Psalm 16 - The Believer's Refuge
Strictly speaking, only a small part of this Psalm may be called Messianic. However, in order to understand that part which is definitely Messianic, the Whole Psalm has to be studied and reviewed. The Psalmist is writing about his own experiences but his experiences do not exhaust the meaning of this beautiful and popular Psalm. The Apostles then also speak in that same vein in Acts 2. No one could have the experiences described here to the full except the Christ of God. He was the only One who rose from the dead and therefore did not see corruption.
This Psalm begins as a prayer. The writer desires that his God preserve him because he has taken refuge in his God alone. There is no refuge from the storms of life to be found anywhere else but in his God. That is the place where he will have a safe abode. He lives so close to his God that he can call Him his refuge. He not only believes; he is living in a living relationship with the God in Whom he trusts. This is the kind of language which we often find in the Psalms. The soul of the believer lives so close to its God that this God becomes everything to the believer. This healthy, intimate relation was experienced by David and the other song writers of Israel.
The Incomparable Good
His soul speaks of the true God as the One besides Whom nothing attracts. This parallels the teaching of Psalm 73:25. This is very strong language and can only be understood by the believer. God alone is the One to be adored. There is no good beside Him. The finest and the best of earth do not begin to measure up to the God in whom he has put his trust. This is the kind of relationship which is indeed healthy; which is deep; which is exclusive! One who has this view of God is safeguarded from all the various pitfalls of this life. His refuge is not only a place of safety, it is also the place where alone his soul is able to live at ease and find its greatest joy. But, it takes a strong faith to be able to make this confession. David's children and other loved ones are not to be placed on the same plane as his God.
I have no good beyond thee. There is none on earth I desire beside thee!
The Great Division
In the next two verses the Psalmist contrasts the only two classes of men the Bible knows — believers and unbelievers. Concerning the first, whom he calls saints, these are the excellent of the earth and his soul has fellowship with them. These are his kinsmen. These are the ones in whose fellowship he finds all his delight. Here is an Old Testament passage dealing with the communion of saints. These belong together and find their joy in each other's company. These are contrasted with those who bring worship to other gods. These are heathen! They are godless! He cannot stand to be with them. He will not take their names on his lips. Surely, he is not going to follow them in their wicked deeds.
God is the Inheritance
The fact that the true God is his refuge also has tremendous benefit for the present life. Jehovah Himself is his inheritance. That is the greatest wealth he has. "And of my cup," He is the fullest satisfaction for the Psalmist. He is the One who will maintain his lot. This introduces a different thought into the Psalm. We are, as it were, moved back in history to the time that Israel was about to inherit the promised land. Each family or individual was given an inheritance in this good land. The inheritance which was measured out to the Psalmist by line guaranteed that he would dwell in pleasant places as long as he would live. God had given him a goodly heritage. How often the Old Testament refers to the inheritance which the Israelites had received in the land of Canaan. In Proverbs 22:28 the people are warned not to remove the ancient landmarks which their fathers had set. The Psalmist certainly would not "remove" the landmarks which gave the boundaries of his inheritance because he was more than satisfied. This inheritance of land is a type of his (and our) spiritual inheritance.
God is the Giver
What a wonderful thing that he has made the Lord God his refuge, his only good, and his portion! Such a person is to be congratulated that he has had enough foresight to have this relationship with his God! No, that is not the case, says the writer. Jehovah had counseled him to do so. By faith he has all the blessings of life and now finds that that faith was also God's gift. There is a world of thought contained in verse 7. God had chosen him, had instructed him, had given him everything he needed. When he thinks about this during the night when sleep will not come, he is overwhelmed. He is certain that the path of life which he has followed is the correct one.
He does not harbor doubts. The more he thinks about it, the more assured he is. His "heart," or as the original has it, his "reins" or "kidneys" instruct him during the night season. By this word the Hebrew language indicates the inmost thoughts, the inmost being, the seat of the emotions, where his feeling and thinking are centered. He works with his faith. He considers the riches which have been given him!
