Psalms - Chapter 16
(The following material is compiled predominantly from an anthology of Orthodox Jewish commentary, written and arranged by Rabbi Avroham Chaim Feuer from the Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume 1. Additional insights from a Nazarene Israelite perspective have been added by Jason Jordan. Additional Tehillim translation by Rabbi Hillel Danziger)
In this Psalm we find eloquent expressions of David’s humility, a virtue which crowned him majestically.
Strength, Torah, and humility – all three could be found in David (Midrsh Shocher Tov 18:28).
David’s eyes were always cast downward for he feared to look upwards out of awe before YHWH in heaven. When he walked in the midst of his subjects his heart was never lifted with pride (Zohar).
When Elohim told David that He had chosen him to be king, David prostrated himself before YHWH, and cried, ‘I have done nothing worthy; all my accomplishments were entirely Your doing’ (Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu 18).
Taking no credit for himself, David appreciated everything granted him, finding happiness in every moment of life. Portions have fallen to me in pleasant places, indeed, my estate was lovely to me (v.6).
Aching with a constant yearning for YHWH’s presence, David looks forward to eternal bliss when he will savour the fullness of joys in (YHWH’s) presence. (For he knew that) there is delight at (YHWH’s) right hand for eternity (v.11).
Verse 1; “A michtam of David. Protect me, O Elohim, for in You have I taken refuge.”
“A michtam of David.” According to Rashi a Michtam [ ] refers to a special or unique musical arrangement of this Psalm. Radak describes the “michtam” as a special musical instrument. Rashi also suggests an alternative translation “a crown.” Literally, “a psalm precious as stamped gold,” from the Hebrew word kethem, which means “fine imprinted gold.” David was accustomed to constantly repeat the following plea: ‘Protect me, O Elohim, for in You I take refuge.’ He said this until YHWH’s protection enveloped and encircled him like a crown. Therefore this Psalm could literally read, ‘A noted golden saying of David.’ In addition it could have been sung to the accompaniment of an instrument called “a michtam” utilized by name only five other times elsewhere in the Psalms.
The Talmud homiletically renders “michtam” as two words, “humbleness” and “innocence.” The first Hebrew letters of each word apparent in “michtam.” David was humble and small to all, and perfectly innocent with all. Just as in the days before his ascendancy to the throne he belittled himself before his Torah masters, so did he continue to belittle himself even after he was king (Sotah 10b).
“Protect me, O Elohim, for in You have I taken refuge.” In You and in no other according to Radak.
Even if a man lacks something in his service to YHWH, the mere fact that he return to YHWH alone for protection merits him the whole gamut of impenetrable spiritual armour.
It is important for a new believer, having come from another religious institution and entering into the one true faith that was preached by the apostles, to not remain too long hedging his beats in both camps. YHWH scrutinizes and judges one who after being taken out of Babylon still nurtures a fondness or sentimental disposition for a former belief system. Lot’s wife was merited with being presented an avenue of salvation from the depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah, furthermore she displayed enough obedience to physically remove herself from it, yet mentally she retained the view that her former life had something special about it that she was sorry to lose as she followed the angels. Luke 9:62; “Yahshua replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of Elohim."
Matthew 8:21-22; “Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father. But Yahshua told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." To receive 100% protection from YHWH, a believer has to strive for a 100% commitment in embrace His commands. The pre-development phase of a good disciple is to clean his slate of religious baggage that might have been accumulated over the years.
Verse 2; “You have said to YHWH, ‘You are My Master, You are not obliged to benefit me.’”
I admit that You are my sole Master and that I am obligated to serve You and to succumb before You (Ibn Ezra; Metzudat David; Radak).
Since I am no more than a servant who must obey, I do not deserve any reward for serving You. Anything good which You do is sheer ‘kindness.’
Joshua 5:13-14; “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of YHWH I have now come." Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" We should not be so overly confident that we’re working in the complete will of YHWH to the point that it robs us of reverence for Him. We shouldn’t be so full of ourselves that we carrying around the opinion that YHWH is bound to do anything good for us. We have to constantly review whether our theology and our conduct lines up with the Word, rather than try and force it to fit our existing belief system and lifestyle.
Verse 3; “[But] for the holy ones who are [buried] in the earth, for the mighty – all my desires are due to them."
I also realise that the kindness that You have shown me is for the sake of those holy men who once walked before You with sincerity and who are now buried in the earth (Rashi).
Just as the soul bends before YHWH, it must likewise give recognition to the holy men of earlier times and follow their example, because emulation of their ways will lead to new heights of love for (YHWH) (Radik). Rabbi Sha’ul said in Philippians 3:17; “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Verse 4; “May their sorrows multiply, they who hurry after another; I shall not pour out their libations of blood, nor carry their names upon my lips.”
David now says to YHWH: May sorrows multiply for all who deny Your sovereignty (Rashi). [The opposite is true of those who follow YHWH: ‘The blessing of YHWH, it enriches, and no sorrows will increase with it’ (Proverbs 10:22).
