Psalm 16 — No Good Besides God
16 Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.
2 O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee;
3 But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.
4 Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.
5 The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.
6 The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
7 I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
8 I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
From the day we are born, we are prone to temptation and sin. Coupled with our inherited sin nature (Eph 2:3), we must be pulled from the swamp of sin and death. God, in His mercy, opens the heart of the elect to receive salvation paid for by Jesus Christ. New life produces a new creature (2 Cor 5:17), and this new man must learn to live in relationship with YHWH, the God of Israel. The new Spirit living in him teaches him and guides him on a new path of life (Mt 7:13–14; Jn 14:17; 16:13). This is an abundant and joyful life, lived in devotion to God, who delivers him from a world that is now hostile to his new position.
Psalm 16 is one of six psalms with the word, “miktam” in the title (c/f Ps. 56–60). No conclusion has been reached on the meaning of this word, but it is related to the idea of inscribing in stone. Others think it is a familiar tune, and a psalm of David. The setting of this Psalm is likely when Saul and his three thousand choice men were hunting David in the Wilderness of Ziph (1 Sam 26).
David argued with Saul, “Now therefore, please let my lord, the king, listen to the words of his servant. If the Lord has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the Lord, for they have driven me out today that I should have no attachment with the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods (1 Sam 26:19).’” The matching themes are: serving other gods and being removed from the land, hence, blessing (“inheritance”). Psalm 16 speaks of both ideas. In addition, David’s situation warranted a plea (v. 1), a rejection of those who went after other gods (vv. 2–4), and confidence in YHWH to deliver him from death (vv. 5–11).
David made a plea for protection in seeking refuge (v. 1). His request was made to “El” in the Hebrew, which is a shortened version of “Elohim.” The translation of this generic title, adopted from the Phoenician people, is “mighty God.” The situation demanded deliverance and a place of security. Christians are faced with a multitude of troubles in this world, from Satan, and in their struggle against sin. We find help when we call on Jesus Christ, who is mighty to save.
David gave his pledge of allegiance to YHWH (v. 2), “I said to YHWH, you are my adonai.” David is establishing his main point: full devotion. The claim carries the warrant, “There is no good besides You.” It is a common refrain to say, “God is good.” However, David states the antithesis so aptly reiterated by Paul, “I count all things but loss, except of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord (Phil 3:8a).”
Full devotion values any alternative as rubbish (Gk. skubala). Christians must search their hearts to determine whether there is any competition in their hearts for loving the Lord their God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. David loves his neighbors by telling them the truth, even as they wish to get rid of him…
David honored the people of Israel, but he questioned the leaders he once admired (v. 3). The grammar and syntax carry major problems for translating and interpreting this verse. Taken positively, David may be the speaker, and he is saying he loves God’s people (Heb. qodoshim; “saints” or “holy ones”), and he takes pleasure in their leaders (Heb. addirim; “majestic ones” or “mighty ones”). He has stated his devotion to YHWH, and now his admiration for his countrymen (some of whom have chased him out of the land). However, as noted, the second cola does not fit the context. Taken negatively, David may be quoting an acquaintance, who is saying, “As for the worshippers of Asherah in the earth, I delight in the most prominent ones.” Either of these options is viable; however, if we accept the setting and context, there may be a better reading, “As for God’s chosen people, and the leaders I admired immensely…”
David loved the congregation of Israel, but the leadership wanted to destroy him. God is his trust for refuge from internal persecution. We might ask, “Why is there such a raucous?” Saul’s stultified leadership spurred the jealousies of his generals and lieutenants against David. Were they doing the will of God? Saul demonstrated his unfortunate willingness to consult the dead through the witch of Endor. David exposed Saul and others’ syncretistic practices.
David commented on those who have gone after other gods; and he refused to join them in syncretistic worship (v. 4). The first commandment (Ex. 20:3) is to have no other gods before YHWH. The allowance of other gods, merged with the worship of YHWH, is syncretism. Today, Christians from the third world visit churches in America and marvel at the entertainment complexes complete with: gymnasiums, coffee shops, bookstores, and theaters. The gods of American culture demand mega options to lure the finicky consumer of post-modern religion. While many parts of the world need the Gospel, in America, salesmen hawk the benefits of their respective church programs from their pulpits. The church psychologist is hired to clean up the mess.
