Lecture 24 - Psalm 16

Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke

Lecture 24: Psalm 16

I. Introduction

This is the second part of the lecture on the Messianic Psalms. We will exegesis and exposit Psalm 16. For the historical background, we looked at Psalm 4 and with the hymns we looked at Psalm 100 and with lament, we looked at Psalm 22. We have already considered several Messianic Psalms because they are great psalms for the Christian faith and Christology. We looked at these psalms and other connections to these psalms. For the Lament Psalm, we saw the great messianic psalm of Christ on the Cross. He wasn’t protesting particularly, instead he was suffering on the Cross. In connection with the liturgies, we looked at a great coronation liturgy and ascension of Christ and the exaltation of Christ and his title as Son of God from Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. Another prophetic psalm is Psalm 16. It plays a crucial role in Peter’s first sermon in explaining the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also used by Paul in evangelizing the Jews at Antioch.

II. Translation

A miktam of David.

1 Keep me safe, El, because I take refuge in you.
2 I say to I AM, ‘You are the Lord; I have no good thing apart from you.’
3 As for the holy ones in the Land, they, –indeed the noble people–are those in whom is all my delight.
4 Their pains will increase who have acquired another god. I will not pour out to them libations of blood,
or take up their names on my lips.
5 I AM, my allotted portion and my cup, you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, the inheritance is beautiful to me.
7 I will bless I AM who counsels me; indeed at night my conscience instructs me;
8 I place I AM always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be toppled.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my liver rejoices; indeed my body rests secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you allow your devoted one to see corruption.
11 You will make known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

It is a miktam of David. We are not exactly sure what it means, something to with a writing of David.

III. History of its Interpretation

A. Peter

The apostles saw this psalm as prophesy of Christ’s resurrection. You see this in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. He quotes the psalm and he says to the Jews who want to understand what is happening as people were speaking in tongues around him. So in Acts 2:25-32:

David said about him [Jesus]:’ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ (There is controversy as to the meaning of the Hebrew word for decay. Some liberal linguists say that both Peter and Paul were actually wrong in their interpretation of this verse and even some conservatives believe this. We will look at this in the section of historical criticism and also the linguistics of this will be dealt with in-depth at the end of the lecture.)

So Peter acknowledges that David was talking about Jesus in the very first words. And Peter explains to the crowd: ‘Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this day. David 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 to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. So Peter sees this as prophetic, that he will not abandon Jesus to the grave and his body will not seek corruption; therefore this Messiah has to be raised within three days.

B. Paul

Paul also uses it in the same way: ‘we tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus up. ‘So it is also stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ ‘Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. ‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.’

C. Historical Criticism

Now is regards to historical criticism and in this particular case a key word stands out in verse 10, ‘corruption’ or ‘decay’. From the Septuagint, the Hebrew word is shaqat and the Septuagint interpreted shaqat to mean corruption. But under the influence of historical criticism, the definition of the Septuagint is rejected and instead shaqat is interpreted or translated to mean the pit. And so it is an expectation that at least this situation in which he finds himself – he is not going to see the pit but will triumph over death. According to S.R.Driver the Psalmist had a very personal relationship with God and that relationship will not be interfered with by death, but we will continue. The Psalm is Messianic, not in being a prediction of Christ’s resurrection, but in expressing an ideal, a hope of superiority to death, which transcends experience, and thus was fully realized by Christ. This idea by Driver simply is trying to undermine the New Testament. When I first encountered this idea, I saw one dictionary as having the meaning simply to be ‘pit’. However I had enough faith that I didn’t trust scholarship on this saying the Bible was wrong. I didn’t have answers to everything but I just could not accept such things. My own faith carried me through; if I have to have answers to everything then my only logical conclusion is to be agnostic, because one can’t believe until all their questions are answered. I still don’t have answers to all the questions, but I don’t demand that. Of course, we know now that dictionaries can be questioned, they are not precise. I depend more upon a concordance where you can examine different uses of words. But for Driver, he probably thought the word didn’t have any other meaning. But, this sort of thing takes away the power of the New Testament. This translation is used in some Bibles, for example, the New RSV; it translates the word as pit.

