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This psalm expresses a confident expectation of eternal life and happiness, founded on the evidence of true attachment to God. It expresses the deep conviction that one who loves God will not be left in the grave, and will not be suffered to see permanent “corruption,” or to perish in the grave, forever.
The contents of the psalm are the following:
(1) An earnest prayer of the author for preservation on the ground that he had put his trust in God, Psalms 16:1.
(2) A statement of his attachment to God, Psalms 16:2-3, founded partly on his consciousness of such attachment Psalms 16:2, and partly on the fact that he truly loved the friends of God, Psalms 16:3.
(3) A statement of the fact that he had no sympathy with those who rejected the true God; that he did not, and would not, participate in their worship. The Lord was his portion, and his inheritance, Psalms 16:4-5.
(4) Thankfulness that the lines had fallen unto him in such pleasant places; that he had had his birth and lot where the true God was adored, and not in a land of idolaters, Psalms 16:6-7.
(5) A confident expectation, on the ground of his attachment to God, that he would be happy forever; that he would not be left to perish in the grave; that he would obtain eternal life at the right hand of God, Psalms 16:8-11. This expectation implies the following particulars:
(a) That he would never be moved; that is, that he would not be disappointed and cast off, Psalms 16:8.
(b) That, though he was to die, his flesh would rest in hope, Psalms 16:9.
(c) That he would not be left in the regions of the dead, nor suffered to lie forever in the grave, Psalms 16:10.
(d) That God would show him the path of life, and give him a place at his right hand, Psalms 16:11.
Nothing can be determined with certainty in regard to the occasion on which the psalm was composed. It is such a psalm as might be composed at any time in view of solemn reflections on life, death, the grave, and the world beyond; on the question whether the grave is the end of man, or whether there will be a future. It is made up of happy reflections on the lot and the hopes of the pious; expressing the belief that, although they were to die, there was a brighter world beyond - although they were to be laid in the grave, they would not always remain there; that they would be released from the tomb, and be raised up to the right hand of God. It expresses more clearly than can be found almost anywhere else in the Old Testament a belief in the doctrine of the resurrection - an assurance that those who love God, and keep his commandments, will not always remain in the grave.
The psalm is appealed to by Peter Acts 2:25-31, and by Paul Acts 13:35-37, as referring to the resurrection of Christ, and is adduced by them in such a manner as to show they regarded it as proving that He would be raised from the dead. It is not necessary to suppose, in order to a correct understanding of the psalm, that it had an exclusive reference to the Messiah, but only that it referred to him in the highest sense, or that it had its complete fulfillment in him. Compare Introduction to Isaiah, Section 7, iii: It undoubtedly expressed the feelings of David in reference to himself - his own hopes in view of death; while it is true that he was directed to use language in describing his own feelings and hopes which could have a complete fulfillment only in the Messiah. In a more full and complete sense, it was true that he would not be left in the grave, and that he would not be allowed “to see corruption.”
It was actually true in the sense in which David used the term as applicable to himself that he would not be “left” permanently and ultimately in the grave, under the dominion of corruption; it was literally true of the Messiah, as Peter and Paul argued, that he did not “see corruption;” that he was raised from the grave without undergoing that change in the tomb through which all others must pass. As David used the language (as applicable to himself), the hope suggested in the psalm will be fulfilled in the future resurrection of the righteous; as the words are to be literally understood, they could be fulfilled only in Christ, who rose from the dead without seeing corruption. The argument of Peter and Paul is, that this prophetic language was found in the Old Testament, and that it could have a complete fulfillment only in the resurrection of Christ. David, though he would rise as he anticipated, did, in fact, return to corruption. Of the Messiah it was literally true that his body did not undergo any change in the grave. The reference to the Messiah is, that it had its highest and most complete fulfillment in him. Compare the notes at Acts 2:25-31.
