Psalm 16
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This psalm yields many texts for instructive discourse; but it is not on any of them that we propose now to dwell, but on the psalm as a whole. It is one of the most evangelical in all the five books of the Psalms. It opens with a prayer and a plea; but its main current is that of joy and praise. It is moreover repeatedly quoted in the New Testament, where, by the Apostles Peter and Paul, some of its words are declared to be those of David the prophet, and to have received fulfilment in Christ, and in him alone. We cannot, however, apply all the psalm to the Messiah. Some of it is evidently the expression of a private personal experience, and the utterance of a joyously devout saint, whose joy and devotion have both been inspired by a revelation of God to him; while other parts of it are the still more elevated utterances of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost, to tell of visions which he saw of One in whom his royal line should witness the culmination of its glory! The touching expressions in 2 Samuel 23:3-5 will account for both the words of the saint and the words of the seer which are here found. As the saint, David was inspired by revelation; as the seer, he was inspired for it. And by making these two main divisions we shall, perhaps, best homiletically expound the psalm.

I. WE HAVE HERE THE SONG OF A SAINT INSPIRED BY REVELATION. In this light the contents of the psalm are very varied. We number them, not as re]lowing in exact logical or culminative order, but that we may call the student's and preacher's attention thereto, one by one; observing that we follow the Revised Version, which is most excellent. Here is:

1. A prayer and a plea. (Ver. 1.) Apparently he is in peril; what, we do not know; but, as is his wont, he makes his hiding-place in God; and very touching is the plea he puts in: "for in thee do I put my trust." Our God loves to be trusted. The confidence which his people repose in him is in his sight of great price; and he will hot - cannot disappoint them.

2. The psalmist has taken Jehovah to be his own God. Jehovah - the eternal God - the God of Israel, was his own sovereign Lord. And as he confided to him all his cares, so he yielded to him his entire homage.

3. He finds in God his supreme joy. "I have no good beyond thee" (cf. Psalm 63:25). All the largest desires of the soul have their perfect satisfaction in God.

4. In his fellow-saints, he finds a holy brotherhood. In them is his delight (Psalm 42:4; Malachi 3:16). The closest and dearest bond of permanent friendship is found in the fellowship of holy life and love in God.

5. He shuns the ungodly. In blended pity and anger he looks on those of his nation who have lapsed into idolatry, and exchanged the worship of Jehovah for the service of idols (cf. Jeremiah 2:13; Romans 1:25, Revised Version).

6. The portion which he has in God is secured to him. (Ver. 5.) It cannot slip from his grasp, nor be snatched out of his hand, nor can he in any way be despoiled thereof. God will uphold him in possession, and will give him timely counsel and assistance (ver. 7).

7. God is ever before him, as a constantly present Friend. He is no abstraction. But one ever at his right hand, to guard, guide, advise, gladden, and strengthen. Yea, to give him a steadfast, unconquerable firmness in the midst of numerous foes.

8. Consequently, he has a heritage of wealth with which he is well pleased. (Ver. 6.) The inheritance assigned to him as it were by lot, and marked out as it were by line, was one which gave him a plenitude of delight.

9. For he knows that the near and dear relationship between himself and God is one which not even death itself can disturb. David caught a glimpse of the sublime truth of how much God had meant when he told Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (cf. Matthew 22:31, 32). We have almost the truth which is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 5:10. "My flesh," he says, "shall rest in hope." Yea, more; David even peers beyond the unseen state (Sheol); he beholds it conquered, and the one whose God is the Lord delivered for ever from the hold of death. And even this is not all; but he sees far, far beyond, awaiting the believer, fulness of joy and eternal delights in the immediate presence of the great eternal God. So that the burden of the song may be summed up in our final thought on this aspect of the psalm, that: 10. Once God's, he was his for ever! "Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol" (cf. Psalm 48:14; Psalm 73:26). Is it any wonder that, with such a heritage in Divine love, the psalmist should find his heart glow with joy, and that his tongue should break out into shouts of praise? Surely if such a God is ours, and ours for ever, we are well provided for, and shall be well guarded, throughout eternity.

II. WE HAVE HERE ALSO THE VISION OF A SEER WHO WAS INSPIRED FOR A REVELATION. We have in that memorable sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter opened up the kingdom to Israel, a remarkable reference to this very psalm (cf. Acts 2:25-31). In which the apostle declares that what David said respecting the Holy One, he spoke as a prophet, seeing far ahead the fulfilment of the covenant God had made with him. And in Acts 13:34-37 the Apostle Paul makes an equally distinct reference to this psalm, while he even more emphatically declares this prophetic utterance to be a Divine declaration. And we get a plain and distinct account of such far distant scriptural forecasts in 2 Peter 1:21. Thus we can clearly trace a second significance in the latter half of Psalm 16., as it recounts "the sure mercies of David." For, indeed, if it had not been for the Divine promise and oath made to him - a promise and an oath the fulfilment of which could never be disturbed by the vicissitudes of time, there might not and probably would not have been the like joyful repose of the saint in God, in the prospect of death and of eternity. So that, although the vision of the prophet comes second in our consideration, it was really the first in importance, and the foundation of all the rest. And all this may be brought home in fruitful teaching, in four or five progressive steps.

