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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 16

Verse 1



The fourth title given here is our own which we have preferred without denying in any sense the application of the others.

The superscription given here in parenthesis is of uncertain meaning, some suggesting that it means "The Golden Psalm," and others denying that meaning. This uncertainty probably prompted Leupold's designation of it as, "The Mystery Psalm of David." Dummelow admitted the "possibility" that "Michtam" may mean "The Golden Psalm," but added that, "It may have some musical meaning."[4]

Thanks to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and their confident quotation of fully half of this Psalm in the New Testament, the psalm carries no mystery whatever for us. It is a confident and dogmatic promise of God's resurrection of his Holy One from the grave, so quickly after his death that no corruption whatever should destroy his body. We shall cite these quotations fully a little later.

It is important to note that the overall theme of this psalm is "The Righteous Man," a theme that removes, absolutely, the application of it in any major sense to David, and restricts its application to the Only One who was ever truly and completely righteous, namely, Christ. Rawlinson stressed this: The sixteenth psalm is so far connected with the fifteenth that it is exclusively concerned, like the fifteenth, with "The Truly Righteous Man."[5]

Specifically, "The language of Psalms 16:10 cannot be used of David in any sense whatever. David's body saw corruption."[6]

There is absolutely no excuse whatever for limiting that promise and understanding it to mean that, "David's body would not be suffered to lie in the grave forever."[7] Such a meaning contradicts what the text says.

Psalms 16:1-4

"Preserve me, O God; for in thee do I take refuge.

O my soul, thou hast said unto Jehovah. Thou art my Lord;

I have no good beyond thee.

As for the saints that are in the earth,

They are the excellent in whom is all my delight.

Their sorrows shall be multiplied that give gifts for another god:

Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer,

Nor take their names upon my lips."

The tone of these verses leaves no doubt whatever that a supernatural Person is in view.

"I have no good beyond thee." Can this be anyone other than Jesus Christ? Could it refer to David? Did he have no "good" beyond the Lord? How about Bathsheba?

"The saints that are in the earth." These are here contrasted with Him who is in heaven, certainly not with David, or any other person on earth.

As McCaw suggested, the continuation here of the earmarks of one who is truly righteous includes the following:

(1) God is the object of his trust; he takes refuge in Him (Psalms 16:1).

(2) Yahweh is his sovereign lord, beyond whom there is no good thing (Psalms 16:2).

(3) He acknowledges the value and fellowship of the saints (Psalms 16:3).

(4) He shuns all false worship (Psalms 16:4).[8]

"Drink-offerings of blood." The commentators available to us profess to know of no examples, even among the ancient pagans, of such drink-offerings, and suggest that the meaning is that "all of the gifts and sacrifices to pagan deities are as displeasing to God as if they were indeed drink-offerings of blood." To us, however, there seems to be a positive indication in such words as these that there were indeed pagan worshippers who offered such drink-offerings to their gods and goddesses.

Some of the natives of Columbia, South America eat what they call "blood pudding" which is not very far removed from "drinking blood." This so-called "blood pudding" was offered to us who attended the Pan American Lectures in Medellin, Columbia, just a few years ago.

Rawlinson believed that there were sufficient grounds for the conjecture that, "Such offerings may have been employed in the worship of Moloch."[9]

Verse 5

"Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup:

Thou maintainest my lot.

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places;

Yea, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless Jehovah who hath given me counsel;

Yea, my heart instructeth me in the night seasons.

I have set Jehovah always before me:

Because lie is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

The first two verses here are loaded with terminology that is suggestive of the division of the land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel, in which situation it will be remembered that the Levites had no portion except God. They did not inherit the land as did the other tribes.

The Holy One in the focus of this prophecy was another who, like the Levites, had his portion in God. This too excludes the application of the prophecy to David. Certainly the King of Israel was a landed potentate of the first rank; and, in no sense, was his portion "in Jehovah." His portion also included the kingship over all Palestine.

