The main point of Psalm 16, at least as I understand it, is this:
God will bring you — body and soul — through life and death to full and everlasting pleasure, if he is your safest refuge, and your supreme treasure, and your sovereign Lord, and your trusted counselor.
A few of you may hear that summary and ask, “Is he going to take into account what the apostle Peter makes of this Psalm in Acts 2? I wonder if he’s going to deal with the fact that, in Peter’s mind, Psalm 16:9–11 is a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus. And if so, I wonder why he didn’t include that in the main point?”
The answer is, yes, I am going to address what Peter does with this Psalm. I don’t include the resurrection of Jesus as the main point of the Psalm because I don’t think it is the main point. I think it functions as an argument for the main point, not as the main point. That may sound strange, but one of the amazing and wonderful things about the Bible is that massive, unshakeable realities often serve as foundations of precious, personal points, rather than being the main points themselves.
Petition and Praise
Let’s try to think David’s thoughts after him, and feel his affections with him as he moves through Psalm 16. It begins with David’s petition — it’s important to see that this is a petition, a plea, a request — “Preserve me, O God.” We don’t know yet what he wants to be preserved from, or for. I think it will become clear, and it really does matter. The whole psalm is shaped by his desire in this petition: “Preserve me, O God.”
Now David moves forward from this petition by declaring and exulting in what God is for him.
And notice the connection between his declaration about what God is for him and his petition. You can see it in the relationship between verse 1a and verse 1b. “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” “Preserve me, because I take refuge in you.” I declare that you are a refuge for me; therefore, preserve me!” David is declaring what God is for him as the ground, or the reason, that he hopes that God will preserve him. That’s what he seems to be doing all the way though Psalm 16:1–8 — declaring and exulting in what God is for him, as a way of strengthening his hope that because of this God will in fact bring about his preservation.
Who Is God for You?
So let’s follow him and see what God is for him, and where this leads.
Psalm 16:1: “For in you I take refuge.” God is a refuge for him. He exults in God as his safest refuge. In other words, “I turn to you for safety above all other ways of being safe. You are the safest refuge for me.”
Psalm 16:2: “I say to the Lord (Yahweh), ‘You are my Lord (Adonai).’” Yahweh — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Exodus — you are my Lord, his Master, and his Sovereign. He exults in God’s sovereign rule over his life.
Psalm 16:2: “I have no good apart from you.” God is his supreme treasure. His highest treasure. There is no good for him above God, or apart from God. All other goods are good because they give him more of God. God is his supreme treasure — over everything else, and in everything else.
Then in Psalm 16:3, he underlines and emphasizes God’s supreme value to him by what he says about God’s people. When it comes to people, he says, the ones who give him pleasure are godly people. “As for the saints in the land (the holy ones, godly ones — the ones who treasure God and live for God), they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” All his delight, his joy, his pleasure. He doesn’t mean that he has delight in God’s people instead of God or above God. He means that godless people don’t give him delight in their godless ways; only the godly do. What delights him about people is how they treasure God and exalt God. This is the sweetness of his relationships.
Then in Psalm 16:4, he underlines his radical preference for God by putting it negatively. He values God so highly, he will not dare to run after other gods. “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.” In other words: it is sheer folly to turn away from the all-satisfying God only to embrace gods that leave you sorrowful in the end. No, I will never do that. I won’t even put their names on my lips.
Then in Psalm 16:5, he returns to the declaration of verse 2b: “I have no good apart from you.” Here he puts it positively: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup.” In other words, if there are a hundred portions of food and drink spread out on the table, and one of them is the Lord himself — he is my choice. Nothing satisfies — nothing nourishes and sustains — the way he does. He is my greatest good. My treasure of all treasures. My highest pleasure. My chosen portion of sirloin. My cup of finest wine.
Then later in verse Psalm 16:5, he returns to what he has said in verse 2a. He said, “I say to the Lord (Yahweh), ‘You are my Lord (Adonai).’” He declared that God was his master and sovereign. Here in verse 5b he does the same: “You hold my lot.” In other words, when the dice are rolled, and the straws are drawn, and the wheel is turned — whatever happens to us comes from the hand of God. God holds my lot. God decides it. God rules over it. God is my sovereign, and I am glad to have it so. I don’t just affirm it stoically; I exult in it.
God, My Beautiful Inheritance
In Psalm 16:6, he exults in what this means for him. Because God holds his lot, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” The “lines” here are probably borderlines — the borders or boundaries God has appointed for him. They may be figurative, or literal, or maybe both. I say this — that the borderlines may be figurative — because the phrase “pleasant places” is a single Hebrew word that means “pleasures.” It’s the very same word as the one in Psalm 16:11 translated “pleasures”: “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” So the translation here in Psalm 16:6 should perhaps be: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasures, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
And so the “pleasant places” (of verse 6) may be not so much good acreage in Palestine, but the place at God’s right hand, as verse 11 says. “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” would then be: “Your sovereign goodness has fenced me in to God himself. The borders of my life are boundaries around where God is.” And when he adds, “I have a beautiful inheritance,” the ultimate meaning would be: God. God is my in heritance, and he is beautiful. That’s where Psalm 16:11 leads us.
