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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalms 16

 

 

Introduction

Verse 1

(1) For in thee.—Better, for I have found refuge in thee (as in Psalms 7:1; Psalms 11:1). The verb is in the preterite.


Verse 2

Verse 4

(4) Their sorrows.—This verse offers also great variation in the ancient versions. The literal text runs Their sorrows [or, idols] (fem.) are multiplied (masc); another they hasten [or, change]. I will not pour out their libations from blood, and will not take their names upon my lips, which, with one or two slight changes in the punctuation, becomes—

“They shall multiply their sorrows

Who change to another god:

I will not pour out their bloody libations,

Nor take their names on my lips.”

At the same time, from the evident allusion to the curse on Eve in Genesis 3:16, and the fact that the verb rendered “hasten” (comp. margin) means to buy a wife, it seems that the psalmist had the common prophetical figure for idolatry, viz., adultery, in his mind; but as he is not speaking of the Church as a whole, he does not work it out as the prophets do, by representing the idolaters as adulteresses.

The “libations of blood” seem to refer to the ghastly rites of Moloch and Chemosh. For the last clause comp. Exodus 23:13. To the Hebrews the very name of a god included a predication of his power. Hence the avoidance of even mentioning baal, but substituting bosheth, i.e., shameful thing, for it, even in proper names.


Verse 5

(5) The portion.—There is allusion here to the Levitical portion (Numbers 18:20): “I am thy portion and thine inheritance.” The poet, whom we must imagine exiled from his actual inheritance in Canaan, consoles, and more than consoles himself, with the sublime thought that this “better part” could not be taken away from him. Perowne quotes Savonarola’s fine saying, “What must not he possess who possesses the possessor of all!” and St. Paul’s, “All things are yours; for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s;” which rather recalls Deuteronomy 32:9, where the correlative truth to Numbers 18:20 occurs.

For the figure of the cup, see Psalms 11:6. It had already become a synonym for “condition in life.”

Thou maintainest.—The Hebrew word is peculiar, and causes grammatical difficulties; but the sense is clear. God does not only dispose (cast) the lot of the man in covenant relation to Him—He does that even for unbelievers—but holds it fast in His hand. (See this use of the verb, Amos 1:5; Amos 1:8; Proverbs 5:5.) At the same time Hitzig’s conjecture (tômîd for tômîkh), is very plausible, “Thou art ever my lot.”


Verse 5-6

A Goodly Heritage

The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup:

Thou maintainest my lot.

The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places;

Yea, I have a goodly heritage.—Psalms 16:5-6.

Written in time of urgent need, this Psalm opens in the form of a prayer, which is, however, shortly changed into a pious meditation. The Psalmist declares that he has vowed allegiance to God, fellowship with the holy, self-severance from idolaters (Psalms 16:2-4). Jehovah is his possession, and with such an inheritance he is all contentment (Psalms 16:5-6). Jehovah inspires him with wisdom, more especially with moral discrimination; and Jehovah is before him and about him, so that he may confidently expect to show an unswerving front to fortune (Psalms 16:7-8). And therefore his heart and soul rejoice; and therefore, too, in spite of present dangers, his whole man has confidence that he shall not be numbered with the inhabitants of Sheol, but shall experience life and happiness, the happiness which God continually showers with liberal hand on those He loves (Psalms 16:9-11).

Here is a Psalm well worthy to be called, as the margin of King James’s Bible translates the Jewish heading, a “golden” Psalm. Golden indeed it is; it belongs to that Bible within the Bible which the Christian instinct teaches all of us to rediscover for ourselves, and in which the New Testament writers took such keen delight. In childlike faith these holy men of old found their Saviour in the 16th Psalm; and so may we, on the single condition that we do not disregard those laws of the human mind which God Himself made. Childlike faith must in us be coupled with manly reasonableness. The first believers practically rewrote the Psalter for edification, without thinking of its original meaning; they took every one of the 150 Psalms into the shrine of Gospel utterances. We who come after them cannot give this particular proof of our belief in the divinity of the Old Testament revelation. In adapting the Psalms to the needs of edification, we who desire to consecrate our intellect to Christ must seek counsel of a criticism and an exegesis which are nothing if they are not psychological; that is, if they are not in full accordance with the laws of the human mind.1 [Note: T. K. Cheyne, in The Expositor, 3rd Ser., x. 210.]

This Psalm was the last Scripture read by Hugh M‘Kail the evening before his execution in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh. After reading it, he said to his father, and those about him, “If there were anything in this world sadly and unwillingly to be left, it were the reading of the Scriptures. I said, ‘I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living.’ But this need not make us sad, for where we go, the Lamb is the Book of Scripture, and the light of that city; and where He is, there is life, even the river of the water of life, and living springs.”

