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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 16

Verses 1-11


THE sixteenth psalm is so far connected with the fifteenth that it is exclusively concerned, like the fifteenth, with the truly righteous man. It "depicts the true Israelite as rejoicing in God as the highest Good, and placing affiance in him in the face of Death and Hades" (Kay). The ascription of it to David in the title may well be acquiesced in. It has been called "a golden psalm," and the word "Michtam" in the title has been understood in this sense; but that is more probably a musical term, like "Mizmor," "Maschil," "Shiggaion," etc. It is "full of the spirit of David," and remarkably evangelical in tone; its Messianic character is attested by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:25; Acts 13:35). It seems to divide itself only into two strophes—one extending from Psalms 16:1 to the end of Psalms 16:6, and the other from Psalms 16:7 to the conclusion.

Psalms 16:1

Preserve me, O God; i.e. keep me, guard me—protect me both in body and soul. It does not appear that the writer is threatened by any special danger. He simply calls upon God to continue his protecting care. For in thee do I put my trust. In thee, and in thee only. Therefore to thee only do I look for protection and preservation.

Psalms 16:2

O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord. The ordinary Hebrew text, אָמַרְתְּ, "thou hast said," requires the insertion of "O my soul," or something similar. But if we read אמרתי with a large number of manuscripts, with the LXX; the Vulgate, the Syriac, and most other versions, no insertion will be necessary. The meaning will then be, I have said to Jehovah. Thou art my Lord; Hebrew, adonai—"my Lord and Master." My goodness extendeth not to thee. This meaning cannot be elicited from the Hebrew words. Tobah is not "goodness," but "prosperity" or "happiness" (comp. Psalms 106:5); and 'aleyka is best explained as "beside thee," "beyond thee." The psalmist means to say that he has no happiness beside (or apart from) God. (So Ewald, Hengstenberg, Cheyne, the 'Speaker's Commentary,' and the Revised Version.)

Psalms 16:3

But to the saints that are in the earth; rather, it is for the saints. It (i.e. my prosperity) is granted me for the advantage of the saints that are in the land; i.e. of all the true Israelites. "I hold it in trust for them" (Kay). And to (rather, for) the excellent, in whom is all my delight. And, especially, I hold it in trust for "the inner circle of the excellent ones," in whom God takes pleasure (Psalms 147:11), and in whom therefore I also "delight."

Psalms 16:4

Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god. This is the only note of sadness in the entire psalm, and it is inserted to add force by contrast to the joyous outburst in Psalms 16:5. If men would not cleave to Jehovah, but would "hasten after"—or perhaps it should be translated "wed themselves to"—another god (see Exodus 2:16, the only other place where the word occurs), then they must not expect "prosperity," or joy of any kind. Their "sorrows will be multiplied;" distress and anguish will come upon them (Proverbs 1:27); they will have to pay dear for their apostasy. Their drink offerings of blood will I not offer. Drink offerings of actual blood are not elsewhere mentioned in Scripture, and there is very little evidence of their having been offered by any of the heathen nations, though it is conjectured that they may have been employed in the worship of Moloch. It is therefore best to explain the expression, as hero used, metaphorically, as drink offerings as hateful as if they had been of blood (comp. Isaiah 66:3). Nor take up their names into my lips. By "their names" we must understand the names which they used—those by which they called their gods. The Law forbade the mention of these names by Israelites (Exodus 23:13; Deuteronomy 12:3).

Psalms 16:5

The Lord is the Portion of mine inheritance. God had said to Aaron, when he gave him no special inheritance in Canaan, "I am thy Part and thine Inherit-ante among the children of Israel" (Numbers 18:20). David claims the same privilege. God is his "Portion," and he needs no other. And of my cup. A man's "cup" is, in Scripture, his lot or condition in life (Psalms 11:6; Psalms 23:5)—that which is given him to drink. David will have God only for his cup. Thou maintainest my lot; i.e. thou makest it firm and sure (comp. Psalms 30:6, "In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved").

Psalms 16:6

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places. The "lines" which marked out the place of his abode (comp. Deuteronomy 32:9; Joshua 17:5). These had fallen to him "in pleasant places"—in Jerusalem and its near vicinity. Yea, I have a goodly heritage. Some explain "heritage" here by the "inheritance" of Psalms 16:5. But the word used is different; and it is most natural to understand David's earthly heritage, or lot in life. This, he says, is "pleasing" or "delightsome" to him.