The title of the psalm is, “Michtam of David.” The word “Michtam” occurs only in the following places, in all of which it is used as the title of a psalm: Psalms 16:1-11; Psalms 56:1-13; Psalms 57:1-11; Psalms 58:1-11; Psalms 59:0; Psalms 60:1-12. Gesenius supposes that it means a “writing,” especially a poem, psalm, or song; and that its sense is the same as the title to the psalm of Hezekiah Isaiah 38:9, where the word used is rendered “writing.” According to Gesenius the word used here - מכתם miktâm - is the same as the word employed in Isaiah - מכתב miktâb - the last letter ב (b), having been gradually changed to ם (m). Others, unaptly, Gesenius says, have derived the word from כתם kethem, gold,” meaning a “golden” psalm; that is, precious, or pre-eminent. DeWette renders it: “Schrift,”” writing. It is, perhaps, impossible now to determine why some of the psalms of David should have been merely termed “writings,” while others are mentioned under more specific titles.
Preserve me, O God - Keep me; guard me; save me. This language implies that there was imminent danger of some kind - perhaps, as the subsequent part of the psalm would seem to indicate, danger of death. See Psalms 16:8-10. The idea here is, that God was able to preserve him from the impending danger, and that he might hope he would do it.
For in thee do I put my trust - That is, my hope is in thee. He had no other reliance than God; but he had confidence in him - he felt assured that there was safety there.
O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord - The words “O my soul” are not in the original. A literal rendering of the passage would be, “Thou hast said unto the Lord,” etc., leaving something to be supplied. De Wette renders it: “To Yahweh I call; thou art my Lord.” Luther: “I have said to the Lord.” The Latin Vulgate: “Thou, my soul, hast said to the Lord.” The Septuagint: “I have said unto the Lord.” Dr. Horsley: “I have said unto Jehovah.” The speaker evidently is the psalmist; he is describing his feelings toward the Lord, and the idea is equivalent to the expression “I have said unto the Lord.” Some word must necessarily be understood, and our translators have probably expressed the true sense by inserting the words, “O my soul.” the state of mind indicated is that in which one is carefully looking at himself, his own perils, his own ground of hope, and when he finds in himself a ground of just confidence that he has put his trust in God, and in God alone. We have such a form of appeal in Psalms 42:5, Psalms 42:11; Psalms 43:5, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”
Thou art my Lord - Thou hast a right to rule over me; or, I acknowledge thee as my Lord, my sovereign. The word here is not Yahweh, but Adonai - a word of more general signification than Yahweh. The sense is, I have acknowledged Yahweh to be my Lord and my God. I receive him and rest upon him as such.
My goodness extendeth not to thee - This passage has been very variously rendered. Prof. Alexander translates it: “My good (is) not besides thee (or, beyond thee);” meaning, as he supposes: “My happiness is not beside thee, independent of, or separable from thee?” So DeWette: “There is no success (or good fortune) to me out of thee.” Others render it: “My goodness is not such as to entitle me to thy regard.” And others, “My happiness is not obligatory or incumbent on thee; thou art not bound to provide for it.” The Latin Vulgate renders it: “My good is not given unless by thee.” Dr. Horsley: “Thou art my good - not besides thee.” I think the meaning is: “My good is nowhere except in thee; I have no source of good of any kind - happiness, hope, life, safety, salvation - but in thee. My good is not without thee.” This accords with the idea in the other member of the sentence, where he acknowledges Yahweh as his Lord; in other words, he found in Yahweh all that is implied in the idea of an object of worship - all that is properly expressed by the notion of a God. He renounced all other gods, and found his happiness - his all - in Yahweh.
But to the saints that are in the earth - This verse also has been very variously rendered. Our translators seem to have understood it, in connection with the previous verse, as meaning that his “goodness,” or piety, was not of so pure and elevated a character that it could in any way extend to God so as to benefit him, but that it “might” be of service to the saints on earth, and that so, by benefiting them, he might show his attachment to God himself. But if the interpretation of the previous verse above proposed be the correct one, then this interpretation cannot be admitted here. This verse is probably to be regarded as a further statement of the evidence of the attachment of the psalmist to God. In the previous verse, according to the interpretation proposed, he states that his happiness - his all was centered in God. He had no hope of anything except in him; none beyond him; none besides him.
