Bible Studies on the Messianic Psalms
Psalm 16 Part 1: Testings in the journey through life and death

By I Gordon

Introduction

So far we have looked at Psalm 2 and Psalm 8. In Psalm 2 we saw Jesus, the coming King. In Psalm 8 we see Jesus as the last Adam and the second man – the one who will bring mankind back to its position of dominion and rule on planet earth. The next Messianic Psalm before us today is Psalm 16. In it we shall start to see the path that Jesus had to tread and the cup that He had to drink. And we shall hear from Jesus as He expresses, in His humanity, both His struggles and delights before His Father, Almighty God. But it also shows us the journey and tests that we will face as Christians as we walk the path God has for us. Right... no more dilly-dally. Here is the Psalm:

Psalms 16:1-11 A Mikhtam of David. Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. (2) I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good besides You." (3) As for the saints who are in the earth, They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight. (4) The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, Nor will I take their names upon my lips. (5) The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. (6) The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. (7) I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. (8) I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (9) Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. (10) For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. (11) You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

As with some other Messianic Psalms, an initial reading of the Psalm could raise the question – ‘Why is it Messianic? Where is the Messiah hiding in this psalm? Come out; come out, wherever you are!’ It’s just David talking about his need for the Lord right? Well, not quite. When we come to the New Testament we find both Peter and Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quoting from this Psalm and declaring that King David was not speaking of himself, but of our saviour, Jesus, when He wrote this Psalm. Let’s have a look at where this Psalm is quoted:

Peter’s great sermon on the day of Pentecost

Acts 2:22-33 Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. (23) This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (24) But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (25) David said about him: " 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (26) Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, (27) because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. (28) You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.' (29) Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. (30) But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. (31) Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. (32) God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. (33) Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Now please note the highlighted parts especially. Peter is saying that David wrote this Psalm, but he wasn’t writing about himself or giving his own thoughts. David, Peter says, was a prophet and he wrote and spoke prophetically concerning the coming ‘Son of David’ – the Messiah. So the ‘I’ and ‘me’ in the Psalm don’t speak of David himself... they are the Lord Jesus! Peter only quoted the last half of the Psalm on the day of Pentecost because he wanted to emphasise the resurrection, but as there is no change in speaker throughout the Psalm, most commentators see all of it having its ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus.

So Psalm 16 is a prayer of the Lord Jesus to the Father. In the New Testament we often read that Jesus would go away to pray... but it seldom tells us what He prayed. This is one of those prayers. And this prayer, this Psalm, is like a journey through life with its tests, difficulties and trials... its highs and its lows. Specifically it is the Lord’s journey through life and death, but we shall see ourselves in the tests and events of this Psalm as well. One commentator said Psalm 16 is like Pilgrims Progress except that Jesus did not have a bypath meadow! [1] So as we move through this Psalm we’ll look at some of the different challenges and highlights faced in this journey that is the Christian life. They were expressed by King David, found fulfilment in the Messiah and are still faced by Christians today. Having been reminded of Pilgrims progress once again I couldn’t help throw in some examples from there as well that can help illustrate the truth we need to learn.

Keep me, keep me, and keep me.

(Psalms 16:1) Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

Here is a good place to start for it governs the thoughts and prayer that we need to have as we make this journey. This verse relates to all parts of our walk whether we have been a Christian 60 minutes or 60 years. You could sum it up by saying ‘Keep me, keep me, and keep me!’ The word translated ‘Preserve’ in the Hebrew has the thought of ‘guard, protect, keep, save’. Quite a few versions translate it ‘keep me’ and the Hebrew word is translated as ‘keep’ in close to three hundred other passages. How important is this little prayer to ‘keep me’? Very! Even Jesus, living as a man wholly dependent upon God, asked to be kept.

