Psalm 16A miktam of David.
“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You 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.”
So we are told that this is a miktam, but nobody knows what a miktam is. Maybe it comes from a root meaning to ‘cover,’ and so to cover your lips. Thus this could be an indication that this psalm was a silent prayer. Whatever, it is certainly a prayer of confidence in God. David ranges over many of the marks of a real Christian. So this psalm is an education reminding us of how a Christian behaves, and it is also a summons – ‘Come Back to Basics.’ It also tests us as to whether we are true believers. Do we think and act like David here?
- A CHRISTIAN IS ONE WHO TAKES REFUGE IN GOD. (v.1)
“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” You are going on a journey – Keep me safe O God. You are going away to university – Keep me safe O God. You are going for an interview – Keep me safe O God. You are going to have an operation – Keep me safe O God. You are going to the dentist – Keep me safe O God. It is the first day for the children in a new school – Keep them safe O God. You are walking home late one night and a man is walking behind you – Keep me safe O God. The instinctive cry we make to the God we know. It is there deep in the hearts of all men made in the image and likeness of God, even the agnostic. Conor Cruise O’Brian, the great Irish newspaper editor, politician and author who had long given up any faith in God, had said good-bye to his wife in hospital the night before she was going to have a big operation. He was walking to his car across the hospital car park thinking of her and he found himself praying for her. He was an atheist, and yet at this key time of crisis in the family, just for a moment, the façade dropped. He did not believe that everything in this ordered world was simply a matter of chance and luck in a mechanistic universe, “Keep her safe tomorrow O God . . . what am I doing praying?” I will tell you there is a sense of God in your life as in everyone’s heart, a God-shaped vacuum. Who do you turn to? Well, you turn to your refuge and you pray to him, “Keep me and my family safe.” I want to educate that longing for God. I want to tell you about him.
God loved this world though man had rebelled defying him, but God determined to save man by sending his Son as the last Adam to live a true and perfect righteous life, and then to make atonement for our sin. This Saviour says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” What is he saying? He is a refuge. There is conflict and trouble, fightings without and fears within, and so we go to him and he gives us rest from our guilt and shame. A Christian is someone who has taken refuge in the Lord. She does that for the first great definitive time when she becomes a Christian, and then throughout her life she goes every day to God. “Keep me safe O God today!” So who do we have we here? A personal God who cares about us, who keeps us safe, a God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2. A CHRISTIAN IS SURE HE’S GOT NOTHING GOOD IF HE LACKS GOD
“I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing’” (v.2). Of course he doesn’t mean he doesn’t have family and friends, health and employment, a full refrigerator and shelves of food, a warm house and nice clothes. He has all those good things, but when he refers to what is ‘good’ in this psalm he is setting divine standards, he is thinking of something that is wholly and absolutely good; he is thinking of what is done entirely to the glory of God, he is thinking of something that is done wit
h all your heart and soul and mind and strength; he is thinking of something that is done out of obedience to the Scriptures. By those criteria God, he says, is the only thing that is absolutely good, perfectly and completely good, good through and through and through. “Apart from you I have no good thing.” As Jesus said, “There is none good but God.” Everything else is relatively good.
Many people who read my sermons on the website have never met me, and they have an unreal picture of me, that I am far more spiritual and saintly than in fact I am. Then they meet me; we spend some time together and they are disappointed. One person wrote to me and told me that. It was a great discovery for her and probably did her much good. She was comparing me with her own minister whom she saw and heard each week and she had been thinking that he was pretty ordinary, but after she had spent some time with me she found her new idol had feet of clay, just like all the rest. We all have feet of clay. Apart from the Lord we have no good thing.