In this verse he states, as a further proof of his attachment to him, that he regarded with deep affection the saints of God; that he found his happiness, not in the society of the wicked, but in the friendship of the excellent of the earth. The verse may be thus rendered: “As to the saints in the earth (or in respect to the saints in the earth), and to the excellent, all my delight is in them.” In the former verse he had stated that, as to God, or in respect to God, he had no source of blessing, no hope, no joy, beyond him, or independent of him; in this verse he says that in respect to the saints - the excellent of the earth - all his delight was in them. Thus he was conscious of true attachment to God and to his people. Thus he had what must ever be essentially the evidence of true piety - a feeling that God is all in all, and real love for those who are his; a feeling that there is nothing beyond God, or without God, that can meet the wants of the soul, and a sincere affection for all who are his friends on earth. DeWette has well expressed the sense of the passage, “The holy, who are in the land, and the noble - I have all my pleasure in them.”
In the earth - In the land; or, perhaps, more generally, “on earth.” God was in heaven, and all his hopes there were in him. In respect to those who dwelt on the earth, his delight was with the saints alone.
And to the excellent - The word used here means properly “large, great,” mighty; then it is applied to “nobles, princes, chiefs;” and then to those who excel in moral qualities, in piety, and virtue. This is the idea here, and thus it corresponds with the word “saints” in the former member of the verse. The idea is that he found his pleasure, not in the rich and the great, not in princes and nobles, but in those who were distinguished for virtue and piety. In heaven he had none but God; on earth he found his happiness only in those who were the friends of God.
In whom is all my delight - I find all my happiness in their society and friendship. The true state of my heart is indicated by my love for them. Everywhere, and at all times, love for those who love God, and a disposition to find our happiness in their friendship, will be a characteristic of true piety.
Their sorrows shall be multiplied - The word here rendered “sorrows - עצבוּת ‛atstsebôth - may mean either idols or sorrows. Compare Isaiah 48:5; Psalms 139:24; Job 9:28; Psalms 147:3. Some propose to render it, “Their idols are multiplied;” that is, many are the gods which others worship, while I worship one God only. So Gesenius understands it. So also the Aramaic Paraphrase renders it. But the common construction is probably the correct one, meaning that sorrow, pain, anguish, must always attend the worship of any other gods than the true God; and that therefore the psalmist would not he found among their number, or be united with them in their devotions.
That hasten after another god - Prof. Alexander renders this, “Another they have purchased.” Dr. Horsley, “Who betroth themselves to another.” The Septuagint, “After these things they are in haste.” The Latin Vulgate, “Afterward they make haste.” The Hebrew word - מהר mâhar - properly means to hasten; to be quick, prompt, apt. It is twice used Exodus 22:16 in the sense of “buying or endowing;” that is, procuring a wife by a price paid to her parents; but the common meaning of the word is to hasten, and this is clearly the sense here. The idea is that the persons referred to show a readiness or willingness to forsake the true God, and to render service to other gods. Their conduct shows that they do not hesitate to do this when it is proposed to them; that they embrace the first opportunity to do it. Men hesitate and delay when it is proposed to them to serve the true God; they readily embrace an opposite course - following the world and sin.
Their drink-offerings of blood - It was usual to pour out a drink-offering of wine or water in the worship of idol gods, and even of the true God. Thus Jacob Genesis 35:14 is said to have set up a pillar in Padan-aram, and to have “poured a drink-offering thereon.” Compare Exodus 29:40-41; Exodus 30:9; Lev, Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5. The phrase “drink-offerings of blood” would seem to imply that the blood of the animals slain in sacrifice was often mingled with the wine or water that was thus poured out in the services of the pagan gods. So Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Michaelis suppose. It would seem, also, that the worshippers themselves drank this mingled cup. They did this when they bound themselves by a solemn oath to perform any dangerous service. DeWette. The eating, and consequently the drinking of blood, was solemnly forbidden to the Israelites (compare Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:10); and the idea here is, that the psalmist had solemnly resolved that he would not partake of the abominations of the pagan, or be united with them in any way in their worship.
