This week Dr. Rebecca Idestrom will be sharing her reflections on Psalm 16 with a message entitled “Psalm 16: I have set the LORD always before me.”
Many in our community will know Rebecca for her mentoring influence among students, her winsome teaching ability, and her deep scholarship. At Tyndale since 2001, she currently serves as Professor of Old Testament at the Seminary.
Hello, my name is Rebecca Idestrom, and I teach Old Testament at the Seminary. I joined the faculty at Tyndale in 2001, and have been teaching here for 20 years now. I count it a real privilege to serve the Lord in this community. In our Tyndale Chapel series this summer, the speakers have been asked to share reflections from one of their favorite Psalms. Although there are many Psalms I could have chosen, Psalm 16 has a special meaning for me. Let me first read the Psalm. You may want to follow along in your Bibles. Reading from Psalm 16, from the NIV.
A miktam of David.
1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.’
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
‘They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.’
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
One of the reasons why this Psalm is one of my favourite is that, in my home, I have a painting that's based on this Psalm. It was painted by a Jewish Holocaust survivor named Marta Hauer, who is an artist here in Toronto. It hangs at the entrance to my living room. Part of the painting has verse eight painted in Hebrew. It reads שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט. I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. This verse is an important reminder, to me, to fix my eyes on the Lord. To always put Him first, to have Him as a centre of my life. Therefore, I've entitled this message after verse eight. I have set the Lord always before me.
Let's look more closely at the Psalm. The Psalm begins with a petition of protection. Keep me safe, guard me, preserve me, protect me. For in you, I take refuge. You will notice that throughout the Psalm, the psalmist is stressing the Lord directly, in the second person pronouns you and your, in prayer and praise confessing his trust in the Lord. In you, I take refuge. There's a confident trust in the Lord's protection, because he finds refuge in God. What does it mean to find refuge in God? The concept of refuge means to find protection, safety from something, or someone, protection from the storm, from the enemy, from illness. Is the psalmist seeking physical protection, or is seeking some other kind of refuge? Is he choosing to seek God's protection from the temptations of the world? Notice that in verse four, the psalmist chooses not to join those who follow other gods. Perhaps he's been tempted to follow the ways of the world. He chooses to find refuge in God, and not somewhere else. The concept of God as our refuge, is still very relevant today. We're living through a pandemic, which is impacting the whole world, something none of us ever expected. And besides the pandemic, our world is really broken in so many ways. We live in a very volatile world, full of unrest and insecurity, injustice, violence and war. We are reminded of this daily as we listen to the news. We can easily become overwhelmed by it all. This Psalm reminds us that we need to find refuge in God, to find our true security and rest, comfort and peace in Him, as we continue to live in this world full of pain and trouble. We too, cry out, preserve, protect us, oh God, for we take our refuge in You.
In verse two, the psalmist declares that Yahweh is his Lord and master. You are my Lord. He's not just any Lord, as a general statement, or someone else's Lord. Yahweh is his personal Lord and Master. You are my Lord. By this statement, he sees himself as a servant. As the Lord's servant, he submits to no other master. He will not follow or be loyal to any other God, but Yahweh, in contrast to those who are tempted to follow other gods, as mentioned in verse four. He recognizes that he has no good thing apart from the Lord. How can he say, apart from you, I have no good thing? There are many good things in our lives. Every good and perfect gift is actually from the Lord. What the psalmist is really saying is, in contrast to the Lord, everything else pales in significance, even goodness. In other words, the Lord is his life, the Lord is everything to him. In this context, the psalmist also recognizes the gift of God's people, the saints, the holy ones, the faithful community, which brings him great delight. The beautiful benefit of believing in God, and having a personal relationship with Him, is that then we become part of the body of Christ, the family of God. We find support and refuge in the Lord, through God's family, through God's people. I have certainly experienced this truth in very tangible ways several times in my life. I'd like to share, share two examples.
In 2013, I ruptured my Achilles tendon completely, when I was playing floor hockey at Tyndale with the students. I love floor hockey by the way. As a result, I was on crutches for five months, and had to do physiotherapy for a year and a half. Since I live on my own, I needed to bet, to depend on people to help me during my long time of recovery. Then three years later, in 2016, I had another major health crisis when I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, and needed brain surgery. In both health crises, during the long time of recovery, I experienced God's love through people, through people's practical help. With both health crises, I could not drive for many months. I needed to depend on people to give me rides. So many people helped me in so many practical ways, demonstrating their love with their words, their prayers and actions. It was very humbling, but also very encouraging. They were the saints. They are the saints who brought me great joy and delight. We encounter God through one another.
