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.
A literal translation of the first part of this morning’s text is: “Yahweh the portion of my lot and my cup” — which leaves the reader in the position of having to supply a verb to link “Yahweh” with what follows. The King James Version and almost every other version that I have been able to check suggest that the verb should be “is”, and only the NIV and its related versions choose instead to go for “has assigned me”. So which should it be?
I cannot say; but I do see where the NIV is coming from in opting for “has assigned me”. It has understood that when the psalmist writes the words we have in front of us this morning, he is looking back to the day when the tribes of Israel finally took possession of the promised land and Joshua assigned portions of it to each of them by lot (Joshua 18 and 19). Who got what? Yahweh decided as Eleazer the priest manipulated the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28.30; Numbers 27.21) in the presence of Joshua close to the ark of the covenant in the holy place at Shiloh (Joshua 18.10). While some tribes must have jumped for joy as the lot was drawn, others must have been somewhat disappointed, for the land of Canaan is not equally fertile from one end to the other; but in this psalm (as the NIV reads it) the psalmist is saying that the boundary lines of his life have fallen in pleasant places — the situation and circumstances that the Lord has assigned to him are “jumping for joy” ones.
But what of “the cup” that has been assigned too? The best commentary on that is surely the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane just before his arrest, trial and crucifixion: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 14.36). On the lips of Jesus, the cup is the task that the Father has given him … his calling, his ministry. So the psalmist in our text was rejoicing not only in where God had put him and what circumstances surrounded him but also in the work that God had given him to do.
Can I do that this morning? Yes, indeed I can — not just because I really am happy with where I am and what I must do, but because I recognise that wherever I am placed and whatever tasks I am faced with, the boundaries of my life and circumstcances and occupation and ministry have been set by the Lord. And they have not been set in any arbitrary manner; they have been chosen with love and taking full account of the personality and gifts and abilities that the Lord has given me.
Thank you, Lord, for my wife, my home, my work, my ministry, my church, my friends, my gifts, my everything … I have a delightful inheritance and I bless you for it. Amen.
PS. What if the King James reading of “is” is correct? No matter for there is a great truth in that reading too. As a Christian, Jesus is my inheritance. Jesus is my life. And the “boundary lines” of Jesus within which I live and move and have my being make all of life a pleasant place … a garden of delight.