This is a Psalm ascribed to the pen of David. It is perhaps most recognized for its use in the preaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Acts. Each referred to the closing verses of this Psalm as a prediction of the resurrection of the Messiah. They both noted that David, upon death, saw corruption; but Christ did not.
Thus there is a question as to how we are to understand the Psalm. Was David in any sense writing of himself? Or is it entirely Messianic? Let us come back to this at the end of our study.
Psalms 15 and 16 share a common theme of security or preservation (15:5; 16:8). It is the theme of the prayer in Psalm 16: “Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust” (v1). This prayer is followed by two confessions or expressions of that “trust”: “You are my Lord” (v2) and “You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup” (v5). This does not only give us an outline; it makes clear what it means to trust God. It means submission to His Sovereign will (Jas. 4:7); and it means seeing God as our great reward (Gen. 15:1; Heb. 11:6). In other words, we follow Him knowing He will provide every need.
Consider the first confession: “You are my Lord” (v2-4). The yielded man of God finds his delight in the people of God and will not join with those who go after another god. This is not “cliquishness” but is a statement about those with whom we stand. It is easier in the short term to stand with the wicked; that is why their path is the broad way that leads to destruction (Mt. 7:13-14). The narrow road is difficult, but it is the path of those who are “fellow believers.” In the New Testament one evidence of genuine faith is love of the brotherhood (1 John 4:20-21).
Ps. 15:2 contains an interesting phrase: “My goodness is nothing apart from You.” Commentators tend to be somewhat evenly divided as to what this means. If “goodness” is taken as a character trait, akin to kindness, then the Psalmist is saying he is not counting on his merit but he is trusting God. This is true. The scriptures say “there is none good, no not one” (Ps. 14:1,3; Eccl. 7:20). On the other hand, the term is most often used of goodness in the sense of bounty or blessing. This also is true, that our blessings are nothing apart from God. Either fits the context. As we have said, commentators are divided. In the context the Psalmist is expressing the totality of his submission to the LORD as the Sovereign Lord.
In the second confession (“You are the portion of my inheritance”) the Psalmist expresses a common theme of those who trust God. The clearest picture of this idea was in God’s relationship to the tribe of Levi. They were the Priestly tribe. They received no inheritance of land as did the other tribes. Instead, God was their inheritance (Josh. 13:33). God would care for them and bless them abundantly. But this was to be a picture of true faith. The godly would see God as their “portion” or “lot”. Meditate on this marvelous truth.
The extent of faith in God as one’s portion is seen not only in the way we trust His provision in this life (v7-8); it is seen in one’s hope in the life after this life (v9-11). This is a more expanded version of Ps. 73:24: “You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” It is the Old Testament version of Paul’s words, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). What the Psalmist is praying for is preservation at every level and every situation.
Now let us come back to the question of the intended subject of this Psalm. It seems to me we must follow the understanding of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Both specifically pointed out that David did not have himself in mind (Acts 2:30; 13:36). So we conclude that the proper interpretation is that the Psalm in its entirety is Messianic. It is related to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (“Not My will but Thine be done”) and His words of committal on the cross (“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit”). In Gethsemane He acknowledges “You are My Lord” (Ps. 16:2). At death He acknowledges God as His “Portion” (Ps. 16:5).
But does that mean this Psalm is not for the believer in Christ? Certainly not! One thing we must always be clear about is that Christ is the “Author and Finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus lived the life of faith with perfection, drawing upon His Father in every situation. What does it mean for us to walk the walk of faith? It means exactly as it did for the Son of God: submission to the will of the Sovereign Lord and drawing upon God as my portion.
“Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.”
Addition March 18, 2018
Addition March 18, 2018
This Psalm has a decided New Testament sound to it which is not surprising. I am talking about the reference to the “saints” in v3. David expresses his love for the “saints”. And yet, if the Psalm is seen to be Messianic, we know that Jesus Himself is known for His love for the “saints” (holy ones).
In Eph. 1:4 we know that believers in Christ, whether from Israel or from the Nations (Gentiles), are called to be saints. In Eph. 2:15 we see that “in Christ” the two (saints of Israel and the Nations) are brought together creating one new man of the two. We are told that this makes peace between, not that it eliminates either but that it reconciles them. In Eph. 2:19 the Gentiles are said to be “fellow-citizens” with the saints; again this does not obliterate Israel but acknowledges their continual existence as the “remnant” IN the Church (Rom. 11:5).
The point in Ephesians is that Christ is and will be exalted in both. The cross and resurrection of Christ is certainly the watershed moment in history. By it all who believe can be reconciled to God (Eph. 2:13). But it is not the goal or end of history. Failure to see this leaves us with what we have today: Christians who see that they are the purpose of all God’s works. It has resulted in a very “me” oriented Christianity where our only thought is that God has great plans for me.
The fact is the end of history, the goal of ALL God’s works, is His love for His Son. His love for us, which we recognize fully, is bound up in what He promised to His Son, not to us. Read John 17, the very personal conversation between the Son and the Father. We have been given to Christ. We share HIS glory. This is the blessing of the saints.
Thank you Father for my good inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-6) which is bound up in the good inheritance of Your Son (Ps. 16:6; Psalm 2:8). You have given me to Him. May I honor Him for that alone pleases You!