Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 16 (with notes)

Text in red are my additions.


THE psalmist has found in the Lord his true happiness, for the Lord gives peace to His faithful ones in Israel. From idol-worship and its abominations he turns to the Lord, who alone is his allotted possession. He gives thanks for the prosperity of his lot, and is sure that in the protection of the Lord he can, at all times, despise all peril. The Lord will not suffer His loyal friends to fail; at the end He will give them the fulness of joy in the vision of Himself.

This poem seems to point to a time when many Israelites had begun to practise various forms of heathen worship. Indeed, it would almost seem as if the Sancti (holy or pious ones)—the loyal servants of the Lord, were few as compared with those who “ran after strange gods.” It is difficult to find a suitable occasion for such a poem in the life of David. But David could have composed it in his character as prophet, and perhaps, in his role as type of the Messias. The New Testament (Acts 2:22-31; Acts 13:35) takes the psalm as descriptive of the Messias, or rather, as composed by the Messias through the mouth of David, Modern critical writers are inclined to take the poem as a song of the Exilic period, during which many of the exiles in Babylon fell away from the worship of Yahweh. The psalm is of great religious importance, implying, as it does, a hope of a blessed immortality to be attained in the vision of God.

Psa 16:1  The inscription of a title to David himself. Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in thee.

tituli inscriptio ipsi David conserva me Domine quoniam in te speravi

The Latin title, Tituli inscriptio, is not more or less clear than the Hebrew Mikhtam. Tituli inscriptio translates the Greek stelographia, i.e. an inscription on a pillar. The word titulus would by itself, perhaps, express this idea of a conspicuous inscription; inscriptio makes this sense of titulus more obvious. The two words might be translated, “an inscribed (or engraved) text.” The name of the psalm suggests, perhaps, its abiding worth. Containing prophecy and unusually deep theology it deserved to be carved, like a royal inscription, on a stela. The Hebrew Mikhtam cannot be explained. Jerome has “Humilis et simplicis” as if mikhtam were really two words, makh= lowly, and tam= perfect. Even today the meaning of the Hebrew term מכתם (Mikhtam) is unknown. Most understand it to be based upon the word מכתּב (miktâb =something written, see Isa 38:9), from the root כּתב (kâthab). This last word refers to a socket (recess) in a stone or mortar wall, used to receive a wooden beam. when one inscribes something onto stone, ostrica, etc., one is causing a recess, hence the connection with writing, or inscribing.

Psa 16:2  I have said to the Lord, thou art my God, for thou hast no need of my goods.

dixi Domino Dominus meus es tu quoniam bonorum meorum non eges

Thou dost not need them, for Thou hast them already. But the Hebrew seems to mean: “I have no good thing that goes beyond Thee,”  i.e. “Thou art my chiefest good.”  Jerome translates: Bene mihi non est sine te. Verses 2-4  (esp. 3 & 4) are full of problems as any major commentary will note.

Psa 16:3  To the saints, who are in his land, he hath made wonderful all my desires in them.

sanctis qui sunt in terra eius mirificavit mihi; omnes voluntates meas in eis

The Latin here differs from the Greek, the latter being somewhat closer to the Hebrew. The Latin speaks of the Lord as fulfilling wondrously (mirificare) his (the psalmist’s) own wishes towards the pious of Israel. The Greek says that God carried out wondrously His own kind designs for the pious ones. As in the early Christian period the faithful were called “Sancti,” so, in the psalms, the loyal friends of the Law often get this title.

Psa 16:4  Their infirmities were multiplied: afterwards they made haste. I will not gather together their meetings for bloodofferings: nor will I be mindful of their names by my lips.

multiplicatae sunt infirmitates eorum postea adceleraverunt non congregabo conventicula eorum de sanguinibus nec memor ero nominum eorum per labia mea

This text describes the lot of those who have gone aside from the worship of the Lord. Their troubles have increased because they have run after stranger gods (postea, i.e. idola). The Hebrew puts the thought clearly: “Many are the woes of those who run after Another” (i.e. another god). The psalmist goes on to say that he will have nothing to do with their false worship. He will not summon (or, possibly, “join “) their cult-gatherings because of the deeds of blood done by the idolaters, or, perhaps, because of the bloody offerings (such, possibly, as human sacrifices) which are presented by the idolaters to their divinities. He will not even so much as mention the names of the apostates. It is possible, however, to take de sanguinibus directly with conventicula, and understand the combination to mean conventicula cruenta, i.e. assemblies at which libations of blood were poured: so in Hebrew: “I will not pour their libations
of blood.” Here also there may be suggested the idea of human sacrifices, and libations of human blood.

Psa 16:5  The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.

 Dominus pars hereditatis meae et calicis mei tu es qui restitues hereditatem meam mihi

In contrast with the idolaters, the psalmist looks on the Lord as his sole portion and possession. As the Hebrew paterfamilias (father, head, patron of the house) poured into the cup of each guest at table the portion appointed to each one, so has the Lord been apportioned to the psalmist. The Lord is also the peculiar possession, the special portion, as it were, of a farm left by will, which has been assigned to the poet. The renegade Israelites serve foreign gods; the Lord is the possession of the faithful. The picture of the cup may have been suggested here by the libations of blood in the preceding verse. The Lord is, in a sense, the well-filled cup of Israel.

Restitues (“restore”), “establish”—so that it cannot be interfered with.

Psa 16:6  The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me.

funes ceciderunt mihi in praeclaris etenim hereditas mea praeclara est mihi

The thought of an inheritance suggests the idea of the measuring out of portions of land. For the measuring, measuring-ropes were needed; the portion which the measuring-lines of the psalmist have enclosed is pleasant. In præclaris for in prælara: funis (or funiculus), is equated by metonymy with the space measured. Cf. Ps 105:11:  funiculum hereditatis vestræ, “the inheritance measured out to you.” The “pleasant inheritance” may be the land of Chanaan (Canaan).

Psa 16:7  I will bless the Lord, who hath given me understanding: moreover, my reins also have corrected me even till night.

benedicam Domino qui tribuit mihi intellectum insuper et usque ad noctem increpaverunt me renes mei

The reins are often regarded as the seat of perception. The Lord has advised the psalmist as to the path he should follow. The path has led to success, and so the singer thanks the Lord. Usque ad noctem, “even in the night.” God’s inspiration was at all times urgent.

Psa 16:8  I set the Lord always in my sight: for he is at my right hand, that I be not moved.

providebam Dominum in conspectu meo semper quoniam a dextris est mihi ne commovear

He has determined to keep the Lord before his eyes. When the Lord stands at his right hand, he has no fear of any danger.

Psa 16:9  Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover, my flesh also shall rest in hope.

propter hoc laetatum est cor meum et exultavit lingua mea insuper et caro mea requiescet in spe

His mind and body (caro mea) are in perfect security. He is untroubled in mind, and secure from bodily peril.

Psa 16:10  Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption.

quoniam non derelinques animam meam in inferno non dabis sanctum tuum videre corruptionem

The ground o his hope and confidence is that the Lord will not give up to destruction His faithful worshipper. Infernus and corruptio are made equivalent by the parallelism. Infernus is the Hebrew Sheol, the dwelling-place of the dead. The idea is that God will not permit His loyal friends (a possible reading of Hebrew would give here the plural, sanctos) to see death—a lasting destruction. It is clear that this hope in the full sense, was not realised in any one but Christ, so that the New Testament reference of this passage to Our Lord is fully justified (Acts 2:24-32; Acts 13:34-37). But, on the other hand, in a wider sense, as implying the continuance of the higher life of the spirit and, therefore, the immortality of the soul, it has a general application.

Psa 16:11  Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end.

notas mihi fecisti vias vitae adimplebis me laetitia cum vultu tuo delectatio in dextera tua usque in finem

The hope of an immortality in the light of God’s face seems to be here also implied. God has taught the psalmist the genuine path to life—the life which will be spent with God Himself. Cum vultu tuo, “by Thy countenance,” i.e. by the vision of Thy face. The Hebrew says: “Fulness of joys is with (i.e. united with) thy face” (=presence); or, possibly, “Fulness of joys is before Thy face.” Jerome has, plenitudinem lætitiarum ante vultum tuum. The Lord holds delights ever (usque in finem) ready in His right hand, to distribute them to His friends.

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One Response to Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 16 (with notes)

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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