Psalm 16

Dear Reader,

It has been a while since we have tackled a psalm or since I have posted about it here. But the other week we studied Psalm 16. We don’t sing hymns, so we don’t do hymn study; we do psalms instead. For a little refresher on how we approach the psalms see this post or this one.

So without further ado, here is my translation of Psalm 16:

1 Keep me, God, for I take refuge in you.
2 I said to the LORD, “You are my lord.
3 [I have no] goodness without you.”
4 To the holy ones who are in the land
5 and the mighty in whom is all my desire [I say]:
6 “They multiply their grief [who after] other [gods] hurry.
7 I will not pour out their libations of blood,
8 And I will not lift up their name upon my lips.
9 The LORD [is] the portion of my inheritance and my cup.
10 You uphold my lot;
11 The measuring lines fall for me in pleasant places,
12 Also an inheritance of beauty [is] mine.
13 I will bless the LORD who counsels me,
14 Also nightly my innards instruct me.
15 I set the LORD before me continually.
16 For [He is at] my right hand; I will not be moved
17 Therefore my heart rejoices and my liver is glad
18 Also my flesh will rest securely
19 For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol
20 You will not allow your holy one to see the Pit
21 You make me know the way of life
22 Fullness of joys [are] in your presence
23 Pleasant things [are] in your right hand forever.

This psalm has a few difficult places in Hebrew so before we turn to analyzing the psalm itself, some notes on the translation:

– This is my translation from the Hebrew. I do it this way so I can make sure I translate words consistently and keep the order of the Hebrew as much as possible. The line numbers are how I divided the poetic lines; they are not verse numbers and they are not set in stone. Occasionally, my children have successfully argued that I should have divided the lines differently.

– “LORD” is the proper name of God (sometimes translated Yahweh or Jehovah). “Lord” (see line 2) is a more general word for lord or master.

-Line 3 is about the toughest in this psalm. Literally it reads “my goodness but upon you.” But this is not good English. I am not sure it is good Hebrew.

– It is not clear what is going on in lines 4 and 5. I have opted to take this as groups of people the psalmist is speaking to, adding the “I say.”

– Re line 17: the heart is Hebrew is the seat of thought and the liver is the seat of the emotions.

– Re lines 19 and 20: Sheol and the Pit are two names for the place where people go when they die. In the Old Testament, there seems to be no distinction between where the redeemed and the damned go.

My children have done this all before so I read the psalm with them, made a couple of comments like those above, and then turned them loose.

The youngest chose to look at the words that referred to God. She noted that “God” is only used once but “LORD” is used a number of times. We remembered that this is God’s covenant name and calls upon His relationship with His people when it is used. She also noticed that the psalm switches back and forth from talking to God to talking about Him. This is not uncommon in Hebrew and doesn’t seem to bother them as it would our English teachers.

My older daughter looked at what the psalmist does and what God does. The psalmist takes refuge, says, has no goodness, will not pour or lift, blesses, sets the Lord before himself, and will not be moved. Words and phrases that refer to God include: no goodness without Him, inherited portion, cup, upholds, counsels, before me, at my right hand, will not abandon, will not allow to see decay, makes known the way of life, and joy is in His presence.

The boys both looked at how the parallel lines match up. We noted that this psalm is not the most clear on this account. There were some disputes about which lines go together. But here is a summary of what we concluded. Line 1 either stands alone or could be divided into two halves: “keep me, God” and “for I take refuge in you.” Lines 2 and 3 go together as do lines 4 and 5. Lines 7 and 8 are very closely parallel, but line 6 also goes with them. One might say they form a triad. Seven and eight express the same idea; six expresses the opposite. We lumped lines 9 through 12 together without talking too much about the specific parallels. Lines 13 and 14 are a pair as are lines 15 and 16. Lines 17 and 18 are also a pair, but they could also be divided into three: “my heart rejoices,” “my flesh is glad” and “my flesh will rest securely.” Lines 19 through 21 form another triad in which 19 and 20 are parallel to each other and 21 expresses the opposite. And finally 22 and 23 are parallel.

Looked at another way, I noted that lines 1, 6, and 21 are the only lines without parallels. Line 1, as said above, could be divided in two or we could just view it as an introduction. Lines 6 and 21 are the ones that express the opposite of the liens near them. This serves to highlight them or to make them stand out in the psalm. And what is the content of these lines that stand out? They can pretty much sum up the psalm: idolaters will see grief but You, God, make me see the land of life.

One final note is that we discussed the attitude of the psalmist and sais that he is basically happy or optimistic. There does not seem to be any present distress for him. This is a hopeful psalm.


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