Therefore, exulting God as his Sovereign is almost the same as exulting in God as his Treasure. God is the sovereign who holds my lot. And he uses that power to make himself my beautiful inheritance — to fence me in to the pleasures of knowing him. He makes himself my treasure.
Then in Psalm 16:7, he goes one step further in exulting in what God is for him. God is not only his refuge, and treasure, and sovereign, he is also his counselor. “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” This is not a small or insignificant add-on. It colors everything else — the way God is a refuge, the way he is a treasure, the way he is a sovereign.
For example, God is a refuge in part by the way he instructs, or guides, or counsels us into his safety — his refuge. Refuge is not automatic. It is interactive. If we are in danger — of harm, or sin, folly — God counsels us how to escape. He speaks, by his revealed word. “Your testimonies are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24). He becomes our refuge by counseling us how to walk in the way of life and not death.
And he is our treasure in part by being our counselor. He’s not just precious to us because of the beauty of his character, but also because of the beauty of his counsel. We treasure him for his teaching and wisdom and encouraging promises. He is not a treasure in an abstract way. He reveals his all-satisfying beauty and value to us in his words, his teaching, his counsel. They come to us even in the night, when our thoughts may be dark or wandering.
And he is our sovereign not just in what happens to us, but what happens through us because we listen to his counsel. In other words, God’s sovereignty is exercised through means — through our listening to and obeying his counsel. If he wants something done, he can do it in spite of us, or he can do it through the counsel he gives us. We become the instrument of his power.
A Petition Becomes a Declaration
So for seven verses David has been exalting in what God is for him: refuge, treasure, sovereign, counselor. Now we see something striking in Psalm 16:8. What has become of David’s petition for preservation in verse 1? He had cried out, “Preserve me, O God.” And then he spent seven verses exulting in what God is for him. God is his safest refuge, and his supreme treasure, and his sovereign Lord, and his trusted counselor. And the effect of all this declaration and exultation of what God is for him has transformed his petition in verse 1 to a confidence in verse 8. In verse one he prayed, “Preserve me O God.” And now in verse 8 he doesn’t ask, he affirms, “God will preserve me; I will not be shaken. I will not be moved. I will be kept. Guarded. Preserved.”
Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Because his refuge, his treasure, his sovereign, his counselor is always before him, and at this right hand, therefore, he says, “I will not be shaken.” Which is negative way of saying: “I will be preserved.” My petition has become my confidence. I have moved from asking to affirming.
How did that happen? By declaring and exulting in what God is for him. Not just stating it, but overflowing with his own feelings about what God is for him.
Psalm 16:1: “You are my safest refuge. I hide in you.”
Psalm 16:2: “You are my sovereign Lord. You hold my lot. I reverence you and submit to you.”
Psalm 16:2: “You are my supreme treasure. I have no good besides you.” Verse 6: “The boundary lines of my life enclose me in the pleasures of your presence.” Verse 3: “And of all the great people on the earth, the only ones who give me delight are people who treasure you — the one’s who share my love for you.”
Psalm 16:7: “You are my trusted counselor day and night. And I bless you. O how I treasure and bless you for your precious word!”
And because he has declared and exulted in what God is for him as refuge, sovereign, treasure, and counselor — because he had put this God before him, and taken hold of him, and set him so to speak at his right hand — therefore, his petition (“Preserve me, O God”) has become his unshakable confidence: “I will not be shaken.” I will be preserved.
Preserve Me from Death
Now in Psalm 16:9 this confidence that he will not be shaken, but will be preserved, leads to a great “therefore” of joy. “Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices.” Petition for preservation leads to exultation in God as refuge, and treasure, and sovereign, and counselor, which leads to unshaken confidence that he will be preserved, which leads to deep and pervasive joy: “My heart is glad. My whole being rejoices.”
Then comes a new statement of the foundation for this joy, which finally answers the question of what kind of preservation David has been talking about. Preserved from what? Unshaken in what? It starts in the last part of verse 9 and goes through the first part of verse 11: “My flesh also dwells secure [safe, unshaken, preserved]. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption [that is, final dissolution in the grave]. You make known to me the path of life.”
