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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 16

Michtam of David.

The “preserve me, O God,” (Psalms 16:1,) David’s usual prayer in distress, must not be so construed here, as to prevent its accord with the tone and spirit of the psalm, nor the grateful recognitions of his present prosperity. Psalms 16:5-6. An air of profound meditation, and of high satisfaction at the providence which had shaped his lot, with a triumphant faith in the final blessed result of life, characterize this most evangelical lyric. According to Psalms 16:8, and the spirit of thanksgiving which pervades the whole, it could not have been written after his grievous fall; nor, from the high Messianic character of Psalms 16:9-11, before his accession to the entire kingdom and peaceful settlement upon the throne. It seems best suited to the time soon after the delivery of the promise by Nathan, (2 Samuel 7:0,) when the kingdom was at peace, though the recent subjugation of his enemies left apprehensions of revolt, while the more distant peoples of Arabia and Syria might already have given symptoms of hostility. A few years later war was actually renewed, (2 Samuel 8:1-14,) the foreshadowing of which probably occasioned the anxious cry of Psalms 16:1. TITLE:

Michtam A word upon which ancient and modern interpreters are much divided; but it seems safe to follow the rabbinical sense, as does our English version, and to derive it from כתם , ( kethem,) gold, or something as excellent as gold, so that Michtam of David, would be a golden (that is, a precious) psalm of David. It occurs only in five other places, the titles of Psalms lvi-lx.

Verse 1

1. Preserve me See introductory note.

Verse 2

2. O my soul These words are not in the original, but אמרת , thou hast said, being in the second person feminine, supposes the soul addressed, which is not uncommon in David’s dramatic style. See Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11; Psalms 43:5. Comp. Lamentations 3:24.

My goodness extendeth not to thee Hebrew, my goodness [is] not above, עליךְ , or beyond thee. Goodness is not to be here taken in the sense of beneficence, but of happiness. Nothing stood above, or aside from, God as an object of desire or aim. God himself was the source and sum of all satisfaction, as in Psalms 73:25. This is the soul’s response to Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Verse 3

3. To the saints Taking the preposition “to” in the sense of belonging to, joining to, the meaning would be, “I have no good beyond thee, belonging as I do to the fellowship of the saints, and the noble, in whom is all my delight.” Perowne. Or, taking the same particle in the sense of as to, in respect to, read, In respect to the saints who are in the earth, even the noble, or princely, all my delight is in them. Saints are those dedicated to God by covenant and sacrifice.

In the earth Is purely descriptive and relative. The contrast is with saints “in heaven,” which is often made. See note on Psalms 89:6; and compare Ephesians 3:15; Hebrews 12:23.

Excellent A title of rank noble, princely synonymous with “saints who are in the earth,” in the previous line. Deuteronomy 33:29; Heb 11:25 ; 1 Peter 2:9. He discovers and confesses their rank, though being in the earth they are often imperfect and in reproach.

In whom is all my delight I delight in them alone. David’s supreme happiness is in God, and, secondarily, in the “saints” as God’s people.

Verse 4

4. Hasten after another god Spoken of the zeal of idol worship-pers, and especially of apostates, who in distress and fear precipitately cast off Jehovah for idols. Such shall multiply sorrows. This verse is in marked contrast with the preceding.

Drink offerings of blood The drink offering was a libation of wine, poured upon the sacrifice on the altar. It accompanied both bloody and unbloody sacrifices. See notes on Leviticus 23:13; Leviticus 18:27; Numbers 15:5; Numbers 7:10. The “drink offering of blood,” might be so called because accompanying the bloody sacrifice, as opposed to the minchah, or unbloody offerings; or as being, among idol worshippers, associated with inhuman rites, or with bloodstained hands.

Nor take up their name into my lips Which the law forbade.

Exodus 23:13

Verse 5

5. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance An allusion to the settlement by lot of the land of Canaan among the tribes, and specially to the tribe of Levi, which had no landed estate except the suburbs of their cities, for “Jehovah was his portion.” See Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9; and Deuteronomy 18:1-2. Jehovah was not only the one who gave him his portion, but he was himself that portion. See notes on Psalms 16:2-3; and compare 1 Corinthians 3:22-23; Ephesians 1:11; with note.

My cup See note on Psalms 11:6

Verse 6

6. This is an amplification of Psalms 16:5.

Lines Cords or chains by which land was measured. Sometimes, by metonymy, the land itself was thus called because measured by line.

Verse 7

7. Counsel God had made him wise and skilful in divine wisdom.

Reins the word כליות , ( kelayoth,) which occurs only in the plural, is always, in the common version, translated either kidneys or reins, the former the literal, the latter the figurative or physical sense, in which it denotes the tenderest inward sensibility. It is often associated with לב , ( lebh,) heart, (Psalms 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20,) as denoting the innermost feeling, never with בשׂן , ( beten,) or רחמים , ( belly, or bowels,) or with קרב , ( kereb,) inner part, all psychical terms. See on Psalms 5:9. To be instructed by the reins, is to be admonished and corrected by the feelings, awakened by meditation, whether of a painful or pleasurable nature. The word יסר , ( yahsar,) instruct, chasten, has commonly the idea of painful discipline, but here of joyful incentive to make Jehovah his portion.

Verse 8

8. Set the Lord always before me Acting as under his eye, and “as seeing Him who is invisible,” Hebrews 11:27.

At my right hand Close to me, and at the place for most opportune aid. This and the following verses are Messianic and evangelical in the highest sense. (See Acts 2:25; and note.) As such, the interpretation must proceed upon a literal and historic sense only so far as that is an ectype of the prophetic and spiritual. It is impossible to compress the language of these verses within the limits of the personal history of David.

Verse 9

9. My glory The word generally means honour, majesty, renown; but here, the soul, as the most excellent part of man.

My flesh… shall rest in hope כשׂר , ( flesh,) is the organic body, and the enumeration of heart, glory, ( soul,) flesh, nearly answers to the Greek trichotomy, “spirit, soul, and body,” 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where see note. When applied to the human body the word commonly means the living body, as opposed to one dead, and it has been hence urged that it could not apply, as a prophecy, to the dead body of Christ. But against this it may be urged, first, To restrict the whole to the personal history of David would give only the sense, “My body shall dwell in safety,” that is, I shall be preserved alive a rendering too insipid and pointless to comport with the dignity of the psalm. Secondly, The scope of the passage requires us to understand the author as speaking of the state after death. See on Psalms 16:10-11. Thirdly, It would be perfectly natural for him, in speaking of the future state and destiny of the body, to use a term that designates that living body, as if he had said, “This body, now alive, shall rest in hope,” etc. Fourthly, The word not unfrequently denotes the body as frail, mortal, perishable, (as 2 Chronicles 32:8; Psalms 56:4; Psalms 78:39,) in which sense it is exactly suitable to this connexion, just as the apostle, “This corruptible (equal to mortal body) shall put on interruption.” 1 Corinthians 15:53. Fifthly, The word is certainly applied to a dead body. Zechariah 11:9; Ezekiel 37:68. Sixthly, The “also” (“also my flesh,” etc.) signifies something additional to what had been hitherto said or applied. But the rendering objected to gives no accession to, but a fatal falling off, of the sense. Above all, it directly contradicts the literal application of the passage made by the apostle in Acts 2:25-35, where see notes.

Verse 10

10. Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell “Hell” is here used in its old English sense, in which it is the fittest English word for the Hebrew שׁאול , ( sheol,) and its corresponding Greek, αδης , ( hades,) both signifying, pit, grave, under world, unseen world, region of the dead, especially the place of departed spirits, whether good or bad. Our English translators have rendered sheol by grave thirty times out of the sixty-four times it occurs. It sometimes means the place of future punishment, never the region of the blessed; the context always determining its specific sense in a given place. The text in the original simply reads, “Thou wilt not abandon my soul to sheol,” that is, to the dominion of death. But לשׁאול , ( to sheol,) might be rendered in sheol, the preposition denoting rest in a place, as well as motion to it. It is not that he should not taste death, but that his body should rest in hope of deliverance, and not be left or abandoned to the grave. See note on Psalms 6:5. So convinced were the ancient Jews that the language applied to one literally dead, that they had a tradition that the body of David never decayed.

Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption “This forms, in our text, an essential member in the progress of thought, and an important declaration and revelation respecting the resurrection of the body.” Moll. It is the gist of the Messianic application of the psalm, so literally and forcibly applied by Peter and Paul, Acts 2:27; Acts 13:35.

Holy One Saint. The word חסידיךְ , is, in our present Hebrew Bibles, plural holy ones, saints. which completely evades the Messianic application of the passage; and it has been charged that the Jews, in the Masoretic, or common Hebrew, text, have changed the word for this purpose from its original singular form. But this is improbable; for besides that they have given the singular pointing to the word in the text, ( ד , for ד ,) they have, in Keri, or margin, marked the plural yod ( י ) as redundant. It is certain that the present reading is an error.

The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac, give the singular, indicating that that was anciently the true reading, with which the weight of testimony from the MSS. accords. Dr. Kennicott, ( “Dissertations,” etc.,) out of thirty-two manuscripts, found twenty-eight of the oldest and best which had the singular. Modern critical authority amply concedes this point. Indeed, it would be enough to say that a plural signification simply contradicts all fact, for the saints do die and see corruption. Only in its prophetic designation of some one particular person can it be true, and this person both Peter and Paul directly affirm to be Jesus. Acts 2:27 and Acts 13:35.

Corruption Whether the Hebrew word denotes “corruption” in the sense of putrescence, decomposition, or only pit, grave, involving the simple idea of death, depends upon its derivation. The Septuagint, διαρθοσαν , ( corruption,) is derived from שׁהת , ( shahath,) to reduce to ruins, crush, corrupt. So, also, the ancient versions generally, and so Peter and Paul used it. Acts 2:27. This is allowable by competent critics, (Gesenius, Winer, Moll, Furst, etc.,) and so ought to settle the question. Others derive it from שׁוחה , ( shoohhah,) pit, grave, as Jeremiah 18:20; Jeremiah 18:22. The difference is, that the former has the idea of remaining in the grave till decomposition: the latter of simply dying and being buried: as if the psalmist had said, “Thou wilt not suffer me to see the pit or grave,” that is, Thou wilt not suffer me to die and be buried the flatness of which, as seen in Psalms 16:9, is its own refutation. Besides, “to see the pit,” is admitted on all hands to have the sense of “to succumb to the dominion of death,” and denotes a permanent state, opposed to the phrase, “To see life.” Psalms 16:11; Psalms 49:9; John 3:36. The word “suffer,” also, means to give, to give up, to deliver up, and answers to “leave,” or forsake, in the previous hemistich. The idea, then, in both lines of the distich is, that of abandonment to sheol, or the grave, which involves decomposition or corruption, which the psalmist asserts God will not do.

Verse 11

11. Thou wilt show me the path of life Thou wilt cause me to see ( make known to me) the path of life, contrasted with to see corruption, in previous verse. “Life,” here, is not natural life, but spiritual and eternal life, as in Psalms 36:9; Proverbs 15:24; Jeremiah 2:13; Daniel 12:2; John 4:10; John 4:14. “Path of life,” is the same as Matthew 7:14. Its application to Christ as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” is indisputable; and as a typical groundwork it is also a declaration of the faith of the psalmist in the resurrection of the body, and the life after death.

In thy presence Literally, Before thy face. The idea is, that of a subject standing before the face of a king, a place of honour; the particle eth, rendered “in,” expressing endearment. He stands before the face of God with complaisance and delight. Psalms 140:13; compare Psalms 17:15.

At thy right hand Also the place of honour and felicity. See 1 Kings 2:19; Matthew 25:33-34.

For evermore The duration of this fullness of joy, and these pleasures, shall be as lasting as the subject of them. The language belongs to eternity, and this wonderful foregleam of eternal life in Christ, through the resurrection, has nothing to exceed it in the Old Testament.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.