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"Preserve Me, O God, for in You I Put My Trust" (Psalms 15-17) May 29-31

Psalm 15 begins a new group of psalms (15-24). As the Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes, "Ps 15 and its distinctive counterpart, Ps 24, frame a cluster of psalms that have been arranged in a concentric pattern with Ps 19 serving as the hinge.... [There are] thematic links between Ps 16 and 23, between Ps 17 and 22, and between Ps 18 and 20-21.... The framing psalms (15; 24) are thematically linked by their evocation of the high majesty of God and their insistence on moral purity 'without {which} no one will see the Lord' (Heb 12:14). At the center, Ps 19 uniquely combines a celebration of the divine majesty as displayed in the creation and an exposition of how moral purity is attained through God's law, forgiveness and shepherding care. Together, these three psalms (15; 19; 24) provide instructive words concerning the petitioners heard in the enclosed psalms, offer a counterpoint to Ps 14, and reinforce the instruction of Ps 1."

Psalm 15 identifies some of the important requirements for someone coming into God's presence. The psalm brings to mind pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for the annual worship festivals. "As the pilgrims approached Jerusalem—the city of God, where His 'sanctuary' was located on the 'holy hill'—they had to examine themselves before entering the courts of God's sanctuary" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 1).

In a larger sense, the psalm presents a number of points of examination for anyone who wants to be in God's presence. Such an individual 1) follows what is right as a general way of life, 2) obeys God's commandments, 3) speaks truthfully, 4) doesn't make spiteful remarks about others, 5) doesn't intentionally hurt others, 6) doesn't spread false accusations against others; 7) shuns the wicked and their ways, 8) honors godly people, 9) keeps promises even when it hurts, 10) doesn't take advantage of those in need, 11) doesn't act against innocent people for gain.

God's sanctuary today, His spiritual temple or house, is the Church. Yet the figure surely extends to the future temple of God in His Kingdom. Of course, just trying to follow these points will not gain us access to God through entrance into His Church and Kingdom—because no one is innocent and no one can succeed in this effort on his own. God imputes true righteousness to those "who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" (Romans 4: 24-25). For those who are so justified, the points of Psalm 15 constitute one of many "lists" of right things to practice as part of building on a strong foundation (Matthew 7:24-25)—so that they "will never be shaken" (Psalm 15:5, NIV).

Psalm 16 is referred to in its superscription as a mikhtam. "The term remains unexplained, though it always stands in the superscription of Davidic prayers occasioned by great danger (see Ps 56-60)" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 16). The Septuagint renders the word as the Greek steloprapha, meaning "an inscription on a slab." Mikhtam is possibly related to the similar-sounding word mikhtav, meaning "writing" in Isaiah 38:9. Perhaps these particular psalms were originally written not as songs but as poems.

David begins Psalm 16 with a petition for protection and deliverance to God in whom he has placed his trust (verse 1). David then reflects in verses 2-3 on the basis on which God hears him: 1) he has confessed God as the Lord of his life; 2) he recognizes that whatever good he has comes only from God and not from himself; and 3) he honors and takes joy in the "saints" or "holy ones"—the other followers of the true God.

David thinks next about the sorrows men bring on themselves when they chase after false gods (verse 4). Indeed, the religions of the cultures surrounding Israel in his day included some obvious examples of this. "If he had chosen the god Moloch of the Canaanites, for example, he would have had to sacrifice one of his babies to that god (Lev. 20:2). If he had gone to live in Carthage, and had adopted its religion, he would have had to participate in human sacrifice. Obviously he shrank in horror from the very idea of both practices" (Knight, Psalms, comments on Psalm 16:1-11). Of course, David likely meant much more than this. False religion has spawned many wrong concepts and practices that lead mankind away from true happiness.

David then addresses God again, saying, "You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot" (verse 5). "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places" (verse 6). Several words here recall the apportioning of the Promised Land to Israel: "chosen portion," "inheritance," "lot," "boundary lines." The Nelson Study Bible comments that "David had an ancestral inheritance in the land. As king, he also had extensive royal holdings. But he realized that no inheritance was greater than his relationship with Almighty God" (note on verses 5-8).

In verse 10, where the NKJV has "You will not leave my soul in Sheol," the NIV has "You will not abandon me to the grave." This could be understood as meaning either that God will not allow David to go to the grave in his present circumstances or that, even if David dies, God will resurrect him from the grave. The latter seems to be intended by what follows: "Nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption" or, as the NIV translates it, "decay." Yet this reference to the Holy One was in fact a prophecy of the Messiah. "If this could be said of David—and of all those godly Israelites who made David's prayer their own—how much more of David's promised Son! So Peter quotes vv. 8-11 and declares that with these words David prophesied of Christ and his resurrection (Ac 2:25-28...)" (Zondervan, note on Psalm 16:9-11). Indeed, Jesus is more exactly meant by these verses because, unlike David, He was resurrected before His body started to decay. As the apostle Paul explained in Acts 13:35-36: "Therefore He also says in another Psalm: 'You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.' For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption."

David concludes this psalm by expressing confidence that God will show him the way to eternal life, the "path of life" in God's presence (verse 11), which he describes as full of joy and pleasure forever.

Psalm 17. David calls for God's attention and vindication. His is a "just cause," and he knows that God is aware of his innocence (verses 1-3). Yet we should recognize that David is not at all prideful over his obedience to God, as he realizes the need for God's help to continue in His ways (verse 5). David bases his request for vindication on God's "lovingkindness" (hesed)—His covenant loyalty, whereby He is faithful to save those who trust in Him (verse 7).

David's request that God keep him as the "apple of Your eye" (verse 8) makes use of an expression also found in Deuteronomy 32:10, Proverbs 7:2 and Zechariah 2:8. This phrase poetically depicts the sensitivity of the pupil (apple) of one's eye and portrays God as focused on and very attentive to His people. Interestingly, "in Old English the pupil of the eye was called a 'mannikin,' meaning 'little man,' because the pupil gave back the reflection of a grown man as a little man. So too with the Hebrew, for it too means 'little man,' or even 'dear little man'" (Knight, Psalms, comments on Psalm 17:1-15).

David's desire that God hide him "under the shadow of Your wings" (verse 8) pictures the protection a mother hen provides her chicks. It also portrays an intimate relationship with God (see the Bible Reading Program comments on Ruth 3). David pictures his enemies, on the other hand, as young lions, "lurking in secret places," eager to strike (verses 11-12). Their having "fat hearts" in verse 10 speaks of "their greedy, self-loving, and insensitive nature" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 10-12)—their "callous hearts" (NIV).

Commentators are not clear on the correct translation of the second half of verse 14. Where the first half is clearly talking about the worldly people who receive their portion in this life, it is not clear whether the second half is still speaking of these (as in the NKJV) or if the reference changes to the godly (as in the NIV). Related to this is the question over whether the phrase translated "hidden treasure" in the NKJV denotes something positive or negative. If negative, the righteous could not be meant. If positive, either the righteous or the wicked could be meant. The evidence seems to favor the understanding that the meaning is positive and that worldly people are meant. These are content to amass possessions and leave them to their children. Their sights are set on nothing higher than what falls to them in this life.

David in contrast looks to the far future for his ultimate reward. His reflection here on the resurrection, "I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness" (verse 15) reminds us of the apostle John's wonderful prophetic declaration concerning our awesome destiny, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).

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