A Meditation on Psalm 16
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
The theme of Psalm 16 is “the Lord’s keeping.” “Preserve me, O God,” David asks, but this is no lament; David doesn’t spend the psalm describing his needs or repeating his plea. Instead, the psalm is a meditation on the ways that the Lord keeps His people, leading up to a promise that takes new meaning in Christ.
David confesses his confidence in God’s keeping right out of the gate: “in you I take refuge.” David puts himself in God’s hands. “I have no good apart from you,” he says, whereas “the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.” Only the God of Israel can keep His people. The false gods are powerless to help or to protect.
David’s confidence permeates the psalm, hitting a high note in verse 6 before hitting its crescendo in vv 8-11. “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” By focusing on the inheritance, David is able to encompass God’s blessings in the past and in the future. He has received a beautiful plot of land (“the lines [i.e., property lines] have fallen for me in pleasant places”), which the Lord first gave to his ancestors in the tribe of Judah. He expects to leave this promised land to his descendants after him; “a beautiful inheritance” has a double meaning, referring both to the land and to David’s descendants.
Because God has kept David and will continue to keep his descendants, David pledges himself to Him. The whole psalm is a confession of faith, a pledge of allegiance to the God of Israel. “[Other gods’] drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.” Instead, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup,” “I bless the Lord,” and, “I have set the Lord always before me.”
The psalm’s conclusion (vv. 8-11) might strike you as familiar. You likely remember Peter’s quotation of these verses in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2.25-28: “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’”
In the context of Psalm 16, the Lord’s keeping means physical life. “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol” literally means “You will not abandon my life to the grave,” i.e., “You will not let me die.” But in his Pentecost sermon, Peter points out the obvious: “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried” (Acts 2.29). The Israelites who read and recited Psalm 16 must have understood verse 10 somewhat loosely and metaphorically; everyone dies eventually, but the Lord can guarantee a long life and “a beautiful inheritance” to carry that life forward through future generations.
But in Christ, these words take on literal meaning. “Being therefore a prophet, …[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2.30-31). And not only Jesus, but “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2.39). Our God keeps us to the uttermost; we are so secure in His keeping that not even death can touch us. Preserve us, O God!