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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Scott: Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms

Psalms 139

Verses 1-24

Psalms 139:1-24: Title. It is probable that David wrote this Psalm, when accused of traitorous designs against Saul ; as a solemn appeal to God that he was, in that respect, entirely innocent. (Notes, 19- 24. Psalms 7:3

V. 1. (Marg. Ref.} ’ I am accused, O Lord, of griev’ ous crimes ; but my comfort is, thou seest I am not guilty ’ of them.’ Bp. Patrick. (Note, 2 Corinthians 1:12-14.) The language, employed in this and the following verses, is taken from the affairs of men ; who by diligent search find out those things, which had been carefully concealed from them. (Notes, Genesis 11:5; Genesis 18:20-21.)

V. 2. Marg. Ref. Thought.] ’ He confesseth that ’ neither our actions, thoughts, nor any part of our life, ’ can be hid from God, though he seem to be afar off.’ ’ My inclinations are so perfectly understood by thee, that ’ before I have conceived any design it is visible to thee.’ Bp. Patrick. (Notes, Psalms 17:13. Psalms 44:17-22.)

’ My thoughts, before they are my own,

’ Are to my God distinctly known ;

’ He knows the words I mean to speak,

’ Ere from my op’ning lips they break.’ Walts.

V. 3. Men are most tempted to sin, either when, being from home, they are no longer under restraint from those of their neighbours or relations, whose censure they dread ; or when in secret, as in the bed-chamber, they have no apprehension of being detected by any human eye : but the Psalmist recollected, that God saw him, and was present with him, in every situation ; as he " compassed his path and bed, and was acquainted with all his ways." even those which he most carefully concealed from his fellow-creatures. (Marg. Ref. Notes, Job 31:1-4.)

Compassest.’] Or, " winnowest," (marg.) ’ distinguishing most exactly, and without the least possibility of mistake, between what is right, and what is wrong, in my most secret conduct, or in the temper and motives of my heart.’

V. 4- 6. (Marg. Ref.) ’ Thou knowest before I open ’ my mouth, every thing I intend to utter. ... I am so en’ vironed by thee, and so absolutely in thy power, that I cannot possibly escape thy notice, nor so much as stir without thy leave. O amazing height of knowledge! It is in vain to think I can hide any thing from it ; which so far surpasses all I can say or conceive, that it excels even my admiration.’ Bp. Patrick. ’ When we reflect, that " all things are naked and open to him with whom " we have to do ; " that although he dwelleth in the highest heavens, he surveyeth not only the outward acts. ’ but even the very hearts and imaginations of men upon ’ earth ; must we not each of us cry out, " Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ! it is high, I cannot attain unto it : " I cannot admire it enough ; for I cannot ’ conceive of it aright !. (Note, Psalms 40:1-5, Psalms 5:5.) ’ The actual, constant consideration of God’s presence, ’ would be the readiest way in the world to make sin to ’ cease from among the children of men, and for men to ’ approach to the blessed estate of the saints in heaven, ’ who cannot sin ; for they always walk in the presence, ’ and behold the face of God.’ Bp. Taylor, quoted by Bp. Home. It should however be noted, that even if it were possible for unregenerate men thus habitually to think of the eye of God always upon them, it would no more change their carnal enmity into love, than it does that of evil spirits. Nothing but regeneration, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, can make fallen men holy ; and the efficacy of all means depends on his powerful operation to render them successful.

V. 7, 8. Note, Genesis 3:8-9. Jeremiah 23:23-24. Jonah 1:2-3. Acts 5:1-11. Make my bed in hell, &c. (8) ’ An ’ uncomfortable place to make a bed in, where there is no ’ rest day or night ; yet thousands will make their bed for ’ ever in those flames.’ Henry. Should any one murder himself to terminate his sorrows, and escape the remorse of conscience, or the consequences of his sins, he must certainly be disappointed. Yet the presence of God, with the senseless corpse in the grave, could not in any degree cause this disappointment, or produce the least effect : but

his presence with the disembodied spirit, in the invisible world, as an angry Judge, must in that case be as dreadful, as it is unexpected. This then is one passage, where the original word (Wwo) cannot mean exclusively the grave, without rendering the sacred writer’s argument absurd or frivolous. (Note, Psalms 16:8-11.)

V. 9, 10. Marg. Ref. Wings of the morning. (9) Or, sun-beams. ’ Could I travel as fast as the rays of light.’ The peculiar sublimity of the simile is worthy notice and admiration : nothing implying swiftness has ever been used, as far as I have known or heard, by any poet, at all comparable with it. Could they ’ fly abroad upon the ’ wings of the morning-light, which diffuseth itself with * such velocity over the globe from east to west ; the arm ’ of the Almighty will still at pleasure prevent, and be ’ready to arrest the fugitives in their progress. ...The ’ game consideration, which should restrain us from sin, ’ should also encourage us to work righteousness, and comfort us under all our sorrows ; namely, the thought, ’ that we are never out of the sight and protection of our Maker. The piety and charity which are practised in cottages ; the labour and the pain which are patiently endured in the field, and on the bed of sickness ; the misery ’ and torment inflicted by persecution, in the mines, the ’ gallies, and the dungeons ; all are under the inspection ’ of JEHOVAH, and are noted down by him against the day ’ of recompence.’ Bp. Home. The same considerations are applicable to the cases of exile, and journeying and voyaging, in distant, inhospitable, unhealthy regions, either by compulsion, as poor slaves are treated, or in the path of duty, as missionaries. In short they may be used, both for warning and comfort, with reference to the place of our death, and burial, and the general resurrection, with the day of judgment, and all its infinitely important consequences. (Notes,Psalms 73:23-28. Is. 41: 10- 14; 42: 13-17.)

V. 11, 12. ’Darkness may, indeed, conceal us and our ’ deeds from the sight of men ; but the divine presence, ’ like that of the sun, turns night into day, and makes all ’ things manifest before God.’ Dp. Home. (Notes, Job 22:5-14; Job 26:5-13; Job 34:20-30. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5. Hebrews 4:12-13.)

V. 13. My most retired thoughts and contrivances, and my most secret desires, are apparent to thee ; whose ’ I am, and by whom I was wrapt up ... in my mother’s ’ womb, tlian which there is nothing more hidden and ’ dark.’ Bp. Patrick. (Marg-. Ref, Note, Job 10:8-13.)

V. 14. ’A work so astonishing, that before the Psalmist ’ proceeds in his description of it, he cannot help breaking forth in rapture at the thought,’ Bp. Home. ’ I ’ was, I know not how, in such a wonderful manner ’ formed, that the thoughts of it strike me with astonish’ ment. Thy operations in that work are most admirable ; ’ and of that 1 am exceeding sensible ; but I can say no ’ more ; for they are incomprehensible.’ Bp. Patrick. (Note, Psalms 104:24.)

V. 15. ’By the lowest parts of the earth, is undoubtedly to be understood the womb, where the foetus is gradually formed, and matured for the birth, like plants and ’ flowers under ground. The process is compared to that ’ in a piece of work wrought with a needle, or fashioned ’ in the loom ; which, with all its beautiful variety of ’ colour, and proportion of figure, ariseth by degrees unto ’ perfection, under the hand of the artist, framed according to a pattern lying before him, from a rude mass of ’silk, or other materials. ... But ... whereas the human ’ artificer must have the clearest light, whereby to accom’ plish his task ; the divine work-master ... effecteth all his ’ wonders within the dark and narrow confines of the ’ womb.’ Bp. Home.

V. 16. ’ When the matter, out of which I was made, ’ was without any form, it was visible to thee, how every ’ muscle, vein, and artery, with all the rest of my body, ’ should be wrought, out of the pattern of them which ’ was in thy mind : and accordingly in time, when there ’ was not so much as one of them, they were all fashioned ’ for the several uses to which they were designed, and ’ not the smallest of them omitted or left imperfect.’ Bp. Patrick.

V. 17, 18. David delighted to meditate upon the works and perfections of God ; such thoughts and contemplations on these subjects were precious to him; (Note, Psalms 104:34-35;) the glory displayed in them was infinite, the mercies communicated to him were innumerable as the sand ; they were new every morning, and were increased with every returning day. (Notes, Psalms 40:1-5. Proverbs 8:30-31. Isaiah 55:8-9. Lamentations 3:21-23. Ephesians 3:9-12.) ’ The " thoughts " ’ and counsels of JEHOVAH, concerning David, his appointment to the throne, his troubles, and his .reservation in the midst of them, were " precious" are delightfnl subjects of meditation and praise, never’ to be exhausted of the rich matter they contained. With these in his mind he lay down at night to rest; and, when he ’ awoke in the morning, his thoughts naturally recurred to ’ the pleasing theme : he began where he had left off; and ’ found himself, in heart and soul, still present with God. ’ still ruminating on him and his works. The mercies of ’ heaven, in the redemption of the church, by the sufferings and exaltation of the true David, according to the ’ divine decree concerning him how precious are they to ’ believers ! How great is the sum, how far exceeding all ’ human arithmetick to number them ! Let them be to us ’ the constant subjects of contemplation, admiration, and ’ thanksgiving, day and night ; and let death, that last ’ sleep, find us engaged in an employment, which, when ’ we awake, and arise from the grave, we shall resume, ’ and prosecute to eternity, in the presence of God.’ Bp. Home.

V. 19- 22. It is probable, that when David composed this Psalm, his character lay under a load of calumny : (Note, title :) but he could appeal to God that he would have no fellowship with ungodly and cruel men, whom he knew God would destroy : he detested their characters and conduct, and could not endure their company. (Notes, Psalms 26:5-11.) Being enemies and blasphemers of God, he considered them as his enemies. For the godly man has the same friends and enemies with the Lord, as far as he knows the real characters of men : (Note, Romans 5:1-2:) yet this is entirely consistent with loving their persons, praying for them, and being kind to them ; for we do not know, but they may yet be converted and reconciled to God. ’ A good man hates, as God himself doth ; he hates ’ not the persons of men, but their sins ; not what God ’ made them, but what they have made themselves. We ’ are neither to hate the men, on account of the vices ’ they practise ; nor to love the vices for the sake of ’ the men who practise them. He who observeth invariably this distinction, fulfilleth the perfect law of charity ; ’ and hath the love of God and of his neighbour abiding in ’ him.’ Bp. Home. " Shall I not hate the haters of thee, " JEHOVAH ? and shall I not be grieved at them that rise " up against thee ?" (Notes, Mark 3:1-5; Mark 5:5. 2 John 1:11. P. O.) The clause rendered, "Thine enemies take " thy name in vain," may mean, that they called God to witness the truth of their lying accusations.

V. 23, 24. The Psalmist began by professing his belief, that God had searched him out and known him : (Note, 1 :) and he concluded by praying, that he would search him, and know his heart and his thoughts. He did not wish to decline the investigation : he desired to have his real character ascertained, and the springs of his conduct laid open ; that he might know himself, and discover every sinful part of his conduct, and repent of it ; and that he might be led in the good old way, untc everlasting life ; as well as be vindicated from calumnies and suspicions. (Marg.

Ref. Notes, Psalms 17:1-3, v: 3. Deuteronomy 3:2. Isaiah 64:5. Jeremiah 6:16-17, Psalms 5:1-6. Matthew 7:13-14. John 14:4-6; John 5:6.)


V. I-12

It is far more profitable to meditate on divine truths, with application to our own cases, and with hearts lifted up to God in prayer ; than with a speculative, curious, and disputing frame of mind. The omniscience and omnipresence of God are generally acknowledged : yet they seldom produce their practical effect upon the hearts and conduct of mankind, because they are not prehended by a true and realizing faith. Hence great numbers allow that their Judge is witness to their whole conduct ; and yet they are careful to save appearances with their fellow criminals, while they transgress in secret, and amuse their depraved imaginations with every kind of speculative wickedness 1 Nay, even true believers, through weakness of faith, are often very wavering in obedience, and easily discouraged from it, by the trivial circumstances of time, place, company, or solitude. We should therefore, by meditation and prayer, seek to have our minds suitably affected with the firm belief, and habitual recollection, that the just, the holy, the almighty God fully searches us out, and knows us, however our fellow creatures may mistake or misrepresent our characters. We should seriously consider, when we are alone, or in company, in the shop, the market, the place of worship, or the closet, that the eye of God is upon us ; " that he observeth our down-sitting and our up-rising, " and understandeth our thoughts," whether good or bad, before they become distinctly observed by our own minds, or influential upon our conduct ; that he compasses and investigates our path, and is accurately acquainted with all our ways ; and that he will bring every secret work into judgment, with every word of our lips, and every thought of our hearts. (Notes, Matthew 12:33-37. Revelation 20:11-15.) For our God surrounds us continually, and so lays his hand upon us, that we cannot move or think, without his cognizance and consent. Such meditations are suited to restrain us from sin, even in seasons when secresy and present advantage give force to Satan’s temptations ; and to counteract the sinful inclination, as soon as it begins to move. Who would dare, if thus suitably impressed, to defraud or deceive his neighbour ; to gratify in secret his lust, or his malice ; or to assume a mask of piety to cover his avarice, injustice, ambition, or sensuality ? Recollections of this kind are equally calculated to encourage the believer, in his secret prayers, meditations, self-denial, and almsgiving ; in his well meant but misrepresented endeavours to do good ; and in his conscientious obedience amidst slanders and reproaches, or in the most obscure station in society. We soon indeed find, that we cannot comprehend the manner, in which the infinite God knows all things : but while faith apprehends the truth upon his " sure testimony," humility adores the mystery, and con- fesses, that " such knowledge is too wonderful for her, and " is so high she cannot attain unto it." The belief of God’s omnipresence is intimately connected with that of his omniscience, and is of similar efficacy. Should the guilty wretch desire to shun the presence of that God, whose power he cannot resist, and whose mercy he scorns to supplicate ; whither shall he flee from him, who is an infinite and all pervading Spirit ? Were it possible for him to find admission into heaven, the displays of the glorious holiness of JEHOVAH would be intolerable to him. The grave, nay, the centre of the earth, could not place him at a distance from his righteous Judge : the presence of a God of vengeance kindles the flames of hell. Were it possible for him to fly with the velocity of the sun-beams to the most distant regions, or through the immensity of space, he would still meet the presence of his offended God, from whom no darkness can conceal him : " for the darkness and the " light to him arc both alike." On the other hand the believer cannot be removed or banished from the supporting and comforting presence of his almighty Friend ; who was with Joseph in the prison, with the three young Jews in the fiery furnace, and with Daniel in the lion’s den. Should the persecutor’s rage take away his life, his soul will the sooner ascend into heaven, and be more sensibly present with his Father and Friend, to his unutterable joy. The grave cannot separate his body from the love of his Saviour, who will raise it incorruptible and glorious. Could he even enter the place of torment, the presence and love of God would prevent his feeling misery. A desolate island, or the remotest region inhabited by the worst of savages ; the sultry heat of the torrid zone, or the benumbing cold of polar regions; the deep dungeon, cavern, or mine; can by no means exclude him from his God. While he is in the path of duty, he may be happy in any situation, by the exercise of faith, and hope, and prayer. But should he sinfully shift his duty, and, like Jonah, attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord ; his arm would arrest him, his frown dismay him, and his rod correct him, in every place. We should then enquire what the Lord would have us to do, and whither we ought to remove ; and pray that his gracious presence may always attend us : and then we shall have every thing to hope, and nothing to fear, in life, in death, or in the eternal world. (Notes, Exodus 33:12-13. P. O. 12-23. Note, Proverbs 3:5-6.)

V. 13-24.

The omnipresent God is our Creator, and has a right to possess and dispose of us as his property : he comprehends our whole frame, which is his marvellous workmanship. The wise and kind contrivance, with which our bodies are formed, should excite our reverent admiration and gratitude ; and surely we ought not to use our members and senses, which the Lord so curiously fashioned in the womb, as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. (Notes, Romans 6:12-19; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20) But our immortal and rational souls are a still more noble work and gift of God. Yet had it not been for his " precious thoughts " of love to us, our reason and immortality would, through our sins, have proved the occasion of our eternal misery. How should we then delight to meditate on his love to sinners in Jesus Christ, the sum of which exceeds all computation ! the mercies thence derived are numberless as the sands of the sea. (Note, Ephesians 3:14-19.) Every morning we awake more indebted, and ought to be more grateful, than before : but when we shall awake in the world of glory, how shall we admire and bless our God for tin’s invaluable salvation ! Yet this God of infinite mercy will most surely destroy all the impenitent workers of iniquity. We should therefore warn our fellow sinners " to " flee from the wrath to come ; " and protest against their crimes by separating from their company. (Notes, 2 Chronicles 19:1-2. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. Ephesians 5:8-14.) But those bloody men, who persecute the people of God, and thus join cruelty to their impiety and blasphemy, are most eminently the enemies and haters of God himself ; and should be shunned with marked abhorrence by all, who love him and his cause : yet we should still pray for their conversion and salvation, and wait for opportunities of shewing them kindness, and attempting to " overcome evil with good." As the Lord knows us perfectly, and we are such strangers to ourselves ; we should earnestly desire and pray to be searched and proved, in his providence, and by his word and Spirit : thus we shall best be preserved from self-deception, gradually purified from our remaining sinfulness, and led in the way of everlasting life : and these our desires and prayers will evidence our sincerity, and increase our comfortable assurance, that we are the children of God. (Note, John 3:19-21.)

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Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 139". Thomas Scott: Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. 1804.