1. David had had a direct revelation that his throne should be established for ever. (2 Samuel 23:3-5; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 72; Psalm 89:20-37.) And to his dying day, amid all the disturbances of his house, this covenant, "ordered in all things and sure," was all his salvation, and all his desire.

2. In the foreglancings of prophetic vision he saw the Holy One in the coming age as its Ruler and its Head.

3. He beheld also the Holy One going down into the tomb. To Sheol; not hell, but Hades, the invisible realm of the departed.

4. He beheld the Holy One rising again. As the Lord and Conqueror of death; as the Head of the redeemed, he beheld him leaving the grave, and going forward and upward as their Forerunner. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus carries along with it that of all his followers.

5. It was on this sublime Messianic hope that the psalmist built his own. And, indeed, it was on this that such as Abraham fixed their gaze, with leaping gladness and thankful joy "That which is true of the members is true, in its highest sense, of the Head, and is only true of the members because they are joined to the Head" (Perowne); 1 Thessalonians 5:10.


1. Here is the great secret of life made known to and by the holy prophets. As one expositor remarks, the antithesis in the psalm is not between life here and life there, but between a life in God and a life apart from him.

2. That God should have disclosed this great secret by his Spirit can bring no difficulty whatever to those who understand communion with God.

3. The grand redemption of God's grace is realized in a fellowship of holy souls in blest and everlasting relation to God as their Portion, their endless Heritage of infinite purity and delight.

4. This fellowship of life centres round him whom no death can retain in its hold, even round him who is the Resurrection and the Life. Believers are one in God because one in Christ.

5. His triumph over the tomb is the pledge of theirs. He has gone ahead as their Forerunner, and has in their name taken his place in the Father's house, preparing theirs likewise.

6. Hence the entire blessing of God's great salvation is summed up in the words, "Thou wilt show me the path of life." In which phrase, as Austin finely says, "we have a guide, Thou; a traveller, me; a way, the path; the end, life. Happy are they who choose this Guide, who follow this way, who inherit such a life! How the troubles and perils of this life seem to dwindle away when we can realize that such a God and such a home are ours! and not ours only, but also of all those who have said to Jehovah, Thou art my Lord"! - C.

Happy the man who holds to his faith in God through all changes and chances of this mortal life! Religion to him is a reality. He speaks of what he knows. He commends what he has proved to be good. He can rejoice in the assurance that God, who has been with him hitherto, will keep him safely to the end, and that the portion which satisfied his soul in this life will satisfy his soul eternally. We may take the psalm as expressing certain life-long convictions.

I. THAT GOD IS TO BE TRUSTED AS THE SUPREME GOOD. Man is prone to seek happiness apart from God. This proves both his littleness and his greatness: his littleness in turning from God; his greatness, as nothing earthly can satisfy him, and his soul is restless till it finds rest in God. "Thou art my Lord" is the true response to God's declaration, "I am the Lord thy God" (Exodus 20:2; Psalm 73:25).

II. THAT THE SAINTS ARE TO BE REGARDED AS EARTH'S TRUE NOBLES. When God has his right place, man gets his right place also. He is valued, not for his wealth, but for his worth; not for his circumstances, but for his character; not for his high standing among men, but for his near relation in love and holiness to God. If we love God, we shall love what God loves. If we delight in God, we shall delight in what God delighteth in. As a poet of our own has taught us -

"'Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood."

III. THAT WICKEDNESS, WHATEVER IT PROMISES, MUST IN THE END BRING WRETCHEDNESS. The wicked may be many; they may seem to prosper; they may appear as if they were to prevail, and have their own way in everything. There will be at times strong temptations to join them - to live as they live, to eat, drink, and be merry. But the heart that has known God recoils with horror from such a thought. What can come of forsaking God, but misery? This is the witness of history, observation, and experience. And we should be thankful that it is so. It is a proof of God's love, as well as of God's righteousness. That "the way of transgressors is hard" puts for many a warning in their path, and sounds for many a merciful call in their ears. "Turn ye: why will ye die?" (Ezekiel 33:11; Isaiah 55:1-7; Job 33:27-30).

