Psalm 16: You are my Portion

Psalm 16 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

miktam of David.

This psalm expresses aim of the Christian life: to worship God as the all-satisfying Lord. In the 17th century it was expressed in the Westminster Catechism in this way: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him forever.”

More recently, John Piper has famously stated that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him” is the message at the heart of the Bible.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have sought above all to be those who know, love and worship God. How can we make certain that we are moving toward this goal rather than away from it? Here are a few principles that I gleaned from the psalm.

1. Recognise the Giver in the gifts

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.’
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    ‘They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.’
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

What does “apart from you I have no good thing” actually mean? I have family, friends, a warm bed. How can I say that I have nothing good outside of God? I think v4 helps us to answer these questions.

In v4 David declares that he will never offer sacrifices to false gods. This is because he recognises that God provides him with all that he needs and so why would he betray God by turning to other sources. So to say that we have no good thing apart from God is to recognise that he is the only giver of good things. Or to put it slightly differently, every good gift is from him. If we allow the gifts to point us back to the Giver we recognise that all we have comes from him and that without him we have nothing.

2. Thank God for the gift of the church

I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    ‘They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.’

I think it is worth noting that David identifies God’s people in particular as a source of delight. Do I feel the same way about the church? Do I recognise the people I meet with every week as good gifts that reflect a good giver? Does my local church fill me with thankfulness and joy? I thank God that my church does bring me joy because, through them, I can see God at work. However, it is a gift that I far too often take for granted.

3. Never look to idols

Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

The same point can be stated more negatively. The flip-side of acknowledging God as the Giver is renouncing false gods as givers. Idolatry comes naturally to us. We are made for worship and, in our blindness we latch on to the closest possible provider and make idols out of them. It may be an alternative belief system like Islam or Mysticism. It may be something more abstract like wealth or popularity or success. It may be something much more tangible like a relationship or hobby. An idol is anything that we trust, rather than God, to give us what we need or desire. It is anything that we love more than God. It is anything that we serve other than God.

May God grant us the grace we need to turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” 1 Thess 1: 9-10

4. Walk closely with God

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make 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 keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

It’s striking to see how intent David is on God. He is praising God, listening to God, fixing his eyes on God and keeping God close to his side. David knows God and this is why he is able to say with such conviction that the Lord is his portion. If we want to glorify God and be satisfied in him then we need to know Him.

5. Hope in God’s promise of eternal life

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

The whole psalms sings about Jesus and perhaps these verses more loudly and clearly than the rest. He is the one who died at the hands of sinful men and yet God raised Him from the dead. It is precisely the death and resurrection of Jesus the King that secures our hope (as well as David’s) that we will live forever in his presence. Because he lives, we too will live.

These verses reveal that David’s focus in the psalm was not on material gifts in this life but rather the gifts he bestows on his people in the life to come. I think this is why he focuses on the people of God. They are a gift to us now but they will also be a gift to us in the new creation.

When we focus our hearts and minds on our ultimate destiny, it helps to put this life in perspective. Those who trust in Jesus in this life will live with him in the next. We will spend eternity rejoicing in the Giver and the bountiful gifts he so lavishes on us.

What else is there in this life that compares to this hope? You will enjoy God forever, so strive to enjoy Him now.

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