But aren’t we blessed that in a world where inconsistency and weakness characterizes every single one of us, where we have been let down by those we know best, here is one who is good in himself, good in what he does, good in his relationships with men and angels, good in keeping his word, good in completing everything he begins, good in providing us with all we need, good in this world and good in the world to come. This good God is the Lord of every one of his people. Without him there are no absolutes; everyone is flawed except him. David tells us that he is on to a good thing since he repented of his sin and submitted to God as his Lord. How wonderfully personal it all is “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”
- A CHRISTIAN DELIGHTS IN OTHER BELIEVERS.
David says, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (v.3). David is not talking about the great heroes of the faith like Noah and Abraham and Joseph and Moses. He is thinking here of the saints who are in the land. His father and mother, the leaders of the group of believers in Bethlehem – the saints who are in the land. People who struggled to survive, who send their boys off to fight against the Philistines, the leaders of the faith in the community, the godly old people, the holy mothers, the kind men who give hospitality and who supported the widows and orphans – the saint who are in the land. We know them; we have them; we love them.
There was that great incident in David’s life which shows his delight in the saints. The Philistines were dominant and David was no longer in his home town of Bethlehem because it was under Philistine control. David was in hiding in the Cave of Adullam along with his chief men. It was “during harvest time, three of the thirty chief men came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. David longed for water and said, ‘Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ So the three mighty men broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD. ‘Far be it from me, O LORD, to do this!’ he said. ‘Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?’ And David would not drink it. Such were the exploits of the three mighty men” (2 Sam. 23:13-17). These were some of the saints who were in the land, brave and loyal men. What did David think of them? They are “glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (v.3). David did not have the mountains of stuff that clutter our lives, but he did have many believing friends. They loved him and generously showed their affection to him. He didn’t take that love for granted; he treasured it highly. That was his delight. I think of Professor John Murray finishing his many years living and lecturing in American and ending his days back in the highlands of Scotland loving to talk with the men and women he had known for years, treasuring their fellowship. He could say of them, “the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.”
You find that in the New Testament. You see how in every letter except the epistle to the Galatians, Paul begins his letters with a word of thanksgiving. Whenever he thinks of those Christians he thanks God for them and he is thinking of them all the time. He remembers without ceasing their work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope in Jesus Christ. From them the word of God sounded out so that not only the people in the town but everywhere in the surrounding district their faith in Jesus Christ was known. He rehearses in his letters to them the graces God has given to them. He thanks God for every remembrance of them. When he writes to the congregation meeting in Rome he knows many of them by name and he ends his letter with a chapter of personal greetings. He loved Timothy in particular and Timothy loved him. Paul comments on their parting and Timothy’s tears on that occasion. We Christians are exhorted to love one another with pure hearts fervently. Jesus tells us that we are to love one another as he has loved us, and that this is the way men will know that we really are his disciples when we say what Davis says here about fellow believers, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (v.3). We love the people of God throughout our land. Our glorious hope is being with them for ever in a better land. That is another mark of a true Christian.
4. A CHRISTIAN GRIEVES FOR THOSE WHO WORSHIP ANY OTHER GOD.
See what David says here, “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips” (v.4). There were plenty of gods and their temples in the nations surrounding Israel. Not a small town had less than three idols, and what monsters some of them were. There was Moloch and what he demanded more than anything else was human sacrifice, slaves, virgins or a king’s own son. On the wall surrounding his besieged city, in the sight of the armies attacking him, a king might sacrifice his child in order to gain a victory. On top of the sorrow of a long siege, and certain defeat came this grief, the killing of his son, all to no avail. What a wretched god! The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.
Paul took the gospel to Greece, and when he arrived in sophisticated Athens we are told, “he was greatly distressed to see the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). It was a university town with theatres and beautiful buildings; there were poets and philosophers there, but the most characteristic feature of Athens was its hundreds of temples. Altars lined each street. People ran from one to another. If one god did not give them what they wanted they went to another temple and paid the priestesses there what they asked, and so on, never finding peace, rather their sorrows increased.
