Psalm 16 - link to the NRSV text
Shorter post this week; I'm still recovering from Holy Week! If you'd like to leave a comment, I'd appreciate it.
The psalter for the Second Sunday of Easter is another instance where the early church used the Psalms to interpret the Easter events and to understand what God's new work in Jesus meant. This particular psalm is quoted two times in Acts (cf. Acts 2:25-27, 13:35), one time by Peter and the second by Paul, and it clearly sees Jesus as the "faithful one" (NRSV) in v. 10 who is not abandoned to Sheol and does not see the Pit. In fact, a portion of Peter's Pentecost sermon in which he quotes Psalm 16 is the Acts reading for the day, with Acts replacing the OT readings for the Easter season.
Regardless of whether or not Jesus is literally the "faithful one" mentioned in the psalm, it's an appropriate psalm to read and reflect on during the Easter season. The psalm contains four main movements: the psalmists petitions God for protection (v. 1), followed by a confession in the Lord as the source of all good things (v. 2). Tied to this confession is the psalmists declaration of or hope for the fate of those who choose other gods (vv. 3-4). [Side note: The Hebrew of these verses is messy; compare the NRSV with the NJPS translation.]
The third movement of the psalm is the psalmist's praise of the Lord (vv. 5-9). In vv. 5-6, inheritance and possession language is used; this echoes language in the book of Joshua that is used to describe the occupation of the promised land (see James Mays, Psalms, Interpretation, 87). But not only is the Lord the psalmist's inheritance and promise, but the Lord also gives counsel, and this counsel leads to "mindfulness" and the ability to "not be moved" (v. 8).
Thus there is rejoicing in the "heart" and "soul" and there is rest in the "body" (v. 9). This three-fold repetition of parts of the self echoes Deuteronomy 6:5, though the only common Hebrew word is "heart." It is possible that a rhythmic pattern of repetition might have been a way to speak of the whole self, ala "heart," "being," and "might" in Deut 6:5, though this is just speculation on my part at first glance.
The final movement is found vv. 10-11, where the "fate" of the psalmist is laid out, and that fate is life. v. 10 professes the psalmists deliverance from the place of death ("Sheol" and the "Pit" operating in parallel). The NRSV makes it seem like there is a connection between the end of v. 10 and the beginning of v. 11 ("not...let your faithful one see" and "You show me..."), but the Hebrew more properly says that "you do not...let your faithful one see" and "you teach me" or "cause me to know" the path/way of life (see the NJPS again). But what is this path of life? The end of verse 11 might be the answer: the presence and the right hand of the Lord, which is the psalmist's "joy" and "pleasures."
Many people across time and throughout the earth have prayed similar prayers to verse 1: "Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge." The psalm offers us two answers to that prayer: first, the Lord is our portion, our cup, and our strength. The psalm echoes Israel's salvation history through this portion and inheritance language, seeing a tie between God's actions in the past and God's actions in the present and possibly future. This tie with Israel's past also suggests that this psalm also possibly could have been a prayer by the exilic and early post-exilic communities (see Mays, 88).
The hope of the psalmist found in vv. 10-11 echoes the hope of Easter, yet the hope of this psalm is not one restricted to Easter; it is the prayer and hope of all people of faith in the darkness of this life. As you move away from Easter and towards Pentecost, let us remember that the Easter hope is not restricted to one day a year alongside chocolate bunnies and painted eggs, but is the very hope in which we find our strength, for God in Jesus has not abandoned us to Sheol, and has not allowed the power of death to bind us. Instead, the hope is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was not abandoned to the Pit, we too can be taught the path of life, and that in God's presence there is finally and truly "fullness of joy."