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Psalm 16

Song of Trust and Security in God

A Miktam of David.


Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.


I say to the L ord, “You are my Lord;

I have no good apart from you.”



As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,

in whom is all my delight.



Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;

their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out

or take their names upon my lips.



The L ord is my chosen portion and my cup;

you hold my lot.


The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

I have a goodly heritage.



I bless the L ord who gives me counsel;

in the night also my heart instructs me.


I keep the L ord always before me;

because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.



Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;

my body also rests secure.


For you do not give me up to Sheol,

or let your faithful one see the Pit.



You show me the path of life.

In your presence there is fullness of joy;

in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Psalmist now describes the true way of maintaining brotherly concord with the saints, by declaring that he will have nothing to do with unbelievers and the superstitious. We cannot be united into the one body of the Church under God, if we do not break off all the bonds of impiety, separate ourselves from idolaters, and keep ourselves pure and at a distance from all the pollutions which corrupt and vitiate the holy service of God. This is certainly the general drift of David’s discourse. But as to the words there is a diversity of opinion among expositors. Some translate the first word of the verse עצבות, atsboth, by idols, 313313     The Chaldee version reads, “their idols.” The Septuagint reads, ἀσθενειαι αὐτων, “their weaknesses,” or” afflictions;” and the Syriac and Arabic use a word of similar import. Bishop Patrick paraphrases the verse as follows: — “They multiply idols, (here in this place whither I am driven, 1 Samuel 26:19,) and are zealous in the service of another God. But I will never forsake thee by partaking with them in their abominable sacrifices, (in which the blood of men is offered,) nor by swearing by the name of any of their false gods.” “Dathe observes, that עצבות, never signifies idols, the proper word being עצבים. See Gesenius and 1 Samuel 31:9; 2 Samuel 5:21; Hosea 4:17. The other versions of the Polyglott support the common interpretation, which is also approved by Dathe, Horsley, Berlin, and De Rossi.” — Roger’s Book of Psalms, in Hebrew, Metrically Arranged; vol. 2, p. 172. and according to this rendering the meaning is, that after men in their folly have once begun to make to themselves false gods, their madness breaks forth without measure, until they accumulate an immense multitude of deities. As, however, this word is here put in the feminine gender, I prefer translating it sorrows or troubles, although it may still have various meanings. Some think it is an imprecation, and they read, Let their sorrows be multiplied; as if David, inflamed with a holy zeal, denounced the just vengeance of God against the superstitious. Others, whose opinions I prefer, do not change the tense of the verb, which in the Hebrew is future, Their sorrows shall be multiplied; but to me they do not seem to express, with sufficient clearness, what kind of sorrows David intends. They say, indeed, that wretched idolaters are perpetually adding to their new inventions, in doing which, they miserably torment themselves. But I am of opinion, that by this word there is, at the same time, denoted the end and issue of the pains which they take in committing it; it points out that they not only put themselves to trouble without any profit or advantage, but also miserably harass and busy themselves to accomplish their own destruction. As an incitement to him to withdraw himself farther from their company, he takes this as an incontrovertible principle, that, so far from deriving any advantage from their vain superstitions, they only, by their strenuous efforts in practising them, involve themselves in greater misery and wretchedness. For what must be the issue with respect to those miserable men who willingly surrender themselves as bond-slaves to the devil, but to be disappointed of their hope? even as God complains in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 2:13,)

“They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

In the next clause there is also some ambiguity. The Hebrew word מהר, mahar, which we have translated to offer, in the conjugation kal signifies to endow, or to give. But as, in the conjugation hiphil, it is more frequently taken for to run, or to make haste, 314314     Walford translates the verse thus:—
   “They multiply their sorrows who hastily turn backward;
Their libations of blood will I not offer;
Nor will I take their names upon my lips.”