Psalms 16:7

I will bless the Lord, who hath given his counsel. God has become David's "Counsellor" (see Psalms 32:8), makes suggestions to him which he follows, and so guides his life that he feels bound to praise and bless him for it. My reins also instruct me in the night seasons. The reins, according to Hebrew ideas, are the seat of feeling and emotion. David is "instructed" or "stimulated" (Hengstenberg) to bless God by the feelings which stir within him as he lies awake at night—feelings, we must suppose, of affection and gratitude.

Psalms 16:8

I have set the Lord always before me. I have brought myself, that is, to realize the continual presence of God, alike in happiness and in trouble. I feel him to be ever with me. Because he is at my right hand (i.e. close to me, ready to protect and save), therefore I shall not be moved. Nothing will shake me or disturb me from my trust and confidence.

Psalms 16:9

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth. The thought of God's continual presence at his right hand causes David's "heart" to be "glad," and his "glory"—i.e. his soul, or spirit (Genesis 49:6), man's true glory—to rejoice. My flesh also shall rest in hope. His "flesh"—his corporeal nature, united closely with his "heart" and "spirit"—rests, and will rest, secure, confident that God will watch over it, and make the whole complex man—body, soul, and spirit—to "dwell in safety" (Psalms 4:8).

Psalms 16:10

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; literally, to Sheol, or "to Hades." The confidence in a future life shown here is beyond that exhibited by Job. Job hopes that he may not always remain in Hades, but may one day experience a "change" or "renewal" (Job 14:14); David is certain that his soul will not be left in hell. Hell (Sheol) is to him an "intermediate state," through which a man passes between his life in this world and his final condition in some blest abode. Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. The present Hebrew text has חסידיךָ, "thy holy ones," i.e. thy saints generally; but the majority, of the manuscripts, all the ancient versions, and even the Hebrew revised text (the Keri) have the word in the singular number, thus agreeing with Acts 2:27, Acts 2:31; Acts 13:35, which give us the translation, τὸν ὄσιον σου, and declare the psalmist to have spoken determinately of Christ. Certainly he would not have spoken of himself as "God's holy one." The translation of shachath (שָׁחַת) by "corruption" has been questioned, and it has been rendered "the pit," or "the grave," but quite gratuitously. The LXX. have διαφθορὰν as the equivalent; and the rabbinical commentators, giving it the same meaning, but expounding it of David, invented the myth that David's body was miraculously preserved from corruption.

Psalms 16:11

Thou wilt show me the path of life; i.e. the path which leads to the Source and Centre of all life, even God himself—the way to heaven, in contrast with corruption and Sheol. In thy presence is fulness of joy; literally, satiety of joy—enough, and more than enough, to satisfy the extremest cravings of the human heart. At thy right hand; rather, in thy right hand—ready for bestowal on thy saints. Are pleasures for evermore. An inexhaustible store, which may be drawn upon for ever.


Psalms 16:10

The antidote to death.

"Thou wilt not leave," etc. More than thirty generations of believers read and sang this psalm, pondered and prayed over it, and drew, no doubt, sweet though vague comfort from this verse, before the hidden glory of its meaning was disclosed. The temple built by David's son was laid in ashes. The Scriptures were carried with the captives to Babylon, and brought back. A second and at last a third temple arose on Mount Moriah. Empires arose and fell. Above one thousand years rolled away. At last, one summer morning, when the Feast of Pentecost had returned in its yearly round, and Jerusalem was filled with gladness, the time arrived for putting the key into the lock. The same Spirit who inspired the prophecy, interpreted it. "Peter, standing up with the eleven," etc. (Acts 2:14, Acts 2:25-32).


1. The separation of the soul. "My soul in hell," or "to hell." The Revisers here (and elsewhere) have given the Hebrew word Sheol, because the English word "hell" has come to be applied exclusively to the state of the lost. Thanks to the gospel, we have no word by which to translate this Hebrew word, because we have no corresponding idea. Often it is translated "grave;" but only figuratively—it never means a literal sepulchre. It is the world, place, or state of departed spirits, good or bad, happy or unhappy (in Greek, Hades). It is this view of death—the parting, rending asunder of spirit and body, which Solomon describes (Ecclesiastes 12:7). It is this which appals. We see the deserted house of clay; but where is the tenant? Gone, as if into nothingness and eternal silence.

