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God, thou who knowest all things, and art everywhere present, searchest me and knowest me, Psalms 139:1-12. For thou hast formed me, Psalms 139:13-18. Before thee, to whom my heart lies open, I protest that I have no fellowship with the wicked, but that I hate them in my heart, and I pray that thou wouldst keep with me the everlasting favour promised to me, from which I have not excluded myself by any guilt of my own, Psalms 139:19-24. The Psalm falls into four times three pairs of verses.
That the Psalm is not accidentally placed beside the preceding one, that it rather unites with it by an internal connection, appears most distinctly from the relation of the “lead me upon the everlasting way” of the conclusion here, with the “Lord, thy mercy (toward David and his race) endures for ever,” at the close of Psalms 138. Besides, the מרחוק , in Psalms 139:2, also refers back to that Psalm, as do also Psalms 139:9-12; comp. them with Psalms 138:7 there.
If this relation is rightly ascertained, then the view to be taken of the present Psalm is the following. The preceding Psalm praises the Lord on account of the promise of everlasting favour which had been granted to David. Here David comes forth before the Lord, showing himself here as always deeply penetrated by the conviction, that the righteous alone can partake in salvation, comp. on Psalms 26, and protests before him, as the searcher of hearts, that he had not made the promise void through his guilt. David speaks here not merely in his own person, but in that of his whole race; and so the Psalm is an indirect exhortation to his successors on the throne, and, at the same time, to the people, whose predominant spirit was represented in them. The Lord’s favour endures for ever—so David exclaims to them—but take good heed that ye allow yourselves in no sin, nor act contrary to the commands of God. For only if ye can comfort yourselves by submitting to the trial of the Omniscient, only if ye can confidently address to him the “search me and know me,” can ye hope to have a share in this salvation. If, on the other hand, you are among the wicked, you can never hope to escape the avenging hand of the Almighty, comp. on Psalms 139:7-8.
The consideration of the divine omniscience and omnipresence, however, has not merely this admonitory import, which is the only one commonly brought out by interpreters—(in that point of view Psalms 101 exactly corresponds, and the introduction there ought to be compared; there also the other analogies from the Davidic Psalms are produced)—but it has also a consolatory import; and the overlooking of this has done great harm to the exposition, and led the way to a mistaken view of a series of passages, where it decidedly comes out; comp. especially Psalms 139:9-12, Psalms 139:13-16. The Psalmist grounds upon the declaration thou searchest me and knowest me, in the conclusion which exhibits the practical result, not merely the prayer, “search me and know my heart,” but also the farther request, “lead me in the everlasting way.” The Omniscient knows not only our guilt and innocence, he knows also the straits of his people. The All-present is not only always at hand with his judgments to chastise the apostate, but also there with his salvation to support the faithful.
There can be no doubt about these two references. But a third, which has been discovered by some, is to be rejected, viz., that David invokes God for judgment on the wicked. Throughout the whole Psalm, and especially at the beginning and the close, which contain the sum, the Psalmist has to do only with himself, and such a turning toward what is without, would have been a violation of its character; the more so as he speaks only of the wicked as such, not of his wicked enemies; Psalms 139:19-22, the verses in which they are mentioned, contain rather a protestation of innocence on the part of the Psalmist, in the form of a renunciation of the wicked, and a declaration of his sincere and cordial hatred toward them.
The Davidic authorship of the Psalm is attested, besides the superscription, the contents, and connection with Psalms 138, by the various points of contact it presents with the other Psalms of David, and by the depth and original character of the feelings described. An objection has been sought by several in the Chaldaisms that occur, but an explanation is given of these in Psalms 139:6, Psalms 139:17-18. Penetrated by the loftiness of his subject, the Psalmist shuns also in the form what is of common and daily use.
Ver. 1. To the chief musician, of David. Lord thou searchest me and knowest. Ver. 2. Thou knowest my sitting down an my rising up, thou understandest my thoughts afar of. Ver. 3. My way and my couch thou markest, and art familiar with all my ways. Ver. 4. For there is not a word upon my tongue, lo, Lord, thou knowest it all. Ver. 5. Behind and before thou dost beset me, and layest upon me thy hand. Ver. 6. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, high and I cannot reach it.
