apart from you I have no good thing
A miktam of David.
1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 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.
As David’s Prayer
David's psalm begins with an expression of trust. Like most, it has no specific situation, but David seeks and places his security in God. Beyond that, this psalm is primarily a psalm that speaks to delight. Verse 2’s interesting turn of phrase provides a key, “apart from you I have no good thing”. God is, for David, a unique, singular good. There is no good beyond, beside, or before him.
And so David identifies with the godly, and apart from the idolaters in vv3-4. For the godly also find and treasure God as their unique good, and the idolaters delight in, trust, and worship anything else except God.
The language of vv5-6 again reveals to us David’s treasure. What is his wealth, his source of delight, the thing he revels in? It is the Lord. That’s why we also have the language of ‘portion’ and ‘inheritance’. Though David was not a Levite, for whom the Lord was portion and inheritance (Num 18.20), he recognises that he truest treasure, which can never be lost, is God alone.
The blessing of having God alone as his only treasure is played out in vv7-8, as the soul, trained by the Torah, provides its own comfort, guidance, and wisdom for life.
The last few verses express further trust for the Lord and his benefits. These are the absolute confidence that he will not be shaken, and the forward looking hope of an incorruptible bodily future, and eternal joys.
As Christ’s prayer
Both Peter and Paul (Acts 2, 13) interpret Psalm 16 as speaking of the Messiah. Primarily because v10 cannot be understood of David on a literal level. David, died, was buried, and his body decayed. David speaks prophetically, as Peter understands him, as the psalms as a whole do, so that the one who truly fulfils and speaks Psalm 16 is Jesus.
So, on verse 10, we should understand that (i) Jesus did descend to the realm of the dead, but he did not stay there, he was not abandoned there; (ii) his body was not subject to decay, because he was raised on the third day with a resurrection body.
Beyond this, Jesus is the one who more than anyone else has made God his own refuge, and his desire and delight is found in his Father above all. It is his utmost trust and singular desire that qualifies him to have the confidence of vv9-11, that God will not abandon him to the grave, but will preserve him through it, raise him up, and enjoy the fellowship of the Father forever.
As our prayer in Christ
It is only because Christ embodied this psalm that it can also become ours. We, in ourselves, very often fail to make God our refuge, and so are shaken and disturbed and troubled by so many things. We chase after other gods, hoping to find in them security or delight. We neglect the delight that is found in God and delight in anything but. And so in and of ourselves, in our sinfulness, we can only expect death and decay.
Yet Christ sings this psalm for us so that we can sing it with him and in him. When he prays and finds ultimate assurance in God, so too can I. Indeed, more than that, I can come to Christ on the Cross and find in him my refuge. In Christ, I can say “apart from you I have no good thing”, and so God becomes “my God”, my portion, my lot, my delight. In desiring him and delighting in him above all and beyond all, I can find the security of a treasure that can never be taken away. My security abounds as my delight increases in God. This too secures my hopes for the future - because he was not abandoned to decay, but rose on the third day, as the firstborn from the dead, I have confidence that God will not abandon me to the grave, but raise me up on the last day, to enjoy fellowship with the Triune God forever.
I have been meditating on this theme for the past few weeks, and on other passages. Particularly, on the theme that this is the secret of contentment in all circumstances (Phil 4:11). That, having the Lord as one’s delight and treasure, secure and never to be taken away, means that we can abound in earthly riches, and hold them lightly, or we can be bereft of the goods of this life, and yet have the one good thing, besides which nothing else is good. This psalm has been precious in meditating upon that idea and making it ‘more real’ in my heart and mind.