What do you do when you lose everything?
That’s what ran through my mind recently as I watched footage of the floods in southern British Columbia. The rising waters forced hundreds to evacuate the area, leaving behind homes, farms, and businesses. And the rain continues. For those hardest hit by the floods, what they had spent years building was gone in a moment. They experienced not just a loss of home or business, but a loss of a life’s work, a dream, perhaps even a loss of hope.
When David wrote Psalm 16 he likely had in mind a similar situation, although the details were certainly different. It is thought that David wrote this song while he was on the run from the most powerful man in the country, King Saul. The ruddy shepherd boy was on top of Saul’s most-wanted list for the wicked crime of being more popular than the king. At any moment Saul, or Saul’s henchmen, might show up and stick a spear through David.
On his father’s farm, David had enjoyed a peaceful life as a shepherd and had even been singled out by the prophet Samuel as the future hope of Israel. He proved he was up to the task when his bold trust in Yahweh brought him face to face with the giant Goliath, bringing the big man down with a single sling of a stone. After that, the people adored David and for a time King Saul was pleased to give David a high rank in the army.
But when Saul’s favor turned to jealousy and anger, David lost everything and was forced into the life of a fugitive. He was in perpetual state of flux as he criss-crossed the deserts of Israel, camping out in caves with a faithful band of men around him. David couldn’t sit still, couldn’t be at peace, couldn’t enjoy the stillness of a summer evening as he patiently watched his sheep. Instead, he went from crisis to crisis with no solid ground to plant his feet.
It was in such circumstances that David sat down and wrote the words of Psalm 16. His concern in the psalm is safety and security, as we see in the opening lines:
“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.”Psalm 16:1
For David, refuge and rest cannot be determined by geography or politics, but rather by the presence of the Lord. Despite the turbulence of his life on the run, David learned that if God was with him, that was all he needed. That’s the reason David could write the following:
“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”Psalm 16:5-6
When God blessed Israel with the promised land and allocated parcels for each tribe, the people were not to think that this was the be-all-end-all of God’s promises. The promised land was just something visible pointing to the invisible reality of true communion and life in God’s kingdom. Losing his earthly lot in life helped David see this truth with greater clarity.
No doubt it can be a hard truth to learn. When floodwaters rise and all we have is under threat of being destroyed, it’s only natural to mourn, to ask why, to cry out to God. But, blessed are those who in the end can survey the damage and say with the old prophet David: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”