Psalms 139:1 contains the sum of the whole Psalm. At the word: thou knowest, we are not simply to supply me—also in Psalms 139:23, it is not the suffix, but my heart, which is found—but all that is here generally to be known, all that belongs to the subject in hand: the expansion of the idea is given in what follows, where the expression, “thou knowest,” again returns. For the very purpose of pointing to this relation, the knowing here is left without its object. The matter on which the searching and knowing are employed is not merely the guilt or innocence of the Psalmist, although this come more immediately into view—comp. in reference to this the parallel passages, Psalms 44:21, Job 13:9,—but also his position and state: God knows also “the necessities of the soul,” “he knows thy pain and domestic sorrows, and the time when to come to thee.”
The sitting in Psalms 139:2 denotes rest; the rising up, the raising of one’s self to go to work—comp. Psalms 127:2— q. d., what in a state of rest or of activity, I think, feel, speak, act, and how it goes with me. Understood thus, the mention of the thought in the second member is quite suitable. בין with ל to have insight in regard to something. רע in the signification of thought only here, and in Psalms 139:17; in a third place, often quoted in support of the same, Job 36:33, it is used in its common acceptation, friend. Afar off, according to some, must mean: long before they come into my mind. But that we must rather explain: the far distance between heaven and earth sets no bounds to thy knowledge, is clear from Psalms 138:6, and from Jeremiah 23:23, “Am I a God nigh at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?” Schmid: “as if being in heaven I should not know the things which are done on earth,” comp. Psalms 139:24. David utters here a contradiction against the error of ungodliness seeking to banish God into heaven, as expressed in Job 22:12-14, “Dwells not God in the height of heaven? and behold the stars, how high they are. Therefore thou sayest, How doth God know? Can he judge through the darkness? The clouds are a covering to him, and he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of heaven.” God’s being in heaven is, according to the view of Scripture, no limitation of God, but a designation of his absolute being: not merely although, but just because God is in heaven, he is not far from every one of us. Calvin: “God is not shut up in heaven, as if he delighted in an idle repose (as the Epicureans feigned), and neglected human affairs, but though we live at a great distance from him, still he is not far from us.”
The רבע in Psalms 139:3, is the poetical form of רֵ בֶ ץ , reappearing again in the Chaldee. This never signifies the lying, but always the couch, the place of rest. To this also agrees the ארח , not the going, but the way, the poetical expression for the common דרךְ? used in the second member. My way and my resting-place, for, me as I feel and act on the way and in the place of my rest, what I there do and experience. By the way, also, is not merely to be understood the deeds, but also what happens. זרה , properly, to sift them, poetically, to prove, to know. Luther’s translation: thou art about me, is grounded upon the false Rabinical derivation from זֵ ר crown.
The grounding (for) is given in Psalms 139:4 only by a further expansion. It is only when the preceding context is viewed in a mistaken light, that something higher is found here than there. We must not explain: For there is still no word; but the expression: Lo, Lord, thou knowest it all, rather stands, as Luther correctly perceived, for, which the Lord does not all know.
In Psalms 139:5, the Psalmist already proceeds from the territory of the all-knowing, to that of the all-present—an easy and gentle transition, since, according to the view of Scripture, the omniscience of God is founded in his omnipresence. To the: behind and before, there is supplied from the last member: from above; so that I am on all sides surrounded and environed by thee, can do nothing, and suffer nothing, without being seen by thee, and being always in thy power, either to be punished or assisted.
Before the Psalmist advances farther in the representation, begun in Psalms 139:5, of the divine omnipresence, he breaks out in Psalms 139:6, into admiration of this superhuman glory, so far exceeding even all human conception; comp. Romans 11:33. The reading of the text פִ לְ אִ יּ ָ ה is the feminine of פִ לְ אִ י , wonderful. The Masorites would substitute for this the fem. of the uncertain form פליא . There is a similar wrong Kri in Judges 13:18. Comp., on the expression: it is too wonderful for me, Deuteronomy 30:11, to which perhaps an allusion is made, and Proverbs 30:18. The knowing must, according to several interpreters, be the divine; but then either the suffix nor the article would have been used. What is meant is rather, the human knowledge of the divine omniscience and omnipresence, which always infinitely falls short of its infinite object, and worships before it, without being able to penetrate its depth.