I.

A Wealthy Estate

“The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup”

1. The two words which are translated in our version “portion” and “inheritance” are substantially synonymous. The latter of them is used continually in reference to the share of each individual, or family, or tribe in the partition of the land of Canaan. There is a distinct allusion, therefore, to that partition in the language of our text; and the two expressions, part or “portion,” and “inheritance,” are substantially identical, and really mean just the same as if the single expression had stood: “The Lord is my portion.”

The “portion of my cup” is a somewhat strange expression. It is found in one of the other Psalms, with the meaning “fortune,” or “destiny,” or “sum of circumstances which make up a man’s life.” There may be, of course, an allusion to the metaphor of a feast here, and God may be set forth as “the portion of my cup,” in the sense of being the refreshment and sustenance of a man’s soul. But more probably there is merely a prolongation of the earlier metaphor, and the same thought as is contained in the figure of the “inheritance” is expressed here (as in common conversation it is often expressed) by the word “cup”—namely, that which makes up a man’s portion in this life. It is used with such a meaning in the well-known words: “My cup runneth over,” and in another shape in, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” It is the sum of circumstances which make up a man’s “fortune.” So the double metaphor presents the one thought of God as the true possession of the devout soul.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, A Year’s Ministry, 1st Ser., 207.]

2. Each family in Israel by the command of God received its portion by the casting of the lot. The result was not regarded as fortuitous, but as disposed and determined by God Himself. In each case the portion was accepted as a direct Divine gift. It was to be held in inalienable possession through all time. A creditor might establish a claim to temporary possession, but in the fiftieth year it must go back to the original owner. No title, therefore, could be stronger, no claim more sure and permanent, than that which was thus acquired. In the case of the Psalmist the property acquired and possessed as an inalienable gift was not a fair estate on the productive Israelitish territory, but the great God Himself, to be his own God for ever.

Palestine is the England of the East. I think that it is Miss Martineau who says that nothing which she had seen about the world so reminded her of the rolling Yorkshire and Northumberland moors, as the approach to Palestine by Hebron. Certainly it was a remarkable dispensation of the hand of Providence that planted the people whom God meant to be His psalmists for all time, who were to touch that true keynote of the relation of man to man, to nature, and to God, which was to ring through history, in a country singularly fair, glad, fertile, and homelike; where men could pass from under the shadow of the terror of nature, could lie in her lap, and bask in her smile. Consider for a moment the physical condition of the home where God established His sons. “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.” “For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedest thy seed, and wateredest it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: but the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: a land which the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.”

The country was small, compact, infinitely broken and varied in outline, full of features, crowded with nooks of beauty, where a man might easily learn to nestle as in a home, and which he might come to love with a passion which would make him a patriot of the Greek, Roman, or German type; in striking contrast to the prevalent tone of Asiatic political life. His home by the spring with the terebinth grown to shadow it, the rich grass in the hollow where the brook was purling by, and gleaned through the verdure; the hills sweeping up behind in a wide amphitheatre of beauty, terraced with vineyards, whose grapes glowed ruddy in the westering sun; broad belts of yellow corn-land on the slopes, and the barns bursting with the garnered spoils of the year; such a home, I say—and there were myriads of such in Palestine in its palmy days—would make the land seem fair and lovely as it seemed to Moses when he surveyed it from the borders of the waste; a land to love, to fight for, to die for, before it should be pressed by the footsteps of the insolent foe.

It was a land, too, of noble agriculture, tasking men’s loftier faculties and powers. Moses speaks with a kind of contempt of the agriculture of Egypt, where the land was watered with the foot, “as the garden of herbs.” The thing to be chiefly desired in Egypt was that the land should become one vast plain of fertile mud. The country, as it were, tilled itself. The Nile manured it; the husbandman had but to drop his seed into the ooze and was sure of his fruit. But Palestine demanded strenuous labour, test of brain as well as hand, patience, courage, faith. Like the Rhineland or Switzerland, it was matter of constant care and toil to till it; it strained all the faculties, but it repaid the culture with glorious fruit. But the chief point, after all, was the fulness of feature, of points of beauty and interest to which the heart could turn and the memory could cling. It was a land of rich, prodigal variety, of forms around which imagination could play. To live in it, as compared with Egypt or Babylonia, was an education; of all the lands of the East incomparably the fittest to be the home and the training school of a race of hardy, brave, free, and cultivated men. “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Palestine, not Egypt, was their goodly home.1 [Note: J. Baldwin Brown.]

