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Deeper Commentary

Psa 139:1
For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David-
"The psalm divides into four stanzas of six verses each—the first (:1-6) dealing with the omniscience of God; the second (:7-12), with his omnipresence; the third (:13-18), with his omnipotence; and the fourth (:19-24) containing the supplication".

Yahweh, You have searched me and You know me-
The language of Ps. 17:3, also written whilst in the wilderness and before the sin with Bathsheba, which revealed David to be somewhat overconfident as to the state of his heart. The phrase is used in Ps. 44:23 in the context of pleading innocence to any idolatry. However the thoughts are just as appropriate to David in his reflections after the sin with Bathsheba.

Psa 139:2
You know my sitting down and my rising up, You perceive my thoughts from afar-
Sitting down and rising up was a metaphor for daily life (Dt. 6:7), and is paralleled with his thoughts. The Bible continually parallels thought and action. 

Psa 139:3
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways-
The language of Ps. 119:168, also written whilst in the wilderness and before the sin with Bathsheba, which revealed David to be somewhat overconfident as to the state of his heart. However the thoughts are just as appropriate to David in his reflections after the sin with Bathsheba.

Psa 139:4
For there is not a word on my tongue, but, behold, Yahweh, You know it altogether-
Knowledge of thoughts (:2) is paralleled with knowledge of our words; because David rightly understood that thoughts and words are all the same before God. This is developed in the Lord's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Psa 139:5
You hem me in behind and before, You have laid Your hand on me-

"Hem in" is the usual word for besieging. But David in Ps. 119 often rejoices in the freedom of walking in God's ways. So he doesn't at all suggest that God is constricting him, but rather that God's knowledge of his every thought, movement and word means that he is himself hemmed in to an appropriate way of living. This is the practical meaning of God's omniscience. We cannot profess to believe in God's omniscience without appropriately feeling and living, every moment of our lives.

Psa 139:6
This knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty and beyond me-
AV "too wonderful". Whilst the extent of God's omniscience is indeed beyond our full grasp, David doesn't mean that the things of God are too wonderful for him to understand, and he just quits in trying to handle them. Throughout the Psalms, David repeatedly speaks of the wonder of God, how he wishes to extol this, and how he mourns the tragedy of the fact that Israel generally had not grasped the wonder of their God. He asks for his eyes to be opened so that the wonder of God's ways might be made known to him (Ps. 119:18). The Hebrew word translated "wonder" or "wondrous" was evidently one of David's favourites. Yet he says that although he sees the wonder of the knowledge of God, he feels it is "too wonderful for me" - perhaps "for me" is where the emphasis should be. It may be that David spoke of the knowledge of God as being "too wonderful for me" with his eye on Job's experience. If Ps. 139 was written in the aftermath of his physical and spiritual crisis at the time of Bathsheba, David would have seen himself as coming out of it with the same sense of spiritual growth as Job after his months of crisis: "Now mine eye seeth thee... I am vile... things too wonderful for me" all have a certain ring with the sentiments David expresses after Bathsheba. It can be demonstrated that the repentance and restoration of David after the Bathsheba incident is used, through New Testament allusion, as a prototype for the spiritual growth of each of us. This means that the terrible, crushing humbling of Job, of David, of Moses, must in some way at some time be replicated in the experience of every true saint, who struggles up the same graph of spiritual growth. From each of us there must be wrung the deep, essential realization: "I am vile... I know (now) that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee... therefore have I uttered that I understood thee; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not".  

Psa 139:7
Where could I go from Your Spirit? Or where could I flee from Your presence?-
These may be the thoughts of David as he reflected upon his sin with Bathsheba. He had no place to flee from God. These words are likewise appropriate to Jonah. Jonah knew the Psalms, for his own psalm alludes to them constantly. His prayer from inside the fish is packed with allusion to them. And yet he thought he could flee from God’s presence (Jonah 1:3)- even though Ps. 139:7-9 almost prophesies of Jonah, that nobody can flee from God’s presence, and the sea itself, and geographical distance, won’t hide enable such flight from God. Jonah knew this. But he simply acted in a way diametrically opposed to that knowledge.  He didn't resist his own spiritual blindness. The relevance to the exiles is that they were not hidden from God in Gentile lands; the lesson Jonah had to learn (cp. Jer. 23:24).

The essence of judgment is ongoing now; “we make the answer now”. God’s present judgment is often paralleled with His future judgment. Thus “The Lord shall judge the people... God judges [now] the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day... He will whet his sword; He has [right now] bent His bow, and made it ready” (Ps. 7:8,11-13). We are come now “to God the judge of all” (Heb. 12:23); God is now enthroned as judge (Ps. 93:2; Mt. 5:34 “the heaven is God’s throne”). We are now inescapably in God’s presence (Ps. 139:7); and ‘God’s presence’ is a phrase used about the final judgment in 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 24; Rev. 14:10. Hence “God is [now] the judge: He puts down one and sets up another” (Ps. 75:7) – all of which He will also do at the last day (Lk. 14:10).