Now from an eternal perspective, a true believer in Jesus is secure and kept by God. I don’t believe a true child of God can be lost. This is one of the things Jude wanted to speak about in his letter, but he needed instead to address the false teachers and teachings that were coming into the Church. Nevertheless, we see this emphasis on being ‘kept’ in both the first and last verses.

Jude 1:1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

Jude 1:24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, (25) to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. [2]

Eternally speaking, the Good Shepherd knows those who are His sheep and they will never perish. They are kept. That is eternally speaking. In the here and now there is still a massive battle raging. The enemy is not weak, nor is he tired, nor is he lazy. In fact he is on the prowl. We’ve talked about the trying times that we live in today. We probably pray that the Lord will keep us in good health, but we need to pray that we will be kept spiritually – that He will keep us in His truth, and that he will keep us morally. When God taught the Levities how to bless the children of Israel, note how this important prayer contained this thought of being kept:

Numbers 6:24-26 The LORD bless you, and keep you; (25) The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; (26) The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.'

The battle we are in, and this need to be kept, has been brought home to me in a few ways lately. I’ve been reading another of John Bunyan’s books called ‘The Holy War’. It is the story of the greatest town ever made - The town of ‘Mansoul’. It was built by the great Shaddai Himself and He built it for Himself and His glory. The town was completely secure. It had several gates but they were impenetrable unless opened from the inside. The most prominent of these gates were the eye gate, the ear gate, the mouth gate and the feel gate. But Diabolus, a mighty giant and enemy of Shaddai, came against Mansoul and deceived them into opening ear and eye gate. Captain Resistance, who dwelt in Mansoul was the first to be shot and Lord Innocence perished shortly after. The great town of Mansoul was soon overrun by Diabolus and his army and Lord Willbewill, who had previously been a faithful servant of Shaddai, shifted his allegiance and served the enemy Diabolus. Soon the whole town was deceived into following Diabolus and was under his control… except that is, for one old man, the town’s recorder, called Mr Conscience.

I’m sure you understand the allegory. The town of Mansoul is mankind, created by Almighty God for himself. Yet we were deceived by the enemy. We bought the lie, resistance and innocence were lost, and the consequences remain with us today. Yet even in the unbelievers, the Conscience, though often seared, remains. As I read this, it impresses home to me again of the battle we are in and how the enemy attacks through those gates: The ear gate - in what we hear and listen to. The eye gate – which is what we see and allow into our minds. The feel gate - our feelings and how he plays on them. [3] So ‘keep me’ was the prayer of the Lord that starts this Messianic Psalm. The Lord Jesus relied upon the Father. He was tempted in every way scripture tells us but did not fail! Thankfully He did not fail! The Father was His strength, His refuge and He was kept. We need the same prayer and attitude.

The Good Test

(Psalms 16:2) I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good besides You."

Here is what we could call the ‘good test’. Each person who lives on this planet is faced with this test whether they know it or not. It is a test of self righteousness and self sufficiency versus Christ’s righteousness and a heavenward dependency. The initial temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden involved this test. Could they go it alone? Could they break free from a dependency upon God and be like gods themselves? Could they know good and evil and choose their own path in which to walk? Could they be righteous without the one who made them? Could they be good without God? They thought ‘yes’ and you know the result. You’ve probably seen the result in your own life. Hopefully you come to church not just as a religious exercise but because you have seen that without Him, you are nothing.

There is a subtle pride and self-reliance that runs in our veins which tempts us to think we are pretty impressive people! You may have heard of the story when Muhammad Ali, at the height of his fame as the World heavyweight boxing champion of the world, was a passenger on a plane. Now Ali, as you will know, didn’t have an overly low opinion of himself. He was in fact, in his own opinion, ‘the greatest’. As they were went about to take off, the hostess coming along the isle asked Ali to put his seatbelt on. ‘Superman’ Ali replied, ‘don’t need no seatbelt’. ‘Superman’, the hostess replied, ‘don’t need no plane either!’ The vast majority in this world treat God in the same way. They are someone special. They will make the rules. They are good enough. But just being good is never good enough.

A good man who failed the ‘good test’

Listen again to the Psalmist who prophetically spoke of what the Messiah Jesus said – ‘You are my Lord (this emphasizes dependency). I have no good beside you (this shows zero self righteousness)’. That was the attitude of our Lord. Thus, when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and wondered about what good works he could do to inherit eternal life, look at Jesus’ response:

Luke 18:18-19 "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’

Here was a man that was failing ‘the good test’ himself, thinking that by his own good works he could inherit eternal life and he was subtly applying that to Jesus as well. Jesus would have none of it. Though He lived a sinless life, Jesus knew the source of His goodness came from the Father and, knowing the heart of this young man, He knew He needed to see where true righteousness lay – thus He answered saying ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone!’ The tree that Adam and Eve ate from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And mankind was thrust in both directions – a heart that did evil as well as a desire for self-goodness and self-righteousness. [4]

The Test of Religiosity

(Psalms 16:4) The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, nor will I take their names upon my lips.

We’ll come back to verse 3 but first of all look at verse 4 for it contains a similar test. It is the test of religiosity. We live in an age when pluralism is more and more in vogue. I’m sure you’ve heard it.. . ‘All truth is equally valid if it is working for you. All paths lead to God. All paths lead to the same destination. All religions have an element of truth just as long as what you believe makes you feel good.’ Let’s be clear - Jesus never, ever, spoke like that. He was never broad like that. He claimed exclusivity in the way to God and that was through Him alone. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me’ He said (John 14:6). We either accept that or reject it but His message was clear. Broad is the road and wide is the path that leads to destruction… but narrow is the way that leads to life and few find it.

John 8:23-24 And He was saying to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."

This was not popular back in the day when Jesus said it. It is less so today. But the truth remains: The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, nor will I take their names upon my lips. To those who had “religion only” but not salvation, who even claimed to have done things for Jesus and in His name, He will still say on the day of judgment ‘depart from me I never knew you’. They may claim His name but He won’t take on theirs. We need to come to the Lord on His terms. Bunyan gave a good illustration of this. Christian entered the way through the Sheep gate which had a sign over it saying ‘to him who knocks it shall be opened.’ ‘But as he carried on in the way…

‘...he saw two men come tumbling over the wall on the left side and onto the path. They immediately came toward Christian. The name of the one was Formalist, and the name of the other was Hypocrisy. Soon they were walking with Christian on the path. Christian immediately began to engage them in conversation. Christian asked, “Gentlemen, where did you come from, and where are you going?” Formality and Hypocrisy replied, “We were born in the land of Vain-Glory and are going to Mount Zion where we expect we will receive both praise and honour.” “Why didn’t you enter by the gate that stands at the beginning of the way? Don’t you know that it is written that ‘he who does not come in by the door but climbs up some other way is a thief and a robber’?” Formalist and Hypocrisy answered that to go to the gate in order to enter into the way was considered by them and all their countrymen to be too inconvenient and roundabout, especially since they could shorten the journey by simply climbing over the wall, as they had done. “But won’t this be seen as trespassing?” Christian asked. “Don’t you think the Lord of the City for which we are bound must count it as a violation of His revealed will?” Formalist and Hypocrisy told Christian not to worry about it since it had been the custom of their land for more than a thousand years. “But will your custom stand up in a court of law, asked Christian, “Will your custom stand up in a court of law?” They replied, “This custom of entering the way by taking a shortcut has been going on as a long-standing practice for more than a thousand years and would be ruled as a legal practice by any impartial judge. And besides,” they added, “as long as we get into the way, what does it matter how we get in? If we are in, we are in. You came into the way through the narrow gate, and we came tumbling over the wall, and since we are both in, who is to say that your chosen path is better than ours?” Christian told them, “I walk by the rule of my Master; you walk by the rude working of your own notions. You are condemned as thieves already by the Lord of the way; therefore, I doubt you will be found as true men at the end of the journey. You came in by yourselves, without His direction, and will go out by yourselves, without His mercy.” To this they had little to say, except to tell Christian to mind his own business.

The test of true purpose: What pleased the heart of our Lord?

Psalms 16:3 As for the saints who are in the earth, They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

In stark contrast to those whose name He will not even speak, stand His own. They are those who thrill His heart. Listen to what He says of them and what a great verse this is! ‘As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.’

Here is what puts the sparkle in the eye of the Lord Jesus! Two things are mentioned in this Psalm concerning this. Verse 3 contains the first delight of the Lord… and it is the saints! They are His ‘inheritance’ according to Ephesians. His delight wasn’t in sports or music, the arts or entertainment. His delight was in people. His people... His saints. And what lengths He would go to for those He loved!

John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Here again we see something of the heart of God in what Jesus was willing to do for His own. Jesus was tested and tempted with other things. Satan was willing to give all the nations and kingdoms of the world and all they contain to Jesus if He would bow down and worship him. Many have sold their soul to Satan for much less! But not our Lord!

The Beautiful Inheritance

Psalms 16:5-6 The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

Here is the second delight of Jesus – and that is His Father. The terms used here are familiar to the Jews and were used often when Israel came into the Promised Land – inheritance, lot, portion, lines... they allude to the dividing of the Promised Land for the inheritance of the sons of Israel. Each tribe received an inheritance of the land of Canaan. Going down further, each family within the tribe was allotted a piece of land. The lines would be drawn and the lot cast. But you may remember that the Levites got no such inheritance. Of that tribe it was said:

Deuteronomy10:9 Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him.

So as a priest, not of the tribe of Levi, but of the order of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ didn’t come for money or materialism. He didn’t come for any earthly temporal inheritance. He came to do the will of His Father. And His Father was His portion and His cup. They were the two things that brought our Lord Jesus delight – the saints and pleasing and being in fellowship with his Father. That was His inheritance and his portion. Satan tried to tempt Jesus with the things of this world but couldn’t budge Him from His clear and narrow focus.

What is your delight? What does your sense of purpose pertain to? Does it involve the two things, God and His people, that brought Jesus delight? If we look at the Western Christian church as a whole sometimes we see a lot about money, prosperity, materialism and basically the same things the world covets. All things, I should add that our Lord didn’t come for and didn’t focus on! This is a test in itself of this journey we are on. God and His people were the Jesus’ inheritance in which He delighted. Where is your delight? What is your purpose? Is it in things or people? Is it in God or abundance? Do you tend to seek God’s face or his hand? As the Lord was tested in these things, so are we. [5]

Conclusion

No great conclusion yet for we’ll carry on from here next time. We have seen that even our Lord asked to be kept in all things. In living as the son of Man, He was reliant upon His Father putting Him first. He faced tests and trials of every kind but never failed! We face similar tests as we walk through this journey of life.

The biggest test for Jesus however, was still to come. We shall look at that in the second part of Psalm 16 for our Lord still had to face His greatest ‘night season’ in becoming sin on our behalf and facing death and resurrection.


[1]  Bypath Meadow in Pilgrims Progress was a field to the left side of the true path that looked very inviting to Christian and Hopeful as they went on their journey because the path they were on was becoming rough and very difficult to tread. This bypath meadow was flat and pleasant and because it seemed to just run parallel with the true way, they decided to cross over and walk in it instead. Before long however it started to turn slowly away from the true path and it grew so dark that they fell into a pit and were captured by Giant Despair and taken to doubting castle. We probably have all had our bypath meadows in the Christian life. But thank God that Jesus didn’t! He never turned aside. He never doubted the path that His Father had for Him. He was well aware of the difficulty in the path that was laid before Him… but he didn’t deviate but set His face link flint towards the goal.

[2]  This ‘keeping’ of true believers was a major theme of the Lord’s prayer in John 17. Jesus prayed, saying:

John 17:11-15 "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. (12) "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled… (15) "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.’

On this basis, Paul could write: Philippians 1:6 ‘…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ Also 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

[3]  Just taking one of these, the eye gate… last week on TV a program reported that for the first time we have a whole generation of young men coming up exposed to pornography. Pornography has been around for a long time but was limited in its accessibility. Not anymore. Probably takes about 10 seconds to access on the internet. And the young people are opening up the eye gate and becoming addicted. This report even showed from brain scans the effects it was having on the brain. It is one scary development in which the enemy is corrupting the next generation. Beware of the enemies schemes and think twice before opening up your eye and ear gate!

[4]  In Pilgrims Progress, Bunyan portrays this in the following way; where the ditch that the blind leaders fell into speaks of the Pharisees with their outward religion and self righteousness. And the bog speaks of the fleshly sins that Kind David fell into with Bathsheba.

“Then I saw in my dream that for the entire length of the valley, there was a very deep ditch on the right side. It is into this ditch that the blind have been leading the blind since the beginning of time, to the destruction of both blind leaders and their followers. I saw also on the left side of the valley a very dangerous quagmire, in which not even a good man can find solid footing or bottom if he falls in. This is the bog King David fell into, and no doubt would have been smothered, had not He who is able pulled him out. The pathway was exceedingly narrow, and good Christian was tested to his limits. For in the dark, when he tried to avoid the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other. Also when he sought to escape the mire, unless he was very careful, he would almost fall into the ditch.”

[5]  In the Bible there is a man called Demas. Have you heard of Demas? He was a worker and helper of the Apostle Paul. When Paul wrote to the Colossian church he wrote that Demas sends his greetings. When he wrote to Philemon he said again that Demas, my fellow worker, sends you greetings. When he wrote 2nd Timothy, his last ever letter before being executed by the Romans, he asked Timothy to ‘make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me.’ John Bunyan picks up on this in Pilgrims Progress and shows the temptations that come to Christians on their journey. He writes:

“Then Christian and Hopeful left them again and walked until they came to a smooth plain called Ease, where they travelled with much contentment. The plain was quite small; so they went quickly through it. Now on the far side of that plain was a little hill called Lucre, and in that hill there was silver mine, which some of the pilgrims had turned aside to see. The ground near the brink of the pit was unstable, and many had stumbled into the pit only to suffer injuries or even death. Then I saw in my dream that a little off the road, over by the silver mine, stood the gentlemanly Demas calling to passersby to come and see. When he saw Christian and Hopeful he shouted, “Stop! Turn aside and I will show you something.” “What could be so interesting to see that would turn us out of our way?” Christian asked. Demas replied, “Over here are men digging in the silver mine for treasure. If you will come and work a little, you may become rich.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “Let’s go and see.” “Not I” said Christian, “for I have heard of this place and of all the people who have died here digging for treasure. It is a trap that will slow pilgrims down on their journey.” Then Christian called to Demas saying, “Is not this place dangerous? Hasn’t it hindered many in their pilgrimage?” “It’s’ not very dangerous, except to those who are careless,” Demas said, but not without blushing. Then, said Christian to Hopeful, “Let’s not miss a step but keep going on our way.” Hopeful said, “I will warrant you that when By-ends gets here, and if he is given the same invitation as we, he will turn out of the way to see.” “I have no doubt you are right, for his principles lead him that way, and the odds are a hundred to one that he dies there,” Christian observed. Then Demas called again, saying, “But will you not come over and see?” Then Christian sternly answered, saying, “Demas, you are an enemy of the ways of the Lord, and you have already been condemned by one of his Majesty’s judges for turning out of the way. Why, then, are you trying to bring us into similar condemnation? Besides, if we turn aside, our Lord the King will certainly hear about it, and we will be put to shame when the time comes when we ought to stand with boldness before Him.”