3. In the division of the Land of Canaan among the tribes, no part was assigned to the tribe of Levi, because, as was expressly declared, Jehovah would be their portion or share (Numbers 18:20, the same word which occurs here), and the gifts consecrated to Jehovah the provision for their support (Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:1, etc.). That which was true nationally of Levi, was true in its deepest spiritual import of every believing Israelite. “What must not he possess,” says Savonarola, “who possesses the possessor of all?” In the words of St. Paul, “All things are yours, for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

To have a portion in God is to possess that which includes in itself all created good. The man who is in possession of some great masterpiece in painting or sculpture need not envy others who have only casts or copies of it. The original plate or stereotype is more valuable than any impressions or engravings thrown off from it; and he who owns the former owns that which includes, is capable of producing, all the latter. So, if it be given to any human spirit to know and enjoy God, to be admitted to the fellowship, and have a portion in the very being of the Infinite, then is that spirit possessor of that whereof “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or ‘the World’”—all material and all mental excellence—is but the faint copy, the weak and blurred transcript. Surveying the wonders of creation, or even with the Word of inspiration in his hand, the Christian can say, “Glorious though these things be, to me belongs that which is more glorious far. The streams are precious, but I have the Fountain; the vesture is beautiful, but the Wearer is mine; the portrait in its every lineament is lovely, but that Great Original whose beauty it but feebly depicts is my own. ‘God is my portion, the Lord is mine inheritance.’ To me belongs all actual and all possible good, all created and uncreated beauty, all that eye hath seen or imagination conceived; and more than that, for ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love him’—all things and beings, all that life reveals or death conceals, everything within the boundless possibilities of creating wisdom and power, is mine; for God, the Creator and Fountain of all, is mine.”1 [Note: John Caird, Aspects of Truth, 211.]

When I lived in the woods of Indiana, I used to hear a great deal of talk about the inflorescence of the prairies in spring. I tried to imagine what it was. I had never seen a prairie, and I was filled with curiosity to see one, especially at that season of the year when the flowers were in bloom, of which I had heard such glowing descriptions. I had to make up some sort of notion respecting them, and I did the best I could. I put my garden alongside of another, and I added several others to these; and then I thought of all the flowers they would contain; but it was a comparatively limited idea that I had in my mind. And I remember very well the morning when I first rode out upon a real rolling prairie. After passing through a piece of woods I struck it. The sun was shining aslant—for it was about nine o’clock; the dew was on the grass and on the flowers; and very soon I was out at sea—or the effect was the same as if I had been. I could see no timber in any direction. It looked as though the prairie went to a point where the sky touched it, in front, on the right, and on the left. The flowers covered every little swell and hillside. It seemed as if all the flowers in creation had been collected there.

Instead of little bits of flower-beds here and there, there were vast stretches of flowers. Here was a patch of pansies a mile long; there was a patch of tulips two or three miles long; and here was a patch of phlox five or six miles long. Hera were great quantities of one sort of flowers, and there were great quantities of another sort. Further than the eye could reach the ground was covered with flowers. It looked as though the sun had dropped down upon the earth and stained everything with its colours. And it was easy to conceive that if I should go on, and on, and on, if I should travel all day, and to-morrow, and the next day, and next week, I should still find flowers. And oh, what was my garden-conception of a prairie compared with what I took in when I saw one?

You build up your idea of God from the household, from the best persons you know, and from the highest experiences that you have had. You gather together on earth all those conceptions which to you make a heroic, noble, resplendent being, and the sum of these you call God. But how different is the idea which you have of Him now from that which you will have of Him when you see Him as He is!1 [Note: H. W. Beecher.]

Lord, what remains?

When I would count my gains,

I find that Thou hast torn them all away;

And under summer suns I shrink with cold,

Shiver, and faint with hunger, yet behold

My brethren strong and satisfied and gay.


I had a friend

Whose love no time could end:

That friend didst Thou to Thine own bosom take;

For this my loss I see no reparation:

The earth was once my home: a habitation

Of sorrow hast Thou made it for his sake.


I had a dream

Bright as a noontide beam:

I sought for wisdom. Thou didst make its taste

(Which was as spice and honey from the south)

Ashes and gall and wormwood in my mouth.

Was this the fruit I sought with so much haste?


I had a love

(This bitterest did prove);

A mystic light of joy on earth and sky;

Strange fears and hopes; a rainbow tear and smile,

A transient splendour for a little while,

Then—sudden darkness: Lord, Thou knowest why.


What have I left?

Of friend, aim, love, bereft;

Stripped bare of everything I counted dear.

What friend have I like that I lost! what call

To action? nay, what love?

Lord, I have all

And more beside, if only Thou art near.1 [Note: Adeline Sergeant.]