Nor take up their names into my lips - As objects of worship. That is, I will not in any way acknowledge them as gods, or render to them the homage which is due to God. The very mention of the name of any other god than the true God was solemnly forbidden by the law of Moses Exodus 23:13, “And make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of your mouth.” So the apostle Paul says Ephesians 5:3, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints.” The idea in these places seems to be, that the mere mention of these things would tend to produce dangerous familiarity with them, and by such familiarity take off something of the repugnance and horror with which they should be regarded, They were, in other words, to be utterly avoided; they were never to be thought of or named; they were to be treated as though they were not. No one can safely so familiarize himself with vice as to render it a frequent subject of conversation. Pollution will flow into the heart from words which describe pollution, even when there is no intention that the use of such words should produce contamination. No one can be familiar with stories or songs of a polluted nature, and still retain a heart of purity. “The very passage of a polluted thought through the mind leaves pollution behind it.” How much more is the mind polluted when the thought is dwelt upon, and when utterance is given to it in language!
The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance - In contradistinction from idols. The margin here is, “of my part.” The word properly means “lot, portion, part;” and is applicable to the portion of booty or plunder that fell to anyone; or to the portion of land that belonged to anyone in the division of an estate, 2Ki 9:10, 2 Kings 9:36-37. The meaning here is, that Yahweh was the being whom the psalmist worshipped as God, and that he sought no possession or comfort which did not proceed from him.
And my cup - The allusion here is to what we drink; and hence, the term is used in the sense of “lot” or “portion.” See the notes at Isaiah 51:17. Compare the notes at Psalms 11:6. The idea here is this: “The cup that I drink - that cheers, refreshes, and sustains me - is the Lord. I find comfort, refreshment, happiness, in him alone; not in the intoxicating bowl; not in sensual joys; but in God - in his being, perfections, friendship.”
Thou maintainest my lot - Thou dost defend my portion, or that which is allotted to me. The reference is to what he specifies in the following verse as his inheritance, and he says that that which was so valuable to him was sustained or preserved by God. He was the portion of his soul; he was the source of all his joy; he maintained or preserved all that was dear to his heart.
The lines - The word used here refers to the “lines” employed in measuring and dividing land, Amos 7:17; 2 Samuel 8:2. Hence, the word comes to denote a portion of land that is “measured out” (or that is “surveyed off”) to anyone - his possession or property; and hence, the word refers to the condition in life. The meaning here is, that in running out such a survey, “his” inheritance had been fixed in a pleasant and desirable part of the land.
Are fallen unto me - Referring to the appropriation of the different parts of the land by lot. The idea is, that the land was surveyed into distinct portions, and then that the part which fell to anyone was determined by lot. This was actually the case in distributing the land of Canaan, Numbers 26:55; Numbers 33:54; Numbers 36:2; Josh. 15–19.
In pleasant places - In a pleasant or desirable part of the land.
Yea, I have a goodly heritage - A good, a desirable inheritance. The meaning is, that he regarded it as a desirable heritage that he lived where the true God was known; where he enjoyed his favor and friendship.
I will bless the Lord, who hath given the counsel - Probably the reference here is to the fact that the Lord had counseled him to choose him as his portion, or had inclined him to his service. There is nothing for which a heart rightly affected is more disposed to praise God than for the fact that by his grace it has been inclined to serve him; and the time when the heart was given away to God is recalled ever onward as the happiest period of life.
My reins ... - See the notes at Psalms 7:9. The “reins” are here put for the mind, the soul. They were regarded as the seat of the affections, Jeremiah 11:20; Job 19:27. The meaning here is, that in the wakeful hours of night, when meditating on the divine character and goodness, he found instruction in regard to God. Compare Psalms 17:3. Everything then is favorable for reflection. The natural calmness and composure of the mind; the stillness of night; the starry heavens; the consciousness that we are alone with God, and that no human eye is upon us - all these things are favorable to profound religious meditation. They who are kept wakeful by night “need” not find this an unprofitable portion of their lives. Some of the most instructive hours of life are those which are spent when the eyes refuse to close themselves in slumber, and when the universal stillness invites to contemplation on divine things.
