. And then Peter quoted part of Psalm 16 before explaining that David died and was buried. He added that David’s tomb was still there in Jerusalem and the people could go and visit his tomb. And the point Peter was making when he referred to David’s tomb was to say that although this psalm was written by David, it is not about David. It’s not about David. David’s body is still in his tomb and if they dug it up, they’d see that his body had decayed as every human body decays in the ground. So, although David wrote this psalm, this psalm is not about David. David was writing as a prophet; and he saw what was ahead and spoke about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus died and his body was buried in the ground. However, God did not abandon Jesus to the grave and he did not let his body see decay, because God raised Jesus to life. God raised him from the grave and exalted him to the right hand of God, just as David foretold in his psalm. And so, the Lord Jesus is now filled with joy and with pleasures forevermore.
And, of course, Peter went on to say in his Pentecost sermon that from his place at the right hand of God the Father, the Lord Jesus has poured out his Spirit upon his people here on earth. But the point is that this psalm is not about David. It’s about the Lord Jesus. David was a prophet; and God enabled him to see into the future and to foretell the resurrection of the Lord Jesus who died, but who was raised and who was exalted to the Father’s right hand.
And, of course, the great hope that God gives to all who trust in his Son is that we too will rise. Though you die and your body is laid in the grave, God will not abandon you to the grave, but he will raise you from it to live with him forever and to be filled with joy and with pleasures forevermore. Christ was the firstfruits, because he was the first to rise from the dead. He was the first, but he was not the last, because when he comes again in glory and with power he will raise your body from the grave and reunite your body with your soul so that in body and soul you will be with the Lord forever.
And in the meantime, while we wait for that day to come, we can trust in the Lord to keep us safe and to protect us. Troubles and trials will come, because we live in a fallen world which is characterised by sorrow and suffering. And as believers, we have an enemy, the Devil, who is against us and who will do what he can to crush our faith with adversity and trials. And yet, the Lord fills our lives with good things to enjoy. And he counsels and instructs us with his word and by his Spirit. And he has promised never to leave or forsake us, but to be with us. And so, he’s with you to keep you from being shaken by the troubles and trials you face.
You can therefore trust in him for this life. And you can trust in him for the life to come. And so, instead of turning away from him, and trusting in something else, you must continue to trust in him and in him alone. You must stand firm in the faith, because only the Lord Almighty can show you the path of life; and only the Lord Almighty can fill you with joy in his presence; and only the Lord Almighty can give you eternal pleasures at his right hand in glory.