4. How can we possess God? We possess things in one fashion and persons in another. The lowest and most imperfect form of possession is that by which a man simply keeps other people off material good, and asserts the right of disposal of it as he thinks proper. A blind man may have the finest picture that ever was painted; he may call it his, that is to say, nobody else can sell it, but what good is it to him? Does the man who draws the rents of a mountain-side, or the poet or painter, to whom its cliffs and heather speak far-reaching thoughts, most truly possess it? The highest form of possession, even of things, is when they minister to our thought, to our emotion, to our moral and intellectual growth. Even them we possess really, only according as we know them and hold communion with them.

But when we get up into the region of persons, we possess them in the measure in which we understand them, and sympathize with them, and love them. Knowledge, intercourse, sympathy, affection—these are the ways by which men can possess men, and spirits, spirits. A man who gets the thoughts of a great teacher into his mind, and has his whole being saturated by them, may be said to have made the teacher his own. A friend or a lover owns the heart that he or she loves, and which loves back again; and not otherwise do we possess God. “We have God for ours first in the measure in which our minds are actively occupied with thoughts of Him. We have no merely mystical or emotional possession of God to preach. There is a real, adequate knowledge of Him in Jesus Christ. We know God, His character, His heart, His relations to us, His thoughts of good concerning us, sufficiently for all intellectual and for all practical purposes.

There is no other way by which a spirit can possess a spirit, that is not cognizable by sense, except only by the way of thinking about Him, to begin with. All else follows that. That is how you hold your dear ones when they go to the other side of the world. When your husband, or your wife, or your child goes away from home for a week, you do not forget them. Do you have them in any sense if they never dwell in the “study of your imagination,” and never fill your thoughts with sweetness and with light?1 [Note: A. Maclaren, A Year’s Ministry, 1st Ser., 209.]

The love of Christ which burns in one Christian’s breast does not become enfeebled if other hearts catch the flame from his, but rather, by contact of congenial elements, glows in each separate heart with a fervour all the more intense. The peace of God may be diffused through the spirits of a multitude which no man can number, and yet each redeemed soul may say of it, “It is all my own”—nay, better than if all or exclusively his own; for it is a peace, a joy, a happiness, which, by the electric flash of sympathy passing from heart to heart, becomes, by reason of the multitudes who share it, redoubled, multiplied, boundlessly increased to each. Let no man, therefore, in spiritual things, glory in his own or envy another’s good; for to every individual member of Christ’s Church it may be said, “Whatever others have obtained, still the whole, the illimitable all of Truth and Love and Joy is left for you.”2 [Note: John Caird, Aspects of Truth, 207.]

God places Himself at the disposal of every one, and it is for us to appropriate Him. The reason why the sun produces in one place geraniums, camellias, azaleas, all forms of exquisite flowers, and does not produce them in another place, is not in the sun. The cause of the difference is in the use to which you put the sun. It shines on the south side of my barn; and what does it produce there? A warm spot, where chickens and cows gather. It shines on the south side of my neighbour’s barn; and what does it produce there? Flowers and grapes. What is the reason of the difference? Does the sun change? No; but it is put to different uses. It is just the same sun, with just the same vivifie power to all; but its effects are different when it is differently employed.1 [Note: H. W. Beecher.]

5. God can become our portion only when we seek Him as the highest good. Like the Levites we must make Him our all, and renounce all that would compete with Him. There cannot be two supreme, any more than there can be two pole-stars, one in the north, and the other in the south to both of which a man can be steering. You cannot stand with

One foot on land, and one on sea,

To one thing constant never.

If you are going to have God as your supreme good, you must empty your heart of earth and worldly things, or your possession of Him will be all words, and imagination, and hypocrisy. There must be a fixed, deliberate, intelligent conviction lying at the foundation of my life that God is best, and that He and He only is my true delight and desire. Then there must be built upon that intelligent conviction that God is best the deliberate turning away of the heart from these material treasures. And then there must be the willingness to abandon the outward possession of them if they come in between us and Him.

Just as when a chemist collects oxygen in a vessel filled with water, as it passes into the jar it drives out the water before it; so the love of God, if it come into a man’s heart in any real sense, in the measure in which it comes, will deliver him from the love of the world.2 [Note: A. Maclaren, A Year’s Ministry, 1st Ser., 210.]

O love that casts out fear,

O love that casts out sin,

Tarry no more without,

But come and dwell within.


True sunlight of the soul,

Surround me as I go;

So shall my way be safe,

My feet no straying know.


Great love of God, come in,

Well-spring of heavenly peace,

Thou Living Water, come,

Spring up, and never cease.


Love of the living God,

Of Father and of Son,

Love of the Holy Ghost,

Fill Thou each needy one.1 [Note: Horatius Bonar.]

II.

A Secure Tenure

“Thou maintainest my lot.”