2. The corruption of the body. The other view of death increases our distress. Death may come gently, as though but a deeper sleep; even with a solemn, sad beauty of its own. But the beauty death brings, it hastens to destroy. Just because that sleeping form is so dear, we must hasten to hide it out of sight. Cover it with green turf and flowers. Let not thought pierce the secrets of the grave. Nothing is plainer than that God meant death to be terrible. It is something wholly different to man from what it is to the lower animals. God knew we should love sin, and think it beautiful. So when he tells us "the wages of sin is death," it is as though he said, "Look at what death does to the body; that is the image of what sin does to the soul!" Whither shall we turn? The answer gleams forth in that word "not." "Thou wilt not leave," etc. Here is—

II. THE ANTIDOTE TO THE TERROR OF DEATH IN THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. (Acts 2:31, Acts 2:32.) So St. Paul at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:34-37). We are not now concerned with any reference these words may have to David himself. Modern critics are intensely anxious always to find a precise occasion for every psalm (after the manner of Horace's odes), though such a rule would be wholly misleading if applied to modern poetry. But suppose it so. What concerns us is the glorious event to which the Apostles Peter and Paul apply these words as a prophecy. "Now is Christ risen from the dead; Come, see the place where the Lord lay."

1. Christ's resurrection proves the fact of immortality; q.d. that death, which destroys the bodily life, does not touch the spirit, the self. "Behold," he said, "it is I myself "—not a spectre, a phantom. "This same Jesus," said the angels (Luke 24:39; Acts 1:11). The doctrine or belief of immortality was common to Jews and Gentiles. The Egyptians based their religion on it. The Greeks had their Elysium and Tartarus. So other nations. What was wanted was not doctrine, but proof. No proof so entirely decisive as this—that One should publicly die, and be buried, and rise from the dead. The value of the resurrection of Christ's body lay in the proof thus given, that, though his body died, he lived. Death, then, does not end us. Hence the only way in which denial of immortality can now be maintained is by denying the resurrection of Jesus. For its reality there is not only

(1) that mass of testimony which St. Paul summarizes (1 Corinthians 15:5-8; comp. Acts 2:32, etc.); and

(2) the utter failure of the Jewish authorities to produce any contrary evidence; but

(3) the whole history of the founding of Christianity, based entirely on this fact. It would have been utterly contrary to human nature for the disciples to have preached and suffered as they did, had they not believed in the Saviour they preached; equally impossible for them to have believed, if he had not really risen. Further, neither their faith nor their preaching would have availed, had not the living Christ fulfilled his promises (Matthew 28:20; Acts 1:4, Acts 1:5).

2. Christ's resurrection is the assurance. As he has been one with us in death, we are to be one with him in life. His resurrection is the seal both of his power and of his faithfulness; and both are pledged (John 10:28-30; John 14:19). True, this flesh must "see corruption;" this "earthly house be dissolved." But for the humblest believer, as much as for an apostle, "to depart," is" to be with Christ;" "Absent from the body, at home with the Lord" (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). And the body is to be "raised incorruptible;" not fleshly, but spiritual (Philippians 3:20, Php 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:50-53; John 5:28, John 5:29; John 6:39). Because he lives, where he lives, as he lives, we shall live also.

CONCLUSION. All this turns on one simple, infinitely significant question—Are we his?

Psalms 16:11

The path of life.

The attractiveness and ease, or the reverse, of any path may depend on many conditions. Smooth or rough, steep or level, plain or confused with turns and windings; bright with sunshine or dark with tempest. But the main question is—Whither will it lead? We speak often of human life as a journey—a path along which, like pilgrims, we are travelling. Whither does it lead? Apart from Christ and his gospel, the only answer is—to the grave. Our Saviour's death and resurrection have changed all this; made both life and death something quite other than before. He lived in order to die; died in order to live again; lives again, to make us partakers of his life.

I. JESUS LIVED THAT HE MIGHT DIE. In quite another sense from what is true of all men, or of any other, his life was the path of death. In the prime of life and unrivalled usefulness, he thirsted for death; not the rest of the grave, but the conflict of the cross (Luke 12:50). As the purpose of his coming (Matthew 20:28). The fulfilment of prophecy (Luke 9:31). The commission of the Father (John 10:17, John 10:18). The pain of his joy (Hebrews 12:2).

II. JESUS DIED THAT BE MIGHT LIVE AGAIN. Life saw for him the path of death; death, the path of life. To this the text points, as interpreted by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:24-32). His resurrection has changed our whole view of death, and. therefore of life (Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:15). What seemed the mountain barrier against which the last waves of life break, proves to be but the narrow strait leading into the boundless ocean of life indeed.

