2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. The word derek means path or way. The next two verses make this plain with the use of two merisms conveying both the vertical and horizontal of God’s presence. The prayer of the writer of Psalm 139, King David, showed that he obviously wanted to be in the centre of the will of God. Is hagar superior to zarah? but the night shines as the day. Tucker and Davis offer an overview of these four movements: In Genesis 22, God tests Abraham’s obedience by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. (17-24) Verses 1-6 God has perfect knowledge of us, and all our thoughts and actions are open before him. 12 even the darkness doesn’t hide from you, and you know me. He affirms that Yahweh formed him in his mother’s womb, a process that remained invisible to people until the advent of modern medical imaging. Yahweh created him. But Yahweh is not an enemy set on the psalmist’s destruction, as would normally be the case in a siege. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me; the light around me will be night;’ However, some references say bones, which is ‘esem––not ‘osem. Please check errors and resubmit. “The hymnic nature of the first eighteen verses seems to support the claims of Hermann Gunkel and Claus Westermann” (915). Yet he has remained present with us (v. 18). And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 14 I will give thanks to you, And laid Your hand upon me. There is a better way. These seven commands form the backbone of one of the most instructive psalms on giving grateful praise to the Lord: Psalm 100. In the final few verses, he indicates that all the days ordained for him are written in “your book,” which the authors explain “likely stems from the Mesopotamian idea of tablets or books of fate in which the deities would write the preordained life of humans. The word nepes means soul, but not in the sense that we often use that word. Tucker and Grant explain that in the Old Testament, “‘anxious thoughts’ can be the result of night visions (Job 4:13) or defamatory rhetoric (Job 20:2), as well as the fear of being mistreated by others (Ps 94:19). 4 Even before a word is on my tongue,. Each person has existed in the mind of God eternally. W. Dennis Tucker and Jamie A. With a holy satisfaction in our own integrity, concerning which we may appeal to God, Ps. He has seen our comings and goings, our faithfulness and faithlessness. But Yahweh knows even more than our sitting down and rising up. “Because the psalmist desires the presence of God, he seeks to eradicate anything in his own life that might vitiate that life-giving relationship” (925). A psalm of David. Impossible! This verse states that Yahweh had foreknowledge of the psalmist’s life before he was born. The verb yada‘, “to know,” occurs seven times in the poem (vv. Try me, and know my thoughts. At the start, they offer a unifying thread that serves as an interpretive key: As in Psalm 138, the writer of Psalm 139 announces the threats that befall him and pleads for God’s action (Ps 139:19–22). They offer a few examples of merism: “when I sit” and “when I rise” (v. 2a), “my going out and my lying down” (v. 3a), and “behind and before” (v. 5a). After presenting the sublime doctrines of God's omnipresence and omniscience, the Psalmist appeals to Him, avowing his innocence, his abhorrence of the wicked, and his ready submission to the closest scrutiny. PSALM 139 * The All-knowing and Ever-present God. Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Explanation and Commentary of Psalm 139:16. By making this claim immediately after using the womb imagery, the psalmist declares that no part of his life…has escaped the watchful gaze of Yahweh” (923). O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. “Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?” the Psalmist asks. You have searched me and known me: David prayed to Yahweh, understandin… The reciprocal is also true. Behold, O Lord, You know it all.. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before,. Hers is a 24/7 job, at least while the child is small. Even an insightful human counselor can often see things hidden at our core––and bring them to the surface where we can see them too. and lead me in the everlasting way. Others insist the psalm is a prayer of an unjustly accused person, given the final strophe, while some have suggested it is a complaint uttered by a psalmist in the midst of hostility. O LORD, You have searched me and known me.You know my sitting down and my rising up;You understand my thought afar off.You comprehend my path and my lying down,And are acquainted with all my ways.For there is not a word on my tongue,But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.You have hedged me behind and before,And laid Your hand upon me.Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;It is high, I cannot attain it.a. The final strophe, however, shifts both in focus and tenor. Your eyes saw my body” (v. 15-16a). “My frame (Heb. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me; Your form could not be submitted. Of David. Psalms 139, Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical, One of over 110 Bible commentaries freely available, this commentary has been valued for generations and consulted by Bible scholars everywhere AN EXPOSITION OF PSALM 139 by Charles H. Spurgeon One of the most notable of the sacred hymns. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there!” (vv. Opening with a set of rhetorical questions followed by a series of hypothetical questions, the psalmist offers insight into the fullness of God’s presence in the world. The word zarah in verse 3 means to measure or to scrutinize. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me, He is the One who knows all things. As the psalmist was given pause by the thought of God’s pervasive presence, we too should be inspired and taken aback. In our day, we see anatomical drawings in our doctors’ offices that demonstrate the intricate detail that went into the design of our bodies. Or where could I flee from your presence? and your right hand will hold me. The second part of Psalm 139:13 continues this motif, confessing God’s presence with the psalmist from the very beginning of existence by indicating that the psalmist was knit together in his mother’s womb. “This knowledge is beyond me. While these sentiments are not as lofty as the rest of this psalm, they represent the honest expression of the psalmist’s heart. Now the psalmist pulls back from the panoramic view of Yahweh’s love to focus on one detail. The psalmist continues the theme of God’s pervasive presence: “Where can I go from your Spirit? even the darkness doesn’t hide from you, but the night shines as the day. The authors don’t believe a dichotomy of meaning is warranted. These merisms follow the Lord’s searching of the psalmist, where thereafter he knows him. Although “he cannot know the vast sum of God’s thoughts, he does know that God is with him, whether at the end of his inquiry or the end of his life” (923). “Where could I go from your Spirit? The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me. The psalmist has no recourse against such violent power but to turn to the God who is present with him” (924). Copyright © 2020 HarperCollins Publishers. In this context, the psalmist is saying that Yahweh knows him relationally––experientially. They’ve abrogated any relationship with God. (To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.) 1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. My soul (Hebrew: nepes) knows that very well” (v. 14b). While we might imagine that no one could possibly know us better than we know ourselves, that is far from true. Tucker and Grant emphasize that this is not "a critical, hostile, or even scrutinizing attitude toward the psalmist; instead, they reveal the depth of Yahweh’s knowledge” (917) in a way that’s both intimately personal, yet cosmically kingly. A Psalm by David. We don’t know. The psalmist’s life force acknowledges the wonder of Yahweh’s works. 17-18a). Psalm 139 is a personal prayer and song of praise to God. and know me”—my heart and my anxious thoughts. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there! One image that comes to mind is a mother tending her child. It sings the omniscience and omnipresence of God, inferring from these the overthrow of the powers of wickedness, since he who sees and hears the abominable deeds and words of the rebellious will surely deal with them according to his justice. “The God who is near to us is the God who knows us—who knows even those parts of our lives we would prefer to remain hidden” (925). Some would interpret that to mean that Yahweh predestined the psalmist’s life. when I was made in secret, One of the most notable of the sacred hymns. In this poem, however, the psalmist’s hope rests entirely with the God who knows him, the God with whom he is in relationship. It is no wonder that the lectionary omits these verses. As they explain: A merism is a poetic technique that expresses a totality by mentioning two parts, typically polar opposites … Poetically speaking, a merism provides vivid images that are meant to replace more abstract concepts such as “all,” “every,” or “always.” Given this intended usage, a merism is meant to be understood figuratively or metaphorically, but not literally. “In Psalm 139:14 the psalmist describes his own creation using two words frequently employed in reference to God’s great acts in Israel’s history… Thus, the birth of a human is described in terms reminiscent of the birth of the nation, with both being awe inspiring” (921). The darkness is like light to you” (vv. LORD, you know it all.. 5 Behind and before you encircle me Earlier in the poem the hand of God is said to guide the psalmist (v. 10a), thereby suggesting once more the formative work of God in his life. Psalm 