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Psalm 16

A SUFFERER in imminent danger of death, expresses his strong confidence in God, ver. 1, as the sole source and author of his happiness, ver. 2, and at the same time his attachment to God’s people, ver. 3, his abhorrence of all other gods, ver. 4, his acquiescence in God’s dealings with him, ver. 5, 6, and his assured hope of future safety and blessedness, ver. 7–11.

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. This will be shewn more fully in the exposition of the ninth and tenth verses.

  1. Michtam of David. Preserve me, O God: for I have trusted in thee. Some explain Michtam as a compound term; but it is most probably a simple derivative of a verb meaning to hide, and signifies a mystery or secret. The similar word Michtab in the title of Hezekiah’s psalm (Isa. 38:9) is probably an imitation of the form here used, or at least involves an allusion to it. It seems to be substituted for the usual terms song, psalm, &c., not only here but in the titles of Ps. 55–60. It probably indicates the depth of doctrinal and spiritual import in these sacred compositions. The derivation from a noun meaning gold is much less probable. This verse may be said to contain the sum and substance of the whole psalm, and is merely amplified in what follows. The prayer, Keep, save, or preserve me, implies actual suffering or imminent danger, while the last clause, I have trusted in thee, states the ground of his assured hope and confident petition. The verb used is one that seems especially appropriate to the act of seeking shelter under some overshadowing object. See Judges 9:15, Isa. 30:2, Ps. 57:2 (1), 61:5 (4). The preterite form implies that this is no new or sudden act, but one performed already. He not only trusts in God at present, but has trusted him before. Compare Ps. 7:2 (1), 11:1.

  2. Thou hast said to Jehovah, The Lord (art) thou; my good (is) not besides thee (or beyond thee). The verb in the first clause has the form of a second person feminine, which some regard as an abbreviation of the first person, אָמַרְתִּ for אָמַרְתִּי and translate accordingly, I have said. But this neither agrees so well with usage, nor affords so good a sense as the old construction, which supplies as the object of address the same that is expressed in Ps. 42:6 (5), 12 (11), 43:5, Jer. 4:19, Lam. 3:24, 25. A similar ellipsis is assumed by some in 1 Sam. 24:11, and 2 Sam. 13:39. By this peculiar form of speech the Psalmist calls upon himself to remember his own solemn acknowledgment of Jehovah as THE LORD or Supreme God.—The obscure clause which follows has been very variously explained. Some understand by good moral goodness, merit, and explain the whole to mean, “My goodness is not such as to entitle me to thy regard.” Most interpreters, however, give to good its usual sense of good fortune, happiness (see Ps. 106:5, Job 9:25), and make the whole clause mean, “My happiness is not obligatory or incumbent on thee, thou art not bound to provide for it;” or “My happiness is not above thee; I have no higher happiness than thee.” The true sense is probably afforded by a modification of this last: “My happiness is not beside thee, independent of, or separable from thee,” with allusion to the form of expression in the Hebrew of the first commandment (Exod. 20:3). The verse, then, contains a twofold acknowledgment of God, as the universal sovereign, and as the only source of individual enjoyment. Compare Ps. 73:25. That this recognition was not a mere momentary act, but a habitual affection of the mind, seems to be indicated by the Psalmist’s appeal to his own soul as having made the acknowledgment already, hitherto or heretofore.

  3. To (or with) the saints who (are) in the land, and the nobles in whom (is) all my delight. The construction of the first clause, and its connection with the preceding verse, are very obscure. Some make to synonymous with as to. “As to the saints who are in the land, and the nobles, in them is all my delight.” Or, “as to the saints who are in the land, they are the nobles in whom is all my delight.” Others understand to the saints and to Jehovah as correlative expressions. “To Jehovah I have said thus; to the saints thus.” Or, as the English Bible has it, “My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints,” &c. The least violent construction seems to be that which takes the preposition in its usual sense, that of belonging to, as in the phrases, to David, to the chief Musician, and in 1 Kings 15:27. The meaning then 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. This epithet denotes personal character, not as its primary meaning, but as the effect of a peculiar relation to God, as the objects of his choice, set apart from the rest of men for this very purpose; see Exod. 19:6, Deut. 7:6, Ps. 34:10 (9), Dan. 7:21, 8:24, 1 Pet. 2:9. The pre-eminence of these over others, as the fruit of the divine election, is expressed by the word nobles, which, like saints, denotes moral character only in an indirect and secondary manner. The construction in this part of the verse is strongly idiomatic; the literal translation is, the nobles of all my delight in them. Under the old dispensation, the nobles or elect of God had their local habitation in the land of promise. Hence they are here described as the “saints or consecrated ones who are in the land,” not in the earth, which would be too indefinite and not so well suited to the context. As thus explained, the whole verse may be paraphrased as follows: “This profession of my trust in God I make, not merely as an individual believer, but as one belonging to the great body of the saints or consecrated ones, the nobles of the human race, not such by any original or natural pre-eminence, but by the sovereign and distinguishing favour of Jehovah, whom they trust as I do, and are therefore the rightful objects of my warmest love.”