III. JESUS LIVES TO MAKE US PARTAKERS OF HIS LIFE. (John 14:3, John 14:19; John 10:28.) CONCLUSION. It is a poor, mean view of Christianity which speaks of it as preparation for death. It is preparation for life. It is more—it is the beginning, the first stage, the infancy and childhood, of eternal life (1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:12; Colossians 3:1-4).

Psalms 16:11

Fulness of joy.

The natural effect of sin is to quench all desire after God, deaden all sense of his presence; to make the thought of him unwelcome, even terrible. "I heard thy voice … and was afraid." The beginning of spiritual life is turning to God. Its highest attainments, joy in God. The supreme happiness to which it looks forward, fulness of joy in his presence.

I. God has bestowed on human nature A WONDERFUL CAPACITY FOR JOY. The sunshine of the heart, in which "all the flowers of life unfold:" Look at the child with a birthday gift, a game, a holiday. Joy shines in his eyes, sets him singing and dancing. As our nature expands, and life's varied experience gathers strength, such simple exuberance of joy becomes impossible; but its sources are deeper, more manifold. No longer a dancing brook, but a deep well, sometimes brimming over. AS the Bible is fuller than all other books of human life, so you can nowhere match the fulness and variety of its images of joy. Beside its warm Eastern pictures, our Western modern life looks bleak and sad. But above the whole range of common life, it opens the range of spiritual joy—the joy of forgiveness, of salvation, of knowledge, of trust, peace, security; of fellowship with God in Christ (John 15:11; John 16:20, John 16:22). Higher still the Scripture lifts our thoughts—to the joy of angels; to God's own joy (Luke 15:7, Luke 15:10, Luke 15:32; Zephaniah 3:17).

II. GOD IS THE SOURCE OF ALL JOY. Even the gladness of the frisking lambs, of the gnats dancing in the sunshine, of the lark singing in the sky, is his gift; even as the momentary twinkle on the breaking spray is the sun's image. All pure joy is from God. There are impure joys—"the pleasures of sin." But as the mountain stream is pure at its source, though in its course through plains and cities it becomes foul and tainted; so the original desires and affections of our nature are pure. Sin alone corrupts.

III. JOY UNKNOWN BEFORE, AND ELSE UNATTAINABLE, comes into human life through faith in the Saviour—our crucified, risen, glorified Lord. "Then were the disciples glad" (John 20:30). Well they might be; for the heaviest grief human hearts ever suffered was in a moment rolled away, and "life and immortality brought to light."

1. The joy of forgiveness—of knowing we are right with God (Romans 5:11).

2. Of strength, safety, courage, comfort, in fellowship with Christ (John 14:18).

3. The joy of hope (1 Peter 1:8).

IV. "FULNESS OF JOY;" Joy unalloyed, complete, enduring, is not for this world. Not possible where all fairest flowers fade, fruits wither, brightest days have their sunset, fountains run dry. "In thy presence," etc. There will be many sources of "everlasting joy" (Isaiah 35:10) in the heavenly life: society, deliverance from pain, grief, sin, conflict, etc. (Revelation 7:15-17). But the source of all, "the fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 2:13), wilt be God's presence (Roy. 21:22, 23).

CONCLUSION. Is this the heaven we desire; for which we are preparing? There is no other prepared for us. In that measure in which the presence of God, realized by faith, love, prayer, is a source of joy here and now, we have the earnest and pledge of "fulness of joy" for ever.


Psalms 16:1-11

Once thine, ever thine: the song of a saint, the vision of a seer.

This psalm yields many texts for instructive discourse; but it is not on any of them that we propose now to dwell, but on the psalm as a whole. It is one of the most evangelical in all the five books of the Psalms. It opens with a prayer and a plea; but its main current is that of joy and praise. It is moreover repeatedly quoted in the New Testament, where, by the Apostles Peter and Paul, some of its words are declared to be those of David the prophet, and to have received fulfilment in Christ, and in him alone. We cannot, however, apply all the psalm to the Messiah. Some of it is evidently the expression of a private personal experience, and the utterance of a joyously devout saint, whose joy and devotion have both been inspired by a revelation of God to him; while other parts of it are the still more elevated utterances of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost, to tell of visions which he saw of One in whom his royal line should witness the culmination of its glory! The touching expressions in 2 Samuel 23:3-5 will account for both the words of the saint and the words of the seer which are here found. As the saint, David was inspired by revelation; as the seer, he was inspired for it. £ And by making these two main divisions we shall, perhaps, best homiletically expound the psalm.

I. WE HAVE HERE THE SONG OF A SAINT INSPIRED BY REVELATION. In this light the contents of the psalm are very varied. We number them, not as re]lowing in exact logical or culminative order, but that we may call the student's and preacher's attention thereto, one by one; observing that we follow the Revised Version, which is most excellent. Here is:

1. A prayer and a plea. (2 Samuel 23:1.) Apparently he is in peril; what, we do not know; but, as is his wont, he makes his hiding-place in God; and very touching is the plea he puts in: "for in thee do I put my trust." Our God loves to be trusted. The confidence which his people repose in him is in his sight of great price; and he will hot—cannot disappoint them.

2. The psalmist has taken Jehovah to be his own God. Jehovah—the eternal God—the God of Israel, was his own sovereign Lord. And as he confided to him all his cares, so he yielded to him his entire homage.

3. He finds in God his supreme joy. "I have no good beyond thee" (cf. Psa 63:1-11 :25). All the largest desires of the soul have their perfect satisfaction in God.

4. In his fellow-saints, he finds a holy brotherhood. In them is his delight (Psalms 42:4; Malachi 3:16). The closest and dearest bond of permanent friendship is found in the fellowship of holy life and love in God.

5. He shuns the ungodly. In blended pity and anger he looks on those of his nation who have lapsed into idolatry, and exchanged the worship of Jehovah for the service of idols (cf. Jeremiah 2:13; Romans 1:25, Revised Version).

6. The portion which he has in God is secured to him. (2 Samuel 23:5.) It cannot slip from his grasp, nor be snatched out of his hand, nor can he in any way be despoiled thereof. God will uphold him in possession, and will give him timely counsel and assistance (2 Samuel 23:7).

7. God is ever before him, as a constantly present Friend. He is no abstraction. But one ever at his right hand, to guard, guide, advise, gladden, and strengthen. Yea, to give him a steadfast, unconquerable firmness in the midst of numerous foes.

8. Consequently, he has a heritage of wealth with which he is well pleased. (2 Samuel 23:6.) The inheritance assigned to him as it were by lot, and marked out as it were by line, was one which gave him a plenitude of delight.

9. For he knows that the near and dear relationship between himself and God is one which not even death itself can disturb. £ David caught a glimpse of the sublime truth of how much God had meant when he told Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (cf. Matthew 22:31, Matthew 22:32). We have almost the truth which is expressed in 1 Thessalonians 5:10. "My flesh," he says, "shall rest in hope." £ Yea, more; David even peers beyond the unseen state (Sheol); he beholds it conquered, and the one whose God is the Lord delivered for ever from the hold of death. And even this is not all; but he sees far, far beyond, awaiting the believer, fulness of joy and eternal delights in the immediate presence of the great eternal God. So that the burden of the song may be summed up in our final thought on this aspect of the psalm, that:

10. Once God's, he was his for ever! "Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol" (cf. Psalms 48:14; Psalms 73:26). Is it any wonder that, with such a heritage in Divine love, the psalmist should find his heart glow with joy, and that his tongue should break out into shouts of praise? Surely if such a God is ours, and ours for ever, we are well provided for, and shall be well guarded, throughout eternity.

II. WE HAVE HERE ALSO THE VISION OF A SEER WHO WAS INSPIRED FOR A REVELATION. We have in that memorable sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter opened up the kingdom to Israel, a remarkable reference to this very psalm (cf. Acts 2:25-31). In which the apostle declares that what David said respecting the Holy One, he spoke as a prophet, seeing far ahead the fulfilment of the covenant God had made with him. £ And in Acts 13:34-37 the Apostle Paul makes an equally distinct reference to this psalm, while he even more emphatically declares this prophetic utterance to be a Divine declaration. And we get a plain and distinct account of such far distant scriptural forecasts in 2 Peter 1:21. Thus we can clearly trace a second significance in the latter half of Psalms 16:1-11; as it recounts "the sure mercies of David." For, indeed, if it had not been for the Divine promise and oath made to him—a promise and an oath the fulfilment of which could never be disturbed by the vicissitudes of time, there might not and probably would not have been the like joyful repose of the saint in God, in the prospect of death and of eternity. So that, although the vision of the prophet comes second in our consideration, it was really the first in importance, and the foundation of all the rest. And all this may be brought home in fruitful teaching, in four or five progressive steps.

1. David had had a direct revelation that his throne should be established for ever. (2 Samuel 23:3-5; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalms 72:1-20; Psalms 89:20-37.) And to his dying day, amid all the disturbances of his house, this covenant, "ordered in all things and sure," was all his salvation, and all his desire.

2. In the foreglancings of prophetic vision he saw the Holy One in the coming age as its Ruler and its Head. £

3. He beheld also the Holy One going down into the tomb. To Sheol; not hell, but Hades, the invisible realm of the departed.

4. He beheld the Holy One rising again. As the Lord and Conqueror of death; as the Head of the redeemed, he beheld him leaving the grave, and going forward and upward as their Forerunner. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus carries along with it that of all his followers.

5. It was on this sublime Messianic hope that the psalmist built his own. And, indeed, it was on this that such as Abraham fixed their gaze, with leaping gladness and thankful joy "That which is true of the members is true, in its highest sense, of the Head, and is only true of the members because they are joined to the Head" (Perowne); 1 Thessalonians 5:10.


1. Here is the great secret of life made known to and by the holy prophets. As one expositor remarks, the antithesis in the psalm is not between life here and life there, but between a life in God and a life apart from him.

2. That God should have disclosed this great secret by his Spirit can bring no difficulty whatever to those who understand communion with God.

3. The grand redemption of God's grace is realized in a fellowship of holy souls in blest and everlasting relation to God as their Portion, their endless Heritage of infinite purity and delight.

4. This fellowship of life centres round him whom no death can retain in its hold, even round him who is the Resurrection and the Life. Believers are one in God because one in Christ.

5. His triumph over the tomb is the pledge of theirs. He has gone ahead as their Forerunner, and has in their name taken his place in the Father's house, preparing theirs likewise.

6. Hence the entire blessing of God's great salvation is summed up in the words, "Thou wilt show me the path of life." In which phrase, as Austin £ finely says, "we have a guide, Thou; a traveller, me; a way, the path; the end, life." Happy are they who choose this Guide, who follow this way, who inherit such a life! How the troubles and perils of this life seem to dwindle away when we can realize that such a God and such a home are ours! and not ours only, but also of all those who have said to Jehovah, "Thou art my Lord"!—C.


Psalms 16:1-11

Life-long convictions.

Happy the man who holds to his faith in God through all changes and chances of this mortal life! Religion to him is a reality. He speaks of what he knows. He commends what he has proved to be good. He can rejoice in the assurance that God, who has been with him hitherto, will keep him safely to the end, and that the portion which satisfied his soul in this life will satisfy his soul eternally. We may take the psalm as expressing certain life-long convictions.

I. THAT GOD IS TO BE TRUSTED AS THE SUPREME GOOD. Man is prone to seek happiness apart from God. This proves both his littleness and his greatness: his littleness in turning from God; his greatness, as nothing earthly can satisfy him, and his soul is restless till it finds rest in God. "Thou art my Lord" is the true response to God's declaration, "I am the Lord thy God" (Exodus 20:2; Psalms 73:25).

II. THAT THE SAINTS ARE TO BE REGARDED AS EARTH'S TRUE NOBLES. When God has his right place, man gets his right place also. He is valued, not for his wealth, but for his worth; not for his circumstances, but for his character; not for his high standing among men, but for his near relation in love and holiness to God. If we love God, we shall love what God loves. If we delight in God, we shall delight in what God delighteth in. As a poet of our own has taught us—

"'Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood."

III. THAT WICKEDNESS, WHATEVER IT PROMISES, MUST IN THE END BRING WRETCHEDNESS. The wicked may be many; they may seem to prosper; they may appear as if they were to prevail, and have their own way in everything. There will be at times strong temptations to join them—to live as they live, to eat, drink, and be merry. But the heart that has known God recoils with horror from such a thought. What can come of forsaking God, but misery? This is the witness of history, observation, and experience. And we should be thankful that it is so. It is a proof of God's love, as well as of God's righteousness. That "the way of transgressors is hard" puts for many a warning in their path, and sounds for many a merciful call in their ears. "Turn ye: why will ye die?" (Ezekiel 33:11; Isaiah 55:1-7; Job 33:27-30).

IV. THAT THE DESTINY OF THE GOOD IS DIVINELY ORDERED. Life is not fixed by chance, or by blind fate, or by man's own designing and devising. It is of God's ordering (Proverbs 19:21). As it is with the stars above, so it is with souls beneath. They stand as God ordains (Psalms 119:91; Psalms 147:3, Psalms 147:4). As it was with Canaan, which was divided among the tribes by lot (Numbers 26:55; Joshua 13:6), so it is with the inheritance of God's believing people; it is settled by the hand of God. In many things—as to our birth, and kinsfolk, and associations, and so on—we have no choice. [But trusting in God, we cheerfully accept the place which he has appointed for us. And when we are free to choose, we seek counsel of God, and gladly and gratefully rest in his will (Hebrews 13:5). What the King of Babylon did according to his lights when at the parting of the ways (Ezekiel 21:21), we do, in a higher way (Acts 9:6).


1. This life. (Psalms 16:6-8.)

2. Guidance. (Psalms 16:7.)

3. Protection. (Psalms 16:8.)

4. The life to come. (Psalms 16:11.)

This truth, dimly revealed of old, shines out brightly and beautifully in the gospel.—W.F.

Psalms 16:11

The future state.

In this prayer it is implied that there is one "path," which is truly "the path of life"—the path by which we can reach the highest ideal of our being, and be blessed for ever; and further, that God, and God alone, is able to show us this path. It may be said that the prayer has been answered in the fullest sense by Christ Jesus. We may use the words with reference to Christ's teaching as to a future state. Christ has shown us—

I. THE CERTAINTY OF A FUTURE STATE. Reason may speculate, imagination may form pictures, the instincts of the heart may prompt the hope that there is a future state of being; but it is only through Holy Scripture that we attain to full conviction. What was dimly revealed to Old Testament saints has been now "made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 1:10).

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER AS DETERMINING MAN'S PLACE IN A FUTURE STATE. Our Lord always teaches that holy character is indispensable to blessedness. True life is from God, and tends to God (John 5:26; Colossians 3:3). "The path of life" must be entered upon here, or we can never reach from earth to heaven. Faith and action determine character, and character settles destiny. "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).

III. THE INTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LIFE THAT NOW IS AND THAT WHICH IS TO COME. There is continuity. Death transfers, but it does not transform. Life is the seed-time for eternity. Our present actions, good or bad, determine our future fate (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8; Romans 2:6-10).

IV. THAT EVERYTHING TENDS TO A GREAT CRISIS, WHEN JUDGMENT SHALL BE GIVEN UPON ALL MEN. Our Lord teaches us that judgment is already begun. Whatever we do has its effect. Every deed of self-denial and justice and love brings its blessing, and every deed of evil its curse. But there is to be a final judgment, and our Lord shows us that the acts of that great day will be based on law; that God will render unto every man according to his works. It is very striking also that our Lord should put such emphasis upon acts of love and charity (Matthew 25:31-46).

V. THAT HE HIMSELF WILL HOLD THE SUPREME PLACE AS JUDGE AND KING IN THE WORLD TO COME. If the future state is a reality, this has been made certain by Christ (John 2:25). If character will determine our place in eternity, it is through Christ that we are to attain to the meetness of character required (Colossians 1:12). If the awards of the judgment are final, it is because Christ is Judge, and there can be no appeal against his decisions. If the future state is, for the good, to be a state of highest and divinest "life," it is because they have been made partakers of the life of Christ, and shall dwell for ever with him in the light and love of God.—W.F.


Psalms 16:1-6

Grounds of the prayer for preservation.

This psalm is golden in thought, feeling, and expression. The substance of it is comprised in the first verse: "May God preserve him who has no other refuge in which he can hide but him!" The subject up to the end of the sixth verse may be calledGrounds of the prayer for preservation.

I. HE HAS TAKEN GOD FOR HIS SUPREME GOOD. (Psalms 16:2, "I said to Jehovah, Thou art my Lord; beside thee I have no good.") The "good" here in contrast with the "sorrows" in Psalms 16:4. "Whom have I in heaven but thee," etc.? It is the answer of the soul to, "Thou shalt have no other gods but me." "Thou, O Lord, art my Portion, my Help, my Joy, my All in all."

II. HE DELIGHTS IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF ALL THE GOOD. (Psalms 16:3.) He trusts God in company with the best and noblest in the land. If they trust and serve, it is my privilege also. That is one thought. Another is—I love the holy and the excellent who reflect most of God; not the worldly rich and great and powerful. The saints and only they are the excellent to him, even as they are to God. He is one with God. in this—he is wholly on God's side; therefore, he says, save me from impending danger.