IV. Form & Rhetorical Criticism

The form of the psalm, broadly speaking is poetry, full of figures of speech. It could be classified as a petition psalm because it is addressed to God or El. He is asking God to keep him safe. Most petition psalms ask to be saved or to be delivered, but he isn’t asking this. He is asking to be safe in death. There is confidence in verse 2, ‘I say to I AM, you are the Lord; I have no good thing apart from you.’ And there is also praise in verse 7. He blesses the heart of God. But it isn’t only a petition psalm; it is often classified as a psalm of trust as confidence and praise dominates the psalm where you have three whole stanzas showing this confidence. Then there is the eschatological interpretation, that, it is a reference to Christ and also it is prophetic. So we can classify it as a petition psalm, as a psalm of trust and praise and also as a messianic psalm.

Rhetorical Criticism shows the logic of the Psalm amongst other things. The Outline is given here:

I. Introductory Petition for safety: 1

II. Confidence with Praise: 2 – 11

A. Confession of trust before death: 2-8

1. Confession of loyalty to Covenant Community: 2-4

a. Sole loyalty to I AM: 2

b. Sole loyalty to people of I AM: 3-4

1.) Delight in people of I AM: 3

2). Refusal to join apostates: 4

2. Cause for Trust and loyalty: 5-8

a. Inheritance from I AM: 5-6

1.) Inheritance of I AM: 5

2.) Inheritance of Possessions: 6

b. Instruction from I AM: 7-8

1.) Praise for I AM’s Instruction: 7

2.) I AM’s presence and Protection: 8

B. Commitment of Corpses to God: 9-11

1. Confidence of God’s presence in death: 9-10

a. Emotions joyful for body secure: 9

b. Body secure with reference to grave: 10

2. Confidence of presence with God after death and forevermore

First, there is the confession of trust before death in verses 2-8. This includes two stanzas: stanza 1: 2-4 and stanza 2: 5-8. There is the commitment of Corpses to God in verses 9-11. This represents Stanza 3. There is a confession of loyalty to the covenant community in verses 2-4 and then there is a cause of trust and loyalty in verses 5-8. His sole loyalty to I AM is shown in verse 2 and then his sole loyalty to the people of God is shown in verses 3-4. In verse 3, he delights in the people of God and in verse 4, he refuses to join apostates. You have a positive and then you have a negative. His cause for trust and loyalty is due to his inheritance from God in verse 5 and his inheritance of possessions in verse 6. God is his inheritance. He also has cause for trust and loyalty because of the instruction from God in verse 7-8. He praises God’s instruction and protection. He is confident of God’s presence in death and after death forevermore. His body is secure in reference to the grave in verse 10. So, he goes with joy into the grave, confident with his relationship with God. The message is the chosen king which is filled through his son, David; he petitions God to keep his corpse safe in and beyond the grave. He is confident that God will protect his body so as to enjoy him forever because God elected him king to have God himself as his inheritance, to instruct him and to be at his right hand. There was no postscript as with Psalm 22 and Psalm 110; perhaps because they are uniquely prophetic.

V. Exposition

A. Petition

The genre is Miktam which occurs six times in petition psalms that celebrate salvation of the righteous, but similar psalms do not have this genre identification which occurs with many of the psalms. It is by David and as we saw in Psalm 18, the Spirit speaks through David with the Word of God being in his mouth. His petition is that God will keep him safe; this is to exercise great care over someone or something. And it assumes that he is in grave danger and he is asking God to take care of him. I think the grave danger is death itself. He addresses God with the name of El which refers to God in all his transcendence. This is the quintessence of divine transcendence. He is all powerful and over all his creation. He is looking to the one who is the author of life itself and of the whole creation. He acknowledges that he takes refuge in God. This is a constant life of prayer which is the natural way in which faith manifests itself in life. Weiser says this.