God Himself is the guardian of the estate. The land, the partition of which amongst the tribes lies at the bottom of the allusive metaphor of the text, was given to them under the sanction of a supernatural defence; and the law of their continuance in it was that they should trust and serve the unseen King. It was He, according to the theocratic theory of the Old Testament, and not chariots and horses, their own arm and their own sword, that kept them safe, though the enemies on the north and the enemies on the south were big enough to swallow up the little kingdom at a mouthful. And so, says the Psalmist allusively, in a similar manner, the Divine Power surrounds the man who chooses God for his heritage, and nothing shall take that heritage from him.

1. Our possession is secure, because it enters into the fibre of our being, and becomes part of ourselves. The lower forms of possession, by which men are called the owners of material goods are imperfect, because they are all precarious and temporary. Nothing really belongs to a man if it can be taken from him. What we may lose we can scarcely be said to have. They are mine, they were yours, they will be some other person’s to-morrow. Whilst we have them we do not have them in any deep sense; we cannot retain them, they are not really ours at all. The only thing that is worth calling ours is something that so passes into and saturates the very substance of our soul that, like a piece of cloth dyed in the grain, as long as two threads hold together the tint will be there. That is how God gives us Himself, and nothing can take Him out of a man’s soul. He, in the sweetness of His grace, bestows Himself upon man, and guards His own gift, in the heart, which is Himself. He who dwells in God and God in him lives as in the inmost keep and citadel. The noise of battle may roar around the walls, but deep silence and peace are within. The storm may rage upon the coasts, but he who has God for his portion dwells in a quiet inland valley where the tempests never come. No outer changes can touch our possession of God. They belong to another region altogether. Other goods may go, but this is held by a different tenure. The life of a Christian is lived in two regions; in the one his life has its roots, and its branches extend to the other. In the one there may be whirling storms and branches may toss and snap, whilst in the other, to which the roots go down, may be peace.

Often we do not learn the depth and riches of God’s love and the sweetness of His presence till other joys vanish out of our hands and other loved presences fade away out of sight. The loss of temporal things seems ofttimes to be necessary to empty our hearts, that they may receive the things that are unseen and eternal. The door is never opened to Him until the soul’s dead joys are borne out; then, while it stands open, He enters bearing into it joys immortal. How often is it true that the sweeping away of our earthly hopes reveals the glory of our heart’s refuge in God! Some one has beautifully said, “Our refuges are like the nests of birds: in summer they are hidden among the green leaves, but in winter they are seen among the naked branches.” Worldly losses but strip off the foliage and disclose to us our heart’s warm nest in the bosom of God.1 [Note: J. E. Miller, The Shining Life.]

2. God will fortify our hearts, so that we may not weakly barter away our possession. None can dispossess us against our wills, but the offers of the world are persistent and alluring, and we need a special defence. This God provides for all who trust Him. He sets up within us an impregnable defence, even His own presence. He is near unto all them that put their trust in Him; no harm shall come to them. We have at once the joy of possession and in the possession safety.

Transfiguration is wrought in human life by the indwelling of Christ. In what measure Christ enters into us, and fills us, and abides in us, depends upon the measure of our surrender to Him. He is ready to fill us and live in us. A perfumer bought an earthenware vase and filled it with attar of roses. The rich perfume entered into the material of the vase, and completely permeated it. Long after it ceased to be used, it still carried the fragrance. Even when it was old and broken, its shattered and worthless fragments retained the sweetness. So it is when the love of God has been shed abroad in a human heart by the Divine Spirit, and the earthly life has been struck through with the life of Christ. It is all Christ; self dies. Christ lives in the soul, and His beauty shines out in the life.1 [Note: J. R. Miller, The Shining Life.]

3. The life which the Psalmist knows to be undying is the continual energy of loving fellowship with God. The death to which this life can never yield is the silence of the land of forgetfulness, where there is no revelation and no praise of God. These two ideas are embodied for the Psalmist under the form of life in this world on the one hand and death and Sheol on the other. Now the religious consciousness can never be satisfied by asserting a noumenal transcendental truth without applying it to actual phenomenal experience. The indissolubleness of the life in God is to the Psalmist a present reality. As such it must approve itself true under the present forms and conditions of his existence, that is, in physical life as contrasted with physical death. In no other way can he conceive the great truth as present and practical. It would be ridiculous for the inspired singer, who possesses an ideal truth in ideal certainty, to pause in the fulness of his faith, and reflect on the empirical fact that, after all, no man escapes death. He knows that he cannot yield to death in the only form in which he fears it, namely, as separation from God; and he conceives this immunity in the only form in which he has any means of conceiving it, namely, as continued physical life. It is true that this persuasion is a paradox. It is true that so high a confidence, so unconditionally expressed, can reign to the exclusion of all doubt and fear only in a moment of highest elevation, and that the same singer, under a sense of sin and weakness, of failing strength and of God’s displeasure, must soon have passed through bitter experiences such as we read of in other Psalms—experiences far removed from the joyful confidence and energy of the words before us. But so long as the strong sense of full loving communion with God which our Psalm expresses remains undimmed, no doubt can receive entrance. What we call physical impossibilities never had any existence for the faith of the Old Testament, which viewed every physical condition as implicitly obedient to Jehovah’s law of righteousness. So long, then, as the Psalmist stands in unfailing fellowship with God he must live, and cannot cease to live. It is only when the sense of sin arises as the consciousness of impeded fellowship with God that there can arise at the same time a sense of uncertainty and limitation in the hope of life.1 [Note: W. Robertson Smith.]

