A Song Of Hope For Body And Soul: A Series On Psalm 16 (Part 1)

In one of the most famous scenes in the Gospel according to Luke, after the Lord Jesus Christ defeated death he appeared to some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The despondent followers of the crucified Messiah were walking along the road, talking about the things that had happened, when the risen Christ appeared to them and asked what they were talking about.

At the time, his disciples did not realize it was him, for their eyes were kept from recognizing him. His disciples replied sadly, explaining how the one whom they had hoped would redeem Israel had been condemned and crucified, and that his tomb was now empty.

How did Christ respond to their sadness?

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27)

Later, when he appeared to the disciples again, he said to them,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44)

According to the Lord Jesus, the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament are full of promises, prophecies, types, and shadows which point to himself. It is this framework that Christians must use as a grid for interpreting the Old Testament. From the Law of Moses, to the Prophets, to the Psalms, the Old Testament is about Jesus—his suffering and his glory. Psalm 16 is no exception.

With respect to genre, Psalm 16 is often referred to as a psalm of confidence. Why does the psalmist express confidence? As we meditate on this psalm, we will see that King David’s confidence comes from the fact that he trusts in a God whom he knows will never abandon him. After we have walked through it, we will see that it is also messianic in nature.1 The messianic fulfillment of this psalm will become apparent as the ultimate root of David’s assurance.

David Seeks Refuge in God (vv. 1–4)

The superscription indicates that Psalm 16 is a “miktam of David.” Likely a liturgical term, miktam indicates this psalm was sung by Israel in worship—a good reminder for Christians that God has given his people a divinely-inspired hymnal, the Psalter. Beyond the fact that Psalm 16 was a song used by ancient Israel in worship and is still intended for such use by the New Covenant Church today, not much of its particular historical context is known. The psalm begins with a prayer of King David who seeks refuge in God.

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. (v. 1)

From what or whom does King David need preservation? We know that as a battle-hardened warrior-king, David was involved in numerous wars. Did a war form the backdrop of this psalm? We also know he had many political adversaries—was one of them seeking his life when he penned this prayer? We know too that David committed several heinous sins. Was David seeking preservation from his own shortcomings? What was it that the king sought refuge in God for? Why did he need preservation?

Again, little is known of this psalm’s historical context. Psalms that come to us without a specific context might frustrate some; but for the church, they can be particularly helpful, especially when they contain general themes like seeking refuge and trusting in the Lord. Such psalms are profitable because they come to us in our own context. They meet us where we are in life. We are Christian pilgrims, and pilgrims must seek refuge and safety in God. And those who seek such things in him will find what they seek.

God has promised that those who belong to him can never be snatched out of his hands. He is the one who keeps us from stumbling and who will present us before the presence of his glory. This gives the one who seeks refuge in him great confidence. This does not mean, however, that life for a Christian pilgrim is easy; nor does it mean we will not suffer or have temptations to sin—we will indeed. But our refuge is the same as King David’s: God himself, whom we have no good apart from.

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (v. 2)

This is David’s confession of faith. A confession of faith can be as eloquent, technical, and theologically orthodox as the Westminster Confession of Faith, or it can be as simple and beautiful as verse 2. Christians ought to confess this, believe it, and live it: “Lord, I have no good apart from you.”

The one who seeks refuge in God rather than in the fleeting material things of this world is the one who has confidence in the Lord. Rather than seeking short-term happiness in earthly treasures (money, possessions, addictions, lust, unhealthy relationships, and kingdoms of this world), we must seek the Lord, in whom we have our true and lasting good. This was the confession of the king of Israel, and it should be ours as well.

Having prayed concerning the vertical relationship between him and his Divine Lord, the king then moves to his horizontal relationships—David turns from himself and his God of refuge to the holy ones of Israel.

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. (v. 3)

He calls those who dwell in the land, “the saints,” or “the holy ones.” He is, of course, referring to the covenant community—God’s people, which, according to the apostle Paul, now includes the New Covenant people of God:,

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . . So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. (Eph 2:13, 19–20)

In his death on the cross, the Lord Jesus suffered to break down the wall of hostility between God and man, and between Jew and gentile. Christians are now the people of God in Christ—the saints—and have been made holy by his perfect life and by his blood.

David then contrasts the saints with those who chase after false gods. He does this not only to make a contrast, but also to serve as a warning to God’s holy people.

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. (v. 4)

Essentially, for the Christian reader, the prophet David is saying: “Since you have been sanctified, made holy by the blood of Christ, you are not to intermingle with the idolatrous practices of the pagan nations that surround you. You are not to take the name of false gods on your lips. We do not offer sacrifices to other gods.” For the saints of old, this was clear. Both in worship and in life, they understood they were not to swerve to the right or to the left, to Baal or to Molech, but to give all allegiance to the One True God: the LORD.

Consider the ancient creed of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4–5). For Christians, the call is the same, as the Lord Jesus commanded Christians to do likewise. The Christian is called to turn from the idols of the day, the idols of our hearts and minds, and to worship and love God, and God alone. When we find ourselves chasing after idols, we are called to turn from that sin and turn to God, for he is our refuge and our inheritance. That takes us to the next section in Psalm 16, which we will explore in part 2 of this series.


  1. Richard P. Belcher, The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ From All the Psalms (Ross-shire, SCT: Mentor Imprint, 2006), 162.

©Scott McDermand II. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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