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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 16

Verses 1-11


“The first clause contains in germ the thought of the entire psalm, namely, that the pious man has always protection with God against all his enemies. From this assurance arises the cry of prayer (Psalms 16:1), whose form shows the experience of pressing danger, but immediately passes over into the confession of the way in which the Psalmist proposes to act in consequence of his relation to God (Psalms 16:2) and to His people (Psalms 16:3). In Psalms 16:4 the Psalmist maintains himself against the worshippers of idols. In Psalms 16:5-6 we have a description of the good chosen in God, and of the happiness allotted on account of this. It then turns, praising Jehovah (Psalms 16:7), to testify of the position of the Psalmist established in Him (Psalms 16:8), and rises from the assurance of this communion with God, not only to a jubilant declaration of present Divine protection (Psalms 16:9), but in prophetic inspiration to a prophetic promise of the everlasting enjoyment of salvation (Psalms 16:10-11).”—Moll. “The psalm is appropriate to the whole class of pious sufferers, of which Christ is the most illustrious representative. It is only in Him, therefore, that some parts of it can be said to have received their highest and complete fulfilment.”—Alexander.


(Psalms 16:1-2.)

The Psalmist in a time of trial thus expresses his confidence in God. This faith in God is:

I. Personal. “Preserve me, O God” (Psalms 16:1). “Thou art my Lord” (Psalms 16:2). It was an individualising faith. Just as Adam sought to hide himself amid the trees of the garden, so do we imagine our selves hidden in the multitude. Let us seek to realise our needful personality in the sight of God.

1. Let us realise Him as my Creator. Not as creating merely all worlds and all nations, but as specially forming me, and giving to me a singular and independent spirit. Think not only of the ocean of humanity as flowing from His creative hand; but remember that the dewdrop, I, Me, was the distinct creation of His almighty power and love.

2. As my Ruler. Philosophy has an utter contempt for individuals—it concerns itself with masses, multitudes, ages—God rules the universe. It must contemplate all on the sublime scale. We are often told that the danger of society in these days is in centralisation; certainly the danger in our philosophy is in aggregation. We are, in opposition to this, to believe in God, as my Ruler and my King.

3. As my Saviour. We are not to look on the Gospel message as a public proclamation on the street wall, but as an autograph letter from our clement King, addressed with our name, and left by the postman at our door. This faith in God is:

II. Absolute. “In Thee do I trust” (Psalms 16:1).

1. He trusts in God only. In the 2d verse, he acknowledges God as His sovereign Lord. “Thou art my Lord,” “My supreme Lord;—who hast an absolute right to all my services.”—Kay. And in the 4th verse, he repudiates all other gods. He rests his whole weight on God, placing no expectations elsewhere. “God is recognised as the only source of individual enjoyment.”—Alexander.

2. He trusts in God for all. “My goodness extendeth not to thee” (Psalms 16:2). “I have no good beyond thee.” “This is the one grand thought which stamps the psalm, ‘Thou, O Lord, art my portion, my help, my joy, my all in all.’ ”—Perowne. What the pagans vainly sought for in many gods, the Psalmist found in One; what the worldling vainly seeks for in many objects, the believer exults to find in the favour of God.

This faith is:

III. Habitual. “Do I put my trust.” Or, “For I have trusted in Thee.” “This is no new or sudden act, but one performed already. He not only trusts in God at present, but has trusted Him before. The recognition of God was not a mere momentary act, but a habitual affection of the mind.”—Alexander. There is such a thing as crying to God in a moment of trouble or danger, and neglecting Him in days of peace. A true faith is a constant faith. “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalms 16:8).