When a river is dry and shallow in the summer-time, you see the rocks that rise within its bed. And they obstruct the stream, and make it chafe, and fret it as it journeys to the ocean. But when the rains have come, and the river is in flood, it covers up the rocks in its great volume, and in the silence of a mighty tide, flows to its last home within the sea. It is not longer than it was before. It is only deeper than it was before. Measure it by miles, it is unchanged. Measure it by volume and how different! So with the life that is the gift of Jesus. It is not longer than God’s immortality. It is only that same river deepened gloriously, till death itself is hidden in the deeps. Knowledge is perfected in open vision; love is crowned in an unbroken fellowship; service at least shall be a thing of beauty, fired by the vision of the God we serve. That is eternal life, and that alone. That is its difference from immortality. That is the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ to the immortal spirit of mankind.2 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Afterglow of God, 219.]

One lovely summer evening some years ago I received a message that an elder in the church I used to serve was taken suddenly ill. He was a man looked up to and loved by the whole community, but modest and retiring, making no parade of the religion that in reality coloured all his life. When I arrived at his home I found that the hand of death was upon him, and he knew it. Falteringly, and in broken words, for I loved him, I tried to talk to him, and to speak some comforting word. “I am glad to see you,” he said, “and it was good of you to come”; and then looking at me with a look of calm resignation on his face, he said, “I am not going to live, but I am not afraid to die. No one can do anything for me now. This is a matter between my own soul and God, and I settled it long ago.” Then briefly he gave me an outline of his religious life. Every day he contrived, no matter how busy, to spend, in addition to the usual family devotions, a portion of time alone with God. Sometimes this was done in the fields of his farm, at other times in the loft of one of the outhouses, just wherever he happened to be employed, and his own family or servants never knew it. As I said, he made no parade of his religion, and never, as far as I knew, prayed in public; but he lived his religion. He was a hard-working, industrious man all his life, and had not the opportunity of getting much education in his youth. One thing, however, he knew; he knew Christ and lived in daily communion with Him. I left him that night promising to see him again in the morning, but before the morning came he had gone to be with Christ whom he loved and served.1 [Note: H. W. Morrow, Questions Asked and Answered by our Lord, 129.]

“Open the door and let in more of that music,” the dying man said to his weeping son. Behmen was already hearing the harpers harping with their harps. He was already taking his part in the song they sing in Heaven to Him who loved them and washed them from their sins in His own blood. And now said the blessed Behmen, “I go to-day to be with my Redeemer and my King in Paradise,” and so died.2 [Note: Alexander Whyte, Jacob Behmen: an Appreciation.]

When He appoints to meet thee, go thou forth;

It matters not

If south or north,

Bleak waste or sunny plot.

Nor think, if haply He thou seek’st be late,

He does thee wrong;

To stile or gate

Lean thou thy head, and long!

It may be that to spy thee He is mounting

Upon a tower,

Or in thy counting

Thou hast mista’en the hour.

But, if He come not, neither do thou go

Till Vesper chime;

Belike thou then shalt know

He hath been with thee all the time.1 [Note: T. E. Brown, Old John and other Poems, 244.]

III.

A Satisfied Ambition

“The lines are fallen in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.”

The man who finds his treasure in God, declares that he is satisfied. The happiness of this mysterious nature of ours is never to be found merely in the possession of God’s gifts, the works of His hand, or the bounties of His providence. The soul can find its true satisfaction only in rising beyond the gifts, and claiming the Giver as its own. When you covet the friendship or love of a fellowman, it does not satisfy you that he bestows upon you only outward gifts—his money, his property, his books—what cares a loving, longing heart for these? Unless the man gives you something more than these, gives you himself, and becomes yours by the bond of deepest sympathy and affection, the rest are but worthless boons. So is it in the soul’s relations with God. That after which, as by a mysterious and inborn affinity, every devout spirit yearns, is not God’s gifts and bounties, but Himself. The wealth of worlds would be, to the heart longing after Deity, a miserable substitute for one look of love from the Great Father’s eye. “My soul thirsteth for God” is the language in which Scripture gives expression to this deep want of our nature, and points to the ineffable satisfaction provided for it,—“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.”—“As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God!”—“If a man love me, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”—“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.”

