As you'll have gathered, we're taking a few weeks to look at some of the Psalms in our evening services and tonight we're looking at Psalm 16. Psalm 16 was written by King David, when the nation of Israel was slowly coming into a time of blessing and prosperity. That said, there was plenty of ungodliness and immorality and idol worship in that society – we'll see hints of it even in this Psalm.
David, who is no stranger to sin in himself and in his own family, writes this Psalm to help himself to be resolute in his trust in God and to encourage the godly among his people to stand firm as well. The word Miktam probably had a sense similar to our words 'engraving' or 'inscription'. So it seems that David wants to etch Psalm 16 onto his mind and his heart to help him in times of trouble and to help him to govern God's people and lead them to repentance and faithful service of God alone.
Many times in the Psalms we see the Psalmist addressing himself, addressing his soul, exhorting and encouraging it to praise God, instructing his own heart to be faithful to God. Psalm 16 has that kind of feel and it's well worth us approaching it with that discipline in mind, that attitude of wanting to train ourselves in God's word to praise and to love and to serve him. As we do that, I want to draw out two themes in which we can encourage our hearts to grow.
Those themes are simply faith and hope. Faith from v1-6 and hope from v7-11. The headings we'll use are:
Faith in God puts the present in perspective.
Hope in God puts the future in perspective.
There will be some sub-headings under each of these two, just to give us some hooks to hang our hats on.
Please do have a bible open to follow along as we'll be going roughly verse by verse. It's page 388 of the blue bibles. Point one, then:
Faith in God puts the present in perspective
V1: Faith finds true refuge in God alone
1Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.
We hear the word 'faith' used in all sorts of ways these days. We hear of the Christian faith, the Hindu faith, multi-faith, where we'd probably be better off using the word religion. Faith isn't a lifestyle choice or a cultural identity. Faith is trust. And it's trust in something or someone. I have faith in Nationwide Building Society, faith in the structural integrity of this stage I'm standing on and faith in the lock on my front door. In verse 1 David declares that his faith is in God.
But notice that faith isn't just trust in something or someone. It's trust in something or someone to do something for you that you need to be done. I trust Nationwide to look after my money, I trust the stage to carry my weight and I trust the lock on my door to keep my family and my home safe. Thanks to Nationwide, by the way, for their kind sponsorship of this sermon… David is trusting God to keep him safe and to be his place of refuge.
So faith, or trust, needs to be in something trustworthy. Nationwide are okay, the stage is pretty strong and my lock is fairly tough, but none of them are 100% guaranteed. David knows that when he puts his faith in God, he can rest secure.
David's faith is not a lifestyle choice or a cultural identity, it's a personal relationship, a personal relationship with the one true and living God, a God who created and now sustains everything and is sovereign over all his creation to the last and finest detail. What a privilege! Notice as well that while it's a personal relationship, it's not a private relationship. This Psalm was written to be sung. No copyright on this – it was public domain. Personal but not private.
V2: Faith sets our priorities straight
2I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing."
Now at first glance v2 might seem pretty ungrateful. After all David started life as a shepherd, probably too hot with no shade in the day, too cold with no shelter at night, in danger from predators, sleeping rough and breathing the smell of sheep day in day out. Now God has made him King of Israel, given him wealth and power and blessing after blessing. How can he say "apart from you I have no good thing."?
Well in the first instance, every blessing he has received has come from God, so in that sense without God's generosity David would perhaps still be tending sheep, but it seems that David is saying more that simply "Lord, all I have comes from you." It seems he's saying "You are the only good thing I have; nothing else is good, nothing else is worthy of my faith."
But is that true? Well, God gave David power but he used it to send his mistress's husband to his death. God gave David a large family, but one of his sons raped one of his daughters and another son tried to overthrow him to take the throne. Every blessing from God, every possession can be corrupted by sin.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul goes even further, saying "…I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…"
Faith in God recognises that whether I possess a great deal of earthy things or hardly anything at all, when I have the Lord, I have everything. All of which should leave us asking ourselves, "What is important to me?"