Ver. 7-12. Ver. 7. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? And whither shall I gee from thy presence? Ver. 8. If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; and if I should make any bed in hell, behold thou art there. Ver. 9 Take I the wings of the morning-dawn, would I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Ver. 10. Even there would thy hand lead me, and thy right hand hold me. Ver. 11. And if I say: Surely the darkness shall crush me, and at night was the light about me. Ver. 12. So even the darkness darkens not before thee, and the night shines as the day; darkness is as the light,
Psalms 139:7-8 cut off all hope of deliverance from the sinner, by pointing to the omnipresence of God. The thought is to be supplied: If I had cause to fear thy judging eye, and thine avenging hand, and to hide myself from them. Amos 9:2 is to be compared: “If they (the sinners) should break trough into hell, there will my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down.” The Spirit of the Lord is his power and presence operating in the world; comp. in Psalms 106:33, the history of the creation, and Psalms 33:6. Incorrectly some: the Spirit who knows all things. הציע is denom, from יצוע , to make a couch, bed, or something for a bed; precisely as here in Isaiah 58:5, and the Hiph. Isaiah 14:11, Esther 4:3, comp. Ewald § 122. The accus. שאול finds in this an obvious explanation. Job 26:5-6 is to be compared. On Psalms 139:9-10, comp. Psalms 55:6, Psalms 55:8: “Oh that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and abide. Lo! I would fly far off, I would lodge in the wilderness. I would make haste to a refuge from the strong wind, from the tempest.” This very similar passage shows, that we are not to think of a desire of being at a distance from God as the motive for flight, but the desire of escaping from the enemies. To the same result also are we conducted by the expression: “thy hand will lead me,” under which we can think only of a friendly leading; compare Psalms 73:24, Psalms 23:3, Psalms 5:8, Psalms 27:11, &c., and of this Ps. Psalms 139:24. (Falsely, therefore, many: minus tua, ex qua elabi conarer.) The right hand also is to be regarded as that which is ready to help, comp. Psalms 18:16. That in both members: thy hand will lead me, and: thy right hand will hold me, God’s omnipresence is applied for the consolation of the helpless, apparently quite excluded from his aid, yet still, wherever he may be, secure within the territory of God, still farther appears quite clearly from the reference which they carry to Psalms 138:7 of the internally related Psalms 138 : “Against the wrath of mine enemies do thou stretch forth thy hand, and deliver me with thy right hand.” Hence Psalms 139:7, where the Psalmist speaks of his fleeing from the presence of God, belongs not to the whole section, Psalms 139:7-12, but only to Psalms 139:8, with which it is united into a pair. The morning-dawn is brought here into notice in respect to the speed with which its rays dart from one end of the earth to the other. Such extraordinary means needed to be called into requisition, in order to reach the distant end, that could not be attained in the common way. It is better to translate: take I (comp. the had I in Psalms 55:6) than lift I, with comparison of Ezekiel 10:16, In order to lift up wings, one must still first have them. The uttermost parts, the ends of the sea, are at the same time the ends of the earth. As the furthest point in the breadth, stands here in connection with the furthest depth and the furthest height in Psalms 139:8, for the purpose of expressing the thought, that in the whole universe there is no point where God is not present. The usage, according to which ים also means the western regions, is not to be thought of.