I have set the Lord always before me - By night as well as by day; in my private meditations as well as in my public professions. I have regarded myself always as in the presence of God; I have endeavored always to feel that, his eye was upon me. This, too, is one of the certain characteristics of piety, that we always feel that we are in the presence of God, and that we always act as if his eye were upon us. Compare the notes at Acts 2:25.
Because he is at my right hand - The right hand was regarded as the post of honor and dignity, but it is also mentioned as a position of defense or protection. To have one at our right hand is to have one near us who can defend us. Thus, in Psalms 109:31, “He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him,” etc. So Psalms 110:5, “The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.” Psalms 121:5, “the Lord is thy Keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.” The idea is, that as we use the right hand in our “own” defense, we seem to have an additional and a needed helper when one is at our right hand. The sense here is, that the psalmist felt that God, as his Protector, was always near him; always ready to interpose for his defense. We have a somewhat similar expression when we say of anyone that he is “at hand;” that is, he is near us.
I shall not be moved - I shall be safe; I shall not be disturbed by fear; I shall be protected from my enemies. See Psalms 10:6; Psalms 15:5. Compare Psalms 46:5. The language here is that of one who has confidence in God in time of great calamities, and who feels that he is safe under the divine favor and protection.
Therefore my heart is glad - In view of this fact, that my confidence is in God alone, and my belief that he is my Protector and Friend. See the notes at Acts 2:26.
And my glory rejoiceth - The Septuagint translate this, “my tongue,” and this translation is followed by Peter in his quotation of the passage in Acts 2:26. See the notes at that passage. The meaning here is, that whatever there was in him that was honorable, dignified, or glorious - all the faculties of his soul, as well as his heart - had occasion to rejoice in God. His whole nature - his undying soul - his exalted powers as he was made by God - all - all, found cause of exultation in the favor and friendship of God. The heart - the uuderstanding - the imagination - the whole immortal soul, found occasion for joy in God.
My flesh also - My body. Or, it may mean, his whole person, he himself, though the direct allusion is to the body considered as lying in the grave, Psalms 16:10. The language is such as one would use of himself when he reflected on his own death, and it is equivalent to saying, “I myself, when I am dead, shall rest in hope; my soul will not be left to abide in the gloomy place of the dead; nor will my body remain permanently in the grave under the power of corruption. In reference to my soul and my body - my whole nature - I shall descend to the grave in the hope of a future life.”
Shall rest - Margin, “dwell confidently.” The Hebrew is literally “shall dwell in confidence” or hope. The word here rendered “shall rest” means properly to let oneself down; to lie down, Numbers 9:17; Exodus 24:16; then, to lay oneself down, to lie down, as, for example, a lion lying down, Deuteronomy 33:20; or a people in tents, Numbers 24:2; and hence, to rest, to take rest, Judges 5:17; and then to abide, to dwell. Gesenius, Lexicon. Perhaps the sense here is that of “lying down,” considered as lying in the grave, and the expression is equivalent to saying, “When I die I shall lie down in the grave in hope or confidence, not in despair. I shall expect to rise and live again.”
In hope - The word used here means “trust, confidence, security.” It is the opposite of despair. As used here, it would refer to a state of mind in which there was an expectation of living again, as distinguished from that state of mind in which it was felt that the grave was the end of man. What is particularly to be remarked here is, that this trust or confidence extended to the “flesh” as well as to the “soul;” and the language is such as would be naturally used by one who believed in the resurrection of the body. Language of this kind occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament, showing that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was one to which the sacred writers were not strangers, and that although the doctrine was not as explicitly and formally stated in the Old Testament as in the New, yet that it was a doctrine which had been at some time communicated to man. See Isaiah 26:19, note; Daniel 12:2, note. As applicable to David, the language used here is expressive of his belief that “he” would rise again, or would not perish in the grave when his body died; as applicable to the Messiah, as applied by Peter Acts 2:26, it means that when “he” should die it would be with the hope and expectation of being raised again without seeing corruption. The language is such as to be applicable to both cases; and, in regard to the interpretation of the “language,” it makes no difference whether it was supposed that the resurrection would occur before the body should moulder back to dust, or whether it would occur at a much more remote period, and long after it had gone to decay. In either case it would be true that it was laid in the grave “in hope.”
