Psalm 16:11 is a beautiful verse about the hope of everlasting joy: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (ESV). To understand the meaning of in your presence there is fullness of joy, it is necessary to review the entire context of Psalm 16.
Psalm 16 begins with David’s petition: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge” (verse 1, ESV). The word preserve means “to hedge about, guard, to protect, attend to.” Although it is unclear why David asks for God to preserve him, it is evident that David knows whom to take refuge in, for “there is no good apart from [Him]” (Psalm 16:2, ESV). The point is that the Lord is the source of our protection and well-being.
Next, David states that he is pleased with the “saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3, ESV). This does not mean that David values the saints above God or places them on the same level as God. To the contrary, David wishes to express his complete satisfaction with the righteousness (or holiness) of the saints, which is contrasted with “those who run after another god” (verse 4, ESV). To be in the company of God’s people brings joy, but to be in the company of godless people multiplies sorrow.
Then, in Psalm 16:5, David describes his satisfaction with the Lord and all that He provides: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot” (ESV). The Lord is not simply David’s portion (or inheritance). He is his chosen portion. This is significant because David acknowledges that only the Lord can satisfy him, so he gladly welcomes all that is received from Him.
In Psalm 16:6, David exults in what it means for God to hold his lot: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (ESV). The “lines” here are either literal or figurative. If taken literally, then the lines are the “allotted periods and the boundaries” (Acts 17:28) of David’s dwelling place. If lines should be taken figuratively, which is probably the better interpretation, then it refers to the “pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6) and “pleasures” (verse 11) at God’s right hand. The idea is that God is David’s inheritance (cf. Romans 8:17), and he rejoices in this wonderful truth.
In a sermon on Psalm 16, John Piper said this about verse 6: “Therefore, exulting God as his Sovereign is almost the same as exulting in God as his Treasure. God is the sovereign who holds my lot. And he uses that power to make himself my beautiful inheritance—to fence me in to the pleasures of knowing him. He makes himself my treasure” (“The Path to Full and Lasting Pleasure,” Aug 11, 2015).
The Lord is David’s refuge and portion, but He is also David’s counselor: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night my heart instructs me” (Psalm 16:7, ESV). In this verse, David exalts the Lord for counseling, guiding, and directing his steps, even in the night when his mind is racing or his soul is restless. In these moments, the Lord reassures David of His ever-abiding presence by comforting him with His Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, ESV; cf. Psalm 16:11). David will not be “shaken” (Psalm 16:8), abandoned (verse 9), or experience “corruption” (verse 10) because the Lord will preserve him.
We can now answer the question, What does it mean that “in your presence there is fullness of joy”? In the presence of God, there is hope of everlasting joy. This hope does not put us to shame, since we know that God is trustworthy and faithful. Therefore, we can be confident that death will not keep us from the fullness of joy in God’s presence. In heaven, we will behold the radiant beauty of God’s face forevermore (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2).