Psalm 16 expresses King David's hope, but what was he hoping for?
by Jews for Jesus | January 01 2018
Reference: Psalm 16:8–11
Fulfillment: Acts 2:22–32, 13:35–37
In rabbinic tradition, there was discussion as to whether David was speaking of immortality in Psalm 16.1 The psalm expresses King David’s hope, but what was he hoping for? Was it for a long and full life in the present—or was it for immortality and to be in God’s presence forever? David affirms that God will not “abandon my soul to Sheol,” implying that God would not leave him to the grave. And his affirmation that God would “not let your holy one see corruption” (“corruption” is literally, “the Pit”) implies that he believed he would not undergo the physical decay that death involves.
A popular Jewish song goes like this: “David, Melech Yisrael, chai, chai, v’kayam,” “David, King of Israel, lives forever” (or “lives and endures”). An online poster (using an alternative spelling for David) posed this question to a Jewish discussion group: “I’m pretty sure David, the king of Israel is dead and buried. If so, what does this song really mean and why do we sing it?” One answer given was: “Perhaps since the messiah is to be from the lineage of King David and has yet to come it is a reference of things to come via King David’s line and a continuation?”2
In the New Testament book of Acts, chapter two, Peter uses a similar thought in addressing Jewish people on the holiday of Shavuot, the day on which, according to tradition, King David was both born and also died. No wonder he takes the occasion to quote Psalm 16 and then mentions that David is dead and his tomb is available for inspection! But, he continues,
Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the [Messiah], that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
King David may have seen ahead to his own resurrection – but David’s resurrection was only possible because of the resurrection of his descendant, the Messiah. His vision of his own resurrection and that of the Messiah’s could well have blended into one glimpse of the future.
In Acts chapter 13, Paul argues similarly. David did see (that is, experience) that corruption of death, because, after all, he died. But it was in his own descendant, the Messiah Jesus, that corruption was not seen. As Paul taught elsewhere, because of Jesus’ resurrection, the resurrection of all other believers is possible.
David looked ahead to a life with God beyond the grave, even if he did not have full clarity of what that entailed. Because Jesus’ resurrection enables the resurrection of all believers, including David, that vision of his own resurrection merged with the resurrection of Jesus.
1. For details, see Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, vol. 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 115.