I asked myself that question this week and apologies to my wife and children but the first thing that came to mind was my little red Japanese maple tree that lives in a pot in the back garden. I was in the back garden when I was thinking about the question, so maybe that excuses me. I don't know why, but I love that tree. I take it inside when the weather gets stormy, I water it if the weather is ever dry. I once had a dream about it being damaged during a home group barbecue. No offence to my home group, but in my dream I sent them all packing.
That's a silly example and in my heart there are doubtless other things that occupy far to lofty a position.
Often what brings these to light is illness or bereavement. Perhaps you've had that experience. You longed for such and such a car but when you left the hospital having received bad news from the doctor, what did it matter what car you drove home in?
When you got that call from your mum that your grandfather had suffered a major stroke, what did it matter whether you sat down on your only sofa or whether you had four sofas to choose from?
Ultimately all I have and all you have is God. It is God who gives every blessing, and it is God who is there when earthly blessings fade away.
Faith, then, is supposed to alter and even adjudicate over our value system, not so that we fail to appreciate the blessings God gives, but so that in comparison to having Christ, the good is merely trivial… even rubbish.
V3-4: Faith radically changes our relationships
3As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.
I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.
4The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.
Not only does faith adjudicate over our value system, but it also takes over our attitudes to those around us. A personal relationship with the one true and living God unites us fundamentally with others who share that relationship.
David calls them the saints who are in the land, in other words, the faithful, godly remnant among the Israelites. For us, the saints are all of God's people as we are today, the church. Christians, many of whom might rub us completely up the wrong way and irritate us immensely because they're not sinless and neither are we, are nonetheless delightful to us and increasingly so because of our shared relationship with God.
Those Israelites who indulged in idol worship, who chased after other gods, as David puts it, who rejected the true God, are people that David will not associate with. They have chosen the way of increasing sorrow. David says, "I will not pour out their libations of blood (i.e. I will not participate in their sacrifices and offerings) or take up their names on my lips (i.e. I will not join in worshipping these false gods).
Faith, that relationship with God, changes how we feel about those around us. We've often heard it said that God hates the sin but loves the sinner and so we should do likewise. But God says repeatedly that he is angry with the sinner, the ungodly, and the wicked and he intends to do something about it.
It's true that Jesus said he didn't come to condemn the world, but to save the world (Jn 3:17) but it's also true that humanity continues under God's patience and forbearance. The reason the cliché is unhelpful is because God's love for the sinner is shown in Jesus.
Now, Christians are called to love our neighbours, work for the prosperity of the places we live in, care for those in need and lots more besides, demonstrating God's love and his transforming power at work in us. But if God's love for the sinner is shown in Jesus then we should love the world by telling people about Jesus. Even doing all of that, we should nevertheless feel very ill at ease with both the sin in the world and those who reject Jesus.
V5-6: Faith values God over everything
5LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.
6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
In these verses David uses language designed to remind God's people of the division of the land of Canaan after the Israelites had first taken it after God brought them out of Egypt. Each of the twelve tribes received land, except for the Levites, the tribe from which the priests would come. To them God said "You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites."
David, and everyone who sings or reads this Psalm, can see that this isn't just true for the clan of priests, but is a pointer for all of God's people, that God himself is their true inheritance and security and delight. These verses are like a precursor of Paul's statement, ""…I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…"
So in the first six verses of the Psalm we've seen that faith, or trust, in God puts this present life into perspective.
Through the lens of faith we can see that temporary things, health, wealth, power, family, friendships are not what matters, although some might be great blessings.
What really matters is the permanent, the eternal, i.e. our personal relationship to the one true and living God… Submitting to God, seeking our security in him, faithfully serving him and delighting in him.
