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Psalm 16: God will preserve the faithful

Psalm series

Psalm 16: God will preserve the faithful
Posted on June 19, 2020  - By Dr. David Brooks

The 19th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Into every life some rain must fall.” Rain in this poem did not mean nourishing and refreshing rain, but troubles and trials.

Troubles confront everyone, and some troubles are overwhelming. David dealt often with this in the Psalms. In Psalm 16, he calls for God to preserve, or keep, him in the trials, and he believes God will even deliver him in death.

No good apart from God

In v. 1, David petitions the Lord in his adversity, “Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.” Going to God for help when in trouble was David’s established pattern. His request is simply “preserve me” or, put another way, “keep me” and “guard me”. In our problems, sometimes, our petitions are quick and short, as the psalmist’s here.

David completes his sentence with a reason God would do this: he seeks his protection from God. God desires for people to trust Him and come to Him for refuge when they need help. He loves people and helping us is one of His favourite tasks. However, this does not mean He will not permit any troubles in our lives.

Going to God for help when in trouble was David’s established pattern

The writer continues with evidence of his loyalty to God in verses 2-4: “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.”

We may initially believe that the good of which David spoke was his righteousness, that God credited him with righteousness because of his faith (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 1:16) or God caused him to live righteously (cf. Ezekiel 36:27; Galatians 5:16, 22-23). But the noun “good” in the OT usually means good things (e.g. Ezra 9:12; Job 30:26; Psalm 4:6; 34:12), and this reference is no different.

The good things in the psalmist’s life were from God. Unlike later Israel (Hosea 2:8), he did not attribute his benefits to other gods. He would agree with James a millennium later, that every good gift he had came from the Lord (James 1:17).

Holiness was his goal

A second feature of his loyalty involved the people with whom he preferred to associate: the “holy ones”, or the ones belonging to God. We associate most closely with people with whom we have most things in common. This does not mean that we should not associate with others, but the ones committed believers are most comfortable with are others of like commitment.

Jesus went in company with flagrant violators of divine principles of conduct and was unjustly criticised for it (Matthew 9:10-11). As a lady in one of my classes asked years ago when a classmate advocated total separation from unbelievers, “How can we lead people to Christ if we don’t spend time with them?” Jesus’ closest friends, however, were those committed to God and His ways. David was the same.

The third point in his loyalty was his refusal to defect to honour another god. Even if the Lord seemed to delay helping or he did not understand God’s ways, he would not defect (cf. John 6:66-68). He would neither offer them sacrifices nor use their names.

Even if the Lord seemed to delay or he did not understand God’s ways, David refused to defect to, or honour, another god

The latter refers at least to worshipping them and making oaths in their names. He may have even refused to use their names in conversation (see Hosea 2:16-17, where ba‘ali and ’ishi both mean “my husband”, but the former — the term using the name of the false god — will be eliminated).

Note that the Apostle Paul and his companions also avoided denouncing false gods by name when speaking to their worshippers (Acts 19: 37).

Remembering His benefits

In verses 5 and 6, the psalmist returns to the good things Yahweh does for him: “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.” He has a relationship with God (his portion) similar to the Levites who did not inherit land but had the Lord as their inheritance (Numbers 18:20).

The things that people brought to the Lord, he shared with them (cf. Numbers 18:21), and when Israel did not faithfully worship Yahweh, the Levites lost their support (Nehemiah 13:10). The Levites, David, and all who are committed to the Lord share the effects of people’s attitudes toward him (Romans 8:36). David was pleased to have the relationship with God.

Another benefit from God was counsel (v.7): “I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” David may have suffered often from insomnia, perhaps induced by pressure and opposition (cf. Psalm 6:6-7). At such times, he approached the Lord for advice, and the Lord gave him direction (e.g. 1 Samuel 23:1-4, 9-12).

A third specific benefit was Yahweh providing stability because David trusted Him (v.8). “I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” David was attentive to the Lord, and the Lord took a stand by David’s “right hand”. This was normally the hand for power, fighting, and aggression.

David had a practice of trusting the Lord to fight for him instead of avenging himself (1 Samuel 24:12; 26:10, 24). This does not mean that David did not fight the enemies of Israel and of God (1 Samuel 17:45-46; 18:17), but he was often (perhaps even always) careful not to attack those who attacked him personally (cf. 2 Samuel 16:9-4).

The result of choosing to let God fight his personal battles was that David was not shaken emotionally or spiritually when troubles overtook him. He could retain a sense of stability and assurance that God was in control despite appearances to the contrary.

The result of letting God fight his personal battles was that David was not shaken when troubles overtook him

A life preserved

Our writer now confesses his confidence that God would answer affirmatively his initial request to preserve him (vv.9-10): “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.”

The consequence of recalling Yahweh’s benefits is happiness and rejoicing. But his joy is not confined to his emotional or spiritual well-being, it extends to his body. His body is secure or confident, for God will either preserve his life and prevent his descent to death, or he will give him new physical life after death.

Sheol, in v. 10, can refer to the place of the dead spirits (Job 26:6; Isaiah 14:9-10, 15; Ezekiel 32:21) or to the grave (Job 17:3-4; Psalm 49:14; Isaiah 14:11; Ezekiel 32:27). In that case David’s life would be spared, he would not die.

The verse can also mean that, once in the grave, God would not abandon him there. God would bring him up from death. The Israelites had a precedent for believing God resurrects His people (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19; though Genesis 22 does not explicitly state this); so, David could have inferred he too would be resurrected.

Notice the apostles understood resurrection as a ramification of the verse (Acts 2:23-32). Given that the OT revelation increases in scope and intensity (a discussion for another time), this is a legitimate inference.

God, our Refuge

David was free to enjoy the full life that God offers, for he could live life with confidence in God’s help and stability in the midst of trouble (v.11): “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Jesus offers the same life (John 10:10; 14:19). So, the result of the psalmist’s request in v. 1 is the Lord would preserve him. God would keep him alive or return him to life. Either way, he would not lose. And we bear the same hope today.

Our troubles and trials may be frequent and even catastrophic. Psalm 16 informs us we should call upon the Lord for help and remain loyal to Him, for He wants to preserve us and is so able to do so that He can save us from death and even bring us out of the grave (Daniel 12:3; John 5:28-29; 11:25-26). May we always go to Him for refuge.

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



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