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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 16

 

 

Verse 1

He Looks To God As His Refuge (Psalms 16:1 b).

‘Preserve me, O God, for in you do I take refuge.

The michtam opens with a plea for protection. The psalmist commits himself to God and prays that God (El) will preserve him in all circumstances, because he sees God as a safe refuge in Whom he can find shelter. It is a prayer based on the confidence of what God is to him, not because of some particular situation of urgency that requires assistance, but as an overall basis of life. We too should seek to take such refuge in God daily in a similar way. It is the right situation to be in for a man of faith.


Verses 2-4

He Has Said To YHWH, ‘You Are My Lord’ (2-4).

‘You have said to YHWH, You are my Lord,

I have no good beyond (apart from) you.

As for the saints (holy ones) who are in the earth,

They are the excellent (nobles) in whom is all my delight.’

The psalmist now addresses himself. ‘You (feminine singular) have said to YHWH.’ The reference of the feminine singular is unclear. He is possibly attributing it to some feminine noun applied to himself which he is carrying in his thoughts (compare ‘you, O my soul’ Psalms 42:5 a; see Lamentations 3:24). Or it may be in deference to his reference to YHWH, with him seeing himself as God’s helpmeet.

He reminds himself that he has declared YHWH to be his sovereign Lord, to be the source of all his benefits, indeed of his whole life. For apart from Him he has nothing. So he delights in the fact that YHWH is everything to him, and he has no good beyond or apart from Him. He is a YHWH-gripped man.

Parallel with this is his delight in YHWH’s own true people, those truly set apart to God, His ‘holy ones’. He sees them as the true ‘nobles’ of Israel, the most excellent people on earth and as such takes delight in them. So all his thoughts at this time are of YHWH and of YHWH’s true people, His ‘holy ones’, to him the two most important things in life. For ‘holy ones’ compare his description of himself as ‘your holy one’ (Psalms 16:10) although the Hebrew word is different. Certainly later it is a word used to describe God’s true people.

Others see the reference to ‘holy ones’ as signifying heavenly beings, but nowhere else are similar comments made about heavenly beings. They are always seen as background to the glory of YHWH, not as to be appreciated in their own right. To delight in the angels would be totally without precedent, whereas the use of ‘holy ones’ in the Psalms to denote God’s people is a regular feature (Psalms 30:4; Psalms 31:23; Psalms 34:9; Psalms 37:28; Psalms 50:5; Psalms 52:9 and often).

Psalms 16:4

‘Their sorrows shall be multiplied who give gifts for (or ‘exchange for’) another,

Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer,

Nor take their names on my lips.’

He spurns the idea of any contact with ‘another’, i.e. with any of ‘the gods’ whose names he will not take on his lips. Those who give gifts to such gods or who exchange YHWH for another god, will have their sorrows multiplied. As for him he will not offer to such gods drink offerings of blood or even take their name on his lips (he has assiduously avoided doing so here. They are nonentities).

‘The drink offerings of blood’ may refer to drink offerings offered with child sacrifices which certainly occurred elsewhere in connection with the worship of Molech (see Isaiah 57:5-6), or it may be that drink offerings of blood were made to some gods, or it may refer to drink offerings made by men of violence. Or he may simply be saying that their drink offerings are so detestable that they may be likened to offering the forbidden blood for the god to drink.


Verse 5-6

YHWH Maintains His Lot And Destiny (5-6).

‘YHWH is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup,

You maintain my lot.

The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places,

Yes, I have a goodly heritage.’

Rather than drink offerings of blood the psalmist delights in what YHWH has bestowed on him by giving him Himself. YHWH is all to him. It is YHWH of Whom he wants to drink (compare Psalms 42:2; John 6:35). It is YHWH Who is his portion. And he rejoices in the fact that YHWH has indeed graciously given Himself fully to him. He is the psalmist’s lot, better than his inheritance in the land, He is his all, so that he wants no other. And what is more His faithful God is the One Who maintains that lot for the psalmist by maintaining his position and their relationship constantly. Thus the psalmist can continually delight in YHWH, and that is all he wants to do. It is a goodly heritage, better than any physical inheritance in the land, and means that his lines (the lines marking off his lot) have fallen to him in pleasant places. They have separated him off to God. So to the psalmist YHWH is all.


Verse 7

YHWH Has Given Him Counsel (7).

‘I will bless YHWH, who has given me counsel,

Yes, my reins instruct me in the night seasons.’

And with the joy of having YHWH as his lot, and of His possession of so goodly a heritage, he can also rejoice in the wisdom and guidance given to him by YHWH as he lies in his bed at night. Along with all his other benefits he blesses YHWH for the counsel given to him. His ‘reins’, those things which guide and control him, his conscience and the voice of God, give him his instruction night by night so as to maintain his continuing fellowship with God.

Happy are those whose lot is so in God, and who are experiencing having their lines set in pleasant places as they walk with Him, wanting no other inheritance, and who nightly so receive wisdom from God that their daily walk with Him continues untarnished. For they too will have the joy of the psalmist.