In verses five and six, we read, "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. You hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed I have a beautiful inheritance." As the psalmist reflects upon his life, he focuses on the blessings in his life, the lot, the inheritance he has received. And in so doing he focuses, his focus shifts to God, to his God. There are two different Hebrew words used here for portion and share in verse five. The New American Standard Bible translates the verse as the Lord is the portion of my inheritance, and my cup. The terms portion, or share, are words often related to the sacrificial worship in the Old Testament and to the portions of the sacrifice. You might remember, from First Samuel chapter one, the Elkanah gave portions to his wife, Hannah and Peninnah and the children as they worship the Lord at Shiloh. But the words for lot, and inheritance, or heritage, draws metaphorically on the inheritance of the Promised Land. The allotted portions given to each tribe and clan, as listed in Joshua.
The references to, "the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places," also relates to the measuring lines, or ropes, that set the boundaries of the land inherited. Here we notice two things. That the Lord Himself is his portion and his cup. But also it is the Lord who has given the psalmist a lot, or an inheritance, and it is God who holds on to the psalmist's lot. You have made my lot secure. The Hebrew word there, means to grasp hold of, to hold on to, giving the sense of security. You Oh Lord, hold on to my lot. That is why he can trust and be secure. God is holding on to, upholding his lot. As he reflects on this, he recognizes God's benevolent provisions, God's blessings, the gift and inheritance is pleasant and delightful. It is beautiful. This is not the only place in scripture where the Lord Himself is understood as the Israelite worshipers portion. You may recall that the Levites were not given any physical land as an inheritance in the promised land. But rather the Lord Himself would be their inheritance and their portion. In the same way, the psalmist recognizes, that ultimately, God is his portion, his inheritance.
We too need to recognize the Lord as our portion, or inheritance, our security. Our inheritance, or security, is not found in an RRSP, or in our pension plan, in our money or possessions. These things are temporal, not eternal. Our security is found in the Lord. We need to remember this, where our true security and future lies. If we recognize our inheritance, where our true treasure is, the treasure that is found in heaven and not on Earth, as Jesus said, then we will not be envious of what others have, of their possessions, of their houses. Since we'll realize that these things do not last. They do not give us eternal lasting security. Our security is in the Lord. And that is a real blessing and a gift. We need to remember and recognize the blessings He's given us and be thankful for them. God has given all of us a beautiful and rich life. Yet at the same time, our lives are also filled with sorrow, pain, heartache, trials, and death. Suffering is part of the rich tapestry of life. This is the reality we cannot escape. Yet it is important that in times when we are tempted to despair, we need to look at the blessings God has given us. We need to think about all the good things, the good gifts. For all good gifts come from above. We need to count our blessings, as the old hymn goes, "Count your blessings, named them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done." That is what the psalmist is doing. And that is what you and I need to do each day. As we reflect on these verses, let us ask ourselves, what lot in life has the Lord given me? What purpose, what destiny? How has the Lord blessed me? What is my inheritance? What are the boundary lines which he has drawn up for me?
These verses often serve as a good reminder for me to reflect on my life journey, and to count my blessings, to reflect on the good things in life with gratitude. As I reflect upon my life and journey, I'm reminded, first of all, of my strong Christian heritage. I was born in Sweden, and my relatives in Sweden often hold family reunions. Over the years I've attended several family reunions in Sweden. At these events, our cousins and aunts and uncles always take time to share memories from the family, and their Christian upbringing. It becomes an important occasion for me personally, to reflect upon the heritage I have been given.
I was raised in a Christian home, with both sides of my parent's family, coming to the Lord, and being part of the beginning of the Pentecostal movement in Sweden. I'm grateful for the strong Christian heritage and inheritance. It has shaped my life and direction in so many profound ways. Besides my strong Christian heritage, over the years, I've learned that the lot that God has given me, is my calling to teach. And that my teaching, research and writing is meant to be a gift to the church and to bless others. If I'm honest, I have not found this calling easy. With this calling has come great responsibility and many, many struggles.