Psa 139:8
If I ascend up into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there!-
The idea may be that neither height nor depth hides from God, and then :9 says that no length horizontally can remove us from Him either.

Psa 139:9
If I take the wings of the dawn, and settle in the uttermost parts of the sea-
See on :8. Perhaps after the sin with Bathsheba, David in his desperation had thought of leaving Israel, as Jonah did, and living in the "sea" of the Gentile territories. But he knew that even there,  God was present just as much as in His land. And the exiles needed to appreciate this too.    

Psa 139:10
even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will hold me-
I suggested on :7 that these were the reflections of David after his sin with Bathsheba, realizing that there was no place to run from God. Even in judgment and the experience of condemnation, he felt that God would still be present and would hold on to him and lead him to restoration. This was exactly relevant to the exiles in Babylon. Just as they were led by the hand in the wilderness (s.w. Ps. 77:20), so they would be in exile; the apparent wasting of time living there was in fact all part of being actively led towards the promised land. And so it is with us. David uses the same word in :24 in asking to be led himself, in the way to eternity.

Psa 139:11
If I say, Surely the darkness will overwhelm me then the light around me will be night-
I have suggested that originally, these words are the thoughts of David as he considered fleeing from both God and all Israel after his sin with Bathsheba. He concludes that even the darkness of sin cannot hide from God; there doesn't come a point where we sin so much that God is no longer involved with us. AV is better: "the night shall be light". Even that darkness can be brought to a glorious dawn by God. And the same imagery is used in later Isaiah, of the exiles' restoration being as a glorious dawn after the darkness of the exile. "Overwhelm" is the same word for "bruise" in Gen. 3:15; the victory of sin would only be a bruise, from which he would recover. 

Psa 139:12
even the darkness doesn’t hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness is like light to You-
As noted on :11, the darkness of sin doesn't totally hide a sinner from God, as Adam in his darkness of sin was still not hidden from God; He still seeks to lead through that darkness to the light of day; and can transform night into day. David experienced this, and the exiles were bidden follow the same path of restoration. The allusion may also be to death as darkness (Ecc. 12:2; Job 3:9; 18:6); the God of resurrection doesn't in this sense separate between life and death, in whose mind all His people live even after death (Lk. 20:38). And the darkness is a frequent symbol of the Babylonian exile (Jer. 13:16; Am. 5:8; 8:9).

Num. 9:21 says that the pillar of cloud was with the Israelites at night, and sometimes it was taken up in the night and they therefore had to move on. Does this mean that there were times when the meaning of time was collapsed during their journey, and the night was made as the day (perhaps Ps. 139:12 alludes to this experience)?

Psa 139:13
For You formed my inmost being, You knit me together in my mother’s womb-
Again, as so often, David appeals to the wonder of creation as a reminder that God is active for him, and everything in life has a purpose, geared toward our final salvation. "Knit me together" is better translated to cover / defend. He reflects on earliest existence as an embryo in the womb. There he had been covered by God, and so he would be all his life in accordance with God's saving purpose.

Psa 139:14
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful and my soul knows that very well-
The "works" of God at his earliest development in the womb continued seamlessly in his life. "Wonderfully" is the word for separate, set apart. We have here the idea of being known and set apart from the womb, as Jeremiah and Paul also felt.

Psa 139:15
My frame wasn’t hidden from You when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth-
"Woven together" suggests the idea of the High Priestly garments woven of different colours. "The depths of the earth" may be a metaphor for the womb, but this Psalm comes to its ultimate fulfilment and perspective in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and all those in Him.

Our lives are not a chance. By rejecting chance-evolution and accepting the Biblical teaching of creation-with-a-purpose, we sign ourselves up to living a purpose driven life. It has been rightly observed that whilst there may be illegitimate parents, there are never illegitimate children; for our existence is not unplanned by God. Your race, the colour of your skin, your hair, the genetic and social background which you had, all this was planned and is usable by God. David marvelled that God had overseen his formation, bit by bit, right from the womb; and that this formation of character was ongoing. God “will fulfill his purpose for me” (Ps. 138:8). “You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Each day was recorded in your book” (Ps. 139:16). Now if this is the level of intention and planning which God put into us, we at least can draw the conclusion safely and certainly: life is not aimless. God has a purpose for us and we therefore ought to be living a purposeful life, not just drifting from experience to experience as in a half-conscious dream. God is focused upon us- “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love” (Eph. 1:4). If we are the focus of His love, God ought to be the focus of our lives. This is a simple truth upon which to build and structure human life in practice. This means that we will be more likely to be instantly obedient to the Father’s principles; we will overcome the natural desire to delay doing God’s work today, rendering obedience right now, because we reason that we can do it later. The purpose driven life wants to respond now rather than later.

