psalm 16… I set the Lord always before me

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.

What kind of life will you have if you have set the Lord always before you? Psalm 16 tells us. It describes the life of a God-centred person.

We are told little about the troubles of the psalmist though the opening line makes it clear he is in some kind of trouble. David had many difficult situations in life. He faced many life-threatening situations. Here there are those who run after other gods nearby (v4). There are times when he is awake at night (v7). Yet David is unshaken (v8). Indeed his heart is glad (v9). It is glad because he has made the Lord his portion (v5). All David’s ‘good’ is found in the Lord; the Lord is his treasure.

Finding himself in a dangerous situation he makes God his refuge. His security lies with the Lord (7:1; 11:1; 17:7). Notice that here and throughout the Psalm David actively pursues the Lord and finds in him the answer to his needs. The Lord’s presence in our life doesn’t just happen we must pursue it; we must make him what we want him to be. And so David trusts in the Lord. He says to the Lord (Yahweh) ‘You are my Lord (Adonai)’. He acknowledges the Lord as his master and sovereign. He confesses he has no good apart from the Lord. It is this aligning of values and centring all that matters in the Lord that will lead David in the path of life (v11).

In committing himself to the Lord David is resolutely rejecting other ways. He will have nothing to do with other gods and their rituals. He has chosen Yahweh and rejects apostasy and idolatry and other masters. Consequently it is those who follow Yahweh, the saints, in whom he (and Christ, the ultimate God-centred person) will delight. They are ‘the glorious ones’ or ‘the excellent ones’. Apparently the gods were sometimes called ‘glorious ones’. David recognises that God’s people and not false gods are the true ‘glorious ones’. They are the ones deserving of praise. In them he will delight and he will not be part of those who pursue other gods and so bring increasing trouble upon themselves. Other gods enslave and destroy.

The Lord, for David, is his chosen portion, not false gods (v5). Once again we see his deliberate decision. The Lord is his portion, his cup and his lot. In Israel land was divided by lot into portions and became the inheritance of God’s people (Numbs 33:54; Josh 19:9). It was to be passed on through each generation. Only the Levites had no land inheritance instead the Lord was their inheritance (Numb 18:20). David here aligns himself with the Levites. It’s possible that at this point he was a fugitive, as he was more than once in his life. His land inheritance may be forfeit at this point (1 Sam 26:19). Be that as it may, the important thing is that it is in the Lord he finds his inheritance and land. With the Lord as his inheritance his allotted inheritance is pleasant and beautiful. The land with its allotments becomes a metaphor for all he enjoys in the Lord. The Lord is his cup of refreshment and celebration. The land in its best sense is the Lord; it is in him all blessings lie (Eph 1:1-3).

The blessings of having the Lord as his inheritance are clear. The Lord is his counsellor who guides and instructs his heart even in the night. He is both his counsellor and his guardian (v7,8). The Lord is like a warrior by his side protecting and warring on his behalf. This is the source of his stability. Because of this he will not be shaken (Ps 15:5; 21:7; 112:6). He is secure. Should he die the Lord will still protect him. He will not be abandoned; the path of life that has been revealed (Deut 30:15-20; Provs 5:6; 6:23). and that he has followed will result in resurrection life. He is God’s holy one and will not be left in death.

This text about resurrection* presents some difficulty for as Peter says in the NT David did see corruption. The NT interprets this text as ultimately a prophecy concerning Christ, David’s son and Lord (2 Sam 7:12,13; Ps 110:1). The whole psalm finds fulfilment in him. He was truly God’s ‘Holy One’ in life and death. He lay in death for three days and saw no corruption. He arose from the dead with a transformed incorruptible body and ascended to heaven to be seated at God’s right hand (Acts 2:22-33). It is at God’s right hand that there are ‘treasures forevermore’. Interestingly it is from there that the Holy Sprit is sent by Christ as the crowning new covenant gift to the church. For the church the treasures at the Father’s right hand are already being partially enjoyed. In God’s presence David anticipates ‘fullness of joy’. David knew that the taste of God’s goodness and joy he experienced under the old covenant could only intensify in the world to come. He believed in resurrection (17:15). John reveals how God and the Lamb will flood the heavenly city with a glory that shall be eternally captivating (Rev 21). Such is the heritage of those whose hearts are set on God.

* Resurrection is muted in the OT but it is there. The NT tells us that Abraham believed that if he slew Isaac God would raise him from the dead (Roms 4). Hebrews tells us that OT saints died in faith not having received the promises but seeing them from afar. They looked for a better country, a heavenly one. Many suffered and died for their faith believing they would rise to a better life (Hebs 11:35). In psalm 16:9-11 and 17:15 resurrection is present. Isaiah 25:7,8; 26:19; Daniel 12:2 seem to be resurrection texts too. Cf. Lk 20:27-40

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