So this is the preservation he asked for. When he said, “Preserve me, O God,” ultimately, he meant: Don’t let me be lost in death. Don’t let me be shaken from the realm of the living. Keep me — body and soul — forever. The key to seeing this is noticing the “therefore” at the beginning of Psalm 16:9 and the “for” at the beginning of Psalm 16:10. This means that the joy of verse 9 is based on the confidence of verse 8 (“I will not be shaken,” but will be preserved), and it is also based on the confidence of verse 10 (“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol), which tells us specifically what the confidence of verse 8 is: You won’t abandon me to Sheol (to death) and you won’t let my flesh see corruption. This is the preservation David wanted in verse 1, and the one he is confident he will have in verse 8.
David is sure that all God has been for him — refuge, and treasure, and sovereign, and counselor — he will be that for him forever. Death will not be the end of his relationship with God. Death will not cancel out all that he has known and loved about his God. God is not the God of the dead but of the living (Mark 12:27). “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:15). “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24).
Full and Forever
With that as his unshakeable confidence (in verse 10) — God will preserve me, body and soul, in death — he returns now in verse 11 to the great “therefore” of joy in Psalm 16:9, only now it is exponentially increased: in fullness and duration. The way of life that you show me through death is this: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Full and forever.
Because God has been his portion here — his safest refuge, and supreme treasure, and sovereign Lord, and trusted counselor — his confidence is unshaken that God will be all of this perfected forever. This is the final preservation David was hoping for in verse 1. This is what he was praying for. This is what he became confident of. Death will not keep me from “the fullness of joy in God’s presence; the beautiful inheritance of eternal pleasures at his right hand.”
So let me state the main point of Psalm 16 again now that we have seen it in the Psalm:
God will bring you—body and soul—through life and death to full and everlasting pleasure, if he is your safest refuge, and your supreme treasure, and your sovereign Lord, and trusted counselor.
Something Greater Than David
That is true, and glorious. But something very important has been omitted. King David had been given a promise. The prophet Nathan came to him and said this:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers [a prophet had told him he would die], I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13)
David knew from God’s word that he would die and lie in the grave like his fathers, but that God would set one of his descendants on his throne. And this descendant would not be one of a succession of kings that goes on and on, but with him all succession would stop. His kingdom would have no end; it would be an eternal kingdom.
In other words, David knew a king was coming that would be from his seed. And that in the line of David, would come to an end with him. He would defeat death. He would not see corruption like David. That’s the way his kingdom could be eternal.
David lived in this consciousness: I will lie down with my fathers, and suffer dissolution in the grave. And one will come from my seed who will not suffer dissolution in the grave, but will sit on his throne forever. David knew that because of what God had revealed.
Preservation and the Messiah
Therefore, when he wrote Psalm 16:10, what did he mean?
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
Surely, the apostle Peter is right in Acts 2 to read this verse and say: But David did see corruption. He did see the pit of dissolution. He knew he would. Think: Psalm 16:10 goes beyond what will be fulfilled in David’s own body — his own resurrection at the last day. Verse 10 is a promise of something greater. So Peter says,
Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:30–32)
In other words, in this Psalm progresses, and David moves from petition in verse 1 (“Preserve me, O God”) to unshakeable confidence in verses 8–9 (“I shall not be shaken . . . my flesh will dwell secure,” it will be preserved). Yet he knew that he would die and lie in the grave with his fathers, and somehow be rescued for eternal joy with God; and he also knew that the Messiah from his own seed would put an end to death forever. His body would not decay in the grave with his fathers. And David knew that these two great facts — his own preservation, body and soul through death, and the Messiah’s triumph over death — had to be connected, but he did not know how it would be.
In fact, Peter says, “The prophets . . . searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10–11). But they didn’t know how it would happen.
The Marks of the Preserved
But now, with the fullness of revelation in the New Testament, we do know. Jesus, the Messiah — the long-hoped-for, final King of kings allowed death to swallow him for the sake of mortal sinners. But before death could digest him, and turn him to dust, he killed death. He killed death for himself and for all who belong to him — for all who trusted his promise in the Old Testament, and all who trust his person in our own day. He killed death for all who have the same Spirit that raised him from the dead.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11; see also 1 Corinthians 15:22–23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
And what are the marks of the people in this room who have the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead? The marks today are essentially the same as they were for David (Psalm 16:1–8):
- Do you exult in God as your safest refuge?
- Do you exult in God as your supreme treasure?
- Do you exult in God as your sovereign Lord?
- Do you exult in God as your trusted counselor?
Do you rejoice with David, that all this exultation in God is only possible — now and forever — because Jesus the Messiah was not abandoned to Sheol, and his body did not see corruption? Do you rejoice that he was swallowed by death, for David and for us, and before death could ruin him, he killed death? Do you believe that? Declare that? Exult in that? As the foundation of your hope — to be unshaken forever?
If so, this Psalm is yours:
God will bring you — body and soul — through life and death to full and everlasting pleasure, if he is your safest refuge, and your supreme treasure, and your sovereign Lord, and trusted counselor, through Jesus Christ, the risen King of kings.