IV. THAT THE DESTINY OF THE GOOD IS DIVINELY ORDERED. Life is not fixed by chance, or by blind fate, or by man's own designing and devising. It is of God's ordering (Proverbs 19:21). As it is with the stars above, so it is with souls beneath. They stand as God ordains (Psalm 119:91; Psalm 147:3, 4). As it was with Canaan, which was divided among the tribes by lot (Numbers 26:55; Joshua 13:6), so it is with the inheritance of God's believing people; it is settled by the hand of God. In many things - as to our birth, and kinsfolk, and associations, and so on - we have no choice. [But trusting in God, we cheerfully accept the place which he has appointed for us. And when we are free to choose, we seek counsel of God, and gladly and gratefully rest in his will (Hebrews 13:5). What the King of Babylon did according to his lights when at the parting of the ways (Ezekiel 21:21), we do, in a higher way (Acts 9:6).


1. This life. (Vers. 6-8.)

2. Guidance. (Ver. 7.)

3. Protection. (Ver. 8.)

4. The life to come. (Ver. 11.)

This truth, dimly revealed of old, shines out brightly and beautifully in the gospel. - W.F.

This psalm is golden in thought, feeling, and expression. The substance of it is comprised in the first verse: "May God preserve him who has no other refuge in which he can hide but him!" The subject up to the end of the sixth verse may be called - Grounds of the prayer for preservation.

I. HE HAS TAKEN GOD FOR HIS SUPREME GOOD. (Ver. 2, "I said to Jehovah, Thou art my Lord; beside thee I have no good.") The "good" here in contrast with the "sorrows" in ver. 4. "Whom have I in heaven but thee," etc.? It is the answer of the soul to, "Thou shalt have no other gods but me." "Thou, O Lord, art my Portion, my Help, my Joy, my All in all."

II. HE DELIGHTS IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF ALL THE GOOD. (Ver. 3.) He trusts God in company with the best and noblest in the land. If they trust and serve, it is my privilege also. That is one thought. Another is - I love the holy and the excellent who reflect most of God; not the worldly rich and great and powerful. The saints and only they are the excellent to him, even as they are to God. He is one with God. in this - he is wholly on God's side; therefore, he says, save me from impending danger.

III. HE ABHORS APOSTATES AND THEIR IDOLS. (Ver. 4.) He will be loyal, and refuse all participation in the fellowship or the rites of the surrounding idolaters. Even the names of the false gods he refuses to take upon his lips. Philosophy, and luxury, and commerce, and wisdom in government, and the glories of conquest, combined to recommend the seductive idolatries of Philistia, Phoenicia, Syria, Assyria, Egypt. But he regarded them all with righteous scorn. We have need of a strong and simple trust in God, and sympathy with the good, to be able to repudiate the idolatries that ever surround us - the worship of wealth, success, fashion.

IV. HE POSSESSES ALL THINGS IN GOD. (Vers. 5, 6.) The Lord is the Portion of mine inheritance - an allusion to the division of the land among the tribes. And this was preserved to him by the protecting power of God. God was also his meat and drink (equivalent to "cup"). "The lines," etc. - in allusion to the ancient custom of marking out plots of land by measuring-lines. He had a goodly heritage. "What must not he possess who possesses the Possessor of all?" "All things are yours, for ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." - S.

The two main ideas of the writer are

(1) a sense of Divine privilege in having God as his chief Good; and

(2) a confiding, hopeful prayer for deliverance from death.

Not, of course, from death altogether; he could not hope to be finally delivered from the grave. The prayer therefore, must have been for deliverance, from impending, danger, from death that was then. threatened at that time, and for being conducted into and preserved in "the path of life." The application which has been made of the ninth and tenth verses to Christ by Peter and Paul has led to a misunderstanding of the original sense. They say that the prayer was fulfilled in Christ, and not in David; that David did see corruption, and that Christ did not. But the best Hebrew scholars say that it is a confident prayer, not to be given over to death, but to be preserved in the way of life. We must understand, of course, death at present; for it could not mean death altogether, nor deliverance from the grave after death. The general subject of these verses, then, is - The confidence of the psalmist's faith in the future, because he had chosen God as his chief Good.

I. THE SENSE OF GOD'S PRESENCE INSPIRES A FEELING OF SAFETY. (Ver. 8.) "Not in the moment of peril only, but at all times has he his eye fixed upon God." "God in David's eyes is no abstraction, but a Person, real, living, and walking at his side," and able to protect him from danger. Have we such a sense of companionship with God? I shall not be moved - neither in character, nor in purpose, nor in work.

II. HE REJOICED IS THE CONFIDENCE THAT GOD WOULD NOT ALLOW HIM TO PERISH. (Vers. 9, 100 "Flesh" here, as always, means the living body - never means a corpse. "Shall rest in hope," equivalent to "shall dwell in safety;" and must be understood of this life. No stress can be laid on the word "leave," which means "give over to." He is expressing the confidence "that God will not leave him to perish, will not give him up to be the prey of the grave, which was the design of his enemies. The lessons for us - that God's time is our time, and that he will not abandon us to our spiritual enemies, but will afford us effectual protection.