   And the sense which he attaches to the passage is, that David having in the preceding verse declared his delight in the righteous, here states that those who turn away from God and his truth augment their own sufferings; and affirms it to be his resolution to have no fellowship with them in their religious services, which were polluted and detestable, or in the intercourse of friendship by making mention of their names.
many have preferred this latter meaning, and interpret the clause thus, that superstitious persons eagerly hasten after strange gods. And in fact we see them rushing into their idolatries with all the impetuosity and recklessness of madmen running in the fields; 315315     “Et de faict, nous voyons de quelle impetuosite ils se jettent on leurs idolatries sans regarder, lien, tellement qu’il semble que ce soyent gens forcenez, qui courent a travers champs.” — Fr. and the prophets often upbraid them for this inconsiderate frenzy with which they are fired. I would, therefore, be much disposed to adopt this sense were it supported by the common usage of the language; but as grammarians observe that there is not to be found another similar passage in Scripture, I have followed, in my translation, the first opinion. In short, the sum of what the Psalmist says is this, That unbelievers, who lavish and squander away their substance upon their idols, not only lose all the gifts and offerings which they present to them, but also, by provoking the wrath of God against themselves, are continually increasing the amount of their miseries. Perhaps, also, the prophet has an allusion to the common doctrine of Scripture, that idolaters violate the promise of the spiritual marriage contracted with the true God, and enter into covenant with idols. 316316     Horsley reads, “They shall multiply their sorrows [who] betroth themselves to another. That is, who go a whoring after other gods.” Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:33) justly upbraids the Jews, in that while the custom is for the lover to allure the harlot with presents, they, on the contrary, offered rewards to the idols to whom they prostituted and abandoned themselves. But the meaning which we have above given brings out the spirit of the passage, namely, that unbelievers, who honor their false gods by offering to them gifts, not only lose what is thus expended, but also heap up for themselves sorrows upon sorrows, because at last the issue will be miserable and ruinous to them.

I will not taste their libations of blood. By libations of blood some understand that there is a reference to sacrifices made of things acquired by murder or rapine. As, however, the prophet is not here inveighing against cruel and bloodthirsty men, but condemns, in general, all false and corrupt religious worship; and again, as he does not directly name sacrifices, but expressly speaks of the ceremony of taking the cup, and tasting a little of it, which was observed in offering sacrifices, 317317     “Mais touche nommement la ceremonie qu’on observoit en sacrifices asgavoir de prendre la coupe et en gouster un peu.” — Fr. On the margin of the French version there is a reference to the Commentaries of Calvin upon Matthew 26:26, and Genesis 9:4. I have no doubt but that to this ceremony, as it was observed according to the law of God, he here tacitly opposes the drinking of blood in heathen sacrifices. We know that God, in order to teach his ancient people to hold in greater abhorrence murder and all cruelty, forbade them to eat or to drink blood either in their common food or in sacrifices. On the contrary, the histories of the heathen nations bear testimony that the custom of tasting the blood in their sacrifices prevailed among them. David, therefore, protests, that he will not only keep himself uncontaminated by the corrupt and false opinions by which idolaters are seduced, but that he will also take care not to show outwardly any token of his complying with or approving them. In the same sense we are to understand what follows immediately after, I will not take their names in my lips. This implies that he will hold idols in such hatred and detestation, as to keep himself from naming them as from execrable treason against the majesty of heaven. Not that it is unlawful to pronounce their names, which we frequently meet with in the writings of the prophets, but David felt he could not otherwise more forcibly express the supreme horror and detestation with which the faithful ought to regard false gods. This is also shown by the form of expression which he employs, using the relative only, their names, although he has not expressly stated before that he is speaking of idols. Thus, by his example, he enjoins believers not only to beware of errors and wicked opinions, but also to abstain from all appearance of giving their consent to them. He evidently speaks of external ceremonies, which indicate either the true religion, or some perverse superstition. If, then, it is unlawful for the faithful to show any token of consenting to or complying with the superstitions of idolaters, Nicodemuses (who falsely call themselves by this name 318318     “Qui se nomment ainsi, tort.” — Fr. ) must not think to shelter themselves under the frivolous pretext that they have not renounced the faith, but keep it hidden within their hearts, when they join in the observance of the profane superstitions of the Papists. Some understand the words strangers and their names, as denoting the worshippers of false gods; but in my judgment David rather means the false gods themselves. The scope of his discourse is this: The earth is filled with an immense accumulation 319319     “Quoy que la terre soit pleine d’un grand areas d’infinite de superstitions.” — Fr. of superstitions in every possible variety, and idolaters are lavish beyond all bounds in ornamenting their idols; but the good and the holy will ever regard all their superstitious inventions with abhorrence.

5. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance. Here the Psalmist explains his sentiments more clearly. He shows the reason why he separates himself from idolaters, and resolves to continue in the church of God, why he shuns, with abhorrence, all participation in their errors, and cleaves to the pure worship of God; namely, because he rests in the only true God as his portion. The unhappy restlessness of those blind idolaters 320320     “De ces aveugles d’idolatres.” — Fr. whom we see going astray, and running about as if stricken and impelled by madness, is doubtless to be traced to their destitution of the true knowledge of God. All who have not their foundation and trust in God must necessarily be often in a state of irresolution and uncertainty; and those who do not hold the true faith in such a manner as to be guided and governed by it, must be often carried away by the overflowing floods of errors which prevail in the world. 321321     “Transportez par les desbordemens impetueux des erreurs qui regnent au monde.” — Fr. This passage teaches us, that none are taught aright in true godliness but those who reckon God alone sufficient for their happiness. David, by calling God the portion of his lot, and his inheritance, and his cup, protests that he is so fully satisfied with him alone, as neither to covet any thing besides him, nor to be excited by any depraved desires. Let us therefore learn, when God offers himself to us, to embrace him with the whole heart, and to seek in him only all the ingredients and the fullness of our happiness. All the superstitions which have ever prevailed in the world have undoubtedly proceeded from this source, that superstitious men have not been contented with possessing God alone. But we do not actually possess him unless “he is the portion of our inheritance;” in other words, unless we are wholly devoted to him, so as no longer to have any desire unfaithfully to depart from him. For this reason, God, when he upbraids the Jews who had wandered from him as apostates, 322322     “Qui s’estoyent destournez de lui comme apostats.” — Fr. with having run about after idols, addresses them thus, “Let them be thine inheritance, and thy portion.” By these words he shows, that if we do not reckon him alone an all-sufficient portion for us, and if we will have idols along with him, 323323     “Ains que no’vueillions avoir avec lui les idoles.” — Fr. he gives place entirely to them, and lets them have the full possession of our hearts. David here employs three metaphors; he first compares God to an inheritance; secondly, to a cup; and, thirdly, he represents him as He who defends and keeps him in possession of his inheritance. By the first metaphor he alludes to the heritages of the land of Canaan, which we know were divided among the Jews by divine appointment, and the law commanded every one to be content with the portion which had fallen to him. By the word cup is denoted either the revenue of his own proper inheritance, or by synecdoche, ordinary food by which life is sustained, seeing drink is a part of our nourishment. 324324     “D’autant que le bruvage est une partie de nostre nourriture.” — Fr. It is as if David had said, God is mine both in respect of property and enjoyment. Nor is the third comparison superfluous. It often happens that rightful owners are put out of their possession because no one defends them. But while God has given himself to us for an inheritance, he has engaged to exercise his power in maintaining us in the safe enjoyment of a good so inconceivably great. It would be of little advantage to us to have once obtained him as ours, if he did not secure our possession of him against the assaults which Satan daily makes upon us. Some explain the third clause as if it had been said, Thou art my ground in which my portion is situated; but this sense appears to me to be cold and unsatisfactory.

6. The lines 325325     The Hebrew is measuring lines. There is here an allusion to the ancient division of the land of Canaan among God’s chosen people. This was done by lot, and the length and breadth of the portion of each tribe was ascertained by cords or measuring lines. Hence they came to signify the land so measured out. have fallen to me. The Psalmist confirms more fully what he had already said in the preceding verse with respect to his resting, with a composed and tranquil mind, in God alone; or rather, he so glories in God as nobly to despise all that the world imagines to be excellent and desirable without him. By magnifying God in such honorable and exalted strains, he gives us to understand that he does not desire any thing more as his portion and felicity. This doctrine may be profitable to us in many ways. It ought to draw us away not only from all the perverse inventions of superstition, but also from all the allurements of the flesh and of the world. Whenever, therefore, those things present themselves to us which would lead us away from resting in God alone, let us make use of this sentiment as an antidote against them, that we have sufficient cause for being contented, since he who has in himself an absolute fullness of all good has given himself to be enjoyed by us. In this way we will experience our condition to be always pleasant and comfortable; for he who has God as his portion is destitute of nothing which is requisite to constitute a happy life.