1. God will honour faith like this in the hour of danger. During the negro rebellion Mr. Francis Gardiner was travelling from one town to another, in Jamaica, in a gig. Some advised him to take firearms to protect himself, and he assented. He went a little way with the firearms, but soon returned, saying, “I am not comfortable with them:” and once more went on his journey without them. Soon he fell among a party of negroes, who stopped his horse. One said, “He is a missionary;” but the others said, “No, he is a Government spy.” Then they said, “If he be a Government spy he will have firearms; if a missionary, he will have no arms.” He was searched, and no firearms being found upon him, the negroes, instead of murdering him, led him safely on his journey. We generally have too much policy and too little faith.

2. Such faith will be honoured in the hour of trial. The world’s refuges fail just when they are most needed, but they who hide themselves in God shall not be confounded. Dr. Livingstone tells us of an African tree. “The Mopané-tree is pretty to look at in the bright sunshine of early morning, but the leaves hang perpendicularly as the sun rises high, and afford little or no shade through the day.” True image of worldly shelters and helpers! They look promising enough in the bright sunshine of the morning, in health, wealth, popularity; but, alas! when the burning heat of trial and trouble come, they fail, and the hot beams beat on our naked head! The Psalmist here takes God for his hiding-place, and he is safe and singing.

3. Such faith will be honoured in the hour of death. Jordan is deeper or shallower “according to our faith in the King of the place.” David has trusted in God, and, in presence of death and the grave, he shouts like a conqueror (Psalms 16:9-11). If we emulate his faith, we shall know his triumph.


(Psalms 16:3.)

Alexander translates this verse: “As to the saints who are in the land, they are the nobles in whom is all my delight.” Thus the people of God are designated as peers, a divine aristocracy.

We observe:

I. Their patent of nobility. By what right are they called “nobles”? They are the children of the King. They have been begotten again to a Divine and immortal inheritance. And this fact they reveal—

1. By the dignity of their character. They show their lofty birth by their purity and sublimity of character and conduct. Their glory is not in purple, stars, and coronets, but in splendid moral qualities. “The excellent, properly the outwardly illustrious; the root-meaning is that of glitter, splendour, &c. It contains the idea of a moral as well as of a merely outward glory.”—Perowne.

2. By the elevation of their life. In all things they seek to act from great motives, by great principles, to great ends. One of our earls was derided because, when he was made knight of the garter, he put the garter on all his shovels, wheelbarrows, and pickaxes. But the moral noble puts the sign of his estate on all that he has, on all that he does, down to the commonest and most trifling things. In “that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 14:20-21). Thus are they real nobles, “men of whom the world is not worthy.” “Some think rich men to be excellent, some think learned men to be excellent, some count men in authority so to be; but here we are taught that those men are excellent who are sanctified by God’s graces.”—Greenham. “The title of ‘His Excellency’ more properly belongs to the meanest saint than to the greatest governor. The true aristocracy are believers in Jesus. They are the only Right Honourables. Stars and garters are poor distinctions compared with the graces of the Spirit.”—Spurgeon.


II. Their oath of fealty. “O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord” (Psalms 16:2). He recalls his covenant with God. As the new-made peer swears fidelity to his king, so have the saints vowed to be the Lord’s. Let us remember this:

1. In the hour of danger to our comfort. We are God’s sworn ones, and shall He not ever shelter and save us?
2. In the hour of temptation to our caution. When allurements are held out to us to worldliness and sin, remember, “O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord;” “The vows of God are upon us.” In the clearest, loftiest, most solemn moments of life, again and again have we pledged ourselves to God; let us not in a moment of excitement or weakness forget the glorious oath. The righteous man “sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not;” surely we shall change not wherein we have sworn to our eternal advantage.

“High Heaven, that heard the solemn vow,

That vow renewed shall daily hear,

Till in life’s latest hour I bow,

And bless in death a bond so dear.”


III. Their bond of unity. What is the esprit de corps? (Psalms 16:3). “The meaning of this verse is, that the Psalmist’s recognition of Jehovah as the Lord, and as the only source of happiness, is not peculiar to himself, but common to the whole body of the saints or holy ones, in whose society he delighted”—Alexander. What is expressed here “is love to God and love to His saints.”—Delitzsch. This is the spirit, the bond of union.