B. Confession of Trust

This is before death and it is of loyalty to the community and it begins with the sole loyalty to God. It seems that he says this to the congregation. You are the Lord and I am totally dependent upon you. He goes on to say that I have no good thing apart from you. That is to say, you are my sole trust. I will not trust in anything else; I have no good apart from you. He recognizes that every good and perfect gift comes from the God above. He is not only loyal to God but he is loyal to the people of God. The saints are his sole pleasure and he refers to them as the holy ones. The holy ones are those that accept God’s forgiveness and depend upon the power of God and on his enablement that sets them apart for God. So, they are set apart for God by their faith and their lives. He adds ‘in the land’ as he identifies this as the Promise Land; so if he just had the holy ones, then he could mean the angels. By saying they are the holy ones in the land; he is excluding any ambiguity as to who he is referring to. So he is able to say that it is the people in the Promise Land. They are the noble ones who are respected for exultance and power. They live by true strength. This point comes from the Song of Hana from 1st Samuel 2 which speaks of God as true strength. So, they are dependent on the true strength of God, himself. And they are all my delight; that is, any delight apart from the sacred congregation would defile that relationship. If you delight in anyone outside of the saints, it may compromise your delight and even defile your delight in the Lord. This is very similar to those who may ascend to the House of the Lord. The 7th Commandment is, ‘they hold as despicable those who are vile, but they honor those who fear the Lord.’ And so we should love the people of God and we should delight in the people of God and weep when they go wrong in error. He refuses to worship with the apostates because they are on a trajectory to a painful death and their pains are ever increasing, for they are looking to another god, someone else to give them significance and security. He will not enter into their cultus, into their external forms of worship; he will not pour out their libations of blood. He is totally set apart to the Mosaic and Davidic covenant and cultus. He will not even take their names upon his lips to remain pure.

C. Cause of Trust

God is his sole passion and God bestows upon him all that he processes. Weiser says that if man turns his thoughts to the providential rule of God and envisages that providential rule with gratitude and joy, he is thus taught to discern in material benefits the visible proof of the benevolence of his God. So, if you see everything as coming from God which is according to his providence and you rejoice in that with gratitude and joy, then you will discern that all your good is from the Lord because God is over everything and you will celebrate God. He says, ‘my inheritance is from the Lord.’ In regards to the inheritance of possessions, these were marked off by boundary lines using stones to show where these lines were. Each tribe got their portion of land under the high priest and each family got its own portion in the land. Then he says, but I AM is my portion. He is like the Levite; in other words, my real portion is God, himself. As I mentions in regards to Psalm 73, if you have all the possessions of this world in one hand then you have God in the other hand, for me, I would take God because he actually has everything and he is good and so for him, God determines his destiny. He understands his totally loyalty to God and his inheritance is from I AM. Augustine says, ‘let others choose for themselves portions, earthly and temporal, to enjoy; the portion of saints in the Lord is eternal. Let others drink of deadly pleasures, the portion of my cup is the Lord.’ When he says, ‘you hold fast’, I believe he is saying that you decide my destiny. He not only inherits the Lord but everything else that the creator possesses and all his goodness. He acknowledges that he is the source of beneficial power. He councils him and instructs him on how to live and even at night, he is instructing him. I assume that at night, there is no distraction, being not on the stage of life and acting individually as we saw in Psalm 4. The kidneys are most likely associated with emotions and thus is probably referring to his conscience, the way he feels about what is right and wrong. So he keeps his eye on God and thus God protects him. God reveals himself through Scripture and through conscience. He is at his right hand, a place of safety and he says, ‘I will not be toppled.’

We are hit by the shadow of death but we are not hit by eternal death. In reference to verse 3, it is so easy to have delight in so many other things, and this affects our relationship with the Lord when all of our delights are not in him. We take delight in friends, we take delight in people that we choose to build relationships with. Verse 3 reads in terms of an absolute, in whom is all our delight. Is this really what we are supposed to do? Later on, he talks about materials possessions that come from God; so that therefore, he fines his total good in God, but God gives him good. But, here, I think he is talking about his loyalties and these are the saints and he repudiates this against the apostates. So, it is all his delight in contrast to any allegiance to those who are loyal to another god or religion. So he has no delight in false worship. Sometimes, Scripture seems absolute but once studied thoroughly we will see what it means; you see that there are conditions and references to other aspects. Ultimately, I think this is a reference to Jesus where all his delight is in the covenant community. We see that God so loved the world that he gave his son to die, but God doesn’t delight in the world; it is not his pleasure. I don’t think Jesus found any pleasure in the world, yet, he loved the sinner, the individuals but not their sins. So, he had no delight in sin.

