Psalm 16 Application: More Than Wishful Thinking

Have you ever felt like your prayers are really just wishful thinking?


When prayer remains unanswered, do verses of promise ring hollow in your ears?  Does it sound like you’re trying to explain away disappointment with “spin”?  Do you find you want to down grade God’s promises so that they are more in line with reality?

While we were waiting almost five years for our son David to get into medical school, I had to fight for faith in the promises of God.  “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” says Psalm 84:11.   I was determined to believe that, so I had to close my eyes against the circumstances and hang on to the promise.  “This school is not a good thing or they would not have said no.”  “The timing is not good, or they would have said yes.”

Hanging onto the promises of God can feel like a lot of work at times.

Psalm 16 and the fight for faith

As we saw in Monday’s post, Psalm 16 begins with a prayer, “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.”  We don’t get to find out the exact circumstances that prompted that prayer.  That’s because instead of dwelling on his circumstances David talks about his God.

You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you.”  David starts by taking the first commandment seriously:  “You shall have no other gods besides me.”  He begins meditating out loud on the uniqueness of his LORD, his trustworthiness, his goodness, his beauty.  The company he keeps helps him fight.  That’s why he clings to the saints and spurns idolators.  He doesn’t want to weaken his hold on God by entertaining thoughts of other saviors.  Instead he exposes these other gods as false.  All they bring is sorrow (make that sorrows, plural).  David fights for faith by hanging onto the one true God, his chosen portion.

So far so good.

From proclamation to promise

It seems like the Psalm takes a turn at verse 8.  David begins talking about not just who God is, but what he does.  He recognizes God’s counsel, even during sleepless nights.  He sees God’s protection, calling him his “right hand man.”  He begins to feel better, as his emotions respond to the truths he hears coming out of his own mouth.  Even his sense of danger seems to diminish, replaced by a sense of security.

Then his confidence goes over the top.  David had asked for God to preserve him.  Now it seems like God will do more than that.  Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit David announces, “for you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” Wait just one minute.  Is this a promise?  A hope?  Is it true?  Or is it just a flight of fancy– David at the height of song writing, waxing eloquent and tilting toward hyperbole?

What do we make of such a promise?

How we interpret Psalm 16:10 will help us interpret and apply all of God’s other promises.  Fortunately Scripture interprets it for us, so we don’t have to guess.

I can imagine the younger folks of David’s day getting a hold of this Psalm and trying to make sense of it.  “Do you think this means David didn’t die?”  “I don’t think so, I saw his body at the burial.”  “Well maybe it means that he won’t stay dead…at least his body won’t decay like everyone else?”  “I don’t know, may be we should check his tomb and see!”

Whether or not they did, there was a reality check hundreds of years later.  Peter quotes from this psalm in his first sermon (Acts 2:25-32) after Pentecost.  Though he quotes verses 8-11, he zeros in on the promise of verse 10.  He doesn’t try to explain the promise away or give it a “spiritual” interpretation.  Nope.  David really died and you can go check out his tomb.  It’s only bones in there.  No flesh–it decayed–just bones.  This promise wasn’t fulfilled in David, it’s fulfilled in Jesus.  David wasn’t talking about himself, but he “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.”

The resurrection of Christ.  That’s not a downgrade of the promise.  It’s not “spiritualizing” it either.  The resurrection of Christ was a historical fact, witnessed by Peter and 500 others.  Because this promise was fulfilled in Jesus, the resurrection will become a reality for David and for all who are in Christ Jesus.

That’s literally how God’s promises will be fulfilled.  They will be fulfilled literally in Christ.  We wait in him for every promise to be fulfilled down to the very last letter.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”  2 Corinthians 1:20

Does that strengthen your faith for today’s struggles?  Here’s what a 5th century pastor wrote about Psalm 16:

It gives us confidence in sufferings and promises eternal glory in hope, so that through this teaching of our future happiness we do not fear the hardships of the present.

Our prayers are not wishful thinking when we pray the Psalms with our brother Jesus.

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