1. Love to God. This is the grand basis of their oneness, trust in God, love to God. “Where any two souls cry out simultaneously, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ the portion wall is broken down, and they are bound together more firmly by a sigh than by the loftiest formulas. They but hinder real union prevailing among us who are always haggling about words and isolated expressions.”—Büchsel. A common faith in God is the innermost evangelical alliance.

2. Love to God’s people. “In whom is all my delight” (Psalms 16:3). “In God’s land there are others who, like David, cleave to God, and with these he claims fellowship.”—Perowne. Where there is a true love to God, there will be a living delight in His people.

IV. Their uncompromising loyalty (Psalms 16:4). Their sorrows shall be multiplied, “who wed themselves to another god.”—Kay. “Not idols merely, but any created object of supreme affection.”—Alexander. The Psalmist declares that he will not join in their impious services, nor even name the names of their divinities. He will have no complicity with such whatever. “It was a great consolation that, during his exile, being much with heathens, he had remained true to his God. He had not lifted up his hand to Dagon while protected in Philistia. He had not pronounced the name of an idol, which Moses had forbidden the Jews to do, nor had he attended the bloody altar of Moloch. Come then to this school, all ye lukewarm, ye degenerate souls, who trim between the world and the Church. It is of small moment to you to protract the hour of returning from market, or with whom you take the cheerful glass. Take care what you do: you may go a step too far.”—Sutcliffe.


V. Their grand Inheritance (Psalms 16:5-6). “The idea is, that in the Lord the Psalmist has all that he can wish or hope for.”—Alexander. And it is a secure and everlasting portion.

The old saying declares, “Carry great ensigns and you shall be great.” The believer carries “great ensigns”—a great name, a great service, a great king, a great future. May “all that name the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”


(Psalms 16:5-6.)

I. Their inheritance is Divine.

1. God Himself. “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup” (Psalms 16:5). “There is an allusion, probably, to the division of the land of Canaan among the tribes, no part of which was assigned to the tribe of Levi, because, as was expressly declared, Jehovah would be their portion or share (Numbers 18:20), and the gifts consecrated to Jehovah the provision for their support. That which was true nationally of Levi was true in its deepest spiritual import of every believing Israelite. ‘What must not he possess,’ says Savonarola, ‘who possesses the Possessor of all?’—Perowne. “In the text all Israel is viewed as a ‘spiritual priesthood;’ who, wholly devoted to God, had Him for their everlasting reward.”—Kay.

2. And God alone is the portion of His people. They ask for nothing beyond Him. Moll renders the 2d verse of this Psalm; “My happiness is not added to Thee. Nothing that must be added to Thee makes me happy, but Thou alone, giving exclusive and full satisfaction. Compare the analogous thought and expression, Psalms 73:25.” Yet,

3. The saints have everything in God. “The heritage or portion thus described is God Himself, but considered as including all desirable possessions.”—Alexander. We have all gifts in the Giver. The “lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.” The blessing of God makes all places bright and happy; or, as some translate, in pleasant things. “It signifies both pleasant circumstances, and a pleasant locality.”—Delitzsch. The blessing of God imparts a profound charm and significance to all our possessions, relationships, circumstances. And finally the blessing of God makes all seasons bright. In the 7th verse, the night seasons are full of holy and happy communings. God’s smile makes all seasons bright, even the darkest. “If I say, The darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me.” All places, all things, all seasons, “all are yours.”

This inheritance:

II. Is secure. “Thou maintainest my lot” (Psalms 16:5). “Nor is this comparison unnecessary,” says Calvin, “for if often happens that the rightful owners are thrust out from their own possession, because there is none to defend them. But God hath given Himself to us as our inheritance in such wise that by His aid we are ever maintained in the enjoyment thereof.” David knew that his earthly power and glory might be torn away from him, but in God he had a kingdom which could not be moved. Thus in the 8th verse, “I shall never be moved.” “The gates of hell shall never prevail; Christ, our Samson, hath flung them off their hinges.”—Trapp.