We must read Isaiah’s famous and glorious chapter 44 in which he describes the folly and sorrow of those who make and worship idols: “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those w
ho would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy. The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.’ They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so that they cannot see, and their minds closed so that they cannot understand. No-one stops to think, no-one has the knowledge or understanding to say, .Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (Isa. 44:9-20). Why do we become missionaries and support them in their evangelism? Compassion for those who worship idols of wood and gold, knowing that their sorrows increase. Does an idol tell you he loves you? Do you want to live with an idol for ever?
Then David thinks of how he went to the tabernacle, and there outside it was the great altar, and how he brought his sacrifice and he called on the name of Jehovah, confessed his sins to him, put his hand on the head of the sacrifice and found mercy. The Lord alone was the name David could plead. If worshippers of Moloch or Dagon or Baal turned up and tried to call on the name of their gods there, and brought sacrifices to them at the tabernacle of Jehovah then they would be driven away in derision. “I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips” (v.4). David did not practice inter-faith worship. There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. How do we respond to those who run after other gods? We evangelize them and tell of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” To reject that way is to choose the way of sorrow through life.
- A CHRISTIAN IS A CONTENTED MAN.
“LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (vv. 5&6). Jesse the father of David had many sons, but when Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint the one whom God had chosen to be king he rejected all of them until David was summoned from guarding the sheep. He was the one; God assigned to David kingship, and success, and wealth, and fame, and children, and victory in battle, and long life. It all came from God. Every good and perfect thing that David had was a personal gift from the Lord. David uses the picture here of a ‘portion’. Imagine you are sitting around a table and the father is carving the lamb and he assigns the portion to all the family. The honoured guest gets the largest and most tender portion. Then the father pours out the wine and there is a special goblet of gold and he assigns that beautiful cup to the honoured guest. Here David thinks of all that God has given to him and he feels just like that honoured guest, blessed with the best of everything. God is the one who has given him all he possesses. “You, Lord, are the one who has assigned me my portion and my cup; I did not fight for it or bribe people to get it. You gave me all this freely.”
Then David changes the metaphor; “you have made my lot secure” (v.5). He is thinking of his whole providence, of all that God has given to him. A man will talk in a sad tone of voice of what has happened to him . . . ‘I suppose this is my lot in life.’ He is thinking of handicap, or death, or suffering, or poverty. “That’s my lot,” he says plaintively. David looks at his lot and he says that God has given it to him and it is secure. It is safe from the armies of the Egyptians or the Assyrians. The land is prospering and safe from the attack of their enemies. God has not only assigned David his portion and his cup but has also given him security. What is the old phrase? Jesus saves and keeps and satisfies.
This satisfaction is what David comes to next: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (v.6). We are reminded of the dividing of the land of Israel among the tribes, each tribe receiving its inheritance. Then each clan and family had its inheritance too with careful boundary lines between each man’s land. Naboth’s ancestors had been given a hillside on which they had planted a fertile vineyard. It had been lovingly nourished for generations. So when king Ahab wanted it Naboth refused. It was not his to sell. It was his delightful inheritance which he had received from his fathers and he would pass on to his sons after him. Ahab sulked on his bed that his offer had been turned down and then Jezebel acted and paid men to accuse Naboth of blasphemy getting him found guilty and stoned to death so that that pleasant place could become the king’s. He sought to tear another man’s lot out of his hands. He was not contented with his own lot.
David thinks of all he has received from God as king of the whole land; Lebanon with its cedars, the fertile valley of the river Jordan with its fields, the sheep grazing on the Golan Heights, the cattle on the thousand hills, the olive groves and the vineyards – “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (v.6). But all of that is only a picture of the eternal and glorious blessings which were to come. David’s greatest inheritance was God himself. God had not only given him gifts God had given him the Giver of those gifts. He loved me and gave himself for me. What an inheritance it is, and freely with the blessed One God gave us all.
The Christian is a thankful man. He is a contented man. God has placed the cup in his hand. Some days it is a bitter cup and that is as small as a thimbleful, and then he gives us flagons full of blessings to drink, day by day. God does that because Christ drank the bitter cup for us that we might enjoy the cup of fellowship and thankfulness with him. He drank damnation to the dregs that we might drink the cup of pleasant places and a delightful inheritance. He has purchased all of that for us by his life and death.
- A CHRISTIAN IS COUNSELLED AND INSTRUCTED BY THE LORD.
“I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me” (v.7). Here is a God who is interested in David’s life, who teaches him how he should live. David tells us that his heart is moved to think along certain lines even while he lies awake in the bed at night, and so God instructs David about the future. “I just praise God for all of this,” David says.
When the prophet Isaiah was told that the Messiah would be coming then he declared that his name would be called “Wonderful Counsellor.” In other words, one who counsels us so perfectly, with such understanding, that we are filled with amazement and awe; we wonder at what he says to us. Some of the things he tells us to do are fearful and we wonder at that. The timing of other words of advice makes us wonder. We go to church and we hear a word which is directly focused on a matter we’re having to deal with and we wonder at God dealing with us like that. We think of how when we were young Christians, fifty years ago, God led and directed us then, and we wonder that still today, patiently and lovingly, the same loving Father counsels us.
Think of the millions of Christians in the world today and each one is loved and helped by this Lord. He is telling them, “Be this sort of person; respond in this way to those pressures; this is the kind of husband or wife you should be; this is how you can conquer that sin that so easily besets you; this addiction of yours I can help you with this too.” He is extraordinary in his advice and the strength he gives by his indwelling Spirit to help us. There are some Christians who start to feel they are women trapped in men’s bodies and they get obsessed with that. The Lord can help them; he saves them from mutilated bodies which yet, they discover, have the same tensions and unhappiness as before they went under the scalpel. The Lord helps us come to terms with singleness, and also with infertility, and with incurable illnesses, and with bereavement. He can help us with depression and guilt about the past. He is simply a wonderful counsellor.
How do you manage when you get older and you find the sleep that you used to enjoy as a younger person is no longer guaranteed? A Christian is someone who communes with God on his bed. “Here am I O Lord once again with the same old prayer to you that I cannot sleep. Save me from going down the path of vain regrets. Deliver me from thinking of the people who hurt me or the people whom I hurt in the past. I confess all my sin to you so please help me to see them all as forgiven sins. You have buried them in the depths of the sea . . .” And so at night your heart instructs you. Wouldn’t you want to become a true Christian and have help from God night and day?
- A CHRISTIAN KNOWS THAT THE LORD IS ALWAYS WITH HIM.
“I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices” (vv. 8&9). Now you understand that we don’t actually set the Lord right before us day by day, as if he were a movable statue. We don’t command the Almighty, “Come and stand on my right.” We don’t give orders to God. We are pipsqueaks and he is infinite and omnipotent, but we know his promises, for example, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;” (Isa. 43:2&3). So we plead that promise; “Lord you have said that you will never ever leave me, and so you are here with me now. I want you to be right in the middle of this scenario. I don’t want you on the fringes, I want you always before me when I face any danger, when I meet any difficulty, when I make any decision, when I am with a member of the opposite sex then I want to be aware that you are always before me. Then when I meet rejection and opposition and fearful calamities ‘I shall not be shaken’ because I am not facing them alone. You are at my right hand.” That is the blessed privilege of the Christian to know that the Lord Jesus is always with him even to the end of the world. So our hearts are glad and our tongues rejoice. My mother often went as part of a young people’s group from her church in Merthyr to sing to the elderly in the workhouse. The bedridden women there sang loudly with strong Welsh accents and this chorus was a favourite,
When in affliction’s valley I tread the road of care,
My Savior helps me carry the cross so heavy to bear;
Though all around me is darkness, earthly joys all flown;
My Savior whispers His promise, never to leave me alone!
No, never alone, no never alone,
He promised never to leave me,
He’ll claim me for His own;
No, never alone, no never alone.
He promised never to leave me,
Never to leave me alone.
“Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices.”
- A CHRISTIAN DIES IN HOPE.
“My body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” (vv.9&10). David knows that one day he is going to die, he will breathe his last and his heart will stop beating, but he is not afraid. He knows that his body will begin to decompose and be eaten by worms, but he is not afraid. He know that then he will not be a sight than anyone will want to look on or be near, and he will be dead and buried, but he is not afraid of that time because his dust will be precious to the Lord. So his body will be more secure than the Crown Jewels or Fort Knox. God will have welcomed his spirit into heaven and made him perfect in holiness, but his earthly remains will be just as secure as they rest in the grave. God will hold onto our dust and onto our spirits with the same love.
The Lord will not abandon me to the grave, like we abandon a dead animal. My grandchildren have rabbits and recently an urban fox killed one. Their father buried it, but the next night the fox returned, sniffed out where it was and dug it up again. It was abandoned and then violated, but God does not abandon us in the grave. He is Lord of the living and the dead. He says, “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living.” Whether alive or dead we are the Lord’s. We know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Paul had a desire to depart and to be with the Lord which was better.
Peter takes this very psalm and he preaches it to the thousands gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. He tells the people that David was not speaking of himself alone here. “the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 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. 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. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:29-32). Remember Paul telling the Corinthians, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, the resurrection of the dead also comes through m
an” (I Cor. 15:20&21). Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. What hope the Christian has in death.
- THE CHRISTIAN KNOWS THE PATH OF LIFE.
There is a path, and how can you describe it, a path that leads through life, a path that leads to life, a path that is characterized by life in all its fulness? All those things are true. David says, “You have made known to me the path of life” (v.11). “I have only known it because you made it known to me. I wouldn’t have known it without your revelation.” There is such a path of life. It is as real as the path that takes you from this church to your front door. Are you walking on it? Listen: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Do you have that gift of life? Listen: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and know the life of God in your souls. He that has the Son has life, and that has not the Son has not that life. So before you can take your first step on the path of life you must know the life of God in your hearts. Then God will set before you the path that is characterized by life. He will make it known to you; “Do these things day by day and you shall live,” says God. Christ came that we might walk the path of abundant life.
- THE CHRISTIAN IS FILLED WITH JOY, NOW AND ETERNALLY
“You will fill me with joy in your presence” (v.11). You remember that great statement describing the disciples at the very end of Acts 13; “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). There was great persecution but these Christians were sustained by the joy of heaven. It was not a once off experience to be looked back to all through the following years with nostalgia. They lived on a plane of delight; they had the joy of knowing their sins were all forgiven. They had the joy of knowing the truth. They had the joy of knowing the living God. They had the joy of knowing that death was not annihilation but the door into the presence of God. Was it any wonder when the man from Ethiopia heard the gospel from Philip and believed it for himself that he went on his way back to Africa rejoicing? He had the presence of the Lord with him. “You will fill me with joy in your presence.”
And what of life after death? “Eternal pleasures at your right hand” (v.11). What other psalm ends on such a note of expectation? How fearful is the grave to all who are strangers to Jesus Christ, but to the one who has entrusted himself into God’s safe keeping then to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. At the Lord’s right hand are pleasures for evermore. What is heaven? A world of joy, not a world where men sit on clouds dressed in white playing the harp. No, it is a place where God is, and we are near him, at his right hand. Eternal pleasures await the Christian, and so Paul says he could not wait to get there. He knew that there was much to do here, but to be with Jesus Christ our Lord, serving him in a new heavens and new earth without all the restraints and tensions and failures that sin puts upon us here, frustrating us – what a blessed future lies before us. We will all be together with the Lord knowing an eternity of joyful service. That is the final mark of the Christian in this psalm.
21st February 2010. GEOFF THOMAS