In Psalm 16:6, the Psalmist writes:

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

The rest of the chapter (see below) does not mention the lines at all. What do they mean?

1 Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.”

3 As for the saints who are in the earth, They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5 The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.

6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7 I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8 I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely.

10 For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11 You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

  • My guess: lines of descent? That doesn't explain the psalmist's description of them though, which is why I'm relegating this to a comment. Apr 9, 2013 at 19:58

2 Answers 2


When it is asked what do 'the lines' mean we need to look at the literary structure of the song but also the wider context. For 'cups' and 'lines' often carry metaphoric meanings, as do so many other words in the Bible.

This particular Psalm must be treated with 'extra metaphorical significance' with respect to its historical context because it was evidently applied to the Messiah both before Christ in ancient rabbinic literature and after his resurrection in the New Testament. Therefore, to be honest to the intent of the original author -- everything in it has imagery that indicates a future tense. (i.e, David's reflections were intended as prophetic.) The future drift of the reflection is clearly seen in David's conclusion that being satisfied in the Lord actually meant his body will not see decay.

From a simple analysis on the meaning of the phrase in v6, Burg spells it clearly:

The lines, that is, the cords with which they used to measure their lands in surveys; and hence the allotted portion. Compare Amos, 7:17; Zech. 2:5; 2 Sam. 8:2. For נָפַל, with ל, in the signification of To happen, see Num. 34:2; Judg. 18:1. (A COMMENTARY onTHE BOOK OF PSALMS; WILLIAM DE BURGH, D. D)

Alfred Edersheim (the Jewish historian) helps by recording an ancient rabbinical reference that indicates the 'lines' measured out as the 'cup' that David accepts as his portion, which in turn brings comfort to cups of blessing appointed in the days of the 'cups' of judgment from the Messiah.

Ps. 16:5 is discussed in Ber. R. 88, in connection with the cup which Pharaoh’s butler saw in his dream. From this the Midrash proceeds to speak of the four cups appointed for the Passover night, and to explain their meaning in various manners, among others, contrasting the four cups of fury, which God would make the nations drink, with the four cups of salvation which He would give Israel in the latter days, viz. Ps. 16:5; Ps. 116:13; Ps. 23:5. The expression, Ps. 116:13, rendered in our A. V. ‘the cup of salvation,’ is in the original, ‘the cup of salvations’—and is explained as implying one for the days of the Messiah, and the other for the days of Gog. (Alfred Edersheim Life and Times of Jesus Appendix 9)

Looking at David's 'satisfaction' as a 'prophetic reflection' we easily note that Christ was satisfied with his 'cup' or 'portion' above any man ever was. He even symbolically drank its bitter taste in joy on the cross, while literally drinking it also in death. (Matt 20:22, 26:27, 26:39, John 19:29) By the 'Suffering One' who was content with his portion from the Father, he granted David that prophetic confidence in his own resurrection.

Bonar captures the prophetic imagery concept well:

this Psalm exhibits One who is happy, truly happy, notwithstanding a world of broken cisterns around him, and the sighs borne to his ear on every breeze. This happy One is “he Man of Sorrows,”—no other than He! For Peter, in Acts 2:31, declares, “David speaketh concerning Him!” This happy One (followed in all ages by his chosen ones) walks through many a varied scene, and at every step expresses satisfaction and perfect contentment with the Father’s arrangements. In verses 1, 2, he tells, with complacent delight, into whose hands it is he has committed his all: “Thou art my Lord,”—my soul has said this with all its strength...Nor less remarkable is it to hear, in ver. 6, the Man of Sorrows tell that his lines have fallen to him in pleasant places! He that had nowhere to lay his head, how happy is He! What a calm contentment sits upon his pensive brow! Earth and hell are unable to destroy his blessed lot. (CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH in the BOOK OF PSALMS, ANDREW A. Bonar)

Hence 'the lines' in the original prophetic sense is the 'portion or cup' that Christ was given by the father in order that our bodies will not see decay as members of his:

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalms 16:9-11, NIV)


The 'lines' mentioned appear to referer to boundary lines, demarcating a plot of land especially of an inheritance and used poetically to describe a spiritual inheritance; see Deut. 32:9 יַעֲקֹב חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ.

(In Hebrew the word 'lines' is חבל which means a 'rope', which in context means a surveyor's rope).

Here too, it references the 'heritage' mentioned in the end of the verse, and means to say that I have received a pleasant heritage - the lines/borders of my inheritance have been drawn in a pleasant place.

  • Hi Reinstate Monica, welcome. Do you think that land could be the promised land? Dec 15, 2020 at 22:44
  • @TiagoMartinsPeres李大仁 Nope, I don't interpret it that way; the land is not David's. It most likely refers to God himself, as stated in the preceding verse - "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance". Dec 15, 2020 at 22:50
  • In a way it was his... From that perspective the promised land could have the spiritual connotation you're bringing up too Dec 15, 2020 at 23:00

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