  4. Many (or multiplied) shall be their sorrows—another they have purchased—I will not pour their drink-offering of blood, and will not take their names upon my lips. With the happiness of those who like himself trust the Lord, he contrasts the wretchedness of those who have chosen any other object of supreme affection. The relative construction in the English version, “their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten,” &c., gives the sense correctly, but with more variation from the Hebrew idiom, which conveys the same idea by means of short independent propositions. In the word translated their sorrows, (עַצּֽבוֹתָם), there seems to be an allusion to a very similar form, which would mean their idols (עְצַבֵּיהֶם), as if to suggest that false gods are mere troubles and vexations. Another means another god, in opposition to the one true God, Jehovah, as in Isa. 42:8, 48:11. The contrast which is there expressed is here to be supplied from ver. 2 and 5, and from the general antithesis, running through the context, between God and gods, not idols merely, but any created object of supreme affection. The verb מָהַר in its derived form means to hasten, and is so translated here by the English and some other versions. But in the only other place where the primitive verb occurs (Exod. 22:15), it means to endow a wife, or secure her by the payment of a dowry, according to the ancient oriental custom. The same usage of the verb exists in several of the cognate dialects. It seems here to have the general sense of purchasing, by costly sacrifice or self-denial, but with particular allusion to the conjugal relation which is constantly described in Scripture as existing between worshippers and their gods; see Hos. 3:2, and 8:9, Ezek. 16:33, 34. In the last clause he abjures all communion with such idolaters. He will not join in their impious services, nor even name the names of their divinities. Drink-offerings of blood, libations no less loathsome than if composed of human blood, perhaps with an allusion to the frequent poetical description of wine as the blood of the grape; see Gen. 49:11, Deut. 32:14, Isa. 63:3. To take the name upon the lips is to stain or pollute them by pronouncing it. Both here and in Hos. 2:19, there is an obvious allusion to the solemn prohibition of the law (Exod. 23:13): “Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” The pronoun their, in this whole clause, refers not to the worshippers but to their divinities, as comprehended under the collective term another.

  5. Jehovah (is) my allotted portion and my cup; thou wilt enlarge my lot. The other side of the contrast is again exhibited. The idea is, that in the Lord the Psalmist has all that he can wish or hope for. The figures are borrowed from the regular supply of food and drink. Compare Ps. 11:6, 23:5. There may also be allusions to the language of the Pentateuch in reference to the tribe of Levi, Deut. 10:9, 18:1, 2. The common version of the last clause, thou upholdest my lot, is neither so grammatical nor yields so good a sense as that above given, where enlarge implies both honour and abundance, and the future form expresses confident assurance that the favour now experienced will be continued.

  6. The lines are fallen to me in pleasant things (or pleasant places); yea, my heritage is goodly. The lines here spoken of are those used in measuring and dividing land. Fallen, i.e. assigned, with or without allusion to the lot, as the means of distribution. Compare Num. 34:2, Judges 18:1. The idea of places is suggested by the context, or the plural adjective may have the abstract sense of pleasure, pleasures, like the cognate form in Job 36:11. The particle (אַף) which introduces the last clause is more emphatic than the simple copulative and. It properly means also, and implies that this clause contains something more than that before it. The original construction of the last clause is, a heritage is goodly to me or upon me, with allusion to the natural and common image of gifts or favours as descending from above. The heritage or portion thus described is God himself, but considered as including all desirable possessions.

  7. I will bless Jehovah, who hath counselled me; also by night have my reins prompted me. He praises God for having counselled or persuaded him to choose this goodly heritage in preference to every other portion. The second clause begins with yea or also, as in the preceding verse. It here implies that, under the divine control just mentioned, his own habitual dispositions tended to the same point. By night, literally nights, an idiom not unknown in vulgar English. The plural may in this case be emphatic, meaning whole nights, all night long. The night is mentioned, both as a time naturally favourable to reflection, and as shewing that the same subject occupied his thoughts by night as well as by day; see above on Ps. 1:2. The reins are figuratively put like the heart, bowels, &c., for the affections; see above on Ps. 7:10 (9). My reins have taught me, warned me, prompted me, to utter the praise mentioned in the first clause, or to make the choice described in ver. 1, 2, 5.

  8. I have set Jehovah before me always: because (he is) at my right hand, I shall not be moved. I have set him before me, i.e. I recognise his presence and confide in his protection. The actual expression of this confidence is given in the other clause. The right hand is here mentioned, not as a post of honour, but as that of a guard or defender. See below, on Ps. 109:31, 110:5, 121:5.—I shall not be moved from my secure position. See above, on Ps. 10:6, 15:5. The whole verse is a varied repetition and amplification of the last clause of ver. 1, I have trusted (or sheltered myself) in thee.—The Septuagint version of this sentence is quoted in Acts 2:25, with an express recognition of David as the author of the psalm.

