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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 139

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.

Psalms 139:1-24.-Yahweh, thou thoroughly knowest me wherever I am (Psalms 139:1-12); for thou hast formed me from the womb, and hast ever precious thoughts toward me (Psalms 139:13-18). I have no fellowship with sinners, thou knowest; therefore keep me in the way everlasting (Psalms 139:19-24). Compare Psalms 139:24 here with Psalms 138:8; "afar off," Psalms 139:2, with Psalms 138:6; Psalms 139:10 here with Psalms 138:7 there. David intimates that if we would have the everlasting blessing, we must not forfeit it by fellowship with wickedness (Psalms 139:21-24). God's omniscience and omnipresence assure God's people He will cover them in the darkest hour, even as He formed them in the womb (Psalms 139:11-18).

O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known (me). There is no "me" after "known" in the Hebrew; therefore it is better to take the object after "known" in a wider sense. The omission is intentional, that the believing heart of all who use this psalm may supply the ellipsis. Thou hast known and knowest all that concerns the matter in question, as well whether I and mine are guilty or innocent (Psalms 44:21); also my exact circumstances, my needs, my sorrows, and the precise time when to relieve me.

Verse 2

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising - "my down-sitting," to rest after work, and "mine up-rising," to go to work (Psalms 127:2).

Thou understandest my thought afar off - whether I am at rest or at work, thou knowest how I think and feel, as well as how I act and speak. The clause "afar off" expresses that the wide distance between heaven, God's especial dwelling, and earth, our dwelling, does not in the least prevent, as unbelievers avowedly, or else unconsciously fancy, God's knowing the minutest thought of men here below. Compare the same phrase, Psalms 138:6; Jeremiah 23:23-24. Compare the Epicurean notion falsely attributed to Job 22:12-14: see notes.

Verse 3

Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted (art familiar) with all my ways.

"Thou compassest" [zaarah, from zeer, a circle, or crown] (cf. 2 Samuel 22:40). The Hebrew usually means to ventilate, or sift thoroughly, as grain is winnowed. So the Arabic, Septuagint [exichniasas, thou hast investigated], Vulgate; Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 51:2. God can separate the chaff from the wheat in men's innermost characters. "My lying down" - literally, my couch. Thou siftest all that I feel or do, whether on my couch or on the way (cf. Psalms 139:1).

Verse 4

For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

For (there is) not a word in (i:e., that rises to) my tongue, (but), lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

'Without God none can speak out his thoughts (Proverbs 16:1), therefore God knows them before they are uttered' (Cocceius).

Verse 5

Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me - Thou art omnipresent as well as omniscient. Behind, before, and from above-from every side I am in thine hand, whether for punishment or for help.

Verse 6

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it. He bursts out into praises of the wonderful vastness of the infinite knowledge of God, transcending man's finite powers of comprehension (Romans 11:33). The knowledge that man needs for his salvation on the contrary, is 'not hidden (the same Hebrew as here is translated wonderful) from him, neither is it far off' (cf. Deuteronomy 30:11-14; with which cf. also Psalms 139:8 below; Proverbs 30:18).

Verse 7

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or where shall I flee from thy presence? If I had reason to fear judicial vengeance, because of my sin, where could I hide myself? (Amos 9:2.) Jonah experienced this to his cost (Jonah 1:3, etc.; Jeremiah 23:24). God's Spirit is His unseen but felt power and presence operating everywhere (Psalms 104:30; Psalms 33:6).

Verse 8

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in hell (Sheol, Hades-the unseen world of spirits departed this life), behold, thou art there - cf. on the latter clause, Isaiah 14:11.

Verses 9-10

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea - a poetic phrase to express the instantaneous rapidity with which the rays of the morning dawn dart from east to west of the horizon: 'If in a moment I were borne from the east to the extreme maritime regions of the west.' Psalms 55:6-8 shows that the reason for flight would be, not a desire to be far from God, but to escape from enemies.

Shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me - namely, as a Friend, an Almighty Upholder and Guide (cf. Psalms 73:24; Psalms 23:3; Psalms 5:8; Psalms 27:11; especially Psalms 139:24, "Lead me in the way everlasting," and the sister Psalms 138:7, "Thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me"). Thus Psalms 139:7-8, where he speaks of fleeing from God, belong not to the train of thought here, which is consolatory. Psalms 139:9 expresses the furthermost point in breadth, as Psalms 139:8 the greatest height and the greatest depth. In no locality in the universe is God not present.

Verse 11

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. "Cover" - literally, bruise, or overwhelm, as in Genesis 3:15 [ shuwp (H7779)]; Job 9:17. So the Septuagint and Vulgate here, 'shall tread down.' The darkness and night are not here regarded as a friendly cloak to hide the Psalmist as a guilty fugitive from the presence and the avenging band of God (Job 34:22; Jeremiah 23:24); but as an overwhelming mist of gloom, in which his enemies can effect their plots against him (Isaiah 50:10). The "darkness" and "the night" here are parallel to "trouble" in Psalms 138:7, "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me." The reviving there answers to "light about me" here. "Surely" - literally, only; nothing but. If nothing else can, at least surely the darkness shall crush me.

Verse 12

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee. Hengstenberg, in conformity with Psalms 139:9-10 - where Psalms 139:9 is the antecedent condition, Psalms 139:10 the consequent-translates the second clause of Psalms 139:11 parenthetically, '(then at night was the light about me-namely, for my protection),' and makes the consequent begin, not at the second clause, Psalms 139:11, but at Psalms 139:12, 'Even the darkness hideth not from (or darkens not before) thee,' so that thou couldest not see through it.

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. The Hebrew is expressively terse-`as the darkness so the light.'

Verse 13

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.

For thou (emphatic) hast possessed my reins. The "For" implies, it is no wonder that nothing appertaining to me is hidden from thee, seeing that it is THOU who ownest my reins (the hidden seat of my feelings-properly, the kidneys), by the right of creation (we Christians may add, and of redemption). So the Septuagint, Vulgate, Ethiopic, and Chaldaic. So the Hebrew usually means. The Syriac and Arabic, from a secondary meaning, acquire in any way, as by creation, translate, 'Thou hast formed my reins.' But it is better to adhere, with the English version, to the ordinary sense of the Hebrew, kaanah (H3655) (cf. Proverbs 8:22). Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb - a place dark as night. As thou hast protected me the dark womb at the first, so there is no night-darkness (Psalms 139:11-12) that can so overwhelm me as to be beyond the reach of thy light and life-giving protection. The kindred psalm, Psalms 140:7, which uses the Hebrew, Sakak, in the same sense, establishes the English version. "Thou hast covered me:" not as Maurer, from Job 10:11, 'Thou hast women me' - i:e., artfully elaborated the several parts of my body, as a weaver does a web. So the Chaldaic Targum. 'Thou hast founded me.' The covering consists in God's oversight of the germ of life, impotent in itself (Job 10:11-12; Psalms 22:9).

Verse 14

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made - an argument why we should not, on the one hand, give way to sin, as if we could escape God's cognizance; and on the other hand yield to despair, as if God's power could not deliver us from the darkness of our trials (Job 10:9-11). "Fearfully" - the same Hebrew word ( nowraa'owt (H3372)) and the same idea of God's infinite power, being such as to inspire reverential fear, occurs in Psalms 65:5; 2 Samuel 7:23. Cocceius translates, 'I am fearfully separated' (distinguished, Hengstenberg) - namely, from ungodly men. In the ulterior sense designed by the Spirit. I am separated from all those who are dead in the old Adam, in a way calculated to make me tremblingly yet trustingly adore God. [The roots, paala', to wonder, and paalah, to separate, are distinct; and the latter is here used. Compare note, Psalms 4:3. But these roots sometimes interchange their forms, and the parallelism and context favour the English version.]

Verse 15

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret "My substance" - literally, my strength (Deuteronomy 8:17; Job 30:21). So my bones and sinews, the seat of strength (Job 10:11). The English version accords with the Chaldaic Targum. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate, 'my bone.'

And curiously wrought, [ raaqam (H7551)] - literally, 'interwoven of variously-coloured threads;' embroidered: a beautiful figure for the complicated and elaborately-contrived texture of the human body. "The lowest parts of the earth" (or Sheol, or Hades, Psalms 63:9) are used here as a figure for the dark "womb" (Psalms 139:13): cf. Isaiah 45:19. Nowhere in Scripture is man spoken of as having pre-existed in Sheol. Therefore there must be here an abbreviated comparison of the earth, out of which we came, to the dark womb: cf. Job 1:21.

Verse 16

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect - the as yet unshaped 'embryonic substance;' literally, 'something rolled together;' a cloak;-Hebrew, golem, an embryo as yet not unfolded.

And in thy book all (my members) were written, (which) in continuance were fashioned, when (as yet there was) none of them. The English version supplies the ellipses with "my members," implied in "my substance" just spoken of. "Thy book" is the book of God's fore-ordering purpose. The same holds good in the case of the body of Christ, the Church, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world; because "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30; Ephesians 1:4). The development of this eternal purpose in time is gradual, the members being formed in union with the one Head and the one Body successively by the Spirit of God, the Author of spiritual as well as of natural life. The Chaldaic Targum supplies the ellipsis with 'days:' 'In the book of thy memory were written all my days.' In the book of God's predestination (Malachi 3:16; Psalms 56:8), as distinguished from the actual execution, were written all my days, both their number (Job 14:5), and what events were to befall me in them, "(which) in continuance were fashioned" - literally, '(which in) days were fashioned;' i:e., not all in one day, but in successive development. Two hundred and seventy-three days generally pass in the gestation, Hengstenberg translates, 'In thy book were they all written (namely), the days (which) were formed' - i:e., divinely pre-destined to be. The English version gives the more natural sense to the Hebrew, yatzar, "fashioned:" members, not days, can be said to be formed or fashioned.

When (as yet there was) none of them - (Romans 9:11.)

Verse 17

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! - (the same Hebrew, Psalms 36:7; Psalms 31:19) How cold and poor are our warmest thoughts toward God! How unspeakably loving and gloriously rich are His thoughts toward us! Compare Ephesians 1:18, "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints."

Verse 18

If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee. If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand - "which cannot be measured nor numbered" (Hosea 1:10).

When I awake, I am still with thee. Thy thoughts of loving-kindness are so countless that they are constantly in my mind: as they are my last meditation before I fall asleep, so they are my first when I awake, whether during the night or in the morning (Proverbs 6:22; also Isaiah 26:9: cf. Psalms 16:7; Psalms 63:6).

Verse 19

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.

Surely, [ 'im (H518)] - literally, 'If;' elliptical: If only "thou wilt slay the wicked, O God," I shall still more praise thee. Compare the 'if,' Psalms 81:8.

Depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. He shows how utterly averse he is to sin, and to wicked association; implying that there is not in him this bar in the way of receiving the promised blessing from God. See introduction. This prepares the way for the confident prayer, Psalms 139:23-24 (Psalms 119:115). Shimei had cursed David as a 'man of bloods' (so the Hebrew here and 2 Samuel 16:7). David here renounces all sympathy with bloody men. The bloodshed in which he had taken part was forced on him in self-defense, not in aggressive warfare.

Verse 20

For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.

For they speak against thee wickedly - literally, 'for wickedness.' "They speak against thee." So the Syriac. Compare Psalms 10:4-7; Psalms 5:4-5. The parallelism of the next clause favours, 'they speak of thee (making thy name a pretext) for wickedness.' Compare Psalms 50:16; Philippians 1:18; Philippians 3:18-19. So the Chaldaic, 'they swear in thy name falsely.' The argument of the Psalmist accords with this: 'I have no sympathy with such as make my name a cloak for wickedness. If I had, I should forfeit thy promised loving-kindness.'

(And) thine enemies take (thy name) in vain - i:e., use it for the confirmation of a lie, in violation of the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7; Psalms 24:4).

Verse 21

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?

Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? One cannot at once love the Lord and love His enemies (Psalms 119:158). Jehoshaphat's alliance with God-hating Ahab was the only blot on his otherwise consistent character (2 Chronicles 19:2; Proverbs 29:27).

Verse 22

I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: And see if (there be any) wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. David, conscious of his integrity in his walk with God, asks that the Lord shall prove him, that so he may have a well-grounded hope, of the promised blessing. "Wicked way" - literally, 'way of pain' (Psalms 16:4). It stands in opposition to "the way everlasting," the way which leads to everlasting blessedness: answering to 'the mercy of the Lord enduring forever' (Psalms 138:8). The Hebrew [ `otsem (H6108)] may also mean, as in Isaiah 48:5, 'any way of an idol.' "Way" is often, used of a system of worship. Compare Amos 8:14, "The manner" or 'way of Beersheba' (Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23). The way of idolatry, in however refined a form, proves to be a way of pain, and shuts out from the way everlasting promised to David in Messiah his seed (1 John 5:21).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 139". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/psalms-139.html. 1871-8.
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