Verses 8-11

‘I Have Set YHWH Always Before Me’ (8-11).

‘I have set YHWH always before me,

Because he is at my right hand, I will not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices,

My flesh also will dwell in safety.

For you will not leave my soul to Sheol,

Nor will you suffer your holy one (or ‘beloved one’ - chasid - a man separated by covenant love) to see corruption.

You will show me the path of life,

In your presence is fullness of joy,

In your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Indeed the psalmist’s joy in God is such that he desires that it go on for ever (Psalms 16:11), and indeed is confident that it will do so. And to that end he has set YHWH always before him. He meditates day and night in His word (Psalms 1:2-3). He walks with Him by faith (Genesis 5:22). He looks constantly to Him. And because YHWH stands at his right hand as his mighty Champion, (as a king’s champion would stand at his king’s right hand) he knows that nothing can disturb him or remove him from YHWH’s presence. But while it may be a walk of faith, it is not a dreamy faith, it is a positive, responsive faith as genuine faith must be, faith that produces a glorious life. And because he is there in YHWH’s presence he knows that he will not be moved. He will remain there constantly.

This gives him great gladness of heart. ‘Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices.’ His ‘heart’ represents his will, mind and emotions, his ‘glory’ the spiritual life within him, made in the image and likeness of the elohim (Genesis 1:26-27). It is the latter especially which makes man glorious. So both his heart and his spirit (his glory) rejoice within him in what YHWH is to him. His spiritual emotion and ecstasy is rapidly expanding. He feels immortal.

Thus when he thinks of the coldness and darkness of the grave with all it involves of worm-eaten bodies, of lifelessness, of dankness, of emptiness and especially of the horror of ‘uncleanness’ and God-forsakenness, he knows instinctively that YHWH must somehow preserve him from it (as He preserved Enoch - Genesis 5:22). He can surely not allow him, as one of God’s holy ones (qethoshim - Psalms 16:3), as the anointed of YHWH, as separated to YHWH by His covenant love, and faithful (chasid) to Him, to see such corruption. There is undoubtedly an awareness here that he is seen as a holy one (both one set apart in holiness to YHWH, and one beloved of YHWH and devout, separated and faithful) and that because he is such ‘a holy one’ YHWH will give him a long life, and keep him from an early grave, and from early corruption. But is that all it means? Not if we take the language literally. And such an interpretation misses the whole point which is that one who is so close to God that he feels that they are inseparable, cannot believe that the unclean grave can claim him, any more than it did Enoch.

There is in fact clearly so much more in David’s mind. The grave eventually creeps up on us all. Eventually we do all see corruption of our physical bodies. But David would hardly go into such ecstasies about a few short years of life, even though it would be with God, if that were to be its end. It would almost be to come down from his high level to the trite and mundane. Rather he is at this time of ecstasy so conscious of YHWH and His presence with him, and of what God has wrought in him, that he is confident at this moment that as God’s ‘holy one’ (both qadosh and chasid) he is beyond all corruption, that the grave has no hold on him, that he can never finally die and perish and suffer corruption, for it would not be seemly.

He is here seized with what it means to be a ‘holy one’ (qadosh) and a separated one (chasid - one bound by God’s covenant love, and devotion and faithfulness). He is fully aware of the holiness of all that was in the Tabernacle, set apart from the mundane and untouchable because it was God’s, and made holy (qdsh), seemingly there to go on for ever. No corruption could enter there. And he saw himself as similarly God’s ‘holy one’ (Psalms 16:3), God’s set apart one, anointed by Him and set apart in holiness as His, so that though his body descend to the world of the grave, to Sheol, as all men’s bodies must, corruption will not be able to seize hold of him, indeed will not be able to touch what he essentially is. There is that in him which is beyond ‘corruption’, which is incorruptible, that which is bound up with God. For God must surely see His anointed, separated one and somehow deliver him from the after effects of death. It must be so, for he is holy, set apart totally to Him. He is YHWH’s ‘holy one’, His anointed. And what is YHWH’s is so holy, and so without blemish and so whole, that it is set apart from the profane world and all that is profane, including the grave with its uncleanness. He may even have had in mind that when certain holy offerings were burnt on the altar the blood was put on the horns of the altar pointing upwards and its smoke went up to God as a pleasing odour.

So there is reason to think that he is at this moment confident of life with God through and beyond the grave in the presence of His holiness, as His beloved and separated one. Compare for this thought Isaiah 26:19 contrasted with 14, where God’s dew was the dew of light falling on His people so that the shades could not hold them but had to cast them forth. There His light, and the people who had experienced His light, were incompatible with the darkness of Sheol. In the same way David feels that his ‘holy life’ and anointing from God is incompatible with the corruption of the grave.