1. Animal enjoyment may be pure of its kind, may be part of the constitution of things, but it is brief, exhaustive! But those pleasures which are filled with the spirit, the mind, the heart, are fresh. And what is true of the mind is truer still of the soul. We have a tripartite nature—Body, Soul, and Spirit. We may not be able to break it up, and divide it by exact analysis, but there is that which answers to Paul’s definition; there is body, soul, and spirit. We feel it. And in the soul there is a region infinite—it can have the very pleasures of God Himself. It can share His nature; it can share His thoughts; it can share His purposes; it can share Plis purity. It can come away from that which is bounded, intellectually, by earth’s horizon, and it can enter into the region where, in fellowship with God, it shall realize the infinite vision and true rapture of the soul. And this is inexhaustible, because the soul is immortal. The love of Christ is an ever-progressive thing—“to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” “That we may be filled with all the fulness of God.”

All the happiness of this life is but trying to quench thirst out of golden empty cups.1 [Note: William Law.]

Filled with a grateful, calm content,

My soul sits happy, and she sings;

While all the many, many things

That men call good, and think them so,

That are not mine, and may not be,—

My Father doth not give them me—

I am content to let them go.


Pass by, gay world, yes, pass thee by,

Nor too much vex me with thy care;

O, restless world, thou art so fair!

See, I have learned this thing of thee;

Thou look’st so little in the light

Which pours upon my inner sight,

And shines from great eternity!

2. In harmony with the great Centre, we will be in harmony with all things in His universe. Nature will serve him who serves her God; and all her varied powers and agencies will rejoice to obey the behests and minister to the welfare of one who is the loved and loving child of their great Master and Lord. The earth will be fulfilling its proper function in yielding us bread, and the heavens in shedding their sweet influences on our path. For us the morning will dawn and the evening descend. For us “the winds will blow, earth rest, heavens move, and fountains flow.” We shall be able to claim a peculiar property in the works of our Father’s hand, and the bounties of our Father’s providence.

The love of nature, wherever it has existed, has been a faithful and sacred element of human feeling; that is to say, supposing all circumstances otherwise the same with respect to two individuals, the one who loves nature most will be always found to have more faith in God than the other. It is intensely difficult, owing to the confusion and counter influences which always mingle in the data of the problem, to make this abstraction fairly; but so far as we can do it, so far, I boldly assert, the result is constantly the same: the nature-worship will be found to bring with it such a sense of the presence and power of a Great Spirit as no mere reasoning can either induce or controvert; and where that nature-worship is innocently pursued,—i.e., with due respect to other claims on time, feeling, and exertion, and associated with the higher principles of religion,—it becomes the channel of certain sacred truths, which by no other means can be conveyed.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modem Painters (Works, v. 378).]

3. We enter into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. He is the true Joshua, who puts us in possession of the inheritance. He brings God to us—to our knowledge, to our love, to our will. He brings us to God, making it possible for our poor sinful souls to enter His presence by His blood; and for our spirits to possess that Divine Guest. “He that hath the Son, hath the Father;” and if we trust our souls to Him that died for us, and cling to Him as our delight and our joy, we will find that both the Father and the Son come to us and make Their home in us. Through Christ the Son, we will receive power to become sons of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, because joint-heirs with Christ.

During the great Durbar at the time of the late King’s coronation, the Maharajah of Nabha did a beautiful action, which illustrates this truth. As he went away after the celebration he paid a great sum into the Treasury, in order that the land on which his encampment had been spread might be free of taxation for ever, for he said: “I, the king, have rested here, therefore the land shall be free from burdens for ever.” And so to-day the King unfolds before us a wondrous inheritance, a priceless possession, the power that gives us new hope, and sets before us possibilities where we have hitherto found closed doors; and as He offers gifts, for the price paid was beyond man’s calculation, He says: “The King has lived down here on earth, knowing our temptations, weaknesses, and sorrows; therefore, man’s daily, earthly life shall be free from the oppression of the burden for evermore if he will have it.”1 [Note: Harrington C. Lees.]

O Christ our All in each, our All in all!

Others have this or that, a love, a friend,

A trusted teacher, a long worked for end:

But what to me were Peter or were Paul

Without Thee? fame or friend if such might be?

Thee wholly will I love, Thee wholly seek,

Follow Thy foot-track, hearken for Thy call.

O Christ mine All in all, my flesh is weak,

A trembling fawning tyrant unto me:

Turn, look upon me, let me hear Thee speak:

Tho’ bitter billows of Thine utmost sea

Swathe me, and darkness build around its wall,

Yet will I rise, Thou lifting when I fall,

And if Thou hold me fast, yet cleave to Thee.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

Literature

Bruce (W. S.), Our Heritage, 143.