139:5b is a statement of YHWH's sovereignty and control of His human creature (cf. In verses 13 and 15, the poet invokes images of knitting and weaving to explain the care with which God created him. (916-17). Psalms 139:4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. The supplicant David, then, blends wisdom themes with a complaint in offering his psalm of prayer and worship before the Lord. 13 For you formed my inmost being. This is one of a number of psalms that include a superscription concerning David. The issue of Davidic authorship of the psalms is sufficiently complex that I can’t do it justice. The psalmist’s only hope is God; thus, the purpose of God’s searching, knowing, and testing is to determine whether there is ‘any offensive way in me.’” Why? In the presence of Yahweh, “night shines as the day.”  Darkness is like light to Yahweh, because he brings the light of his presence into dark places––so we need not fear darkness when Yahweh is near. This “I-Thou” relationship serves as the “unifying thread” throughout the psalm. You perceive my thoughts from afar. Because God has known us, fully known us, we can trust in him when the world goes awry and seems to be in open rebellion against his ways (vv. Psalm 139 Some of the Jewish doctors are of opinion that this is the most excellent of all the psalms of David; and a very pious devout meditation it is upon the doctrine of God's omniscience, which we should therefore have our hearts fixed upon and filled with in singing this psalm. The psalmist is praying that God will show him the Godly path that God would call him to trod. “You search out  (Hebrew: zarah) my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (v. 3). Gen 47:19; 49:30; Lev 22:11; Jer 32:7). And he marvels at this, confessing a sense of awe at the vastness of God’s thoughts about him. My soul knows that very well. Your works are wonderful. Although some readers who come to psalm 139 often infer propositions of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, Tucker and Grant offer a different kind of contextual bridge: “Instead, this psalm confesses both God’s constant presence with the psalmist as well as his comprehensive knowledge of the psalmist. Psalm 121 Commentary: Where Does Our Help Come From? Psalm 139 combines praise of, appeal to, and wisdom meditation on this God who knows all and who encompasses all. The psalmist has no escape. Try me, and know my thoughts. woven together in the depths of the earth. When your world turns dark and your journey turns rugged, where do you turn for help? Yahweh is in front of him and at his rear. In verse 5 God is said to “hem in” the psalmist, and in verse 7 he queries, “Where can I flee from you presence?” Both images (being hemmed in and fleeing) nearly always carry a negative connotation. How vast is their sum! This psalm speaks of the pervasive presence of God, and his intimate knowledge of us, which offer us an outsized measure of hope and comfort in the face of adversity and trial. Yahweh comes close enough to lay his hand on the psalmist. It sings the omniscience and omnipresence of God, inferring from these the overthrow of the powers of wickedness, since he who sees and hears the Yahweh sees clearly what the psalmist sees only dimly, as if in a primitive mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12). Although the transactional nature of the term remains its dominant meaning throughout the Old Testament, the word does appear in contexts that clearly refer to creation” (921). 3 You sift through my travels and my rest;. The image of God’s “heavy hand” suggests God’s complete awareness of the life of the psalmist. Instead, Yahweh has set boundaries around the psalmist to protect him from the dangers and temptations that come to us from every corner. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. The psalmist ends his poetic utterance like this: “By living in the tension between comfort and fear, we acknowledge anew the presence of God; we acknowledge anew our desire to walk in ‘the way everlasting’” (927). He designed him from scratch and brought his design to completion. and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? Pursue a deeper knowledge of God through self-paced college- and seminary-level online courses in Old and New Testament studies, theology, biblical Greek, and more. 6 This knowledge is beyond me. It’s lofty. You may unsubscribe from these email communications at any time. “You hem me in (Hebrew: sur) behind and before. Keep reading for an insightful portrait of this powerful psalm. ), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. 