We must not see this as a thought out doctrine but as something arising from his there and then experience of God, in the ecstasy of beholding YHWH. At this time, and as placed on record for ever, he was confident that he would somehow live on with God, free from corruption, although in an undefined way. For him an end in Sheol was out of the equation. And what would be true for him he would see as true also for such of his sons who were anointed and faithful to God, for they too would be God’s anointed.

‘You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’ There is an eternal ring to this. He feels that, rather than having to face his end in death, life awaits him, continuing in this life and beyond, a life of joy and abounding in delights. YHWH will show him the path of continuous life, abjuring death. And in YHWH’s presence he will find fullness of joy continually. Yes, at His right hand, as His chosen one, His anointed, he will find everlasting pleasure and delights that will never end.

So in the ecstasy of the moment, and of his poetic and divine inspiration, David has been lifted up into a new sphere, the thought that for those who walk with God (perhaps he had Enoch in Genesis 5:22 in mind), and especially for him as God’s anointed one, death cannot be the final end. It would be to soil that holy relationship, and to soil what has been made holy, something no longer contaminated by a profane creation, and was the inward human equivalent of the furniture in the Tabernacle which could not be touched by earthiness. So inevitably God and they must go on for ever.

Next day his thoughts might descend again to the mundane world, and his assurance dim, and the glory partly evaporate, but here recorded for ever in his psalm, and sometimes repeated elsewhere (Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 49:14-15; Psalms 73:24; Psalms 139:5-12), are the foundations of a glory that was yet to be revealed, not yet fully thought out but clear to him at that moment nonetheless. And surely something of its glory would stay with him. And the corollary of his thinking might have been that this would also be true of all God’s true people (Psalms 116:15), His holy ones (Psalms 16:3), His ‘holy, separated and faithful ones’, as Isaiah makes clear. If so it was a first reaching out to the idea of an afterlife. But here his concentration is really only on his own relationship with God.

But most true, of course, would it necessarily be of the greater David, Who as God’s unique Holy One, the final David, would rule over his kingdom for ever, and could never be allowed to remain in the grave to suffer the tarnish of corruption. The thought that was true of the psalmist would be even more true of Him. His place and destiny was with His Father in the beauty and otherness of His holiness. Thus in having this glorious vision and speaking thus of himself, David spoke even more, although partly unaware of it, of the Holy One yet to come, his Greater Son. For within his dream were all his descendants who were faithful to YHWH. And his spiritual logic would apply even more specifically to this One.

Of course it was an idealistic picture. His flesh, if taken literally, would finally see corruption. But by ‘flesh’ David probably meant his whole self as a human being, himself as he was, (I as I am in my flesh), not just his body. It was he as ‘the holy and faithful one’ who could not suffer corruption.

That is why in Acts 2:25-36 Peter points out that if the words are taken literally these words are more true of Jesus than they could ever be of David, for David’s body had suffered corruption, while that of Jesus had not. But that was to literalise what David spoke of in ecstasy, and to emphasise the flesh aspect. David knew that what was holy in him must survive, although he did not know how. But, says Peter, David spoke as a prophet, and here was an even greater and more literal fulfilment in the Seed of the house of David Who would be the everlasting king (Daniel 7:14; Ezekiel 37:25). For He was not just holy in soul, His very body was most holy. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He was the Holy One. And no part of Him could therefore see corruption, as David had indicated. Let all therefore recognise that Jesus is supremely both Lord and Anointed One par excellence with the power of an endless life (Acts 2:24-36).

Note on chasid. This is the adjective from the noun chesed which means ‘covenant love’. In the Psalms almost without exception (over a hundred times) chesed signifies God’s covenant love towards man, His compassion, lovingkindness and mercy revealed in the covenant relationship. Thus chasid might quite reasonably be seen as signifying ‘one subject to YHWH’s covenant love’, a chosen one and precious. But such love is a love that demands response, a two-way relationship, and so it also signifies one who is faithful to and separated by the covenant, one who is devout and godly. No man can be a chasid who does not respond appropriately. The first meaning, however, predominates in the Psalms.

Note on David’s Concept of ‘Everlasting Life’.

There were already in Scripture a number of pointers to the possibility of ‘everlasting life’ to the special few. Adam had originally been intended to live for ever (Genesis 3:22). That was the privilege that was lost by sin. But it did make clear that it was possible, and Enoch had later walked with God and had thus escaped death (Genesis 5:24). He had been granted everlasting life. Thus it was clearly available on a rare basis to one especially holy who walked with God. And now God had set David apart and had promised to the seed of David that he would reign over an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13). Thus God had planted the idea of everlastingness in David’s heart, and had established with him an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 55:3). It was only a step from this to the realisation, when in a kind of spiritual ecstasy, that as God’s ‘holy one’, especially anointed by Him, the grave could not retain him, and that he could somehow enjoy God’s pleasures for evermore (compare Micah 5:2 where the future son of David comes from ‘everlastingness’). The same idea would in Isaiah 26:19 expand into a concept of resurrection for all God’s holy ones. But here David might well have limited it to himself and his heirs.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-16.html. 2013.

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