This psalm is a plea for deliverance, but at the same time it is suffused with great confidence and hope. As a prayer offered on behalf of the Lord Jesus, we should not be surprised at the weight of glory contained here. “Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust . . . (Ps. 16:1-11).
Our psalm can be divided into three sections. The first section is a simple plea to God to preserve him as one who has indeed trusted in God (v. 1). The second section contains the various evidences that David can point to which indicate that his plea is not hypocritical (vv. 2-4). The third section exhibits faith beyond all reckoning (vv. 5-11). And so this psalm divides in this way: plea, evidences, exultant trust.
He begins by asking God to preserve him. The plea is simple and straightforward (v. 1). Although we do not know the occasion of the psalm’s composition, it clearly involved the prospect of death. The psalmist trusts in God completely, and does so in such a way that the evident danger he is in does not unsettle the tone of the song.
This is true sincerity before God. David has committed himself entirely to the Lord (v. 2). But at the same time, he knows that his own goodness adds nothing to God—his goodness “extendeth not” to God. God pours out blessings upon us; we do not pour out blessings on Him. And yet our inability to “contribute” to God has not left us without recourse. God is substituted in for His saints, and so David can extend his goodness to the saints on the earth, to the excellent ones, in whom he delights (v. 3). He extends goodness to God by extending goodness to God’s people. In other words, we cannot love God and hate His people.
David rejects the folly of idolatry—he will have nothing to do with idolater’s blood libations, and will not even say their names (v. 4). Those who worship idols are simply multiplying sorrows for themselves. As Matthew Henry put it, those who find one God too little will rush off into idolatry, only to find two gods far too many, and one hundred gods too few. Every idol is an additional sorrow, every graven image is an additional grief.
The third portion of the psalm reveals David’s glorious portion, and is filled with expectant hope and glory. It is also the portion of the psalm quoted in the New Testament in such a way as to reveal the depth of God’s intent.
First, the Lord is his portion. God is the one who maintains David’s portion (v. 5). God has no trouble maintaining that portion because God is that portion. David is not a Levite, but rejoices in what the Levites typify. “Wherefore Levi hath no part nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, according as the LORD thy God promised him (Dt. 10:9; Num. 18:20). Not only is the Lord David’s portion, the Lord is David’s cup. But we have to see this more broadly—God was the Lord’s portion, and God was the Lord’s cup. The cup that Jesus drank at the cross was far more than just physical suffering.
Second, David was delighted with his pleasant lines. The land of Canaan was apportioned by lot, and it was necessary for all the people of God to be content with that allotment. This contentment should be extended to one’s “lot” in life. Does it look as though you have been wronged by the tumbling dice? “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). Consider what the Lord Jesus was looking forward to when He sang this psalm. He wanted the cup to pass from Him, and yet submitted to the Father. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
Third, we should consider the “instructive reins.” The reins are the kidneys, and in the Hebrew, the figure spoke of the affections and emotions (see Jer. 11:20; Job 19:27). The reins were deep in the secret places, enclosed in fat. Both David and the Lord Jesus bless God and receive counsel from Him (v. 7). They also receive instruction from their affections in the night hours.
Fourth, the Lord was with him–“the Lord before me.” We come here to the portion quoted both by Peter (Acts 2: 25-36) and Paul (Acts 13:35-39). Both apostles apply this unambiguously to the Lord Jesus, and make a point of saying that it could not have applied to David in any ultimate way (v. 8). The Lord being at the right hand here signifies the Lord as defender “For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul” (Ps. 109:31).
Fifth, the salvation of the Lord brings a glad heart. We have already seen that Jesus despised the shame of the cross, and endured it, for the sake of the joy that was set before Him. His heart was glad, and his glory (meaning the tongue) rejoiced. He was laid in the sepulchre in hope (v. 9).
Sixth, why was there this confidence? God had promised that His holy one would not come to the point of corruption. His body would not rot (v. 10), and His soul would not be abandoned to Sheol, or, to use the Greek term, Hades. Hell considered as the place of final judgment is not in view here.
Seventh, the psalm points to the path of life. The psalm ends on a glorious “resurrection and ascension” note. Christ is shown the path of life, and He walks in it. In God’s presence is fulness of joy, and that is where Jesus Christ is today. At the right hand of God, which is where Jesus Christ is now seated, are pleasures forevermore (v. 11).
And this is the conclusion of the matter. A constant danger for us is to mistake medicine for food. We are sinners, and we do need to be cleansed, convicted, corrected, forgiven, and reminded. But why has God undertaken all this? What is He doing? What is He up to? Where is He bringing us? The answer is that He is bringing us into His presence, which cannot be done without throwing us into an everlasting torrent of pleasure. Although many Christians have made this mistake, the God we worship is not grim and dour.