The Messianic Psalms
Dr. John Boyd is a Specialist in Medicine. He practises in Belfast, Ireland. In spite of his many duties, he makes time for precise biblical studies. We always appreciate articles from him. His present contribution on the Messianic Psalms is excellent. This is the third in the series.
Messiah — God’s Holy One
The title of the Psalm reads, “Michtam of David.” David is the writer. Michtam comes from a word meaning to engrave, and occurs only here and in Psalms 56-60, in three of which (57 58, 59,) it is associated with a word, “Al-taschith,” meaning not to be destroyed. Thus in these Michtam Psalms is something permanently engraved because of its importance, and hence not to be forgotten. The truth engraven in Psalm 16 is that of the resurrection of the Messiah. This was Peter’s impression of David’s message (Acts 2:31).
As with so many of the Messianic Psalms the historic setting of this one is difficult to ascertain. But at the mouth of two witnesses it is established as referring to Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Anointed, the Messiah.
Peter on the day of Pentecost reasoned from the Psalm that Jesus had been approved of God, for Jesus had done mighty works and wonders and signs as One who had God at His right hand (Acts 2:22). Though it was God’s determinate counsel that Jesus should be crucified and slain, yet God saw to it that His soul would not be left in Hades. Peter testified to the fulfilment of the Psalmist’s confident hope, for he was a witness of the resurrection of Christ. Besides, the prophecy could not have been true of David who had written it, for he had died and was still in his tomb. Thus Peter interpreted the Psalm as David’s prophecy of the Messiah (Acts 2:31, R.V.), that mighty descendant of his who would one day occupy his throne. Peter was possibly also thinking of this Psalm as he penned his first epistle. There he wrote of the prophets who prophesied of the sufferings and the glories of the Messiah, and afterwards examined what they had written to ascertain their meaning, and the time of their fulfilment (1 Pet. 1:10-11). This was possibly David’s experience with Psalm 16.
A second witness to the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 16 is found in Paul, who quotes it as a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus, whom he had seen as he journeyed to Damascus (Acts 13:34-37). Ever afterwards he confidently witnessed to the fact of the resurrection. Like Peter, Paul reasoned that David had seen corruption. Jesus alone saw no corruption. He was God’s Holy One.
After the introduction (v. 1) the psalm is divided into three stanzas, (1) Verses 2-4, Messiah’s Confidence — in Jehovah, (2) Verses 5-7, Messiah’s Portion — in Jehovah, (3) Verses 8-11, Messiah’s Hope — in Jehovah. The whole Psalm overflows with the delight that Messiah finds in God. Let us consider it in detail.
Introduction (V. 1) Messiah’s Prayer
The Psalm opens with a prayer for preservation based on a confident trust in the mighty God. We are here brought face to face with the real manhood of the Messiah, “Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him out of death, and having been heard for His godly fear (Heb. 5:7, R.V. marg.). His praying with strong crying and tears was an evidence of His godly fear. ‘Fear’ here means literally taking good hold of someone—praying fervently. So the Lord laid good hold on God in prayer to be saved ‘out of’ death, not ‘from’ death, which would have implied being spared the experience of death. But the Lord passed through death, and was heard in that He was saved out of it, as Verse 10 of our Psalm infers. Thus Jesus manifested His trust in God, which trust is displayed in the rest of the Psalm.
Messiah’s Confidence — in Jehovah (Vs. 2-4)
In His perfect manhood Messiah acknowledges His allegiance to Jehovah, His Adonai, His sovereign Ruler, without who he would do nothing, for He sought not His own will, but the will of His Father (John 5:30). He confesses, too, that all His blessing, His goodness, comes from Jehovah. Note the Revised Version rendering, “I have no good beyond Thee.” He had no higher blessing than what Jehovah afforded.
Messiah’s regard for men is like that of Jehovah. God delights in those whom He has chosen as His elect people (Deut. 7:6). They are the saints of the earth, rather of the land of Israel. They are the excellent, the nobility of the land. The Lord Jesus Christ found pleasure in His elect (1 Pet. 2:9). The Church is an holy nation, a people to show forth the excellencies of Christ. He so delighted in the Church that He gave Himself for it. On the other hand Messiah abhorred those who exchanged (R.V.) the worship of Jehovah for other gods (Ex. 20:5, Ps. 146:8-9). These defaulters have multiplied their sorrows by their actions. Messiah will neither offer the drink offerings of blood that they offer, nor will He take the name of their gods upon His lips. This was in effect the Lord’s answer to Satan in His day of temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:10). So definite was His confidence in Jehovah that He would have nothing to do with false gods, those set up in opposition to the true God. Nor would He have fellowship with those who seek such gods. Even in the moments of His deepest agony on Calvary He still clung to His God, as we are reminded in His prayer, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?”
Messiah’s Portion — in Jehovah (Vs. 5-7)
Messiah has no incentive to run after other gods. All His inheritance and consolations are to be found in Jehovah alone. The Psalmist seems to refer to the Lord’s words about Levi in Numbers 18:20, “I am thy portion and thine inheritance” (R.V.). Unlike the rest of the tribes of Israel, who had a tract of land assigned to them, Levi had no such inheritance, but the Lord was their portion. This meant that instead of having a piece of land apportioned to them from which to seek a living, the tribe of Levi had its provision in God. So it is with Messiah. Whilst others seek their portions in the world, in its power and in its glory, Messiah sees in Jehovah the inheritance assigned to Him as promised in Psalm 2:8, the redeemed nations, with the whole earth as His dominion. All the earth is God’s (Ex. 19:5), and He who possesses God, possesses all things. The inheritance allotted to Him is secured by God. The lines that divide it off set forth as pleasant, delightful. It is a goodly heritage, resplendent and fair.
Moreover Jehovah is the portion of Messiah’s cup — a metaphor setting forth the blessings which satisfy His soul. This is seen in the wise counsel and guidance of Jehovah, vouchsafed to Messiah in the paths of life for which He praises God. Even in the lonely watches of the night His reins, His inmost being, counselled by God instruct His mind. God’s law was within His heart. “The Father,” said Jesus, “which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49). This counsel often came when Jesus spent the night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12)
Messiah’s Hope — in Jehovah (Vs. 8-11)
Jehovah is the constant object of Messiah’s contemplation. He purposely seeks Jehovah, and recognizes that He is ever near, at His right hand — the place of support (Ps. 73:23). This was the great basis of His hope. With God at His right hand He is firmly established. He will not be disquieted. Instead, His heart is glad. His glory also rejoices. The Septuagint renders this word ‘glory’ by ‘tongue,’ whence it is cited by Peter (Acts 2:26). Thus, glory is the outward expression of joy. What He feels in the inner man He expresses with His tongue. This was the joy that characterized the Lord Jesus as He went forth to calvary (John 15:11, 17-13). He rejoiced because of His hope in Jehovah.
This hope is then referred to His death, for through death He sees resurrection. In death His flesh, His body, would rest in hope, rest confidently (R.V. marg.), that is, confident in its resurrection. His soul would not be forsaken, abandoned, permanently left in hell. The Hebrew word here translated ‘hell’ is Sheol, the place of the dead, the place that insatiably demands the souls of men (Prov. 30:15-16), the Hades of the New Testament. God’s Holy One, His beloved One, would not be suffered to see corruption, literally, the pit (R.V. marg.), the place where decay occurs.
Not only were His gladness and joy (v. 9) experienced because of the negative aspect of not being held by death, but Messiah sees through death and resurrection to the positive side, to the glorification in His ascension and exaltation to the Father’s right hand. Death was for Him but Jehovah’s path of life — life which was characterized by fulness of joy because lived in Jehovah’s presence, and by continual pleasures found in (R.V.) Jehovah’s right hand and bestowed by Him. This was the joy set before Christ, and because of which He endured the Cross, not allowing its shame to turn Him from His goal. What the joys and pleasures are the puny human mind can never comprehend. For Christ it will mean forever to bask in the sunshine of the Father’s countenance beaming upon Him, because fully satisfied with the work His Son has so perfectly accomplished.
The great lesson of the Psalm is this close relationship between Messiah and Jehovah. All His trust was in God; all His confidence was in God; all His portion was in God; all His hope was firmly placed in God. Thus Jesus went to Calvary. When He was reviled He reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not, but kept on committing Himself to God who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23). His final act of commital on the Cross was, as the word there translated “commit” implies, a handing over of His spirit to God with a view to taking it again in resurrection on the third day — the pathway to life, to reveal in the glory of God’s presence for ever.
“He once was dead; the very same
Who sits on yonder throne above;
Who bears in Heaven the greatest name,
Whom angels serve, whom angels love.
“He once was dead; but now He lives,
His glory fills all Heaven above;
Its blessedness to Heaven He gives,
The fountain He of joy and love.”