Psalm 16: Have You Chosen Wisely?

I am reminded of a scene in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade when reading Psalm 16. Jones motivated by the noble purpose of saving his father from certain death is searching for the holy grail. He, along with a man named Donovan seeking the grail for personal glory, has found his way into a hidden cave in which are many goblets guarded by an ancient knight. The knight presents them with the task of discerning which goblet was the true cup used by Jesus at the last supper. Donovan chooses first and picks a golden, jewel-encrusted goblet from which he drinks declaring that it “certainly is the cup of the King of Kings.” Upon drinking the water he quickly decays into a heap of dust, after which the knight says, “he choose poorly.” Jones, on the other hand, chooses a roughly hewn wooden cup and says, “that’s the cup of a carpenter.” After drinking the water the knight says “you have chosen wisely.”

After watching this scene again recently I thought about which cup I would choose and I’m not so sure I wouldn’t make the same mistake as Donovan. Of course, when the camera pans to the lowly cup sitting behind the many jeweled goblets we know this is the cup of Jesus for his way is the way of humility; not riches, pride, and immediate glory. Even so, I’m pretty sure I make Donovan’s mistake every day. Though there is a twist to the story of my choices, making me even worse than Donovan: I know which cup is the correct one, yet I still choose poorly.

It’s not that I set out to choose death, for I can say with the psalmist in Psalm 16 that God is my refuge (v. 1) and apart from him I have no good thing (v. 2). I can say God has made my life a fairly easy one (v. 6) and by following his counsel I will never be shaken (v. 8). I can say he will keep me from eternal death (v. 10) and following him brings me joy and life (v. 10, 11). I can say all this, yet I often abandon him and run after other gods and pleasures, seeking refuge in them (v. 4). I choose the shiny cup promising immediate joy and self-gratification, shunning the wooden cup of pain and self-denial. I seek my own glory and importance, denying humility and sacrifice. And though I know the Lord is my portion, my cup, and my security (v. 5), I choose poorly, not wisely.

Why do I constantly choose that which is wrong when I know what is right? Why do I choose the shallow turmoil of my own way when I see the deep satisfaction of the Lord’s? Why do I dive into a pool of sin tasting of its momentary pleasures when I know eternal pleasures await me on the path of life at the right hand of God? Why? Why do I? Why do we?

I have no answers to these question other than to say I must be the fool who says in his heart “There is no God.”

Sort of depressing isn’t it? Well, yes…and no. Psalm 16 gives me hope as it begins with the hint of a person in turmoil. What I mean is, why else would the psalmist ask God to keep him safe, and why would he declare that he takes refuge in the Lord unless he was in an unsafe and tumultuous situation? Given this, and the psalms that have come before, there is at least one unsafe and tumultuous situation the psalmist might be facing: the evil within him and the knowledge that it keeps him from entering into God’s presence. Even so, in the face of such a dire situation the psalmist cries to God, confronts his sin, and realizes his only hope is in keeping the Lord at his right hand (v. 8).

I think this hope is one of the major reasons I love these heart-felt prayers sung to God out of the psalmist’s own angst and turmoil. For in reading them I realize I am not alone in choosing the shiny goblet all the while needing the carpenter’s cup. I know his humility and sacrifice is my chosen portion and lot in life (v. 5). I understand that God offers himself as my refuge (v.1), my strength (v.8), and my joy (v.11). And I know I will not be abandoned to the grave, for in him is life forever more (v.10).

I believe every morning we find ourselves standing before a shelf of many goblets deciding from which one to drink. Many tall jewel-encrusted goblets fill the shelf. Some are made of pure gold, others of silver and platinum: each one more ornate than the next. But if we look closely, sitting in the back hidden away in the shadows is a small wooden cup looking very much out of place. Each morning we are told, “You must choose, but choose wisely. For as the true grail will bring you life, the false grail will take it from you.” I wonder, which cup will we choose? Which words will be spoken? Will we hear “he chose poorly,” or will we hear “you have chosen wisely?”

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