Last of all, David confesses that it was entirely owing to the pure grace of God that he had come to possess so great a good, and that he had been made a partaker of it by faith. It would be of no advantage to us for God to offer himself freely and graciously to us, if we did not receive him by faith, seeing he invites to himself both the reprobate and the elect in common; but the former, by their ingratitude, defraud themselves of this inestimable blessing. Let us, therefore, know that both these things proceed from the free liberality of God; first, his being our inheritance, and next, our coming to the possession of him by faith. The counsel of which David makes mention is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, by which we are prevented from rejecting the salvation to which he calls us, which we would otherwise certainly do, considering the blindness of our flesh. 327327     “Ce qu’autrement nous ferions, veu l’aveuglement de nostre chair.” — Fr. Whence we gather, that those who attribute to the free will of man the choice of accepting or rejecting the grace of God basely mangle that grace, and show as much ignorance as impiety. That this discourse of David ought not to be understood of external teaching appears clearly from the words, for he tells us that he was instructed in the night when he was removed from the sight of men. Again, when he speaks of this being done in his reins, he doubtless means secret inspirations. 328328     Calvin means that God taught David by secret inspirations. Farther, it ought to be carefully observed, that, in speaking of the time when he was instructed, he uses the plural number, saying, it was done in the nights. By this manner of speaking, he not only ascribes to God the beginning of faith, but acknowledges that he is continually making progress under his tuition; and, indeed, it is necessary for God, during the whole of our life, to continue to correct the vanity of our minds, to kindle the light of faith into a brighter flame, and by every means to advance us higher in the attainments of spiritual wisdom.

8. I have set Jehovah, etc. The Psalmist again shows the firmness and stability of his faith. To set God before us is nothing else than to keep all our senses bound and captive, that they may not run out and go astray after any other object. We must look to him with other eyes than those of the flesh, for we shall seldom be able to perceive him unless we elevate our minds above the world; and faith prevents us from turning our back upon him. The meaning, therefore, is, that David kept his mind so intently fixed upon the providence of God, as to be fully persuaded, that whenever any difficulty or distress should befall him, God would be always at hand to assist him. He adds, also, continually, to show us how he constantly depended upon the assistance of God, so that, amidst the various conflicts with which he was agitated, no fear of danger could make him turn his eyes to any other quarter than to God in search of succor. And thus we ought so to depend upon God as to continue to be fully persuaded of his being near to us, even when he seems to be removed to the greatest distance from us. When we shall have thus turned our eyes towards him, the masks and the vain illusions of this world will no longer deceive us.

Because he is at my right hand. I read this second clause as a distinct sentence from the preceding. To connect them together as some do in this way, I have set the Lord continually before me, because he is at my right hand, would give a meagre meaning to the words, and take away much of the truth which is taught in them, as it would make David to say, that he measured God’s presence according to the experience he had of it; a mode of speaking which would not be at all becoming. I consider, therefore, the words, I have set the Lord continually before me, as a complete sentence, and David set the Lord before him for the purpose of constantly repairing to him in all his dangers. For his greater encouragement to hope well, he sets before himself what it is to have God’s assistance and fatherly care, namely, that it implies his keeping firm and unmoved his own people with whom he is present. David then reckons himself secure against all dangers, and promises himself certain safety, because, with the eyes of faith, he beholds God as present with him. From this passage we are furnished with an argument which overthrows the fabrication of the Sorbonists, 330330     The Doctors of the Sorbonne, a university in Paris. that the faithful are in doubt with respect to their final perseverance; for David, in very plain terms, extends his reliance on the grace of God to the time to come. And, certainly, it would be a very miserable condition to be in, to tremble in uncertainty every moment, having no assurance of the continuance of the grace of God towards us.

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