"Jehovah ... hath given me counsel." The import of this goes far beyond the inspiration evident in David's writings. Only of Jesus Christ is it possible to be said that "His words are indeed the words of God." John 12:48-50 emphasizes this truth dramatically:

"He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I spake not from myself; but the Father that sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is the life eternal; the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak."

Nothing of this type of counseling from God was ever either promised or attained on the part of David.

"I have set Jehovah always before me." This was never done by David, or any other king of Israel; and as Kidner pointed out, "Of the Messiah alone can such words as these be perfectly and literally true. for example, the always of this verse."[10] The apostle Peter himself confirmed the accuracy of that opinion in Acts 2:25, where he quoted Psalms 16:8 and through the rest of this Psalm, stating specifically that David said these things concerning Jesus Christ the Messiah.

Many of the errors on the part of commentators reluctant to find any reference here to someone other than David are due to one of the silly rules of radical critics who have postulated the proposition that faith in the resurrection from the dead does not appear in Israel at all until that nation's contact with Persia, following the Babylonian captivity. This false proposition is mentioned by Alexander Maclaren.[11]


True belief in the resurrection existed in Israel long prior to any contact of that nation with Persia; and besides that, Persia never had any certain word whatever about the resurrection; and Israel certainly could not have learned anything from Persia, especially anything about the resurrection, of which Persia itself was ignorant.

Here is the proof of the knowledge of the resurrection throughout the whole history of Israel, beginning with the ancestor of all Jews, namely, Abraham.

(1) Abraham would never have lifted the knife to slay Isaac, if he had not truly believed in the power of God to raise the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).

(2) Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and the prophets, Samuel, David, and all the ancient Jewish worthies:

"Subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, etc. Women received their dead by a resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, THAT THEY MIGHT OBTAIN A BETTER RESURRECTION" (Hebrews 11:32-34).

These remarkable lines indicate that all of the achievements of ancient Jewish heroes were made possible by their faith in the resurrection of the dead.

(3) Job believed that, even after the worms had destroyed his body that, "In his flesh he should see God," as clear a prophecy of the resurrection as can be imagined. The genius of George Frederick Handel's Messiah reaches its glorious climax in that soul-stirring aria regarding the Messiah, that "HE SHALL STAND ..." at the latter day upon the earth.

(4) Centuries before Israel had any contact with Persia, Isaiah promised that, "Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust. The earth shall cast forth the dead." (Isaiah 26:19). (See our comment on this and similar passages in Vol. 1 of our Major Prophets Series.)

(5) The Prophet Daniel prophesied categorically a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Daniel 12:2).

(6) Isaiah 25:7 is also a prophecy of the conquest of death, that is, the resurrection. The only veil that was a covering for all the peoples of this earth is death; and this corresponds with the typical and symbolical significance of the veil as "death" standing as the principal demarcation between earth and heaven. See our comment on this in the works mentioned in the paragraph above.

(7) Ezekiel's chapter on the "Valley of the Dry Bones" is also a portion of the Bible that could never have been written without the general belief of the Hebrew nation in the doctrine of the resurrection.

While it is true that the Old Testament revelation of the doctrine of the Resurrection falls short of the vivid promises of it in the New Testament, those who deny its actual existence in the Old Testament as well must be classified as "untaught" in the word of the Lord.

Verse 9

"Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth:

My flesh also shall dwell in safety.

For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol;

Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.

Thou wilt show me the path of life:

In thy presence is fulness of joy;

In thy right hand are pleasures forever more."

"Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption." What a pity it is that some scholars see nothing here except the written notion of David the king that, "Maybe God will let him live to a good old age,"[12] or "Probably the poet is thinking merely of a long life, the reward of the pious."[13] All such interpretations are founded upon the proposition that David is God's Holy One, as stated here; but David could never have spoken of himself in such language. David was a murderer, an adulterer, and despite many good qualities could never in a million years have been entitled to such a designation as "God's Holy One." No one except the Messiah appears in this line.

The margin of most versions gives an alternate reading in this verse as "holy ones" instead of "Thy Holy One," but the very best authorities have retained the singular, leaving the passage applicable to the Messiah only.

Barnes pointed out that "Holy One" is a title applied especially to Christ in " Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; Acts 3:14, etc."[14] He also added that:

"As this passage is expressly applied to Jesus Christ in Acts 2:27, there can be no doubt that it was intended by the Holy Spirit to designate him here."[15]

"The full value of this passage as both Paul and Peter insisted (Acts 2:29ff and 13:34-37), indicate that this language is too strong even for David's hope of his own resurrection. "Only He whom God raised up saw no corruption."[16]

With reference to the device of accepting the alternative reading of "thy holy ones," instead of Thy Holy One, which is always the last resort of interpreters who would actually do anything to get rid of the obvious prophecy of the Christ, is effectively forbidden by the fact that:

"The great majority of ancient manuscripts, and all the ancient versions, including even the Hebrew manuscripts, have the expression in the SINGULAR, not in the plural."[17]

David would have had to be a conceited fool indeed to have referred to himself as "The Holy One of God." We simply cannot believe that he did so in this passage.

Peter effectively pointed out in the very first sermon of the Gospel Age that David's body saw corruption, adding that the tomb was still in Jerusalem. Here are his words:

"For David saith concerning him (Christ), I beheld the Lord always before my face; For he is on my right hand that I should not be moved; Therefore was my heart glad, and my tongue rejoiced; Moreover my flesh also shall dwell in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, Neither wilt thou give Thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou madest known unto me the ways of life; Thou shalt make me full of gladness with thy countenance" (Acts 2:25-28).

"The apostle Paul likewise commented upon this passage thus:

"David saith: Thou wilt not give thy Holy One to see corruption; for David, after he had in his own generation served the counsel of God, fell asleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he whom God raised up saw no corruption" (Acts 13:35-37).

We shall refrain from commenting upon the attitude of certain alleged scholars who have dared to suppose that they have any better conception of what this passage means than do the inspired writers of the New Testament. There cannot possibly be any value in setting aside the judgment of men like Peter and Paul in favor of some speculative guess by a recent graduate of some university.

Another device which we simply cannot accept is that of supposing that David was here speaking of himself; but that, much later, the apostles discovered a deeper meaning in the words, applying them to Jesus Christ. No. As the words stand in the Bible, they refer to Jesus Christ the Messiah and to no one else. To us the admission that, "It is only in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that the hope of God's people is centered,"[18] while true enough as an independent assertion, does not touch the meaning of this passage anywhere.

"Thou wilt show me the path of life." "Raised from the dead, he shall die no more; death can have no further dominion over him."[19] Jamieson was undoubtedly correct in ascribing this eleventh verse to the existence of the Messiah after his resurrection.

"In thy presence is fulness of joy." This indicates that the Holy One raised up from the grave would find fulness of joy in the "presence" of God, and it is therefore a prophecy of the Ascension. Nowhere except in heaven could the presence of God be enjoyed continually by any one.

"In thy right hand." This is additional proof that the Ascension to God's Right Hand is the prophetic import of this passage. Hebrews 1:3 reveals that Christ, "Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High." Also, "We have such a High Priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Hebrews 8:1).

"There are pleasures forever more." The eternal nature of Christ's reign is indicated here. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the same, "Yesterday, to-day, yea and forever." He is with his Church "always," even unto the end of the world. Amen! (Matthew 28:18-20).

This magnificent prophecy of the Christ is more complex than a mere prophecy of his resurrection. It also includes prophecies (1) of his absolute righteousness (Psalms 16:2); (2) that his portion would not be that of a land holder, but that God would be his portion (Psalms 16:5); (3) that he would speak the words of Jehovah (Psalms 16:7); (4) that his body would not suffer corruption (Psalms 16:10); (5) that he would be raised from the dead (Psalms 16:11); (6) that he would be in the presence of God in heaven (Psalms 16:11), that he would ascend to God; and (7) that he would sit forever at God's right hand (Psalms 16:11).

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.