Theme: Jesus’ Resurrection
In this week’s lessons we learn from one text how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection.
Scripture: Psalm 16:1-11
The reason why this psalm is such a clear prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection is the startling claim found in the second half of verse 10. The first part is impressive but not startling. It is an expression of faith that God will not abandon the psalmist to the grave. That could have been spoken by anyone of the Old Testament saints. It represents a high expression of faith, of course. The only thing that quite matches it is Job’s declaration: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I and not another” (19:25-27). So although David’s statement is strong and unusual, it is not an impossible statement for any of the Old Testament saints to have uttered, as I said. Any one of them could have spoken of God preserving them beyond the grave.
But that is not the case with the second part of this verse, and it is this that makes it a remarkable prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. That part says “nor will you let your Holy one see decay.” When we die our bodies do decay, even if we are waiting for the resurrection. David’s body decayed. But the body of Jesus did not decay. God preserved Christ’s body from corruption while it was lying in the tomb and then breathed life back into it on Easter morning. And that is why the verse cannot apply to David or to any other mere human being—even though the rest of the psalm can—and why it is a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection.
When Peter referred to the text at Pentecost, he said, “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:29-31).
Paul’s use of the text was even clearer. He said, “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay” (Acts 13:36, 37).
This great prophecy grew out of the life and faith of King David. There have been attempts to see Psalm 16 as a total prophecy of Jesus. That is, each verse has been taken as referring to something specific in his life. In the case of one commentator, each verse has been referred to Jesus’ thoughts and experiences during the hours he spent praying in Gethsemane.2 This is far-fetched and unnecessary. Since the psalm seems to have been written by David—the heading says so—most of it should be understood as referring to his faith and desires rather than to Jesus.

C. Leupold suggests that the best setting of the psalm is those years in the life of David when he was forced to flee from King Saul. He calls the psalm: “Jehovah—the Psalmist’s Portion in Life and His Deliverer in Death.” It has four parts.

Study Questions:

Why is the first part of verse 10 said to be impressive but not startling? What other passage from the Old Testament is similar, and why?
How can Psalm 16 be seen as a messianic psalm? Why is the second part of verse 10 startling?
From the lesson, should Psalm 16 be seen as a total prophecy about Jesus? Why or why not?

2“Christ in Gethsemane” by James Frame. It is referred to by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in The Treasury of David, vol. 1a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 198.

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