It is:

III. Joyful (Psalms 16:6). “I have a goodly heritage.” “Yea, my inheritance is acceptable unto me. What had come to him as his inheritance, he embraced with the full approval of his judgment and his affections.”—Kay. It was just what he wanted. Men of the world toil for wealth, splendour, power, notoriety, and having attained the object of their ambition, grieve over it, as the disappointed child grieves over the fingered butterfly. But in the knowledge, love, and service of God we realise a treasure and joy congenial and satisfying to our deepest nature.

It is:

IV. Permanent (Psalms 16:9-11). Here the Psalmist exults in a glorious hope, full of immortality. “David’s hope rests on this conclusion: it is impossible for the man who, in appropriating faith and actual experience, calls God his own, to fall into the hands of death.”—Delitzsch. His life is hid with Christ in God, and so far from death spoiling him in any sense, it will but give him fuller possession of his glorious inheritance. How perishable all merely human good! There is a wild Indian story which tells of a girl falling in love with a handsome young warrior, who was however, really, but an image of snow. Immediately after their marriage they took a journey, and as the sun appeared in the horizon the bridegroom melted away. Man, falling in love with earthly things, is wasting his affections upon an image of snow: “The fashion of this world passeth away.” But rich and happy in the blessing of God, we are rich and happy for evermore.

“A house we call our own

Which cannot be o’erthrown:

In the general ruin sure,

Storms and earthquakes it defles;

Built immovably secure,

Built eternal in the skies.”


(Psalms 16:9-11.)

The Psalmist is here on the mountain top. He gains a bright view of the glorious future, and is filled with rapture. He is assured of life, resurrection, immortality.

I. The grandeur of his hope.

1. In the 10th verse, he exults to believe that he shall be altogether saved from the power of death and the grave. He believes that neither his nobler part, his glory, nor yet his body, shall suffer loss. God’s holy ones, God’s favourites, shall not be forsaken; their bodies not abandoned to the tomb, their souls not abandoned to the invisible world. But,

2. The Psalmist not only exults in being delivered from the power of death, he anticipates unknown glories (Psalms 16:11). Passing out of the shadow of death, he will pass into the glorious light of God’s unveiled face. There is a path of life winding through the valley and shadow of death, leading through the churchyard, and leading right into the golden goal. “The glory to be revealed” is here indicated.

(1.) Its fulness. “Fulness of joy.” “Satiety, or rather satisfaction, in its strangest sense.”—Alexander.

(2.) Its variety. “Pleasures” “The plural, joys, denotes not only richness, but variety.”—Alexander. Our manifold nature will find all it needs when it thus drinks at the rivers of His pleasure.

(3.) Its perpetuity. “For evermore.”

II. The ground of his hope. A certain writer has defined commentators as, “The worthy folks that too often write on books as men with diamonds write on glass, obscuring light with scratches.” But on this passage before us we have the benefit of two inspired commentators, St. Peter and St. Paul, who quote this psalm in the 2d, 3d, and 13th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. They show that the Psalmist had the Messiah in his illuminated eye when he uttered these soaring words. These words were true of David only in a very limited sense; they found their full realisation only in Him who was David’ Lord. We may regard David as exulting in these lofty prospects on the ground of his faith in the Messiah. Because Christ should thus triumph, he knew his triumph assured in Christ. “The hope of his own immortality was based upon, and bound up in, the life of Him who was at once his Son and his Lord. What was true of David in the lower sense, was true in the fullest and highest sense of Christ; was only true of David, because it was true of Christ; and is only true of any of us in and through Him, according to His own words, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ ”—Perowne.

“The path of life,” is the work of Christ. “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” The Guide is the presence of Christ. The true Beulah is Calvary; from the shadow of the Cross we gain a clear and confident vision of the glory of the skies. “Yea, though I walk through the valley and the shadow of death,” &c.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.