1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I’m coming back to Psalm 16 this week. This psalm challenges me with a fundamental question which becomes more obvious and pointed in hard times like this pandemic: What are we depending on?
When life is easy, we tend not to confront that question. It is easy for us to take our patterns of life for granted, thinking we are independent and forgetting our dependence.
Yet, in hard times, our assumptions are challenged. When illness comes or the job is lost or the money stops flowing in, we question why we can no longer depend on the things we have taken for granted. If we can’t count on those things that seem so basic and foundational, what can we depend on?
In ancient times most people depended on the yearly crops for sustaining life itself. Any disruption in the rain or sunshine or temperature had a severe and urgent effect on almost everyone. People tended to attribute everything to the pleasure of the gods. The rain god is displeased with us. The god of the storm is angry with us.
So, in times of trouble, the children of Israel started looking around at neighboring people groups. Those folks over there worship a fertility god and seem to be surviving; maybe I should give an offering to that god also, just in case. Or, that group has this ritual to call down rain on the crops; maybe it wouldn’t hurt to participate. Or, that person has more cattle than he needs; maybe, I can go and take one of his. Or, that king seems to be keeping his subjects fed; maybe I should transfer my loyalty to him.
But the psalmist is clear. The creator God is the only refuge we have. God is the only one we can depend on. The psalmist cries out, “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” In v. 2 is the confession, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” God is the source of all that is good, all that can be truly depended upon.
In our day, the idols seem more subtle. We expect government to fix the situation. Or we expect non-government, total “freedom” to be the answer. We look to the business community to fix the economy. We look to the medical system to treat the results of our poor lifestyle choices. And, I would dare say, we even engage in a form of human sacrifice, insisting that our freedom to go out and resume normal work routines overrides the concern for the lives of others.
That is not to suggest that the choices are easy or clear, but our responses tend to demonstrate where our dependency is. And too often, these choices are the false gods that the psalmist rejects. Choosing such gods, even for a “just-in-case-backup-plan” is false worship that simply leads to more misery. “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;” so the psalmist rejects them–“their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.” In other words, I will not participate in their rituals or even acknowledge them by saying their names.
Instead, the psalmist acknowledges that dependence on the one true Creator God has brought Israel into the land which provides for their food and daily living needs. In the end, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” While the imagery is of the perfect plot of land which produces the perfect cup of wine, the psalmist doesn’t so much say, “This is what you have given me, LORD” as “This is who you are!”
While certainly, God gives wisdom and knowledge to the human community, no one person or nation has it all. We still need to ultimately look to God; we are still dependent on the one who made us. The psalmist says in v. 7, “I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
Of course, our ultimate fear is of death. I don’t want to die from this tiny virus. I don’t want my family to suffer and die because I am prevented from working. I don’t want my world to collapse economically and socially.
Yet, our dependence on the God of Life, the One who created life in the first place, is really the only safe refuge from the power of death. When we subject our human wisdom to the God who created us, we find the way forward. Then the psalmist can say, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to [the world of the dead], or let your faithful one see the Pit.” This was the promise claimed by Jesus which allowed him to face an unimaginably excruciating physical death on a cross.
Jesus knew the hope expressed in the last verse of the psalm, and demonstrated his utter dependence on the Heavenly Father in the face of the full force of the power of death. “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
To worship God is to reaffirm our true dependence on God, both in word and deed.
Note: For those of you who know Spanish, this little “corito” shares the first two verses of Psalm 16 in a simple song. If you want the background story, ask me.