Now we have the commitment of the corpse to God in verses 9-11. He is confident of God’s presence in death. His emotions are joyful because his body is now secure. He says therefore; this is because of his trust in God in life and his relationship with God, he is confident of God’s protection in death. He talks about his heart and his liver; the liver I think refers to his whole emotional state. And in the Ugaritic text, we are told about that the liver swells with laughter and the heart fills up with joy. So, the liver refers to his whole emotional state. In his confidence, he acknowledges that God is his inheritance and God holds his destiny. All the good he has is from God. So, in this life of trust and faith and relationship, now that I am facing death, I am still with you and he is full of joy. He is certain that God will not hand his body over to the grave to have the last word. Even his fleshly body confronting death is resting secure because God will not hand him over and leave him in Sheol, the realm of the dead. And he will not allow his devoted one to see corruption.

D. The Septuagint and the Word shaqat

So here we come to the crucial word shaqat and this translation problem. In thinking through this, I had to decide whether or not we were dealing with a homonym. The word shaqat may be derived from the root shuah, which means to descend. And then if you add a ‘t’ and make it into a feminine noun, it would mean the pit or place of descent. So, it is derived from shu’at then the ‘t’ on the end of the word makes it a feminine suffix. We call it feminine because when you deal with animates, it would relinquish the feminine gender in distinction to the masculine gender. But the Hebrews uses that form, not only for animates but for abstractions, for inanimate such as the word, pit, for example. So, this form, this ending we call with animates, feminine; that form is used with inanimate and abstraction, yet we still call it the feminine gender. No one questions that there is a root, shaqat, the feminine form from shuah meaning sink down. Everybody agrees that this is a possibility. The question, is there a root shaqat, in which case, the ‘t’ is part of the root itself. It is a trilateral root. In that case, it is masculine. Now how can you demonstrate that a masculine noun occurs? I think you can do this through poetry. In poetry, since all nouns in Hebrew are either in the masculine inflection or in the feminine inflection; when you personify an abstraction and you make it in a person like woman wisdom as in Proverbs, then you must personify it according to the gender of the noun. So therefore, if it is a feminine form, even though it is something like an abstraction like wisdom. And then you personify it, it become woman wisdom. You cannot take a feminine noun and personify it as a masculine noun in Hebrew poetry or any poetry. So, if it derives from shaqat which means decay, the noun is masculine and thus it means corruption. So we see that it depends on the verb. Now, if it is a masculine noun, you must personify it in a masculine and this is exactly what happens in Job 17:14. ‘if I say to shaqat, you are my father, and to the worm (remod – feminine), my mother, or my sister.’ Here, he is clearly using shaqat as a masculine because he personifies it as ‘my father’ and the feminine noun that is my mother and my sister. So, I have now established that there is a masculine noun that BDB did not give me or acknowledge it as a possibility. The question now is which homonym is in view and here I have to look to the verbs that go with it. I discover with the verb used with pit is almost always a verb of motion, to go down, to descend. So you have to descend, to enter and thus it denotes a place, not a state. But if it refers to the masculine and in this situation we use a verb such as see, which is to experience. So, he doesn’t use a verb of motion here; you will not allow me to experience; you will not allow me to see corruption. So therefore, there are several places in the Old Testament where shaqat occurs and the Septuagint interprets it as corruption; the Septuagint got it right as did the KJV, ASV, NIV and the ESV got it right whereas BDB, HALOT and NRSV got it wrong.

Therefore, it is true prophesy that Christ would be raised by the 3rd day because he wouldn’t experience corruption. He is confident of God and his presence after death. His reward is his continuation, yet it is unrelated to the investment. God’s reward consummates the investment. So the joy of fellowship with God in this world will be rewarded with the reward of overflowing joy when we see him face to face. So, this is a continuation with doing something and being rewarded with its outcome. Life not only means quantity in terms of eternal life but it also means quality of life of participating in true life and the true life is God himself. It is an abundant life with God and quantitatively it is eternal. This is life indeed and our hope.

Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith