Psalm 16 Commentary: Introduction
Let’s turn to Psalm 16 for this Psalm 16 commentary.
So often, the psalms are a means of communicating an emotion of the author. In Psalm 16, I believe the emotion that David is expressing is this: Satisfaction with God. That’s what David is feeling and what he wants to express in poetry.
Psalm 16 Summary
And in a nutshell, here is what David has to say about his satisfaction with God.
- David is satisfied with God because he trusts that God is able to maintain his welfare, generally.
- He’s satisfied with God because he knows the awful results of falling away from God.
- He’s satisfied with God as someone would be with a really generous and enviable portion of land as one’s inheritance.
- He’s satisfied with God because of the stabilizing influence that God has on David.
- And he’s satisfied with God because ultimately, David believed that he would be with God forever – where there will be abundant pleasures.
So, are you satisfied with God? Or do you feel like you’re missing out on something because you’re following the Lord? I hope that Psalm 16 today will help you and me to realize that we’re not missing out on anything by following God. We as believers have all sorts of reasons to be satisfied with God.
Psalm 16 Commentary: Miktam
So, we’re notified right away that this psalm is a “Michtam” of David. So, first of all, that would seem to indicate that David is the author of the psalm. But what is this word “michtam?” And the rather unsatisfying answer is that ultimately it seems that no one knows for sure. This is often the case with these terms that are found in the superscription of these psalms. But here’s what we do know. “Michtam” is found only here and then in the beginning of every psalm from Psalms 56 – 60. In most of those later psalms, the context given is distressing. One of the psalms has David fleeing from Saul into a cave. Another has David being taken by Philistines at Gath. And yet another has David fighting Edomites. But distressing situations are fairly common in the psalms and most of them are not Michtams.
One translation suggests that “Miktam” means an “epigrammatic poem”. That is, a poem filled with short, terse, pithy statements. And that option might be the best one. Because in the Hebrew, this seems to describe this psalm pretty well. Psalm 16 is actually fairly difficult to translate – let alone interpret! And I think that part of that may be because the statements seem shorter. But again, I think this happens with other psalms and they’re not called Michtams.
So, anyway, as I said – we don’t really know what this term “Michtam” ultimately means. And that’s OK, because we know what most of the rest of the psalm means. And so let’s continue on.
Psalm 16 Commentary: Satisfied with God
So, the rest of verse 1 and all of verse 2 have David describing his satisfaction with the Lord because he trusts that God is able to maintain his welfare. Let’s read those verses.
Preserve me, O God:
for in thee do I put my trust.
2 O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord:
my goodness extendeth not to thee;
David makes one request to the Lord in all of Psalm 16. And we see it in the first line of the psalm. He says “preserve me”. That’s an imperative. He’s submissively demanding that God watch or guard or protect him. And so we can assume that there’s a need for this protection, though we don’t yet know that reason.
Then David follows up his request for protection with a justification for that request. God should protect David because David puts his trust in God. David has sought and taken refuge in God. David is saying – “Please protect me. That’s why I’ve come to you in the first place.”
For help on understanding verse 2, see our Psalm 16 2 Commentary.
So these first two verses are really David’s 1) request to the Lord for protection, 2) his reasoning for why God ought to protect him, and then 3) his confidence that God will provide for his protection or well-being. And all of that is reason for David to be satisfied with God.
Psalm 16 Commentary: Falling Away from God
Next, in verses 3 and 4, David says that he’s satisfied with God because he knows the awful results of falling away from God. Let’s read that.
3 But to the saints that are in the earth,
and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.
4 Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god:
their drink offerings of blood will I not offer,
nor take up their names into my lips.
So, I’ve already mentioned that there are a few parts of this psalm that are difficult to interpret. And this might be the hardest part. The King James makes it sound like verses 3 and 4 are disconnected. So, in the translators’ minds, verse 3 is tied to verse 2 where David is saying that his own goodness doesn’t extend to God but rather it extends to these saints in the earth – these excellent ones in whom David delights. Then the translators continued and made verse 4 seem to completely change the focus to those who hasten after other gods.
Now, we’ve already seen that verse 2 isn’t grammatically connected to verse 3. Right? In verse 2, David simply expresses that God can provide for his welfare. Period. End of thought.
So, then, what’s going on with verses 3 and 4? Well, strange as it may seem, it appears that verse 4 is actually speaking of the people in verse 3. The first line of verse 4 says in the Hebrew without all the italicized words of the King James “They multiply their sorrows. They acquire another.” And it appears that these negative realities apply to these “saints” in verse 3.
Let’s talk about these “saints”. These people are “holy ones” – which might indicate that they’re priests. That’s one way that priests are described in the Old Testament. And these priests are “in the earth (or land – same word)” – the land of Israel.
The second line of verse 3 describes these ones as “majectic” or “mighty”. That word can also be translated as “nobles” – people who are powerful and wealthy in that society. So, we have in mind these mighty, powerful priests that David is calling attention to.
And David says that all of his delight in them. But another way to translate that – based on how Ecclesiastes uses that word that’s translated here as “delight” – is to say that David has all his “activity” or “business” with them. Ecclesiates says that there’s a time for every “activity” – that’s the word – under the Sun. So, David is saying in verse 3 that he works with these powerful priests all the time. And you can imagine that the king WOULD work constantly with priests in the times of Old Testament Israel.
But even though David works with them, apparently they’re turning from the Lord – at least some of them are. They are – verse 4 multiplying their sorrows. How? Again – verse 4 – they’re hastening after another God.
This word “hasten” appears only one other time in the Old Testament. And THERE it means “to pay a dowry for a wife”. So, these powerful priests are multiplying their sorrows BECAUSE they’re going after another god as if they were pursuing a wife – with all the intensity and interest that that involves. As well as all the infidelity and immorality that pursuing another wife when one already has a wife would involve. These poweful priests then are forsaking their true spouse as it were – the Lord, with whom David is completely satisfied.
And so David continues in verse 4 to vow that he will never offer the drink offerings of these other gods. In the Old Testament, the sanctioned, approved drink offerings were made with wine. One time with water. But what are they made with here? Blood. Yuck. That sounds unclean. And that’s just what false gods are – unclean, abominable, detestable. And so, David, as if he himself were a priest, won’t offer the drink offerings of these disgusting idols.
And neither will David take the names of these gods on his lips. That doesn’t mean he won’t pronounce their names when speaking of them. That phrasing about “taking their names” reminds us of the commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain. Don’t swear an oath with God’s name when you have no intention of fulfilling that oath. That’s the command. And so here David is saying that he’s not going to swear by the names of these false deities like his associates among the powerful priests are starting to do.
And I mentioned earlier that David starts the psalm with a request for protection. Protection from whom? Well, this group of powerful individuals and their faithless activities are really the only thing I can think of from this psalm from which David might need to be spared and rescued.
So, David is satisfied with God and knows that only sorrows will come from turning from the Lord. And so we’ve seen that that’s the second reason David gives as to why he’s satisfied with God.
Psalm 16 Commentary: Inheritance
But positively, David pictures his satisfaction with God as if he had received a very generous inheritance of land. Let’s read verses 5 and 6.
5 The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup:
thou maintainest my lot.
6 The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places;
yea, I have a goodly heritage.
Now, land inheritance might not thrill us so much. I mean, if your great uncle dies and leaves you a strip of land somewhere, I imagine that most of us might be ambivalent about it – unless, of course it’s worth a lot of money and you can sell it or something like that.
But that’s not what David has in mind here. And I can tell you that Old Testament Israelites were excited about inheriting land. Think about how often we hear about land being granted or bought or promised in the Old Testament. Much of God’s promise to Abraham included land. That promise extended to Isaac and Jacob. God then moved Israel into the land of Canaan to inherit that land. They divvied up the land and we read about that in chapter after chapter in Joshua. Land was a big deal to Old Testament Israelites. Most of them were farmers. This was their living and livelihood. They could hardly do anything without land. And that’s how David pictures his relationship with God. As if God were HIS land inheritance. And he’s declaring that he could be satisfied with such a portion or allotment of land.