Psalms 139:11-12 become plain, as soon as we adhere, in the explanation of ישופני itself to the more certain usage, and are not driven hither and thither after conjectural meanings. שוף signifies, in the two other passages where it occurs, Genesis 3:15, Job 9:17, unquestionably to bruise, and this signification, which the LXX. (καταπατή?σει ) and the Vulgate (conculcabit) retain also here, will be found quite suitable, when we do not miss the proper interpretation of the two preceding verses, and are not led generally to suppose, that the Psalmist had in view only a one-sided application of the divine omnipresence. The darkness is here brought into consideration, not as a sort of covering for the heart and actions of men from the presence of God, or from his avenging hand, as in Job 34:21-22, Jeremiah 23:24, but as exposing to danger, from being that in which robbers and murderers execute their designs. Besides darkness in this natural sense, respect is also had to darkness in the very common figurative sense; comp. Isaiah 50:10, “Whoever walks without light, let him trust upon the name of the Lord, and stay himself on his God;” so that the words in Psalms 138:7, “When I walk in the midst of trouble,” are quite parallel. Thine all-seeing eye, thine almighty hand, is at work also in the deepest darkness, where no human eye penetrates, no human hand avails: Thou, the all-present, to whom the contrasts of heaven and earth, earth and hell, one’s settled home and the end of the earth, import nothing, so neither do the contrasts of light and darkness. Thou art with me when I walk through the valley of death-darkness, and deliverest me from it. What is generally found in the passage in a direct manner may certainly be deduced from it. If helpless innocence, veiled in darkness, is not concealed from God, neither assuredly can guilt be so, when attempting to hide itself in darkness. אךְ? , only, has here the import of a strengthening particle, comp. Psalms 58:11, Psalms 68:7, Psalms 68:22. It serves to indicate, that the crushing power of darkness appears to stand as a thing beyond all doubt. Luther renders the second member: so must the night become also light about me. But according to Psalms 139:9-10 the minor is more properly begun at Psalms 139:12. The light about me, the light that encircles me for my protection. Upon החשיךְ? , in Psalms 139:12, always to make dark, to darken, never to be dark (Luther: even darkness is not darkness to thee) comp. on Psalms 105:28. Before thee, so that thou couldst not see through it. In reference to the double k at the end, see Ew. § 347.
Ver. 13. For thou host my reins in thy power thou wert over me in my mother’s womb. Ver. 14. I praise thee on this account, that I am greatly distinguished; wonderful are thy works; and that my soul well knows. Ver. 15. My strength was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, when I was woven in the depths of the earth. Ver. 16. Thine eyes saw me, when I still was unprepared, and in thy book were they all written, the days which were still to be, and of which none then was. Ver. 17. And how precious are to me, O God, thy thoughts, how great is their sum! Ver. 18. I will number them, there is more of them than the sand, I awake and am still with thee.
The for in Psalms 139:13 does not refer specially to what immediately precedes, but to the fundamental thought which pervades the whole section, Psalms 139:1-12: thou searchest and knowest me. This is proved by the fact that man already belongs to God from the first beginnings of his existence, that God glorifies himself in his first formation, and has even then pre-arranged all his destiny. How could such a being be strange to God! How could his heart be hidden from him! or his troubles be unknown, indifferent, or accidental! It appears that the: for thou, here refers back to the thou in Psalms 139:2. The reins are known as the seat of the desires and feelings, the region where sinful passion boils, and where pain also plants its seat. This region God has in his power as the creator of man, as is more fully declared in what follows, and so nothing can be concealed from him which passes in this secret workshop. קנה always signifies to possess, to hold possession of, never to make. תסכני is rendered: thou hast covered or protected me, by the LXX., Vulg. Pesch.; Luther: thou wast over me. It is commonly translated now: thou hast woven me, with comp. of Job 10:11. But סכךְ? signifies always to cover, and, what is decisive, it is used thus in the closely-related following Psalm, Psalms 140:8. This signification is quite suitable here also. The covering and protection consists, according to what follows, in the oversight and protection, which is exercised by God in regard to the germ of life, which is perfectly impotent in itself. How could he, who had manifested these, be indifferent and careless in respect to the work of his hands, comp. Psalms 22:9, Job 10:12. Let him, whom sinful lust or despair in regard to God’s omniscience and omnipresence would cause to err, ascend to the original of his being, and he will be ashamed of himself, and reverently adore.