What about v7-11, then? Well the focus shifts from faith here and now to hope for the future. How can David, how can we, maintain the perspective of faith and what is the basis for future hope?
Hope in God puts the future in perspective
V7: Hope brings comfort in hard times
7I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
How can David, how can we, maintain the perspective of faith? What happens to faith when the going gets tough?
David decides he's not waiting to find out how he will react to hard times. He has already decided that he will react to hard times in the way that he has trained his heart to react.
All of those times in the Psalms that we see the Psalmist addressing himself, addressing his soul, exhorting and encouraging it to praise God, instructing his own heart to be faithful to God, all of that is groundwork, if you like. It's an investment in his heart so that in hard times his heart will pay out.
When he is tempted to lie awake worrying at night, he finds that his heart, which is trained in the word of God and soaked in the counsel of God, pays out by reminding him what he knows, reminding him of God's goodness and trustworthiness.
Do you ever lie awake worrying through the night? Who is going to help you in the middle of the night? There is only one counsellor available. There is only one person who is trustworthy. There is only one who will listen at any hour. When in faith your heart tells you to turn to God in prayer, you know that God listens and he counsels you through your heart, which you have soaked in his word.
The application of this is obvious. If you want to react to hard times by knowing God's counsel and his comfort, equip your heart beforehand so that your natural instinct is to draw close to God in faith.
What's the result of doing that?
V8: Hope brings protection and assurance
8I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
David has decided to follow God's way and he knows that brings God's blessing. God is his right-hand man so he can say in all confidence that he will not be moved. God doesn't promise that David will always enjoy victory over his enemies or peace in his family or good health and happiness.
God doesn't promise that to us now, either. In fact we are told to expect to suffer and to have our faith tested, for our good. But even when difficulties come, we need not be moved. Even in the face of death we can have joy.
V9-11: Hope brings joy in the face of death
9Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
11You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
That assurance of God's protection in v8 means that in verse 9 David rejoices with his whole self – his heart, his tongue and his body. He knew that death would come but that death would not be the end of him. The words 'grave' and 'decay' in verse 10 carry the sense of separation from God. God would not simply abandon David forever.
Why? Verse 11: God has set David on the path of life, a life of faith which leads to eternal life. After death David will rise and be filled with joy in God's presence. More literally the phrase is "in your presence there is fullness of joy". The 'pleasures' of v11 are reminiscent of the 'pleasant places' of v6. The eternal pleasures come because God himself is his true inheritance and delight.
The pleasure that he has begun in this life, the life of faith, will continue into its fullness in the world to come.
But that's not all this Psalm has for us. Through the lens of the New Testament, looking back through Jesus' death on the cross, we can see that David is wearing two hats in these last three verses. He has his crown, but he also has his prophet's hat on.
Peter's speech in Acts to the crowds in Jerusalem interprets this Psalm further for us. His train of thought goes like this: David is dead and buried and we all know where his tomb is. David was a prophet, meaning that God revealed aspects and snippets and images of how his plan for the world would work. David remembered the promise that one of his descendants would be God's real chosen king, the main act for whom David was just the warm-up. David figured that this true king would not be abandoned to death and decay, or separation from God. Jesus was a descendant of David. God raised Jesus to life with plenty of witnesses to that fact. God has exalted Jesus to sit at his right hand forever. Jesus is God's true king. Peter's application for the crowd? Turn back to God. Ask for the forgiveness God offers through Jesus' death for living without him as God. Be baptised as a sign of that change.
That is the entry point to a life of faith in God. The cross is how the barrier to this life, the barrier between us and God, is removed. The cross is how we can live a life of faith. The cross is what gets our priorities straight. The cross is what gives us hope and comfort and joy, even in hard times, even in death.
If that doesn't make any sense to you, please collect a free copy of The Case for Christ on your way out and watch out for the next Christianity Explored course, starting in about a month's time.
So there it is. Psalm 16: faith in God puts the present in perspective and hope in God puts the future in perspective.