David goes on to say in verse 5 that God maintains or supports his lot. The “lot” was how land was divided in the Old Testament – especially in the book of Joshua where all the land was initially divided. God is pictured then as upholding David’s allotted territory – which of course poetically is the Lord, anyway.
The “lines” then in verse 6 are speaking of the same basic concept. Apparently, the picture is of lines being laid down or drawn on the ground to demark where one region or territory stopped and the other started.
And David says that this poetic dividing of his portion of land from others has happened to him “pleasantly”. He likes the way his inheritance has fallen out to him. That’s what that second line means. David has a “goodly heritage” – or in other words “my inheritance in pleasant to me” he says. God is satisfying to David.
So, this whole two-verse section is speaking of inheriting land. And David is using this poetically to describe his satisfaction with God.
Now, there WAS a group in Old Testament Israel who didn’t receive ANY land. Do you remember what group that was? The priests. The very ones that David was just reporting on – that some of their most powerful and wealthy were abandoning their inheritance – that is, the Lord. In CONTRAST then – and this explains why David starts speaking of land inheritance after he revealed the faithlessness of some of these priests – David DOES have literal physical land granted to him. But even if he WAS a priest with NO land inheritance — because the Lord was to be their inheritance – David says that he’d be satisfied with that arrangement. With God as his only inheritance – his only earthly possession.
And you and I know what that’s like. We have stuff. We have gadgets. We have clothing and food and homes. But when it comes down to it – we’d rather have Jesus than those houses or lands. And really, what good are those houses or lands or whatever other material possession – if we don’t have God? Even if we were incredibly wealthy, without God we’d be truly impoverished.
And so, David is satisfied with God as if God were David’s pleasant abundant inheritance of land.
Psalm 16 Commentary: Stability
And not only that, but David is satisfied with God because of the stabilizing influence that God has on David. Verses 7 and 8.
7 I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel:
my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
8 I have set the LORD always before me:
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Have you experienced what David refers to in verse 7? The Lord giving you counsel? His word counsels us. His Holy Spirit counsels us. The conscience which he’s put into us counsels us. He’s constantly giving the believer counsel. And, so often, our biggest problem is not FINDING counsel for a particular situation – the problem is ACCEPTING the counsel that God has already given us.
And the second line of verse 7 says that in addition to the Lord counseling him, David also has his “reins” instructing or disciplining or correcting him where he needs it. That word “reins” is literally “kidneys”. And that’s just a Hebrew way of referring to what WE think of as the “mind” or our “inmost being”. David is saying that part of the Lord’s counsel and advice and guiding of him is his own inner man correcting him.
And this all causes David to “bless the Lord”. He is thankful for this ministry of the Lord to him. This counsel and correction – these things that lead to stability in David’s inner man.
Then in verse 8, David says it’s as if he has physically set the Lord in front of his eyes. He’s constantly mindful of the Lord. It’s as if he’s physically at David’s right hand – right there with him. And because David senses that the Lord is near him and with him, David is confident that he won’t be moved. He won’t slip. Why? Because of the stabilizng influence that God has on him and on all those who believe in him.
And again, I think the contrast with the faithless powerful priests is in view even here. Those priests apparently were not setting the Lord before them. They refused his counsel and even their own consciences. And so – as opposed to David – they were being moved. They were slipping. And David doesn’t want that for his life. He’s thankful for God’s stabilizing influence on him.
Psalm 16 Commentary: Enjoy God Forever
And lastly, David is satisfied with God because he believed that he would enjoy God forever. Verses 9 through 11. For more information on David’s enjoying God forever, see our Psalm 16 11 Meaning post.
Well, what a satisfying God! I trust we’ll be fully satisfied with him today – and all the more so today on the first day of the week when we remember that God raised his son from the grave, never to experience decay.