Metzudat David explains: (pagan) men pay a costly price to their other Elohim because they futilely offer many sacrifices. But they do not realise that as they increase their sacrifices, [YHWH multiplies] their sorrows.
David will not follow their example and sprinkle blood in honour of the idol (Rashi).
Hirsch explains that it is akin to spiritual suicide to offer sacrifices to natural forces because it is denial of man’s similarity to YHWH, a quality which raises him high above nature.
Not only will David not sacrifice to idols, (he) will not even mention the names of the idol worshippers (Radak). Invoking the names of idol worshipers is akin to invoking the names of their idols that represent false Elohim. Exodus 23:13; "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other Elohim; do not let them be heard on your lips.
Joshua 23:7; “so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their Elohim, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them.”
Verse 5; “YHWH is my allotted portion and my share, You guided my destiny.”
David now emphasises that he has taken Elohim as his only fortune in life, not like those who seek material forms of worldly success.
An allotted portion suggests “a lot,” which can be distributed unevenly to recipients, some getting more, some getting less.
Verse 6; “Portions have fallen to me in pleasant places, indeed, my estate was lovely to me.”
Sections of land are called “portions” because they are measured off and demarcated with ropes (Metzudat Zion). “YHWH has chosen Jacob for Himself” (Psalms 135:4). “For YHWH’s share is His nation, Jacob is the portion of His estate” (Deuteronomy 32:9). The Land that YHWH measured out for His nation is pleasant as is the nation which YHWH measured out as His own.
Verse 7; “I will bless YHWH who has advised me, even in the nights my intellect rebuked me.”
Rashi is of the opinion that until now David was speaking in reference to ‘the congregation of Israel,’ but he now ends that phase of the Psalm and begins to speak of himself.
‘I too, will bless Elohim who advised me to choose life and to follow in His ways.’ Deuteronomy 30:19; “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Night is when one can escape the affairs of the world and go into private solitude. Then his thoughts are undisturbed (Ibn Ezra; Radak; Metzudat David). YHWH’s advice came to David at night when his mind was uncluttered.
At night, when the mind is undisturbed, the intellect reprimands a reflective person.
Verse 8; “I have set YHWH before me always, because He is at my right hand I shall not falter.”
I.e. I am always aware. Hirsch traces the Hebrew root of the word “set” “to smooth out, to even out.” In Isaiah 28:25 we find the words, “Does he not level its surface…” to mean ‘to level an expanse of soil,’ to remove all unevenness from its surface. David declares that he has levelled out any obstruction to his clear, straight vision of YHWH’s presence. David says, ‘I clearly perceive Elohim’s presence on the level of my own earthly existence. I need not seek Him high above in concealed heights. I have set him before my eyes in everything I do on earth. Nothing here below is too small or insignificant for Him.’
YHWH shouldn’t be considered as being too lofty that a believer is unable to see Him at work in his daily life. And likewise His Torah shouldn’t be viewed as being too difficult to observe. Deuteronomy 30:11-14; "For this commandment which I command you today is not mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it."
Rabbi Sha’ul reiterated this same teaching in Romans 10:6-8; "But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, `Who will ascend into heaven?’ that is, to bring Messiah down from above or, `Who will descend into the abyss?' that is, to bring Messiah up from the dead. But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.”
Verse 9; “Therefore, my heart rejoices and my soul is elated, my flesh, too, rests in confidence.”
David has good confidence that he will not fall even after his sin with Bath Sheba. YHWH still accepted his repentance through the mouth of the prophet Nathan (Rashi).
Verse 10; “Because You will not abandon my soul to the lower world, Nor allow Your devout one to witness destruction.”
Having now explained why his flesh rests in confidence, David now explains why his soul is elated by the prospect of death (Ibn Ezra).
For, although my body will be deposited into the earth, my soul will not follow it in that direction, to sink down into the grave and the lower world. You will certainly lift up my soul to the place of Your Glory (Radak).
Verse 11; “You will reveal to me the path of life, the fullness of joys in Your Presence. There is delight at Your right hand for eternity.”
According to Rashi this is neither a prayer or a request. It is a prophetic statement about the future of the soul. Ibn Ezra further explains that when the soul departs the body, Elohim will reveal to it the path by which to ascend to the heavens to be with the celestial angels. The revelation can be made to the soul only after it rids itself of the mundane cares of this lower world and is free to see the truth eye to eye and face to face.
“…the fullness of joys in Your Presence.” [Literally ‘the satisfaction and the contentment of all joys.’] This is the joy that has no limit and no end; the joy of the future (Rashi).
“…in Your Presence.” Accord me the unique joy of being in the select group of those who sit closest to Elohim (Rashi).
“…for eternity.” The gifts of divine revelation will never cease. Thus, we have in this psalm a complete picture of the future reward of the righteous (Ibn Ezra).
Malbim concludes: The word “eternity” describes the (unending) existence of spiritual forces which are totally divorced from the limitations of time and far above it. That which is endless, only relative to the confines of this lower world of time, is called ‘forever.’