Psalms 139:14 does not form a sort of side-thought, but the more glorious the formation of man is, so much the stronger the proof of God’s absolute omniscience and omnipresence, so much the more striking the testimony it furnishes against those who abandon themselves to sin, under the idea that God sees not and judges not, or surrender themselves to despair, saying My way is hidden from God, Job 10:9-11. The roots פלא and פלה are never interchanged, comp. on Psalms 4:3, Psalms 17:7:, but they are nearly related both in form and meaning. נוראות found also in David’s mouth in Psalms 65:5, 2 Samuel 7:23; and elsewhere, is used here adverbially, as נפלאות in Job 37:5. עצם in Psalms 139:15 undoubtedly signifies strength in the two other places where it occurs, and is there also in the female form. This meaning is therefore to be retained also here. But: my strength, is a poetical expression, for: my bones or skeleton, עֶ צֶ ם , so named from the strength connected with it, with the addition perhaps of the sinews, which, together with the bones, make up the strength of the body—comp. Job 10:11, “with bones and sinews hast thou interwoven me.” It was not hidden from thee, for thou hast prepared it for me, since thou hast woven me together with bones and sinews. By the depths of the earth Sheol is indicated, comp. Psalms 63:9. As no trace is to be found of the pre-existence of man in Sheol, as here also the subject discoursed of is the bodily formation of man, while to the Sheol could belong in that case only the soul, and the Psalmist, finally, has to do here only with what took place in his mother’s womb, there must, therefore, be supposed an abbreviated comparison: in a place, so dark and concealed as the depths of the earth. Similar is Job 1:21, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall return to it again,” in a state resembling the former. As the point of comparison in the parallel: in the hidden, is expressly announced, the assertion is to be rejected, that the comparison points to the region of the dead as to the womb of a resurrection-life.” גלם in Psalms 139:16 of the still unformed embryonic mass. The suff. in כלם is used by way of anticipation, and refers to the days. If this should appear too bard to any one, he can with Hupfeld understand by גלם , the ball of the thread of life, and to this refer the suffix. For, the other constructions are too violent and constrained. The יצר (here Pü) is elsewhere also often used of the divine pre-determination, as contrasted with its execution and its actual introduction. The days are brought into consideration here partly in respect to themselves, compare Job 14:5, “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months is with thee,” partly also in respect to the events which they contain for men, comp. Psalms 56:8. And there was not one among them, the days pre-determined by thee. It is not worthwhile to inquire what the Masorites meant by their Kri, לו . The consolatory tendency of the Psalm comes here distinctly out. If our whole being is by God pre-arranged, how then can anything befall us, which he has not in his hand, which he does not see, or in regard to which he is unable at the proper time to administer help to us?
The thoughts of God in Psalms 139:17 are of him, as the searching and knowing, judging and helping in regard to all that lives upon the earth. In reference to the expression: precious = glorious, comp. on Psalms 45:9; Psalms 36:7: “How precious (glorious) is thy goodness, O God”—one of the passages very nearly related to this, the more so, as among the thoughts, the saving and helping have here also an important place. Against the explanation: how precious, how hard to be reached, how difficult are they, the parallelism already decides. Of the four members of the two verses, Psalms 139:2-3, Psalms 139:1 and Psalms 139:4 correspond, as Ewald has justly remarked. In the second member of Psalms 139:18 the Psalmist does not praise his zeal in maintaining fellowship with God, and meditating upon his thoughts, but the glorious riches of these thoughts themselves, which so chain him, that he cannot isolate himself from God, that God is not merely his thought by day, but also his dream by night. A thinking, which is not interrupted even by sleep, which renders dreams also of service, must be stirred by some mighty object. Psalms 16:7 and Psalms 63:6 are related.
Ver. 19. If thou only killest, God, the wicked, and ye men of blood depart from me. Ver. 20. Those who name thee for crime, bear away for lies as thine enemies. Ver. 21. Shall I not hate, Lord, thy haters, and abhor those that rise up against thee? Ver. 22. I hate them in right earnest, they are enemies to me. Ver. 23. Search me, God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts. Ver. 24. And see if there be with me any way of trouble, and lead me in the way of eternity.
As the אם Psalms 139:19 is not a particle of desire, compare at Psalms 81:9, there is to be supplied: it will be agreeable to me, I will cordially praise thee, or something similar. That the Psalmist declares himself content with the overthrow of the wicked, skews how little he participates in their feeling, and prepares the way for the confident demand: Search me, God, and know my heart, in Psalms 139:23. Men of blood, a common expression with David, comp. Psalms 5:6, Psalms 26:9, Psalms 55:23, passages which have only to be looked at to see what should be made of the remark: “Men of blood, on account of their libations of blood.” On the words: depart from me, q. d., get you away, I have nothing to do with you, we are not to comp. Psalms 6:8, Psalms 119:115, but Job 21:14: “And they (the wicked) say unto God, depart from us,” and Matthew 7:23. Luther falsely: “And the blood-thirsty must depart from me,” as if the Psalmist called in God’s help against the wicked, through which the whole train of thought in the Psalm is destroyed. In Psalms 139:20 ימרו is from אמר , with the dropping of א , as in 2 Samuel 19:14. They who speak to thee, with poetical boldness, for, they who use thy name—comp. Psalms 40:11. That we must explain: for crime, for the promotion of that, not criminally (Luther: slanderously) appears from the second member. In this member, נשוא is put by a poetical transposition for נשאו , comp. Psalms 8:7. It unquestionably rests upon Exodus 20:7, to which also Psalms 24:4 alludes: thou shalt not bear the name of the Lord to a lie, that is, thou shalt leave it unmixed with lies, not use it for the confirmation of a lie—comp. on Psalms 24. Accordingly the suffix is here to be supplied from the first member, bear thee away for lying and deceit. The two members stand in the same relation to each other, as the two members of Psalms 24:4; only that the position there is an inverse one: who does not bear away his soul to a lie, and swears not to deceit. As thine enemies (the ער enemy in 1 Samuel 28:16, and Daniel 4:16, not Isaiah 14:21), for every one is an enemy of the Lord, who mixes him up with sin, and degrades him into the means of compassing his bad ends. Luther’s translation: and thine enemies raise themselves without cause, is dissipated by the one consideration, that נשא never signifies to raise one’s self. Besides, there is naturally only one particular manifestation brought out here of the corruption of the wicked, in order to characterize them as such.
The expression: shall I not hate, in Psalms 139:21, presents the hatred as something entirely natural to the true servant of God, a thing to be understood by him of itself, and consequently a necessary mark of a gracious state; q. d., how could I do otherwise than hate them? Calvin: “When he says that the despisers of God were hateful to him, he vindicates by this eulogium his own integrity, not because he was himself free from all failings, but because, devoted to the cultivation of piety, he thoroughly abhorred all impiety. For never does the love of piety sufficiently flourish in our hearts, unless it begets in us a hatred of crimes, such as David here declares. Then, if that zeal for the house of God burns in us, of which David speaks in Psalms 69:9, it will be inexcusable coldness in us, if we tacitly allow not only his righteousness to be violated, but also his sacred name to be insolently trodden under foot by the wicked? Upon תקומם , abbreviated from מתקומם , comp. Ewald § 160, a.
In Psalms 139:22 Luther translates quite erroneously: therefore are they hostile to me, instead of: therefore are they enemies to me, I judge and consider them as such; because they are God’s enemies, they are also mine; which alone suits the connection.
With such feeling, as he has expressed in Psalms 139:19-22, with such hearty abhorrence of the wicked and in respect to them, the Psalmist can call upon God, by way of consolation, to search and prove him, even to the lowest depths of his heart, Psalms 139:23. He knows that this inquisition and trial, to which at all events he is subject, and which he cannot escape, Psalms 139:1, will establish for him a favourable result.—עצב , Psalms 139:24, means heavy work, so in Isaiah 48:5 my work, for the idols, which I have laboriously made; parallel: my carved work, and my graven work—the trouble, pain. The way of pain is the way, which leads to pain. Such a way of pain, a painful course and manner of life, including what is experienced as well as done, belongs to those whose heart departs from the living God, and who walk in the wickedness of their heart, comp. Psalms 16:4. The Psalmist had no reason to apprehend such a way, so far as the passage, Psalms 139:19-22, contains the language of truth. The contrast to the way of pain forms the way of eternity—the way that leads to eternity. There is an allusion to the close of the preceding Psalm: Lord, thy favour (toward me) endures for ever; q. d. upon the way, which leads to the blessed eternity promised me by thee (the endless continuance and prosperity of the Davidic stem and kingdom), which I have not lost through any guilt of mine.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 139". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany