This article on Psalm 16 is about the path of life, fullness of joy, and our inheritance.

Source: Una Sancta, 1998. 4 pages.

Psalm 16 – Joy Unending Unreal

One would almost be forgiven for concluding that David did not know real life.

Consider the bold statements he makes at the end of Psalm 16:

  • “You will show me the path of life” (vs 11a),

  • “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (vs 11b),

  • “At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (vs 11c).

The three overlap in their content, and yet are different. The three in turn have the following content:

  • With the first, “You will show me the path of life”, David puts into words his conviction that God will cause David to know (=taste, experience) the road of life. The point is not that God will show David which of the various roads leads to life; the point is rather that God will place David on the road that is characterised by life. While others see death awaiting them as they travel down life's road, David may see before him only life – regardless of how sick or old he may become. In a word: Death is no enemy for David; he's on a road characterised by life.

  • The second, “In Your presence is fullness of joy”, captures David's conviction that he is himself always present in God's presence, and therefore experiences the riches of being with the Lord. David doesn't confess a truism here, as in: if you happen to be in God's presence, you'll enjoy fullness of joy. Rather, David confesses what's true for himself: he is in God's presence, and in God's nearness he experiences the fact that there is abundance of joys, all the joys you could wish for. The skies of David's life know no clouds. Sickness, old age, even death does not change the reality that David is in God's presence and experiences that he's fully satisfied with countless joys.

  • The third consequence is this: “At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” David portrays God as extending an open hand to David, a hand always filled with good gifts, “pleasures.” Those gifts are available to David “forevermore.” Neither health or sickness, riches or poverty, freedom or persecution can withdraw God's extended hand; always those gifts are available for David.

The boldness of David's conviction as expressed in these final words of Psalm 16 leaves us almost breathless. Death no enemy, David's path always one of life?! Joy a reality, fullness of joy a reality no matter what?! An open hand filled with divine gifts forever extended to David – no matter what may happen tomorrow?! Surely David is not for real! It's certainly not the way we experience life!


Indeed, it's not the way we experience life. In a world that drifts without a rudder, the words David sound alien, bizarre, even mental. Whence, then, David's delightful positivism?? We'll have to consider David's earlier words to find out why he comes with this conclusion.

The overriding identity of God in this psalm is that He is the God of the covenant.1 (The name YHWH appears in vss 2, 5, 7 & 8.) This almighty God has reached out to David, made him His, promised His care and blessings. That's the reason why David in vs 1 can state that he puts his “trust” in the Lord – and then for 'trust' use a word that conveys the picture of young birds tucked safely under their mother's wing (cf Psalm 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4). This sovereign God is his God by covenant, and so all the treasures of David's palace are nothing to him in comparison to this God; he has no good apart from the Lord (vs 2).

What this God has become for David is drawn out further in vs 5. “You are the portion of my inheritance,” he says. When the people of Israel entered the promised land, the Lord God gave to each tribe a fixed section of the land – the 'inheritance'.2 Each family within the tribe in turn received a particular parcel of land within the borders of their tribal allotment. On that parcel of land given by God to each family in Israel, that family could live, grow their crops, graze their stock, etc. This was home, where one had one's shelter, grew one's food, put down roots. (See Joshua 13-21.) The priests, on the other hand, the sons of Aaron, did not receive an inheritance of land. As God said to Aaron:

You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.Leviticus 18:20

While others had their acreages and their vineyards, the descendants of Aaron had – No, not nothing; they had the Lord in a special sense. That is: the Lord was their inheritance, their retreat, their source of daily needs, their shelter. In His own way, He would provide for the needs of the priests (cf Leviticus 18:21 ff).

Now David – of the tribe of Judah! – says: my inheritance isn't that plot of land in Bethlehem, and it's not the palace in Jerusalem either; my inheritance is the Lord. What others have in their homes and acreages, their vineyards and cattle, I have in my covenant God. “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance.” Having this God as his by covenant gives to David a far greater sense of security and peace and contentment than any home on any block in any town anywhere on the face of the earth. God: that's his everything; “my goodness is nothing apart from You.” Hence his exuberant cry in vs 6: “The lines” (and with 'lines' we are to understand the line of the surveyor who marked out the allotment of land for each individual in Israel)

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.

The Lord is his God, and so David has the best inheritance in the land. And that's not by David's choice. One does not choose an inheritance; one receives an inheritance. And God was pleased graciously to give to David what he himself did not deserve. What had been given to the priests as prophetically true for every person in this “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) David claimed for himself: the Lord is my inheritance. So David of Judah – and it's true of all who sing this psalm with David – has so much, simply because God in His grace has given so much, caused Himself to be David's inheritance. No, there was no room for David to boast of what he'd received; there was room only for humble acknowledgment of the God who gave so much. 3 That's why – vs 7- David intends to bless always the God who has shown him the right way. While others toss and turn in bed, David considers the riches God gave to him. That God is his inheritance, his God: it leads to wonderful security for time to come. Vs 9:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

If God almighty has given to David an inheritance, and the inheritance is none else than God Himself (as opposed to a parcel of land), then the nature is bright, eternally bright! David's flesh and heart may fail, and the day come when his body is laid to rest in the dust of the earth, but none can take from David the inheritance God has given! David is sure: even Sheol, that realm of the dead, cannot separate David from God nor God from David; God will not allow this favoured one4 to see corruption. 5 This is the thought that leads David to the glorious blessings listed in the last verse. Since God has established such a bond between Himself and David, David is sure: this covenant God will cause him to know the road that's characterised by life unending. And equally, since God has established such a bond between Himself and David, David shall always be in the presence of this God, experiencing all the joy one can imagine. And again, since God has established such a bond between Himself and David, God's hand is continually extended to David with gifts unlimited. Yes, the psalm is rich, rich beyond compare.


And again the question arises in our minds: is David not far too bold in making these claims? For life is not like this, is it?! In actual fact, dear reader, it wasn't for David either. The Bible student is well aware of what trials and tribulations beset David in the course of his life. So many of the Psalms David wrote give expression to his sense of being alone, being forgotten by God, his life snuffed out, himself void of all pleasures.

But here's the marvel: God Himself used David as his instrument in this psalm to reveal to His OT church more of what He was going to do in Jesus Christ. The Christ Who was going to come would have no place on earth to call His own, neither house nor block, neither table nor bed. Though offspring of David, and hence rightful heir to the inheritance of David's family, Jesus of Nazareth would have nothing, not even a place to lay down His head. In Jesus of Nazareth would be fulfilled the words of this psalm: His inheritance was fully God and God alone.

Yet as it turned out, for Jesus of Nazareth this glorious inheritance was so damning. For the sins of God's people were transferred to this Favoured One of God, and exactly because sins were piled onto Jesus was He rejected by God. On the cross Jesus received from His Father the cup of God's fury (cf vs 5); on the cross Jesus did not have a “good inheritance” (vs 6). He was rejected by God, given over to death, to Satan, and so there was for Jesus Christ no reason to rejoice or to let His flesh rest in hope (vs 9). What David the sinner deserved, the Christ received!

Yet David in our psalm could be so wonderfully confident that for him there was only fullness of joy in God's presence, that for him there was only the path characterised by life, that for him was God's hand extended with eternal pleasures. Why? Why could he be so confident?? Because God revealed to him and through him that the Christ would pay for sin and so triumph over death! God would not let David see everlasting corruption but would show him instead the path of life; God would not let the Christ either remain in the grave.        

And such is God's faithfulness that on the day of Pentecost Peter could quote from Psalm 16, and say that David in this psalm foresaw “The resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:25 ff). Peter tells us that David, by the grace of God, believed that Another would one day triumph over sin, and that's why he could be so sure in our psalm of the three wonderful riches that he knew accompanied him every day, eternally. David believed the promises of God in Jesus Christ!


The Christ has died and paid for sin, triumphed over Sheol, the grave, corruption, the pit, death itself. The result may be that today God shows to His people – His children by covenant – “the path of life”, that road through life that knows only life, even in the face of death. God's children by covenant have from Him the promise that they may always be in His presence (after all, the Holy Spirit has been poured out!) and so may taste the joys of God, be satisfied with joys unlimited, even in the face of the trials of life. To all His children is extended the hand of the Father in Jesus Christ, a hand containing pleasures forevermore.

O No, the naked eye will not see these riches. We face long shadows and possibly empty cupboards and empty hearts. The trials of life are so very real. But God is God, and His word is sure.  By faith in the risen Saviour we may make our own the riches of His promises.

To say it with Paul: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

The apostle is sure: …in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Talk about joy unending!


  1. ^ See G van Groningen, Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pg 344.
  2. ^ See W Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985),pg32.
  3. ^ D Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), pg 85.
  4. ^ "holy one" in vs 10 means literally "favoured one", and has reference in first instance to David himself. Se Kaiser, 32ff, and van Groningen, 346, for the arguments.
  5. ^ Here is the background of Romans 8:35ff.  us

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