The Lord Always before Me

February 15, 2015 / No. 3763

Dear radio friends,
In the last couple of weeks we have considered the first part of Psalm 16. Today we continue our study in this psalm by looking together at verse 8. There David writes: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
The psalm is sometimes called “A Psalm written for those preparing to die.” That is because there is no obvious distress in the life of the psalmist that he responds to as he writes this psalm. In fact, this is very much a psalm of joy. But at the end of this psalm, the psalmist does speak of death, and the prospect of his own physical death. Next week we will look at those verses. But in the verse that we consider today, we see this psalmist’s resolve, in the face of whatever comes his way, to keep the Lord always before him; and in doing that, he will find his strength in the Lord.
The verse that we consider is made up of two parts. First, the psalmist expresses a firm resolve. He says, “I have set the Lord always before me.” To set the Lord before him means to have a deliberate and conscious resolve to have God, front and center, in all of his life and in all of his thinking, so that the thought of God captivates all of his senses and all his activity and focus in life. Notice the psalmist says he will do this always, in every situation, whatever comes his way, in every pleasure, in every trouble. Nothing in his life will be a distraction, to take his thoughts and his mind and his eye of faith away from God. In every responsibility, in every relationship, in every temptation, in every difficulty, even in the prospect of death, he will not be distracted from the reality of God.
In the second part of the verse, the psalmist speaks of the resulting strength: “because he is at my right hand,” he says, “I shall not be moved.” The psalmist is in a solid position. He is strong. He does not waver or doubt, and that is because he knows that the Lord God, Jehovah, the faithful, unchanging covenant God, is at his right hand and is his helper.
Today I want to look at this verse from two perspectives: first, from the perspective of Jesus Christ, and then from the believers’ point of view.
We have already said in the earlier messages that this psalm is Messianic. We know that especially from the last verses of the psalm, which are quoted by Peter in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, those words where Christ says, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” What is true of those verses is true of the entire psalm: it is a psalm spoken by Jesus Christ—also the words of our text for this message. They are written by David and are his confession and his resolve, and David said them with many imperfections. But Christ did not. He set the Lord always before Him in a way that has never been true of any other man. And there is nothing, for us as believers, so encouraging and inspiring as to look to Him. Hebrews 12 says we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. When Peter quotes these words in Acts 2, he quotes them this way from the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament Bible. I quote: “I foresaw the Lord always before” Me. And that is the idea of these words: setting before or foreseeing the Lord. The psalmist is saying that God was always in front of him—that the first thing that he saw wherever he saw anything else was God. He never was distracted by anything from his perspective and view of God.
And when we look at the life of Jesus Christ we certainly see this. In Luke 2, at the end of the chapter, we have Christ’s first recorded words, when He was just twelve years old. His parents had taken him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and a couple of days after they had headed home they noticed that He was missing from the group that was traveling with them. So they go back to Jerusalem to find Him. And they ask Him, Where have you been? They are distressed. And His answer is: “I must be about my Father’s business.” His resolve, even as a child, was to do the work that God had sent Him to do. He saw and He understood God’s purpose for Him. And He wanted to get busy with that right away.
This is something that we see throughout His entire ministry, particularly in His prayer life. The gospels tell us that when everybody else went to bed, Jesus, exhausted at the end of the day, would find a quiet place to pray. And He prayed infinitely more times than the gospels record. Every thought that He had was a prayer to God. He was always sensitive to the presence of God. His life was one of perpetual communion with God. It was because of this that He could confidently expect that God would hear Him also when He prayed. For example, in John 11 Jesus prayed at the grave of Lazarus. And He said this: “I thank thee, Father, that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always, but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me.” Jesus is saying that He was in constant communion with God. And He only spoke this prayer out loud for the sake of His audience.
And because Jesus was in this constant communion with His Father, He was never deterred by man from what God had put before Him. When Satan came to Him with temptations, when the unbelieving Jews wanted to crown Him as king, when the leaders of the Jews persecuted Him, Jesus always had His eye upon God. For example, in John 5, after Jesus had performed a miracle on the Sabbath day and He was persecuted and questioned over this, He said in John 5:17: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” He is saying, This is the work of God that I am busy with. Or, in Matthew 16, after Peter’s beautiful confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and the disciples now understand that He is the Messiah, Jesus explains to them that this means that He must go up to Jerusalem and suffer and die. And Peter says to Him, “That shall never be.” And Jesus’ response, having God before Him, is: “Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou art an offence unto me. Thou savorest not the things that be of God but those that be of man.” Jesus understood what the Father’s will was for Him.
