The conflict is implicit. It peeks to the surface only in v. 1: “Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.” The implication is that David is in danger from some enemy. The hint is that “those who run after other gods” are opposing him and perhaps even hunting him. David’s fear of danger, and his response to the spiritual condition of his enemies, drives him to the Lord. In prayer David is able to find comfort, encouragement, and peace by affirming his trust in the Lord and the benefits the Lord provides his people:
- “You make my lot secure” (v. 5)
- “I have a delightful inheritance” (v. 6)
- “the Lord . . . counsels me” (v. 7)
- “With him . . . I will not be shaken” (v. 8)
- “my body also will rest secure” (v. 9)
- “you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead” (v. 10)
- “You make known to me the path of life” (v. 11)
All this stands in contrast with “those who run after other gods,” who “will suffer more and more” (v. 4). Other gods promise power through manipulation, but they provide only anxiety and emptiness. Those who follow other gods may think that they are tapping into success, but they are in fact naked on earth. David, who takes refuge in the Lord, is truly secure.
All of this is true for David, but for the Christian it is impossible to read Psalm 16 without thinking of the Messiah. The Lord certainly did not “abandon” David “to the realm of the dead” (v. 10a), but David did in fact “see decay” (v. 10b) – he is doubtless in the grave now, decayed completely, and awaiting the resurrection. Peter pointed this out on the church’s first Pentecost: “David died and was buried, and his tomb his here to this day” (Acts 2:29). Peter’s conclusion was that David was expressing a greater vision: “He 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” (Acts 2:30-31). Paul later made the same connection, when he and Barnabas preached in Pisidian Antioch: “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” (Acts 13:36-37).
David, in his own lifetime, tasted a hint of the blessings of the resurrection, but it was only a hint at that time. So after living his life in the blessings of the Lord, he died in peace. David spoke truly about himself, but it was only about himself as a foreshadow of the coming reality, which the Messiah brought in fullness. Jesus died, but he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. Instead, he was raised from the dead, transformed to eternal life, and he can now say in the reality of present experience: “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” (Psalm 16:11).
This “path of life” is now open to all who trust in the Lord through the Messiah. We have not yet fully experienced resurrection, but we have a resurrected life. Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in him, and that life is a present reality in the Spirit. We still die, and our bodies decay. We are no different on that account than any other person, even those “who run after other gods.” But that is not the whole story, nor even the most important part of the story. Our life is “hidden with Christ in God”, Paul says in Colossians 3:3, and in Romans 8:9 he addresses the same reality: “You … are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.”
What this means is that everything that David describes in Psalm 16 is true of us, if we understand it to refer not to our mortal flesh in its present state, but to the already-resurrected eternal life of the Spirit that we now have in Christ. That life is safe, can never die, will never suffer decay. We, as members of Christ, experience his resurrection in our spirit. Whatever happens to our mortal body is not immaterial, but it is ultimately unimportant. Jesus makes our lot secure, he makes known to use the path of life, and he fills us with eternal joy in the presence of the Father. “Therefore,” we can say with David, “my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices” (Psalm 16:9).