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Psalms 139:1 « To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. » O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known [me].
A Psalm of David ] There is not in all the five books of psalms so notable a one as this, saith Aben Ezra, concerning the ways of God and the workings of conscience. It was penned, saith the Syriac interpreter, upon occasion of Shimei’s railing upon him for a bloody man and a Belialist, 2Sa 16:5-13 Here, therefore, he purgeth himself by an appeal to God, and delivereth up his false accusers to God’s just judgment, Psalms 139:19 .
Ver. 1. O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me ] Even mine heart and reins, Jeremiah 17:10 , hast thou searched as with lights, Zephaniah 1:12 , by an exact scrutiny, by a soul searching inquisition, whereby thou art come to know me through and through; not only me natural, as Psalms 139:15-16 , but also me civil and moral, as Psalms 139:2-3 , &c.; neither stayeth thy knowledge in the porch or lobbies (my words and ways), but passeth into the presence, yea, privy chamber; for
Psa 139:2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Ver. 2. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising ] All my postures, gestures, practices, sive sedeam, sive surgam, whether I sit, stand, walk, lie; thou searchest and knowest all. Some search, but know not; thou dost both; thine eyes behold, thine eyelids try, the children of men, Psalms 11:4 . See Trapp on " Psa 11:4 "
Thou understandest my thought ] Heb. my familiar thoughts, such as I am delighted in; voluntatem meam, some render it, my will; others, propinquitatem meam, my nearness, and that afar off, even from heaven, being intimo meo mihi intimior, not so far from me as the bark is from the tree, the skin from the flesh, or the flesh from the bones.
Afar off ] Eminus, a longe praenovisti, antequam moveantur, saith Chrysostom; thou knowest my thoughts before I have conceived them; my thoughts in posse, from all eternity; so great is thy sagacity and perspicacity. As a man that knoweth what roots he hath in his garden, though there be not a flower appearing, yet he can say, when the spring comes, this and this will come up; so here, God knows our whole frame, our principles, &c.
Psa 139:3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted [with] all my ways.
Ver. 3. Thou compassest my path ] Or, Thou winnowest; if there be any chaff or trash, thou wilt make it fly; thou art at both ends of all my works and enterprises, both by day and by night, Perdius et pernox. Neither art thou only at my fingers’ ends, but at my tongue’s end too.
Psa 139:4 For [there is] not a word in my tongue, [but], lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Ver. 4. For there is not a word in my tongue ] Though not yet uttered, or but whispered only.
Thou knowest it altogether ] Every tittle of it; thou understandest the language of men’s hearts.
Psa 139:5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Ver. 5. Thou hast beset me behind and before ] As a beast that is pursued, as an enemy that is begirt and environed; and lest I should think by some means to make escape (as David did from Saul and his host, by a providence, 1 Samuel 23:27 ; as Hannibal did from the Romans, by a stratagem).
Thou hast laid thine hand upon me ] As by an arrest; so that I am thy prisoner, and cannot stir a foot from thee.
Psalms 139:6 [Such] knowledge [is] too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot [attain] unto it.
Ver. 6. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ] I can hardly conceive of this thine omniscience and omnipresence, but am ready to measure thee by myself, and according to mine own model. And, indeed, for a creature to believe the infinite attributes of God, he is never able to do it thoroughly without supernatural grace.
It is high, I cannot attain unto it ] Since it far exceedeth the reach of reason, and is much above my capacity and understanding. I stand at gaze, and am aghast, and that is the nearest that I, a poor finite, foolish creature, can come to so infinite a wisdom. It was, therefore, a good speech of them who, being asked what God was? answered, Si scirem, Deus essem, If I knew that, I should be a God.
Psa 139:7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
Ver. 7. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? ] Here he argueth God’s omniscience from his omnipresence; and this the heathens also had heard of, as appeareth by their Iovis omnia plena; and - quascunque accesseris oras,
Sub Iove semper eris, &c.
Empedocles could say that God is a circle, whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere. They could tell us that God is the soul of the world; and that as the soul is tota in tota, et tota in qualibet parte, so is he; that his eye is in every corner, &c.; to which purpose they so portrayed their goddess Minerva, that which way soever one cast his eye she always beheld him. But these divine notions they might have by tradition from the patriarchs; and whether they believed themselves in these and the like sayings is much to be doubted.
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? ] Surely no whither; they that attempt it do but as the fish which swimmeth to the length of the line with a hook in the mouth.
Psa 139:8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou [art] there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou [art there].
Ver. 8. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there ] That is thy proper place; and there Aristotle, in his Book of the World, ad Alexandrum affirmeth that God is only essentialiter et actu. This was to proclaim himself an arrant atheist; for God filleth all places, and is comprehended of no place, being totally present wheresoever present; for we must not conceive that God is commensurable by the place, as if he were partly here and partly elsewhere; but everywhere, all present.
Psalms 139:9 [If] I take the wings of the morning, [and] dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Ver. 9. If I take the wings of the morning ] The morning light is diffused in an instant all the whole welkin over. If I could fly never so swiftly from one end of the heaven to the other, saith David, I should be never the nearer. This is a poetic expression.
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea ] Or of the west, whither the sun, setting, is said to hasten and hide himself. The Syriac and Arabic have it, If I take the wings of the eagle and dwell, &c. And of the eagle they write, that when she would change her feathers she falleth down into the sea.
Psa 139:10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
Ver. 10. Even there shall thy hand lead me ] i.e. Thy power and providence shall dispose of me; I shall flee but from thy hand to thy hand, as guilty Jonah did.
Psa 139:11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Ver. 11. The darkness shall cover me ] The Hebrew phrase is taken from beasts that lie a-squat, saith Diodati, Nocte latent mendae, sed non Deum. The guilty conscience sharketh up and down for comfort, but getteth none.
Psa 139:12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light [are] both alike [to thee].
Ver. 12. Yea, the darkness hideth not ] Heb. darkeneth not from thee, because thine eyes are fiery, Revelation 1:14 , such as need no outward light; they are more light and radiant than the sun in his strength.
The darkness and the light, &c. ] Deo obscura clarent, muta respondent, silentium confitetur, saith an ancient; Night will convert itself into noon before God, and silence prove a speaking evidence.
Psa 139:13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
Ver. 13. For thou hast possessed my reins ] The seat of mine affections. Thoughts kindle affections, and these cause thoughts to boil; they are causes one of another, and both well known to God. For who possesseth lands or houses, but he knoweth the right title and rooms thereof? saith an expositor.
Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb] But not from thine all-piercing eyes, though in so dark a place, and wrapt up in secundines .
Psa 139:14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully [and] wonderfully made: marvellous [are] thy works; and [that] my soul knoweth right well.
Ver. 14. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ] Mirificatus sum mirabilibus operibus tuis, saith Montanus; neither can I wonder enough at thy workmanship. The greatest miracle in the world is man; in whose very body (how much more in his soul!) are miracles enough (between head and feet) to fill a volume. Austin complaineth that men much wonder at high mountains of the earth, huge waves of the sea, deep falls of rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the motions of the stars, et relinquunt seipsos nec mirantur, but wonder not at all at their wonderful selves. Galen, a profane physician, writing of the excellent parts of man’s body, and coming to speak of the double motion of the lungs, could not choose but sing a hymn to that God, whosoever he were, that was author of so excellent and admirable a piece of work, Fernel. de abdit, rerum causis.
And that my soul knoweth right well ] That is, so well as to draw hearty praises from me to my Maker. But for any exact insight, hear Solomon: "As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the works of God, who maketh all," Ecclesiastes 11:5 . Some read the words thus, Thy works are wonderful, and so is my soul, which knoweth right well; q.d. my rational and intelligent soul is an admirable piece indeed. Nothing in the world, saith one, is so well worthy to be wondered at as man, nothing in man, as his soul.
Psa 139:15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, [and] curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Ver. 15. My substance was not hid from thee ] Ossatio mea, id est, ossium et artuum compages, the structure of my bones and joints. But was not he a wise man (and yet wise enough otherwise) who, being asked upon his death bed what his soul was? seriously answered, that he knew not well; but he thought it was a great bone in the middle of his body? (Pemble’s Mischief of Ignorance).
Was not hid from thee ] For thou hast both the names and number of every part, to a nerve or an artery. Aquinas saith that at the resurrection the bodies of the saints shall be so clear and transparent that all the veins, humours, nerves, and bowels shall be seen, as in a glass. It is sure that they are so to God when first formed in the womb.
When I was made in secret ] That is, in the womb of my mother. As curious workmen, when they have some choice piece in hand, they perfect it in private, and then bring it forth to light for men to gaze at; so here.
And curiously wrought ] Variegatus, et quasi acu pictus, Embroidered and wrought as with the needle; whence man is called a microcosm, or little world. Bodine observeth that there are three regions within man’s body (besides all that is seen without), answerable to those three regions of the world: elementary, ethereal, and celestial (Vide Lactant. de Dei Opificio; Galen. de Usa Part.; Song of Solomon 2:0 , de Nat. Deor.). His entrails and whatsoever is under his heart resemble the elementary region, wherein only there is generation and corruption; the heart and vitals, that are divided from those entrails by the diaphragm, resemble the ethereal region; as the brain doth the heavenly, which consisteth of intelligible creatures.
In the lowest parts of the earth ] That is, in my mother’s womb, as before. See Ephesians 4:9 . The Syriac interpreteth it (but not so well), when I shall die, and be buried, and my bones turned to ashes, yet thou shalt know them.
Psa 139:16 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.
Ver. 16. Thine eyes did see my subtsance ] Galmi; est semen coagulatum ante formationem membrorum, saith Kimchi; when I was but an embryo, or hardly so much. Disponit Deus membra culicis, et pulicis, saith Austin; how much more of man? The word signifieth my wound up, or unwrought up, mass.
And in thy book all my members were written ] A metaphor from curious workmen, that do all by the book, or by a model sat before them, that nothing may be deficient or done amiss. Had God left out an eye in his common place book, saith one, thou hadst wanted it.
Which in continuance ] In process of time, and by degrees.
When as yet there was none of them ] But all was a rude lump. This is a great secret of nature, and to be modestly spoken of.
Psa 139:17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
Ver. 17. How precious also are thy thouyhts unto me ] i.e. The thoughts of thy wisdom, power, and goodness, clearly shining in these wondrous works of thine; it does my heart good to think and speak of them.
How great is the sum of them! ] viz. Of thy works, and of my thoughts thereon. I cannot count them, much less comprehend them. To blame are such as trouble not their heads at all about these matters. Surely, when the Lord made man’s head with so many closures and coverings to his brain, the seat of understanding, he intended it for some precious treasure. Many locks and keys argue the price of the jewel they are to keep; and many papers wrapping a token within them the use of that token.
Psalms 139:18 [If] I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
Ver. 18. If I should count them, &c. ] q.d. They are infinite and immmerable. Archimedes, that great mathematician, bragged, that he could number all the sands in the habitable and inhabitable world, but no man ever believed him. See 1 Samuel 13:5 2Sa 17:11 Psalms 78:27 .
When I awake, I am still with thee ] Still taken up with some holy contemplation of thy works and wisdom. These thoughts I fall asleep with, and these I awake with. As I rake up my fire overnight, so I find it in the morning.
Psa 139:19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
Ver. 19. Surely thou wilt slay the wicked ] Those that traduce and slander me for a hypocrite and a Belialist. Some render it, Oh that thou wouldest slay them! inasmuch as they hate me for my zeal, and forwardness to turn the wheel of justice over them, and to give them their due and condign punishment; for, for mine own part, I cannot abide them, but bid tbem avaunt, with
Depart from me therefore, ye bloody men ] Ye that dare to destroy so goodly a piece of God’s handiwork as man is above described to be. See Genesis 9:6 . Or, ye that seek to double, undo me; first by detraction and then by deadly practice. See Ezekiel 22:9 , "In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood."
Psa 139:20 For they speak against thee wickedly, [and] thine enemies take [thy name] in vain.
Ver. 20. For they speak against thee wickedly ] Inasmuch as they speak against me; Tua causa erit inca causa, Your cause will be my cause, said Charles V, emperor, to Julius Pflugius, who complained he had been wronged by the Duke of Saxony; so saith God to every David. This Luther knew, and therefore wrote thus to Melancthon, Causa ut sit magna, magnus est actor, et auctor eius; neque enim nostra est. The cause is Christ’s; and he will see to it and us. Moses told the people that their murmurings were not against him, but against the Lord, Exodus 16:8 . As unskilful hunters, shooting at wild beasts, kill a man sometimes, so while men shoot at Christians, they hit Christ.
And thine enemies take thy name in vain ] While they would despoil thee of thine omnipresence, omnipotence, &c., casting thee into a dishonourable mould, as it were, and having base and bald conceits and speeches of thee and thine. Kimchi interpreteth it of heretics, those false friends, but true enemies to God; of whom they make great boasts, as did the Gnostics, Manichees, Novations, and lately the Swenckfeldians (who styled themselves the confessors of the glory of Christ), and many of our modern sects. p &&& Heretics-False friends of God
Psa 139:21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
Ver. 21. Do not I hate them, O Lord ] And therefore hate them because they hate thee? This the Hebrews understand of heretics and apostates. See a like zeal in that angel of Ephesus, Revelation 2:2 .
And am not I grieved ] Or, irked, made ready to vomit at (as at some loathsome spectacle), fretted, vexed.
Psa 139:22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
Ver. 22. I hate them with a perfect hatred ] That is, unfeignedly, and with a round heart (saith one), for this only cause, that they are workers of iniquity. It was said of Antony, he hated a tyrant, not tyranny; and of Crassus, he hated a covetous man, not covetousness. It may as truly be said of a hypocrite, he hates sinners, not sins; these he nourisheth, those he censures. David was none such; and yet, as something mistrusting his own heart, he thinks good to add,
Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
Ver. 23. Search me, O God, and know my heart ] Look into every corner and cranny, and see whether it be not so as I say, viz. that I hate wicked men merely for their wickedness; and for no self-respect have I thus cast down the gauntlet of defiance unto them, and bidden them battle. We should not rest (saith a reverend man) in our heart’s voice; nor accept its deceitful applause. But as once Joshua seeing the angel examined him, Art thou on our side, or on the adversaries’? so should we deal in this case; yea, beg of God to do it for us, and do it thoroughly, as here: this is a sure sign of sincerity, void of all sinisterity.
Psa 139:24 And see if [there be any] wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Ver. 24. And see if there be any wicked way in me ] Heb. any way of pain, or of grief, or of provocation; any cause of sin that is grievous to God or man, quae spiritum tuum vexat, ut Psalms 78:1-72 (Aben Ezra). A saint alloweth not of any wickedness, walloweth not in it, maketh it not his trade, is not transformed into sin’s image, the great scum abideth not in him, but (as in right wine or honey) it is continually cast out. The good heart admitteth not the mixture of any sin. Sin may cleave to it, as dross to silver, but it entereth not into the frame and constitution; it is not woven into the texture of a good man’s heart; there is no such way of wickedness to be found in him, no such evil heart of unbelief as to depart away from the living God, Hebrews 3:12 . There is no time wherein he cannot say, as Hebrews 13:18 , "Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to please God."
And lead me in the way everlasting ] Heb. in the way of eternity, or of antiquity, that good old way, Jeremiah 6:16 , traced by Adam, Abraham, Moses, &c., and that leadeth to heaven. Rid my heart of those remnants of hypocrisy, and help me to perfect holiness in the fear of God, 2 Corinthians 7:1 .
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 139". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25