Duff (R. S.), Pleasant Places, 11.

Durward (P. C.), Our Protestant Heritage, 1.

Maclaren (A.), A Year’s Ministry, 1st Ser., 205.

Mayor (J. E. B.), Sermons, 201.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, iv. 193.

Skrine (J. H.), A Goodly Heritage, 2.

Voysey (C.), Sermons, v. (1882) No. 32.

Christian World Pulpit, v. 289 (Baldwin Brown); xxv. 180 (Statham).

Church of England Magazine, xiv. (1843) 80 (Newnham).

Expositor’s Library; The Psalms, i. 433.


Verse 6

(6) The lines are fallen unto me.—The allusion is to the “measuring cords” by which allotments of land were measured, and they are said to “fall” possibly because after the measurement the portions were distributed by “lot” (Joshua 17:5; Micah 2:5).


Verse 7

(7) Given me counsel . . .—i.e., led me to a right and happy choice of the way of life.

My reins—i.e., my heart.

Instruct me.—Better, warn me. Conscience echoes the voice of God. The Hebrew word, from a root meaning bind, includes the sense of obligation. Once heard, the Divine monition becomes a law to the good man, and his own heart warns him of the slightest danger of deviation from it.


Verse 8

(8) At my right hand.—Comp. Psalms 109:31; Psalms 110:5; Psalms 121:5. The image seems to be a military one: the shield of the right-hand comrade is a protection to the man beside him.


Verse 9

(9) Glory.—Heb., khabôd; but probably the poet wrote khabed, i.e., liver, or (comp. “reins” above, and the common use of the word “bowels”) heart. The LXX. paraphrase tongue. The passage was so quoted in Acts 2:25. (Comp. Psalms 57:8; Psalms 108:1.) “With the best member that I have” (Prayer Book).

Shall rest in hope.—This follows the Vulg. The LXX. also have “shall tabernacle in hope.” The true rendering, however, is shall rest in security. In “heart, soul, flesh,” the poet comprises the whole living man. (Comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.) The psalmist feels that the body must share with the soul the immunity from evil which is insured by fellowship with God. Carried out to its full issue, the logical conclusion of this is the doctrine of immortality; but we must not see a conscious reference to it here.


Verse 10

(10) Leave.—Rather, commit, or give up.

In hell.—Better, to the unseen world (Sheôl), as in Psalms 6:5, where see Note.

Holy One.—Better, thy chosen, or favoured, or beloved One. Heb., chasîd, which, starting from the idea of one standing in a state of covenant favour with Jehovah, gathers naturally, to this passive sense, an active one of living conformably to such a state; “gracious” as well as “graced,” “blessing” as well as “blessed;” and so generally as in Authorised Version, “saint,” “holy” (see Psalms 4:3; Psalms 145:17, and especially Psalms 1:5, “My saints, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”) The received Heb. text has the word in the plural, but with the marginal note that the sign of the plural is superfluous. The weight of MS. authority of all the ancient versions, and of the quotations Acts 2:27; Acts 13:35, is for the singular.

Corruption.—Heb., shachath, a pit (from root, meaning to sink in), as in Psalms 7:15, where LXX. rightly “abyss,” though here and generally “destruction (not “corruption”), as if from shakhath, “to destroy.” Even in Job 17:14 “the pit” would give as good a parallelism to “worm” as “corruption.” The meaning of the passage is clearly that Jehovah will not abandon His beloved to death. “To be left to Sheôl” and “to see the pit” are synonyms for “to die,” just as “to see life” (Ecclesiastes 9:9, Authorised Version, “live joyfully”) is “to be alive;” or, as in next clause, “to make to see the path of life.” At the same time we discern here the first faint scintillation of that light of immortality which we see struggling to break through the darkness in all the later literature of Israel; the veil over the future of the individual, if not lifted, is stirred by the morning breath of a larger faith, and so the use is justified which is made of this passage in the New Testament (Acts 2:25). (See New Testament Commentary.)


Verse 11

(11) There are.—The italics in the Authorised Version spoil the triplet:—

“Thou wilt show me the path of life,

In thy presence fulness and joy,

At thy right hand pleasures for evermore.”

It is another image for the same thought which dominates the psalm—the thought of the happiness of being with God. The fair heritage, the serene happiness, the enduring pleasure always to be found at God’s right hand, are all different modes of expressing the same sense of complete satisfaction and peace given by a deep religious trust touched, ever so faintly, by a ray of a larger hope beginning to triumph over death itself.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 16:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/psalms-16.html. 1905.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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