  9. Therefore has rejoiced my heart and exulted my glory; yea, my flesh shall dwell in security (or confidence).—Therefore, because God is my ever present helper. Glory seems here to mean his nobler part, his soul, but not as wholly separate from the body, as appears from what follows. See above, on Ps. 7:6 (5).—Flesh may either mean the body, as distinguished from the soul, or the whole person as including both. Compare Ps. 63:2 (1), 84:3 (2).—The idea of dwelling in security or confidence of safety is borrowed from the Pentateuch. See Deut. 33:12, 28, and compare Judges 18:7, Jer. 23:6, 33:16. A similar allusion has been found already in Ps. 4:9 (8). The Septuagint version of the sentence, although it substitutes tongue for glory, is substantially correct, and therefore retained in Acts 2:26.—The second clause is not simply parallel and equivalent to the first, but is rather an actual performance of the duty there described. Having there said that his heart did triumph in the certainty of God’s protection, he here proves the truth of his assertion, by professing his assured hope that his whole person, not excepting his material part, shall dwell in safety under that protection. This is applicable both to preservation from death and preservation in death, and may therefore without violence be understood, in a lower sense, of David, who did die and see corruption, but whose body is to rise again, as well as in a higher sense of Christ, whose body, though it died, was raised again before it saw corruption.

  10. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Hell; thou wilt not give thy Holy One to see corruption. He now assigns the ground or reason of the confidence expressed in the preceding verse. “I am sure my soul and body will be safe, because thou canst not, without ceasing to be God and my God, give me up to the destroyer.” He does not say leave in but to, i.e. abandon to, give up to the dominion or possession of another. The same Hebrew phrase occurs, with the same sense, in Lev. 19:10, Job 39:14, and in Ps. 49:11 (10) below.—Hell is here to be taken in its wide old English sense, as corresponding to the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades, the invisible world or state of the dead. See above on Ps. 6:6 (5), and 9:18 (17).—Give, i.e. permit, or more emphatically, give up, abandon, which makes the parallelism of the clauses more exact. Thy Holy One, or more exactly, thy favourite, the object of thy special favour. See above, on Ps. 4:4 (3). The textual reading is a plural form (חסידיך), the singular (חסידך) being a marginal correction or keri. The Jews contend for the former, and most Christians for the latter, which is favoured by the oldest versions and retained in the New Testament. The essential difference between the two is less than it may seem at first sight, since even the singular is really collective, and includes the whole class of God’s chosen and favoured ones, of whom Christ is the head and representative.—To see, i.e. to experience or undergo corruption. Compare the phrase to see death, Luke 2:26.—It has been disputed whether שַׁחַת is derived from שׁוּחַ, and means a pit, or from שָׁחַת, and means corruption. Both allegations are probably true, the antecedent improbability of such a double sense and derivation being counterbalanced by the clear analogy of נחַת, which is of a different sense and gender, as derived from נָחַת and נוּחַ. The use of this equivocal expression may have been intentional, in order to make it applicable both to David and to Christ. (See above, on the preceding verse.) To both, the words contain a promise of deliverance from death, but in the case of Christ with a specific reference to his actual escape from the corruption which is otherwise inseparable from dissolution. Believers in general are saved from the perpetual dominion of death, but Christ was saved even from the first approach of putrefaction. In this peculiar and most pregnant sense the words are applied to Christ exclusively by two apostles, and in that sense declared to be inapplicable to David. (Acts 2:29–31, 13:35–37.) Their reasoning would utterly forbid the application to any lower subject, were it not for the ambiguity or twofold meaning of the Hebrew word, which cannot therefore be explained away without embarrassing the interpretation of this signal prophecy.

  11. Thou wilt teach me the way of life, fulness of joy with thy face (or presence), pleasures in thy right hand for ever. He trusts God not only for deliverance from death, but for guidance in the way to life, or blessed immortality. (Compare Prov. 2:19.) The Hebrew verb is causative, and means thou wilt make me know, point out, or shew to me. Fulness, satiety, or rather satisfaction, in its strongest sense, including the ideas of contentment and abundance. The plural, joys, denotes not only richness but variety. The next phrase may simply mean before thy face or in thy presence. But it will also bear a stronger sense, and represent God’s presence or the right of him, not merely as the place, but the source of enjoyment. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6), and compare Ps. 17:15, 80:4 (3). So in the last clause, the idea is not merely at thy right hand as a place of honour and of safety, but in thy right hand as the depository of eternal joys, or with thy right hand, as the instrument by which they are dispensed. See below, on Ps. 17:7.—This last clause is omitted in Peter’s citation of the passage, Acts 2:27, no doubt because it is a mere poetical reiteration of the one before it, which is itself only added to complete the period, and not because it was essential to the apostle’s purpose. That purpose was accomplished by applying the two preceding verses to our Saviour, not exclusively indeed, but by way of eminence and in a peculiar sense, which we learn, however, from Acts 2:30, 31, was actually present to the mind of the inspired Psalmist. The same argumentative interpretation of the prophecy is given by Paul in Acts 13:35–37.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 65–69). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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