If you had asked me in high school, what I wanted to become when I grew up, I would never have dreamt of responding that I would like to become a professor teaching the Old Testament. I come from a very musical family and grew up singing in choirs and studying music. I had planned to study music in university and was preparing for that. But through various circumstances, and in unexpected ways, the Lord led me to this vocation and calling to teach. Although that journey was very painful at times, I am grateful for the Lord's leading. His will was revealed to me gradually over time, and I'm thankful for this. In the midst of the challenges I thank God for a delightful and pleasant inheritance. I feel very blessed to serve the Lord at Tyndale. I'm truly blessed by this community. It is truly a privilege and a delight. I ask you to consider again the question what is your lot in life, your inheritance, your purpose? What is the Lord given you to do? In verse eight, it says, "I have set the Lord always before me. Because He's at my right hand I will not be shaken." The Hebrew word translated shaken, can also mean, I will not topple over, I will not fall over or falter. In other words, I can stand secure, I will not be moved. Ever since I had the Achilles injury, that picture of not toppling over has taken on special meaning for me.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this message, the painting I have with this verse is a constant reminder to me, to set the Lord always before me each day, to put Him first, to have him as my focus. There are so many, so much in our lives that distract us. Challenges and trials and worries that come with living in a fallen and broken world. Daily we need to refocus our vision onto the Lord and to see life from His perspective. This verse also reminds me one of my favorite hymns, Be Thou My Vision. The Lord needs to be our vision. We need to fix our eyes on the Lord. What I find very interesting about this verse is that the psalmist says that he has set the Lord before him, in front of him, in fact, yet at the same time, he says, because God is at my right hand, I will not be shaken around not be moved. Notice the image of having God in front, God in front of us, yet also God beside us, at our right hand. This picture reminds me of St. Patrick's prayer, which speaks of Christ within me, Christ behind me, before me, beside me, beneath me, above me and so forth. It is a picture of God surrounding me. The wonderful truth of Psalm 16, eight, is that as we daily set the Lord before us, letting us guide us and lead us on the way. He is also beside us at our right hand walking with us, accompanying us, advocating for us, interceding for us, supporting us, helping us that we'll, so that we'll not be shaken so that we will not topple over. We are not alone. He is with us on this journey through life.
One of the ways I like to pray, which helps me focus on the Lord, is to pray with a cross, a holding cross that's made of olive wood that I bought in Israel. I hold it in the palm of my hand as I pray, and as I read Scripture. I also, also like to pray with a prayer shawl. Both the cross and the prayer shawl help me visualize my prayers. I focused my eyes on Jesus by clinging to the cross, the symbol of God's grace. But the prayer shawl also reminds me that God's presence is all around me. He's beside me, he surrounds me with his love, and I'm not alone. Daily, I tried to set the Lord before me to have Him as my focus. But of course, daily, I fail as well. And that's the very reason why I need to repeat the exercise, to repeat, recommit myself to the Lord.
In verse nine, we learn that this leads to joy and praise, and continued security and trust. The word therefore, connects what follows with everything that has been said, so far in the Psalm. As the psalmist says, The Lord is his focus in life. This leads to praise and gratitude and deep joy. He realizes that his life has been good, he has been blessed. The Psalmist expresses gratitude and joy, even in the night. Yet, this does not mean that life has been easy. We get hint, hints of these difficulties in the Psalm. For example, in verse 10, he reflects on his mortality, and the threat of death, and the grave. Yet the Lord will not abandon him there. You will not abandon me, you are there. Even in the darkest valley, the valley of the shadow of death, you are there. The Lord is there. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. The word abandon is a powerful word, that brings strong emotions. Some of us may have experienced abandonment by someone. And that experience is very painful. There's a sense of being left behind, forsaken, rejected, left alone, not cared for. Even a death of a parent, or a loved one can feel like abandonment, even though it's unintentional. And sometimes we may even feel abandoned by God. But the psalm reminds us that God has not abandoned us. The Lord has not abandoned you. He is with you. He is with me. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He will not abandon us to the grave. We do not have to fear the death because Jesus has gone before us. He has experienced death on our behalf and he has conquered the grave. Hallelujah. Thus He is with us even in death. What a wonderful truth. He does not abandon us in life, nor in death.
Psalm 16 concludes with a joyful tone. Verse nine says, "Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices. My flesh also dwells secure." Verse 11, "You make me You have made known to me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Deep joy and life is expressed in these words, of abundance, fullness of joy, pleasures, delights at your right hand, true satisfaction and joy. All this is found in God's presence as we come before Him. These final verses from Psalm 16, specifically, verses 8 through 11, are quoted in the New Testament, in the book of Acts, chapter 2, 25 to 28. In Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quoted these verses from Psalm 16 apply, and applied them prophetically to Jesus Christ's resurrection and ascension. In Acts 2 31, Peter emphasized that God had not abandoned Jesus to the grave, nor his body, let his body see decay. Instead, quote, "God raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, and has poured out what you see and hear. Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."
This past Thursday, was Ascension day, according to the church liturgical calendar. On this day, Christians around the world reflect on the significance of the ascension of Christ. It is because Jesus has risen from the dead, and has ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us, praying for us, that we can trust Him, that we can have confident hope and deep joy. We can remain steadfast in a world that is shaking all around us. I have set the Lord always before me, because He's at my right hand. I shall not be shaken. Today and every day, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is with us on this journey of life. He will not abandon us. May the Spirit remind us of these truths, today, and always. Amen and Amen.
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