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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 139

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

The opening verse expresses the theme of the psalm. God knew David intimately because of His penetrating examination.

Verses 1-6

1. God’s omniscience 139:1-6

Verses 1-24

Psalms 139

David praised God for His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence in this popular psalm. It is a plea for God to search the life to expose sin. It consists of four strophes of six verses each.

"The Gelineau version gives the psalm the heading ’The Hound of Heaven’, a reminder that Francis Thompson’s fine poem of that name owed its theme of flight and pursuit largely to the second stanza here (Psalms 139:7-12), which is one of the summits of Old Testament poetry." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 464.]

Verses 2-4

The psalmist employed a figure of speech (merism) to express completeness (Psalms 139:2). In merisms, the opposites named represent everything in between them. God knew every move David made. Furthermore, He understood his motives as well as his actions. "Afar" probably refers to time rather than space. The "Thou" or "You" is emphatic in the Hebrew text. God also knew David’s daily activities (Psalms 139:3). This is another merism with going out and lying down representing a whole day’s activities. Psalms 139:4 presents the greatest proof of God’s omniscience. Before David spoke, the Lord knew what he was about to say.

Verses 5-6

David responded to his own reflection by expressing the thought that God was confining him. This is often our initial reaction to God’s omniscience. The writer also felt out of control in the presence of such vast knowledge. "Wonderful" is at the beginning of the sentence in the Hebrew text, which is the emphatic position. This word means extraordinary or surpassing (cf. Psalms 9:1). Yahweh’s omniscience is too amazing for humans to comprehend.

Verse 7

Evidently the confining awareness of God’s omniscience led David to try to escape from the Lord. His two rhetorical questions in this verse express his inability to hide from God (cf. Jeremiah 23:24).

Verses 7-12

2. God’s omnipresence 139:7-12

Verses 8-10

David gave hypothetical examples of where he might go to hide from God in these verses (cf. Romans 8:38-39). Psalms 139:8 is another merism (cf. Psalms 139:2-3) that expresses everywhere between heaven and hell. Even if he could travel as fast as the speed of light, he could not escape God (Psalms 139:9). Even there God’s hand would lead him. Psalms 139:10 pictures God gently leading and guiding David. This thought changes the fearful earlier image of God pursuing the psalmist.

Verses 11-12

David spoke of the night as bruising him (Psalms 139:11) because it is often at night that harm comes to people. The only other places in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word sup, translated "overwhelm" (NASB) or "hide" (NIV), occurs are in Genesis 3:15 and Job 9:17 where the translation is "bruise." However, since darkness and light are the same to God, David felt secure always. Darkness does not hide things from God’s sight as it does from human eyes.

Verses 13-14

The word "For" indicates that what follows explains what precedes. Since God creates people, He knows them intimately, and He is always with them. The idea of God creating David arose from Psalms 139:11-12. Forming as a potter and knitting as a weaver describe the gestation process figuratively (Psalms 139:13). "Thou" or "You" is again in the emphatic first position in the Hebrew text. David marveled at God’s amazing power in creating him by the embryonic process of fetal development.

Verses 13-18

3. God’s omnipotence 139:13-18

Verses 15-16

These verses stress selected features of God superintending the process of human fetal formation in the womb. The reference to "frame" means skeleton of bones. The "depths of the earth" is a figure of speech for the womb. When God was forming David in his mother’s womb he was as far from human view as if he were in the depths of the earth. His "unformed substance" is his embryo. The Lord’s book is the book of the living. David said God predetermined the length of his life before birth. In view of Psalms 139:1-4, this probably included his activities as well.

God’s knowledge of all things actual and possible-His omniscience-does not mean mankind’s choices are only illusions. God knows what we will do, even though He gives us freedom to make decisions in some situations.

Psalms 139:13-16 give strong testimony to the fact that human life begins at conception rather than at birth. This is a fact that should weigh heavily in the debate against abortion on demand.

Verses 17-18

David concluded that God’s plans for His people are very good and comprehensive. This meant that every day when David awoke from sleep, God was extending His thoughts toward him.

Verses 19-22

With these thoughts in his mind, David turned his attention to his present situation. His enemies were attacking him. He prayed that the Lord would slay those who were trying to kill him (Psalms 139:19). These enemies were evidently hostile to God, as well as to David, and were using the Lord’s name for an evil purpose. In loyalty to God, David affirmed his "hatred" for (i.e., rejection of) those who "hated" (rejected) God. By "hate" David meant he rejected them (cf. Malachi 1:3).

Verses 19-24

4. David’s loyalty 139:19-24

Verses 23-24

The psalmist concluded with a prayer that God would search him, so it would be clear that he was not like these enemies. Thus he ended this psalm as he began it-with a reference to God’s searching knowledge (cf. Psalms 139:1). David wanted God to test him, as a refiner tests metal, to show that he was loyal to the Lord. Since God knows all, he would know David’s anxious thoughts. He would discover no pain that God’s afflicting him for doing wrong had caused him, or any offensiveness in him that might lead to God’s affliction. Consequently God would preserve his life.

Knowledge of God’s attributes can bring great peace into the lives of believers. His comprehensive knowledge, personal presence, and absolute power are all working for the welfare of His people. Therefore we should commit ourselves to Him in loyalty and resist those who oppose Him.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 139". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/psalms-139.html. 2012.
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