III. HE ABHORS APOSTATES AND THEIR IDOLS. (Psalms 16:4.) He will be loyal, and refuse all participation in the fellowship or the rites of the surrounding idolaters. Even the names of the false gods he refuses to take upon his lips. Philosophy, and luxury, and commerce, and wisdom in government, and the glories of conquest, combined to recommend the seductive idolatries of Philistia, Phoenicia, Syria, Assyria, Egypt. But he regarded them all with righteous scorn. We have need of a strong and simple trust in God, and sympathy with the good, to be able to repudiate the idolatries that ever surround us—the worship of wealth, success, fashion.

IV. HE POSSESSES ALL THINGS IN GOD. (Psalms 16:5, Psalms 16:6.) The Lord is the Portion of mine inheritance—an allusion to the division of the land among the tribes. And this was preserved to him by the protecting power of God. God was also his meat and drink (equivalent to "cup"). "The lines," etc.—in allusion to the ancient custom of marking out plots of land by measuring-lines. He had a goodly heritage. "What must not he possess who possesses the Possessor of all?" "All things are yours, for ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."—S.

Psalms 16:8-11

The confidence of the psalmist's faith in the future.

The two main ideas of the writer are

(1) a sense of Divine privilege in having God as his chief Good; and

(2) a confiding, hopeful prayer for deliverance from death.

Not, of course, from death altogether; he could not hope to be finally delivered from the grave. The prayer therefore, must have been for deliverance, from impending, danger, from death that was then. threatened at that time, and for being conducted into and preserved in "the path of life." The application which has been made of the ninth and tenth verses to Christ by Peter and Paul has led to a misunderstanding of the original sense. They say that the prayer was fulfilled in Christ, and not in David; that David did see corruption, and that Christ did not. But the best Hebrew scholars say that it is a confident prayer, not to be given over to death, but to be preserved in the way of life. We must understand, of course, death at present; for it could not mean death altogether, nor deliverance from the grave after death. The general subject of these verses, then, is—The confidence of the psalmist's faith in the future, because he had chosen God as his chief Good.

I. THE SENSE OF GOD'S PRESENCE INSPIRES A FEELING OF SAFETY. (Psalms 16:8.) "Not in the moment of peril only, but at all times has he his eye fixed upon God." "God in David's eyes is no abstraction, but a Person, real, living, and walking at his side," and able to protect him from danger. Have we such a sense of companionship with God? I shall not be moved—neither in character, nor in purpose, nor in work.


Not only preserve him in life, but lead him on to that life whose joy is beholding the Divine face, and partaking of the everlasting pleasures which are at his right hand. The idea of immortality springs out of the sense of his relationship to God; for he could not think that such a relationship could end with death. If we are the sons of God, that is the strongest guarantee that we shall continue to partake of God's life, rich and manifold and everlasting. Christ said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." This passage has its highest fulfilment when applied to the resurrection of Christ.—S.

Psalms 16:8

The supreme choice of the soul.

"I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." "I have set Christ always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

I. THIS IS TO MAKE THE JOURNEY OF LIFE FULL OF LIGHT. Pillar of cloud and fire. And this, in whatever view you look at this life—whether as a stage on which work has to be done, or on which good has to be acquired, or as a journey to reach our destiny. By this light we can clearly see the nature of the work that must be done; the kind of good that must be sought; and the glorious destiny awaiting us. But let a man make himself or the world the light by which he walks, the guide he follows, then his work, his well-being, and the future all become dark. Some dark moments there will be, when God's way is through the clouds or through the great deep.

II. THIS WILL MAKE US TRULY STRONG. "I shall not be moved." We may know duty, self-interest, and the way to honour, and yet be too weak to follow them. Weakness of purpose and will is our misery and guilt. It is not merely our misfortune, but our sin. Importance of strength. "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." The only way to become strong is by "looking unto Jesus." All other stimulants soon spend their strength and leave us prostrate. But the setting God always before us will endow us with all strength to resist all temptations, and all fortitude to endure.

III. THIS IS TO MAKE THE AIM OF LIFE REALLY GREAT. Our lives are mostly paltry and little. We go about filled with little vanities and ambitions, aiming at little ends, and content with little results. Often under the guise of humility our larger aims are mostly of the depraved or secular sort—wealth; social position; fame on the battlefield, or in the senate, or in literature. But to "have God always before us" is the real lasting greatness. This is the only true ideal of life.

IV. THIS IS TO MAKE THE WAY OF LIFE SECURE. "Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

1. Not moved with fear.

2. Not moved from his hope.

3. Not moved from his righteousness.—S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 16". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.