For thou will not leave - The language used here implies, of course, that what is here called the soul would be in the abode to which the name hell is given, but “how long” it would be there is not intimated. The thought simply is, that it would not be “left” there; it would not be suffered to “remain” there. Whether it would be restored to life again in a few days, or after a longer period, is not implied in the term used. It would be fulfilled, though, as in the case of the Lord Jesus, the resurrection should occur in three days; or though, as in the case of David, it would occur only after many ages; or though, as Abraham believed of Isaac if he was offered as a sacrifice Hebrews 11:19, he should be restored to life at once. In other words, there is no allusion in this language to time. It is only to the “fact” that there would be a restoration to life.
My soul - DeWette renders this, “my life.” The Hebrew word - נפשׁ nephesh - which occurs very frequently in the Scriptures, means properly “breath;” then, the vital spirit, life; then, the rational soul, the mind; then, an animal, or animated thing - that which “lives;” then, oneself. Which of these senses is the true one here must be determined from the connection, and the meaning could probably be determined by a man’s asking himself what he would think of if he used similar language of himself - “I am about to die; my flesh will go down to the grave, and will rest in hope - the hope of a resurrection; my breath - my soul - will depart, and I shall be dead; but that life, that soul, will not be extinct: it will not be “left” in the grave, the abode of the dead; it will live again, live on forever.” It seems to me, therefore, that the language here would embrace the immortal part - that which is distinct from the body; and that the word here employed may be properly understood of the soul as we understand that word. The psalmist probably understood by it that part of his nature which was not mortal or decaying; that which properly constituted his life.
In hell - - לשׁאול lishe'ôl, “to Sheol.” See Psalms 6:5, note; Isaiah 5:14, note. This word does not necessarily mean hell in the sense in which that term is now commonly employed, as denoting the abode of the wicked in the future world, or the place of punishment; but it means the region or abode of the dead, to which the grave was regarded as the door or entrance - the under-world. The idea is, that the soul would not be suffered to remain in that under-world - that dull, gloomy abode (compare the notes at Job 10:21-22), but would rise again to light and life. This language, however, gives no sanction to the words used in the creed, “he descended into hell,” nor to the opinion that Christ went down personally to “preach to the spirits in prison “ - the souls that are lost (compare the notes at 1 Peter 3:19); but it is language derived from the prevailing opinion that the soul, through the grave, descended to the under-world - to the abodes where the dead were supposed still to reside. See the notes at Isaiah 14:9. As a matter of fact, the soul of the Saviour at his death entered into “paradise.” See the notes at Luke 23:43.
Neither wilt thou suffer - literally, “thou wilt not give;” that is, he would not give him over to corruption, or would not suffer him to return to corruption.
Thine Holy One - See the notes at Acts 2:27. The reading here in the text is in the plural form, “thy holy ones;” the marginal reading in the Hebrew, or the Qeri’, is in the singular, “thine Holy One.” The singular form is followed by the Aramaic Paraphrase, the Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, the Arabic, and in the New Testament, Acts 2:27. The Masoretes have also pointed the text as if it were in the singular. Many manuscripts and earlier editions of the Bible, and all the ancient versions, read it in the same manner. It is probable, therefore, that this is the true reading. The Hebrew word rendered holy one - חסיד châsı̂yd - means properly kind, benevolent, liberal, good, merciful, gracious, pious. Gesenius, Lexicon. It would be applicable to any persons who are pious or religious, but it is here restricted to the one whom the psalmist had in his eye - if the psalm referred to himself, then to himself; if to the Messiah, then to him. The term is several times given to the Saviour as being especially adapted to him. See Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; Acts 3:14; compare Luke 1:35. It is applied to him as being eminently holy, or as being one whom God regarded as especially his own. As the passage here is expressly applied to him in the Acts of the Apostles Acts 2:27, there can be no doubt that it was intended by the Spirit of inspiration to designate him in this place, whatever reference it may have had primarily to David himself.