It was this constancy of living in God’s presence that gave Jesus strength throughout His ministry. Because God was at His right hand, in the words of Psalm 16, He could not be moved. That comes out in three different ways in the ministry of Jesus. First, this motivated Him to obey the will of God, who sent Him. This is why He rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan.” He says in John 6:38, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Throughout His ministry, Jesus was never a man-pleaser. He did not ask, “What will people think of Me?” Or, “How will this help My reputation or status or acceptance with the multitudes?” No, He lived before God and He delighted to do the will of God.
Now, what was God’s will for Him that He had to obey? Whenever He looked to God, there was always only one word for Him from God and it was this: “That He must die.” Jesus was deeply aware of this. He was a man of sorrows. He was acquainted with grief. He read the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew that it would please the Lord to bruise Him. He says in Luke 9:22, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.” That word at the beginning of the verse: “The Son of man must.” He understands that God had laid this necessity upon Him.
Yet we read in Luke 9:51, “It came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He did not waver from the will of God for Him. He set the Lord before Him and He was obedient then to the Father’s will for Him.
In the second place, looking to God was the source of strength for Him throughout His life. We should not think that Jesus’ life was easy. No, it was a life of intense suffering. Hebrews 5:7, 8 speaks of His strong crying and tears and the agony that He experienced. Remember the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane when He cried out: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The agony of His suffering again was that death was in front of Him. That comes out even in Psalm 16. In the end of this psalm the psalmist is speaking of facing death: “My flesh also shall rest in hope…thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.” This is what was in front of Christ all through His ministry. And, having the Lord before Him, there was strength for Him.
There is a certain mystery in the suffering of Jesus Christ and His death. There was nowhere for Him to turn—no man to help Him. The disciples all forsook Him. He was hated and rejected of all. And then He turned to God, the God who punished Him, and He cried out even on the cross: “My God, my God.” This was His strength.
Then, third, looking to God was what gave Him promise beyond the suffering of His death. This is what sustained Him. Hebrews 12 says that, for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross. In the last verse of Psalm 16, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore,” He did not simply see God as one laying on Him a heavy hand of wrath, but as a God of love and a God of promise. He saw Him as Jehovah God. “I have set the Lord [Jehovah] always before me”—the God who would be faithful, the God who would care for Him. There would be a reward for Him beyond His suffering and beyond the cross. Think of the joy that was before Jesus Christ in His exaltation. This is what God presented Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. He saw there the glory that awaited Him. And this gave Him the strength and the hope to persevere.
So, this is, first, a Messianic word: “I have set the Lord always before me.” But this is also the confession of the believer. As a believer you say, and as a believer I say, “I have set the Lord always before me.” That is a resolve, a resolution, that we make as believers. We do this, first of all, intentionally. It is a personal determination not to turn our eyes from God. It is a personal determination to turn our eyes from the things of this earth to God.
Now, you and I realize, of course, that whether we look to God or not, God is always before us and God is always with us. And His eye is always on us. But, it is only when we look to Him that we will obey and have strength and hope. Otherwise we will despair.
Let me give you a couple of examples from Scripture. There is Jacob. Jacob, you remember, was hated by his brother Esau, and Esau had determined to kill Jacob. Jacob’s parents advise him to flee. So Jacob is running away from his parents to the home of his uncle Laban in Haran. And you remember that first night, when he went out all alone. He stopped in the darkness to sleep. He lay down and he thought to himself, “I am all by myself here.” And he was afraid. Then in a dream God came to him with a ladder and the angels going up and down to heaven. And God, at the top of the ladder, speaks promises to him: “I will go with you and I will bring you back to the land of promise.” What was the cause of Jacob’s fear? It was that he did not have the Lord before him. He did not have this firm resolution. Yes, God was there. And God was not going to fail him. But because he did not look to God, he was terrified and afraid. When he woke up, he said, “Surely God is in this place and I knew it not.” And he called the place Bethel, the house of God. He put up there a memorial to remind him always of the presence of God. He did not set the Lord before him and that caused fear. But then, understanding that Jehovah was before him, and determined to look to Him, he had confidence to go on.
There are, of course, many other examples of such in the Bible as well. There were believers who were afraid, or angry, who stole, who killed, who committed adultery, who in pride were lifted up, who served other gods, who broke the Sabbath day, who offered false worship, and on and on—people who did this because they did not set the Lord before them. Just think of David. He saw Bathsheba. He took his eyes off God and he looked on her. Later he confesses, in Psalm 51, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” That sin started when he did not set the Lord before him.
Then, on the other side of it, we have an example of Elijah, one who did set the Lord before him. In I Kings 17:1, Elijah stands before Ahab and he says this: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth before whom I stand, there shall be no dew nor rain these years but according to my word.” It was because he lived before the Lord that he had the confidence to stand in the presence of the wicked king Ahab and speak this word of judgment.
And, again, in Scripture there are many examples of this. Just think of what Hebrews 11 says of those who “saw him who was invisible,” God. Hebrews 11:33-38 says this: That they, seeing Him who was invisible, “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens,” and so on. They had this firm resolve to set the Lord before them.
Do you have that firm resolve?
Then, in the second place, this resolution is something that we do constantly as believers. “I have set the Lord always before me.” This is not something to do only sometimes, when things are going well, or when things are going really rough, but always. There is nothing that deters the psalmist from setting his eyes on God. This gave him obedience in temptation. This gave him contentment in lack, joy in grief, strength under the burden, love for the enemy when hated, endurance through sickness and pain and trial and poverty. When we set the Lord before us, we will have this strength and this constancy to persevere. Always. Do you always set the Lord before you?
Then, third, this is an active resolution, not just something that we say with our mouth, but something that involves our whole life. “I’m a Christian. I believe in God. So I will set Him before me.” The one who sets before him the Lord is constant in prayer. He is one who devours the Word of God. He is one who delights to be with the people of God. His whole life, his personal life and his public life, his physical life and his spiritual life, are filled with a constancy of drawing into the presence of God. When you meet such a person, it is a delight. God is constantly in their thoughts. They are in the Word of God, and it overflows into their conversation.
You and I can think of believers like that and what an encouragement they are to us—to be undistracted from having God before you. That brings satisfaction in the life of the child of God. A child of God who truly sets the Lord before him is satisfied with God. He says with the psalmist in the earlier verses of this psalm: “The Lord is my portion and the fullness of my cup.” He does not find his satisfaction in the things of the earth, but he says, “Let me have the Lord. Let me have His love. Let me know His grace. Let me know justification and acceptance by Him. Let me have the comfort of knowing that I am His. Let me find joy in His promises. Let me rejoice in His gifts. Let me have sweet communion with Him. God is my all. I have set the Lord always before me.”
The psalmist speaks of God, then, at the end of the verse as his protector. “He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Usually when we think of the right hand in Scripture, we think of a place of honor. Jesus is exalted today at God’s right hand. But, in a sense, the picture is reversed here. It is not us at God’s right hand, but it is God at our right hand. Since He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. And the reverse of the idea portrays this, that now we are not in a position of honor near God, but that God is in a position of being a helper to us. Just as a servant helps his master, he is at the right hand of his master to serve him.
That does not mean for us that God is at our beck and call, but it does mean this, that, as we set Him before us and His will, He is there to guide us and help us, to support us when we are weak, to meet our every need. He is there for us to lean on. “I shall not be moved,” that is, I shall not be shaken from my purpose. And what is your purpose? It is to live to the glory of God. It is to enjoy God in whatever you do and wherever you go and in whatever God brings into your life. And, again, we can think of Christ. With God at His right hand, He was not moved. When He was buffeted and beaten and persecuted, He was not moved. When He was led out to the cross, and He faced the prospect of death, He set Himself to His task. He was not moved because God was at His right hand and was His helper.
This is a marvelous promise of God’s care and protection for every believer. I said earlier that this is a psalm for one preparing for death. And, certainly, that was true for Christ. He was preparing for death all through His life. And He did this by setting the Lord before Him.
With God close by, with God at my right hand, I can go on. There is assurance as I look forward. In whatever life may bring me, I do not have to be fearful. God has not failed me and God will not fail me. So, with God at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the wonderful promise of Thy Word. We thank Thee for Thy constancy and Thy help in our time of need, Thy grace that is always sufficient. Lord, help us to set Thee always before our mind, to have this firm resolve as believers. We pray it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.