1. Read the Psalm as David sings.
David cries to God as king of God’s people, in dependence on him alone. As leader of the people his delight is in the saints (the holy ones). As their leader he won’t participate in the worship of idols which leads only to destruction. Rather, he will worship and follow the Lord, because in him he has beautiful inheritance (the promise of a son to sit on his throne). As a man after God’s own heart, David could indeed rejoice in the counsel and leading of the Lord. He knew that as a follow of Yahweh, he would not be abandoned to utter destruction, but that the Lord would finally redeem him. He looked forward to the ‘pleasures forevermore’ in the presence of God.
2. Read the Psalm as Israel sings.
The righteous of the people of Israel would rejoice that their king called on the Lord for help, and they would follow his example. The warnings of verse four (sorrows for following another God) contrasted with the promises of verses five and six (joy in God) served as general admonitions to each other to follow hard after their God, since there was no joy to be found elsewhere. As a people they could rejoice in the inheritance of the land that they had been promised. The Lord had given them his counsel in Torah and said he would dwell in their midst if they followed him. As a promise of God, they knew that the ‘holy one’ (those who were righteous) would not be abandoned by God in death, but would be saved from judgement.
3. Read the Psalm as Jesus sings.
In his human life, Jesus continually and perfectly sought refuge in his Father. The life that he had in himself was the Father’s life, the words that he spoke were the Father’s words, and the works that he did were what he saw the Father doing. He takes delight in the saints (the righteous) who hear his word and believe. He would not give in to the idolatry of the world, but perfectly fulfil the law in a perfectly pure life. His chosen portion and his lot were the person of his Father, through the mediation of the Spirit–his food and drink was to do the Father’s will. In a truer sense than any mere human could ever know, when Jesus spent whole nights in prayer he could sing ‘the Lord gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.’ Because God was at his right hand, he was not finally shaken–even through all his suffering. His faith in his Father did not waver, so he was glad and rejoiced, knowing that his soul and flesh would be secure in the end. As Paul saw in Acts 13.35, this generic ‘holy one’ who would not be abandoned is specifically and ultimately fulfilled in the ‘Holy One’ who is Messiah, crucified and then resurrected. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life endured the cross for the joy that was set before him–he can sing more than any other: ‘in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ He can sing this as the one who has entered into God’s presence in a way that none of us ever have or could.
4. Read the Psalm as Christians sing.
God, in Christ, is our only refuge from sin, Satan, and death. We have nothing but sin apart from the work of the Spirit of Christ, which he sent. The ‘saints’ are those who have been sanctified (set apart) by Christ’s blood–and in our church we delight. We know that the sorrows of those who run after other gods will multiply because we have seen the ultimate sorrow for sin: the cross of Christ. We know that God is for us, and we know we have a glorious inheritance in Christ: we have been blessed with all the blessings of the heavenly places, and God didn’t spare even his own Son, so how will he now not freely also give us all things? If he is for us, who can be against us? We surely cannot be shaken, because Christ was not and cannot be forsaken–we are ultimately secure. Since ‘the Holy One’ was not forsaken, we know that his ‘holy ones’ will not be forsaken; he has gone before us to make a way. Christ has secured for us pleasure forevermore and fulfilment of joy because he has prayed for us, that we would be with him, where he is, to see his glory and not die. There is therefore now no condemnation, but only joy in the presence of God.
What a glorious thought! What great reasons to sing!