To see - That is, to experience; to be acquainted with. The word is used often to denote perceiving, learning, or understanding anything by experience. Thus, “to see life,” Ecclesiastes 9:9; “to see death,” Psalms 89:48; “to see sleep,” Ecclesiastes 8:16; “to see famine,” Jeremiah 5:12; “to see good,” Psalms 34:12; “to see affliction,” Lamentations 3:1; “to see evil,” Proverbs 27:12. Here it means that he would not “experience” corruption; or would not return to corruption.
Corruption - - שׁחת shachath. This word is frequently used in the Scriptures. It is translated “ditch” in Job 9:31; Psalms 7:15; “corruption” (as here), in Job 17:14; Psalms 49:9; Jonah 2:6; “pit,” in Job 33:18, Job 33:24, Job 33:28, Job 33:30; Psalms 9:15; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 35:7; Proverbs 26:27; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 51:14; Ezekiel 19:4; Ezekiel 28:8; “grave,” in Job 33:22; and “destruction,” in Psalms 55:23. The common idea, therefore, according to our translators, is the grave, or a pit. The “derivation” seems not to be certain. Gesenius supposes that it is derived from שׁוח shûach - “to sink or settle down;” hence, a pit or the grave. Others derive it from שׁחת shāchath, not used in Qal, to destroy. The verb is used in various forms frequently; meaning to destroy, to ruin, to lay waste. It is translated here by the Latin Vulgate, “corruptionem;” by the Septuagint, διαφθοράν diaphthoran, corruption; by the Arabic in the same way.
The same word which is employed by the Septuagint is employed also in quoting the passage in the New Testament, where the argument of Peter Acts 2:27, and of Paul Acts 13:35-37, is founded on the supposition that such is the sense of the word here; that it does not mean merely “the pit, or the grave;” that the idea in the psalm is not that the person referred to would not go down to the grave, or would not “die,” but that he would not moulder back to dust in the grave, or that the “change” would not occur to him in the grave which does to those who lie long in the tomb. Peter and Paul both regard this as a distinct prophecy that the Messiah would be raised from the grave “without” returning to corruption, and they argue from the fact that David “did” return to corruption in the grave like other men, that the passage could not have referred mainly to himself, but that it had a proper fulfillment, and its highest fulfillment, in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This interpretation the believer in the inspiration of Peter and Paul is bound to defend, and in reference to this it may be remarked,
(1) that it cannot be demonstrated that this is not the meaning of the word. The word may be as “fairly” derived from the verb to corrupt, as from the verb to sink down, and, indeed, more naturally and more obviously. The grammatical form would rather suggest this derivation than the other.
(2) It “is” a fair construction of the original word. It is such a construction as may be put upon it without any “forced” application, or any design to defend a theory or an opinion. In other words, it is not a mere “catch,” or a grasp at a “possible” meaning of the word, but it is a rendering which, on every principle of grammatical construction, may be regarded as a “fair” interpretation. Whatever may have been the exact idea in the mind of David, whether he understood this as referring only to himself, and to the belief that he would not “always” remain in the grave, and under the power of corruption; or whether he understood it as referring primarily to himself, and ultimately and mainly to the Messiah; or whether he understood it; as referring solely to the Messiah; or whether he did not at all understand the language which the Holy Spirit led him to employ (compare the notes at 1 Peter 1:11-12), it is equally true that the sense which the apostles put on the words, in their application of the passage to the Messiah, is a suitable one.
(3) The ancient versions, as has been seen above, confirm this. Without an exception they give the sense of “corruption” - the very sense which has been given to the word by Peter and Paul. The authors of these versions had no theory to defend, and it may be presumed that they had a just knowledge of the true meaning of the Hebrew word.