David warned Israel, “Your sorrows will multiply with your images.” He vowed not to participate in the foolish practices of offering sacrifices to idol gods. “Libations of blood,” were often the blood of children sacrificed to Molech, the Canaanite god. Too often, women in the church sacrifice their children in abortion mills at the altar of convenient lifestyle. There is no new thing under the sun (Eccl 1:9). Repulsed by the names: Molech; Chemosh; Dagon; Baal; Asherah; Ra; Mithri; etc., David refused to even mention these demonic promulgators of evil. Satan’s program for the church is to confuse and distract Christians from true worship and proclamation of the Gospel.
David began a song of confidence with a claim of blessing received from his dependence on YHWH (v. 5). His love for Israel was mirrored in history, by Moses, and in the future with the prophetic voices beckoning, “Come out of her my people, so you will not partake of her sins, and so you will not partake in her plagues (Rev. 18:4).” His warning became a statement of confidence in the path of life prepared by God for him.
YHWH was David’s stability, prosperity, and security. The false gods enticed Israel with the same promises, but they never delivered. Instead, the congregation was drawn into sexual immorality, materialism, and reprobate ethics. In Elijah’s day, it was one man against the worship leaders of Baal. The spirit of one man like Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist was enough to confront the leaders and people who had gone astray. That is, if he survived the death threats.
David used an illustration of receiving an inheritance of good land to elucidate the blessing of God being his portion (v. 6). The NET Bible captures this verse wonderfully, “It is as if I have been given fertile fields or received a beautiful tract of land.” The simile verifies that David knows and understands the receipt of an allocation of inheritance, just as Jabez did. However, David’s point is that God Himself is his allocation. We say, “The Giver is more precious than the gift.”
David made the claim of being blessed by YHWH’s counsel of him through dreams (v. 7). Here, he transitions into praise of YHWH. Worship is the result of night counsel in this case. Possibly in a dream, David was assured of YHWH’s protection against Saul’s schemes to ruin him. Certainly, we hide His Word in our hearts, and His counsel is that close to us.
David explained the stability in his life as a result of YHWH’s presence and power (v. 8). He concentrated his mind and emotions on God. We might say, “He kept his eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith.”
The imagery of the right hand has the implication of position and power. In battle, David would lead with his sword in his right hand. He knew the battle belonged to the Lord, and the Lord was pleased to lead out from David’s right hand. In step with the Lord, the refugee from the land of his inheritance had stability, security, and would prosper in his conflicts with the half-hearted syncretists.
David rejoiced in mind and body for the security imparted to him (v. 9). His personal testimony was one of joy. The allure for the people of God into full devotion has no better ally than the joy in the heart of the devoted. David was run out of Israel, persecuted, slandered, and despised; but the joy of the Lord Himself was this sojourner’s truth. With the promise of preservation in this life, David could not neglect mentioning so great a salvation from even death itself.
David argued his joy was the result of YHWH delivering him from death and the grave (v. 10). Everyone dies, and David knew his day would come; but the church has always interpreted this verse as prophetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of David. Peter preached and quoted Psalm 16:8–11 in a sermon on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:25–28). Paul preached and quoted Psalm 16:10 in a sermon at Pisidian-Antioch during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:35–37). In both cases, Psalm 16 was interpreted as resurrection hope, as it was also true for Isaiah (26:19) and Daniel (12:2).
The body and soul of Jesus Christ were not abandoned, nor did they decay at his death and burial. Only one person in history could hold the title, “Thy Holy One,” the Holy One of God, and He is Jesus Christ, our Lord. The same resurrection hope David had in Messiah, is the same resurrection hope we share in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15). Indeed, there is cause for “my heart,” “my flesh,” and “my glory” to cry out with joyful psalms of praise!
David addressed YHWH with the promises he knew God would fulfill in his life (v. 11). The “path of life” (c/f Ps. 49, 73) was revealed by God to David. Christians know the path revealed to them is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6). This path, revealed to David, produced for him abundant life and eternal life…forever. Despite being ostracized, David knew the joy of the Lord because YHWH was with him and for him to guarantee a more assured future. Whom should David fear? The presence of YHWH was at his right hand and was a pleasure to this warrior on the run.
In sum, we have seen David’s plea to YHWH for salvation and refuge. He has argued against those who oppressed him in body and in spirit. He denounced their syncretistic worship of YHWH along with other gods. He bore exalted testimony of his singular confidence in YHWH. In conclusion, we are challenged to review our commitments and allegiance to the Lord. If our affections are divided, we are no better than Saul in his unstable mind and actions. For those who understand, we know there is no good besides God.
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 4, 2021