Many psalms appear only in New Testament hindsight to reveal a larger prophetic truth than their initial historical contexts originally suggested.
1 Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.
2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good besides You.”
3 As for the saints who are in the earth,
They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;
I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,
Nor will I take their names upon my lips.
5 The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.
7 I will bless the Lord who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
8 I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely.
10 For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
11 You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16).
This is another messianic psalm of David, written in the first-person voice of the Messiah, his descendant. The specific circumstances attending David’s composition of this psalm are unknown. However, it begins with David’s plea for God’s preservation of his life (16:1). It continues with praise for God’s mercy (16:2) and goodness (16:3,5-7) and comments on the hopelessness of others foolish enough to worship other gods instead of the one true God (16:4). David concludes the psalm with a confirmation of confidence in the Lord’s sustenance of his flesh and soul, both in the present and beyond death (16:8-11). He rejoices that his “flesh also will dwell securely,” for “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”
Some understand this psalm, in context, as the poetic expression of David’s immediate experience of divine deliverance from death. Many psalms appear only in New Testament hindsight to reveal a larger prophetic truth than their initial historical contexts originally suggested. Allen P. Ross cogently expresses this view:
The same ambiguity applies to the messianic psalms. With the knowledge of full revelation in Jesus Christ, one can look back to the Psalms…and see that they often speak of Christ.…Yet to Old Testament believers, the full meanings of these passages were not often evident. On the one hand a psalmist described his own suffering or triumph, and on the other hand those expressions, which may have seemed extravagant for the psalmist’s actual experience, later became true of Jesus Christ (Ross, “Psalms,” p. 789).
This psalm, however, does not fit into that somewhat nebulous category. The unambiguous apostolic teaching is that this psalm contains direct prophecy. In the book of Acts, Peter manifestly affirmed the prophetic aspect of David’s writing, interpreting this passage to argue the point that David, writing 1000 years earlier, was consciously aware that his subject was the Messiah’s resurrection.
For David says of Him,
‘I saw the Lord always in my presence;
For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.
‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted;
Moreover my flesh also will live in hope;
Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
‘You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’
Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay (Acts 2:25-32).
Without mincing words, Peter reminded his audience of David’s prophetic capacity (Acts 2:30) and argued that David, both king and prophet, actually had written the psalm in the first-person voice of the Messiah, his descendant. Peter boldly and confidently argued that David could not possibly have been writing about himself, for David died, was buried, and most assuredly had not been resurrected.
However, God had established an indissoluble covenant with David in which David was promised that one of his descendants would forever rule over Israel (2 Samuel 7:1213; 1 Chronicles 17:10-14; Psalm 89:3-4; 132:11). The Holy Spirit enabled David to look ahead into the future and understand precisely how God’s Davidic Covenant promise of an eternal throne was to be fulfilled. God showed David that an eternal throne and an unending dynasty required an immortal descendant. David had been allowed to see the future Anointed One, the Messiah, the One who would neither decompose nor be abandoned to the abode of the dead (Greek, Hades; Hebrew, Sheol). After resting in the grave and abiding in Hades, the Messiah, paradoxically, would still live forever. In order to fulfill the Davidic Covenant, this Son of David would of necessity need to be resurrected.
Peter’s point in quoting this particular prophetic psalm to his audience was that since Jesus’ messianic identity had been clearly demonstrated through His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to the right hand of God, it was only a matter of time before He returned to claim His birthright, the throne of David, and finally establish the messianic kingdom (Acts 2:30-36; 3:19-21).
Peter’s citation of Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:25-31 is one of the clearest examples in the New Testament of the specific fulfillment of messianic prophecy. There is no other way to interpret Peter’s affirmation. Empowered and infused with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), Peter could not have been mistaken in his interpretation, neither could he have been creatively or imaginatively appropriating the psalm to fit his theological purpose. With vibrant confidence he preached to thousands of people that one of the most exalted and revered figures in their history, David, in one of the most sacred portions of the Hebrew Scripture, the Psalms, had prophesied that the Messiah would be resurrected.
Likewise, Paul quoted this psalm in Acts 13:35-37, masterfully demonstrating the necessity of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. The “holy and sure blessings of David” (verse 34) were the promises contained in the Davidic Covenant. In order for the everlasting covenant to be fulfilled, the Davidic king had to be immortal. Using the same argument that Peter had made at Pentecost (Acts 2:29-32), Paul reasoned that since David had died and subsequently decomposed in his tomb, his prophecy in Psalm 16:10 could not possibly apply to David, but could only apply to a resurrected Messiah.
Therefore, the Messiah’s resurrection and immortality have established the groundwork for the eventual fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, when the kingdom of God is established. It probably would not be inappropriate to understand Paul as affirming that Jesus’ glorification had launched an initial and preliminary fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, a down payment on the day when Jesus takes His seat on David’s throne in Jerusalem. For discussion on the Son of David, see 2 Samuel 7:11-16; 1 Chronicles 17:10-14.
Excerpted from Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson’s book, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2011).