(4) It may be added that this interpretation accords with the connection in which the word occurs. Though it may be admitted that the connection would not “necessarily” lead to this view, yet this interpretation is in entire harmony with the statements in the previous verses, and in the following verse. Thus, in the previous verse, the psalmist had said that “his flesh would rest in hope,” - a sentiment which accords with either the idea that he would at some future period be raised from the grave, and would not perish forever, though the period of the resurrection might be remote; or with the idea of being raised up so soon that the body would not return to corruption, that is, before the change consequent on death would take place. The sentiment in the following verse also agrees with this view. That sentiment is, that there is a path to life; that in the presence of God there is fulness of joy; that at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore - a sentiment, in this connection, founded on the belief of the resurrection from the dead, and equally true whether the dead should be raised immediately or at some remote period. I infer, therefore, that the apostles Peter and Paul made a legitimate use of this passage; that the argument which they urged was derived from a proper interpretation of the language; that the fair construction of the psalm, and the fact that David “had” returned to corruption, fully justified them in the application which they made of the passage; and that, therefore, it was the design of the Holy Spirit to convey the idea that “the Messiah” would be raised from the dead without undergoing the change which others undergo in the grave; and that it was thus “predicted” in the Old Testament, that be would be raised from the dead in the manner in which he was.
Thou wilt show me the path of life - In this connection this means that though he was to die - to descend to the regions of the dead, and to lie down in the dark grave - yet there WAS a path again to the living world, and that that path would be pointed out to him by God. In other words, he would not be suffered to remain among the dead, or to wander away forever with those who were in the under world, but he would be brought back: to the living world. This is language which, in this connection, could be founded only on a belief of the resurrection of the dead. The word “life” here does not necessarily refer to heaven - to eternal life - though the connection shows that this is the ultimate idea. It is life in contradistinction from the condition of the dead. The highest form of life is that which is found in heaven, at the right hand of God; and the connection shows it was that on which the eye of the psalmist was fixed.
In thy presence - literally, “with thy face.” Before thy face; or, as the sense is correctly expressed in our version, “in thy presence.” The reference is to God’s presence in heaven, or where he is supposed to dwell. This is shown by the additional statement that the joy mentioned was to be found at his “right hand” - an expression which properly refers to heaven. It is not merely a return to earth which is anticipated; it is an exaltation to heaven.
Is fulness of joy - Not partial joy; not imperfect joy; not joy intermingled with pain and sorrow; not joy which, though in itself real, does not satisfy the desires of the soul, as is the case with much of the happiness which we experience in this life - but joy, full, satisfying, unalloyed, unclouded, unmingled with anything that would diminish its fulness or its brightness; joy that will not be diminished, as all earthly joys must be, by the feeling that it must soon come to an end.
At thy right hand - The right hand is the place of honor (Notes, Psalms 16:8). Compare Mark 16:19; Hebrews 1:3; Acts 7:56; and it here refers to the place which the saints will occupy in heaven. This language could have been used only by one who believed in the doctrine of the resurrection and of the future state. As applicable to the author of the psalm, it implies that he had a firm belief in the resurrection of the dead, and a confident hope of happiness hereafter; as applicable to the Messiah, it denotes that he would be raised up to exalted honor in heaven; as applicable to believers now, it expresses their firm and assured faith that eternal happiness and exalted honor await them in the future world.
There are pleasures for evermore - Happiness that will be eternal. It is not enjoyment such as we have on earth, which we feel is soon to terminate; it is joy which can have no end. Here, in respect to any felicity which we enjoy, we cannot but feel that it is soon to cease. No matter how secure the sources of our joy may seem to be, we know that happiness here cannot last long, for life cannot long continue; and even though life should be lengthened out for many years, we have no certainty that our happiness will be commensurate even with our existence on earth. The dearest friend that we have may soon leave us to return no more; health, the source of so many comforts, and essential to the enjoyment of any comfort here, may soon fail; property, however firmly it may be secured, may “take to itself wings and fly away.” Soon, at any rate, if these things do not leave us, we shall leave them; and in respect to happiness from them, we shall be as though they had not been. Not so will it be at the right hand of God. Happiness there, whatever may be its nature, will be eternal. Losses, disappointment, bereavement, sickness, can never occur there; nor can the anticipation of death, though at the most distant period, and after countless million of ages, ever mar our joys. How different in all these things will heaven be from earth! How desirable to leave the earth, and to enter on those eternal joys!
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14