Firmly Grounded Confidence
There are many people who believe that they shall "never be moved." The Psalms speak of them. The Psalmist refers to the wicked (Psalm 10:6) who says that he shall never be moved. In Psalm 30:6 he speaks of those who are in prosperity who say that they shall never be moved. In other words, this is the boasting of many people. However, the believer is speaking in verse 8 of this Psalm. He has set Jehovah before him — that is the One to Whom he looks. He is at his right hand and therefore he shall never be moved. This is not idle boasting but a firm confidence, not rooted in himself, that nothing will shake him, but that he is always safe. This is his refuge! This is a true refuge which will not fail him in the time of need. So has the Psalmist now pictured his present life. It is one of complete trust in God and therefore one of confidence.
A Sure Hope
Having spoken of all the blessings which are his by virtue of his relationship to his God in the present time, he now begins to speak of the hope he has for the future. His heart is glad. He rejoices in the prospect of that which is still to come. This God is a complete refuge — for all times and seasons. "My flesh also shall dwell in safety." Some believe that he is simply speaking of the whole being — soul and body — however, this does not fit in with that which he teaches in verse 10. He believes that his flesh, his body, will be safe even though it must finally be entrusted to the earth! Who has ever had this kind of a confidence? He definitely believes in the resurrection! He had also spoken of this fact when he had lost his child. Job also refers to it. For the Old Testament saint to have this kind of faith, is almost unbelievable.
For, he says, thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.
Though his body will be laid in the dust, Thou wilt not leave my life to the realm of the dead (Sheol); nor shall thy holy one see corruption. What a statement of faith! He will not allow my body to be abandoned in the grave! He will not allow my body to fall victim to dissolution!
Fulfilled In and Through Christ
Now that these words are Messianic is beyond the shadow of a doubt. In his sermon on Pentecost, Peter refers to these words of Psalm 16 and tells the people gathered there that the Psalmist was hereby referring to the Christ. (Acts 2:25ff) Paul also quotes these words in Acts 13:35. Both of them emphasize the fact that these words could not find their ultimate fulfillment in David, because he died, was buried, and his grave is still there. He therefore had seen corruption. No, he was referring to the Christ Who was indeed buried, but His grave was empty on the third day and He did not see corruption! The Psalmist applies this to himself in the assured hope of the resurrection, but in the case of Christ, there was the actual resurrection! This is such an important passage, say both Peter and Paul, because the gospel is based on the resurrection. Let these Jews at Pentecost now realize that their own greatest poet had spoken of the resurrection of Messiah and that it was only through His resurrection that there would be a refuge for His people! Christ died for our sins, true, but it is only through the resurrection that life comes to the fore. That is the indication that His death was accepted and that life will be given to His people. Anyone could die! But, all could not rise! This resurrection is central to the gospel message. If Jesus is not risen...
Peter says in Acts 2 that David spoke of the Messiah when he wrote these words of Psalm 16. Did he do this consciously? Was he fully aware of the scope of his words? I doubt it. It seems more in accordance with the rest of the teaching of Scripture that the Spirit of God so used the author (David) to write words which could only find their fulfillment in the Christ. The New Testament authors, Peter and Paul, immediately recognize these words to refer to the Christ Whom they preach. So does the New fulfill the Old (1 Peter 1:10-12).
When the Psalmist has come to the end of the teaching concerning the rising of the body from the grave, he continues: "Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; in the right hand there are pleasures for evermore." When he has spoken of the Messiah Who was to come, he can now only see life. Many writers see only death in the future. In Christ this death has been overcome. Hence, the prophetic Psalmist sees only the path of life for himself. This life, which will even be richer than the present one, will be lived in the presence of the Lord. There is indeed the fulness of joy. In His right hand are presents. He gives and gives. His right hand is full of pleasures for evermore.
The Messiah has conquered death. The Messiah gives life. The Messiah distributes gifts to those who believe in and serve Him. This God is their refuge. Never will their hope be put to shame!
Questions for Discussion:
- Is the subjective faith of a person always true? How must we test subjective faith? What is the difference between subjective and objective faith?
- Could there be a "communion of saints" in the Old Testament time? What does the Heidelberg Catechism teach concerning the "communion of saints?"
- What was the Israelite's inheritance? How was this safeguarded by law? What is our inheritance or heritage? How can we safeguard it?
- What is taught about inspiration in the Messianic Psalms? Were these Psalms, and prophetic words about the Messiah, understandable to the people who first read these words?
- Did all the believers of the Old Testament time believe in a resurrection? If there is no idea of a resurrection could there be a life of hope?
- Should we emphasize the contrast between the believer's hope and that of the unbeliever? Does the unbeliever have any hope?