III. HE REJOICED THAT GOD WOULD MAKE KNOWN TO HIM THE WAY TO LIFE. (Ver. 11.) Not only preserve him in life, but lead him on to that life whose joy is beholding the Divine face, and partaking of the everlasting pleasures which are at his right hand. The idea of immortality springs out of the sense of his relationship to God; for he could not think that such a relationship could end with death. If we are the sons of God, that is the strongest guarantee that we shall continue to partake of God's life, rich and manifold and everlasting. Christ said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." This passage has its highest fulfilment when applied to the resurrection of Christ. - S.

I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. "I have set Christ always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

I. THIS IS TO MAKE THE JOURNEY OF LIFE FULL OF LIGHT. Pillar of cloud and fire. And this, in whatever view you look at this life - whether as a stage on which work has to be done, or on which good has to be acquired, or as a journey to reach our destiny. By this light we can clearly see the nature of the work that must be done; the kind of good that must be sought; and the glorious destiny awaiting us. But let a man make himself or the world the light by which he walks, the guide he follows, then his work, his well-being, and the future all become dark. Some dark moments there will be, when God's way is through the clouds or through the great deep.

II. THIS WILL MAKE US TRULY STRONG. "I shall not be moved." We may know duty, self-interest, and the way to honour, and yet be too weak to follow them. Weakness of purpose and will is our misery and guilt. It is not merely our misfortune, but our sin. Importance of strength. "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." The only way to become strong is by "looking unto Jesus." All other stimulants soon spend their strength and leave us prostrate. But the setting God always before us will endow us with all strength to resist all temptations, and all fortitude to endure.

III. THIS IS TO MAKE THE AIM OF LIFE REALLY GREAT. Our lives are mostly paltry and little. We go about filled with little vanities and ambitions, aiming at little ends, and content with little results. Often under the guise of humility our larger aims are mostly of the depraved or secular sort - wealth; social position; fame on the battlefield, or in the senate, or in literature. But to "have God always before us" is the real lasting greatness. This is the only true ideal of life.

IV. THIS IS TO MAKE THE WAY OF LIFE SECURE. "Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

1. Not moved with fear.

2. Not moved from his hope.

3. Not moved from his righteousness. - S.

In this prayer it is implied that there is one "path," which is truly "the path of life" - the path by which we can reach the highest ideal of our being, and be blessed for ever; and further, that God, and God alone, is able to show us this path. It may be said that the prayer has been answered in the fullest sense by Christ Jesus. We may use the words with reference to Christ's teaching as to a future state. Christ has shown us -

I. THE CERTAINTY OF A FUTURE STATE. Reason may speculate, imagination may form pictures, the instincts of the heart may prompt the hope that there is a future state of being; but it is only through Holy Scripture that we attain to full conviction. What was dimly revealed to Old Testament saints has been now "made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 1:10).

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER AS DETERMINING MAN'S PLACE IN A FUTURE STATE. Our Lord always teaches that holy character is indispensable to blessedness. True life is from God, and tends to God (John 5:26; Colossians 3:3). "The path of life" must be entered upon here, or we can never reach from earth to heaven. Faith and action determine character, and character settles destiny. "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).

III. THE INTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LIFE THAT NOW IS AND THAT WHICH IS TO COME. There is continuity. Death transfers, but it does not transform. Life is the seed-time for eternity. Our present actions, good or bad, determine our future fate (Galatians 6:7, 8; Romans 2:6-10).

IV. THAT EVERYTHING TENDS TO A GREAT CRISIS, WHEN JUDGMENT SHALL BE GIVEN UPON ALL MEN. Our Lord teaches us that judgment is already begun. Whatever we do has its effect. Every deed of self-denial and justice and love brings its blessing, and every deed of evil its curse. But there is to be a final judgment, and our Lord shows us that the acts of that great day will be based on law; that God will render unto every man according to his works. It is very striking also that our Lord should put such emphasis upon acts of love and charity (Matthew 25:31-46).

V. THAT HE HIMSELF WILL HOLD THE SUPREME PLACE AS JUDGE AND KING IN THE WORLD TO COME. If the future state is a reality, this has been made certain by Christ (John 2:25). If character will determine our place in eternity, it is through Christ that we are to attain to the meetness of character required (Colossians 1:12). If the awards of the judgment are final, it is because Christ is Judge, and there can be no appeal against his decisions. If the future state is, for the good, to be a state of highest and divinest "life," it is because they have been made partakers of the life of Christ, and shall dwell for ever with him in the light and love of God. - W.F.

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