7 Where could I go from your Spirit? It helps bring both halves of the interpretive task together—the passage’s original meaning and contemporary application—explaining not only what the Psalms meant but also how they speak powerfully today. Psalm 139: No Escape From God Related Media. You understand my thought from afar. Today with surveillance cameras and tracking devices, it no longer seems odd that someone might know our sitting down and rising up. Psalm 139 reflects on the human condition, and specifically God’s interaction with the individual human experience. It makes sense that Yahweh would know the psalmist. Psalm 139 is a beautiful meditation on four attributes of God: His knowledge, presence, power, and holiness. One of the greatest truths in life which we all know, but which we all must come to learn, is that there is no escape from God. The God who appears to Israel on Mount Sinai in a theophany is the same God who exacts judgment moments later at the base of that very mountain. 139:23, 24. Grant provide insight into the meaning and composition of this magisterial psalm in their new commentary Psalms, Volume 2 (NIV Application Commentary). The verb “to hem in” (tsur) or “to bind” is an equivocal term that can mean Yahweh makes him secure, but in some contexts also means “laying siege.” So which is it? 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,. They would not have separated body and soul as the Greeks did. The psalmist could see the dawning sky, but couldn’t imagine visiting it. The psalmist feels surrounded or trapped. No reason is provided or justification offered for the divine hand that has befallen the psalmist. He simply understands that even God’s corrective action is expressive of his pervasive presence. 2 you know when I sit and stand; * a. you understand my thoughts from afar. The soaring language of praise and confession in the first three strophes abruptly ends in verse 18, only to be followed by more ominous and troubling language in the final strophe. But what does the psalm mean and how are its four poetic movements connected? Commentary on Psalm 139:1-6 (Read Psalm 139:1-6) God has perfect knowledge of us, and all our thoughts and actions are open before him. He has made a deliberate effort to know him. 3  (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2016), Tate, Marvin E., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006), Baker, Warren (ed. 1 For the leader. A psalm. Chapter 139 Some of the Jewish doctors are of opinion that this is the most excellent of all the psalms of David; and a very pious devout meditation it is upon the doctrine of God’s omniscience, which we should therefore have our hearts fixed upon and filled with in singing this psalm. When we are doing something wrong, we would prefer that God look the other way. Through his petitions the psalmist aligns himself with God and asks for God to redress his present circumstances. Tucker and Grant consider a more mediating position: This mediating position [of Gerstenberger] takes seriously the view of Allen that the final strophe plays a vital role in the psalm by emphasizing the plight of the psalmist, but it also takes seriously the claims of the first three strophes concerning human life, and in particular the psalmist’s life. Or where shall I flee from your presence? In the psalms, this word is often used to mean the music leader. SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. We find darkness frightening––even dangerous. 139:6 with the next paragraph. Know. The use of barah (“flee”) and the rhetorical questions are “meant to suggest the comprehensive and pervasive sense of God’s presence—it is coming at him all the time” (919). “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! For there is not a word on my tongue, but, behold, Yahweh, you know it altogether. Psalms 139, Coffman Commentaries on the Bible, One of over 110 Bible commentaries freely available, this commentary, by the leading authority in the Church of Christ, presents a verse level look at the Bible. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009), VanGemeren, Willem A. I can’t attain it” (v. 6). When serious illness intrudes, our contemplation of medical interventions has a fearful component. The psalmist expresses his faith that Yahweh designed and brought into being the hidden parts of his body. Others insist the psalm is a prayer of an unjustly accused person, given the final strophe, while some have suggested it is a complaint uttered by a psalmist in the midst of hostility.Others still highlight the wisdom themes present and prefer a “meditation” or “wisdom meditation” label. Psalm 139 is the 139th psalm of the Book of Psalms, generally known in English by its first verse, in the King James Version, "O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. He knows our thoughts from afar. 11-12). The psalmist has been talking about himself as an example of Yahweh’s creative endeavors, but now he broadens the scope to include all of Yahweh’s works––all of creation. “Although the statement does reflect the ancient three-tiered worldview (heavens, earth, and under the earth)…we should understand the psalmist as speaking figuratively and as once more suggesting the all-encompassing and inescapable presence of God” (919). Let Tucker and Grant show you ways to walk in "the way everlasting" through their careful exegetical work of this psalm, and every psalm, covered in this volume. Unless the child is asleep or confined to a play pen, she must know minute by minute where the child is and what he/she is doing. He makes himself exceedingly vulnerable here, asking Yahweh to use all his Godly powers to probe the depths of the psalmist’s being to expose any wickedness that he might find there. Surely there are times when we would be embarrassed to think of God watching our every move. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! However, “Rarely do hymns remind us of the kind of pervasive presence of God in our lives that might prompt a sense of holy fear. Commentaries on this text are divided on this issue. If I ascend up into heaven, you are there. the days that were ordained for me, For the Chief Musician. Is this a subtle reference to the resurrection? Your enemies take your name in vain. Get updates from Zondervan Academic directly in your inbox. 23-24). (Psalm 139:15-16). 19–22). Readers through the centuries have interpreted “A Psalm of David” to mean “A Psalm written by David,” but a number of scholars question that interpretation today. He knows our every movement hour by hour and day by day. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Hebrew: derek ) (vv. Whether the proper translation is frame, bones, or strength, the psalmist is acknowledging that  the core of the psalmist’s being was an open book to Yahweh even when it was being formed in secret in the depths of the earth––when it would have been invisible to anyone else. 18 If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand. With this abundance of first and second person pronouns in the first six verses, Psalm 139 reflects the profound relationship of the “I” and “You” (or, “I” and “Thou”) in ancient Israel. The darkness is like light to you. David not only asked, but was prepared to listen to all that God would reveal to him … 22 I hate them with perfect hatred. Commentary, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, Shauna Hannan, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015. Does the psalmist see God’s presence as a blessing or a curse? when as yet there were none of them. As the NIV’s translation suggests, Psalm 139 can be divided into four strophes: verses 1–6; 7–12; 13–18; and 19–24. If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand” (vv. This knowledge is firmly in view through the rest of this first strophe, where the reach of Yahweh’s knowledge extends to even the psalmists thoughts (v 4). 1, 2, 4, 6, 14, 23 [2x]), thereby repeatedly reinforcing the “I-Thou” relationship between the psalmist and God. This “I-Thou” relationship, and the accompanying pervasive, intimate presence of God, roots the psalmist's hope and comfort—as well as our own. Psalm 139:7-10, 12 “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Fearfully is a good translation here. Add Psalms, Volume 2 to your library today and you will grasp the original meaning, exegetical context, and contemporary significance of these precious biblical poems, hymns, and prayers. The word hagar in verse 1 means to search or to seek. However, we need to acknowledge two things about these verses: 23 Search me, God, and know my heart. Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7) he begins. The psalmist acknowledges that Yahweh has searched (haqar) him and known (yada) him. But for most of human history, people didn’t know each other’s movements to that extent unless they were living in the same house. You perceive my thoughts from afar” (v. 2). In your book they were all written, Psalm 139:4 "For [there is] not a word in my tongue, [but], lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether." Get away from me, you bloodthirsty men! The word sur (hem me in) usually means to besiege. David ends with some of the most well-known words in the Old Testament: “search me . The psalmist says that Yahweh has searched him. . Come. By submitting your email address, you understand that you will receive email communications from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (501 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214 USA) providing information about products and services of HCCP and its affiliates. But the psalmist expresses his faith that, in the presence of Yahweh, there is no night––no darkness. Fits hagar of hagar and zarah as reflecting the right brain/left brain dichotomy human counselor often. Not even begin to understand the infinite God the mind of God ’ s corrective action expressive! Against him, so Yahweh has a fearful component 49:30 ; Lev 22:11 ; Jer 32:7.. Would understand that the uttermost parts of his pervasive presence notable of the psalms is complex. Can not Escape God ’ s life is truly inescapable, beginning with birth you are there ”! 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