Psa 139:16
Your eyes saw my body. In Your book my body parts were all written and the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them-
"Body parts", AV "substance", appears to be the ancient Hebrew way of referring to the embryo. The body of the Lord Jesus has been “day by day fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16 RV). For 6,000 years providence has been at work preparing the people who are now being called into the body. The world has been prepared. It’s waiting for the preacher to win it. "Ordained" is the usual word for "formed" or "fashioned" as a potter fashions clay. But as Jeremiah makes clear, we can resist the intended outcome of that fashioning, just as our names can be removed from the book of life in which they are written. The exiles needed to be reminded of this; the language of fashioning / ordaining is common in the addresses to them in later Isaiah and Jeremiah (e.g. Is. 45:9). not only were the exiles being fashioned and brought together as a new creation, a rebirth of the body parts of Israel seen by Ezekiel in the vision of the dry bones; but in fact God had been at work with them from the womb and had not at all forgotten them or ceased working with them whilst they were in exile. The same message is stated more bluntly in Is. 44:2,24; 46:3; 49:5.

Psa 139:17
How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is their sum!-
Perceiving these things was indeed precious. Every occurrence of the word for "precious" is in the context of the value or preciousness of the human life and person (1 Sam. 26:21; 2 Kings 1:13,14; Ps. 49:8; 72:14; Is. 13:12; 43:4; Zech. 11:13). David's value of God's ways and desire to save people as being "precious" was reflected in how he considered the life of his enemy Saul to be likewise "precious" (1 Sam. 26:21). The extreme value attached by God to every human life must be our attitude, in likewise perceiving the value and meaning of persons.

The LXX in this and the following verses is very different, but continues this theme of the value of God's people: "But thy friends, O God, have been greatly honoured by me; their rule has been greatly strengthened". This makes sense of likening them to the numberless grains of sand (:18) which represent the seed of Abraham, who was the "friend of God" James 2:23).

Psa 139:18
If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand-
LXX "I will number them, and they shall be multiplied beyond the sand, clearly alluding to the promises to Abraham. See on :17. God's thoughts are parallel with the seed of Abraham; He has thought for every one of us, the thought David marvelled at in :16.

When I wake up, I am still with You-
See on :17. The idea may be that when David awakes from counting the innumerable thoughts of God for the seed of Abraham, he himself is still with God.

Psa 139:19
If only You, God, would kill the wicked-
David's common request for the destruction of Saul (Ps. 5:6,10; 7:9-13; 9:19; 10:15; 21:8-12). And yet when Saul did die, David was heartbroken (see on 2 Sam. 1). We learn therefore to be more careful what we pray for, because in essence it will be given to us. Perhaps part of his great grief was because he realized he had prayed for this destruction.

Get away from me, you bloodthirsty men!-
This is the word for how God had 'departed' from Saul, and maybe this was initially behind David's desire that Saul leave him alone. But it is also the word used for how violence would never depart from David because of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:10). David prayed for this to "depart" but it never did. David was open to the possibility that through prayer, God can remove the consequences of sin in this life; but such prayer is not always answered.

David's prayer of repentance and request to be saved from "blood guiltiness" (Ps. 51:14) is literally 'from blood'. He was a man of blood and was guilty of Uriah's innocent blood. David had asked for 'men of blood' to be slain (Ps. 55:23 s.w.), those who had taken the blood of the innocent (Ps. 94:21), and for 'men of blood' to be expelled from his presence (Ps. 139:19). And it is not at all clear whether all those Psalms were written before his sin with Bathsheba. God was trying to teach David that he was the type of person whom he condemned. And yet it is unclear if he learned that lesson. Solomon liberally condemns the man who sheds innocent blood (Prov. 6:17; 28:17), refusing to recognize that his much lauded father had done just this, and was only saved by grace and not by any obedience to wisdom. There is so little grace in the book of Solomon's Proverbs because Solomon had failed to perceive the grace shown to his father.

Psa 139:20
For they speak against You wickedly, Your enemies take Your name in vain-
LXX "For thou wilt say concerning their thought, that they shall take thy cities in vain". Perhaps the Psalm was rewritten and reapplied to later crises such as the Assyrians taking all Judah's cities apart from Jerusalem in Hezekiah's time. "Your name" is not in the original, and the same phrase is used in Ps. 24:4 of lifting up / taking the name of vanities, idols. The wicked enemies in view appear to initially be Saul and his men (:19), but then they refer to the idolatrous Babylonians. The problem was that the exiles seem to have initially worshipped those very idols.

Psa 139:21
Yahweh, don’t I hate those who hate You? Am I not grieved with those who rise up against You?-
The language of 'rising up' suggests David may have in view the rebellion of Absalom. But he sees whoever was currently arisen against him in the context of all who had previously arisen against him. It was Goliath who 'rose up against' Yahweh and His people (s.w. 1 Sam. 17:48) just as a lion had 'risen up' against David in his youth (s.w. 1 Sam. 17:35). Later, Saul 'rose up' against David (s.w. 1 Sam. 25:29; 26:2), and  then evil men 'rose up' against David out of his own family (2 Sam. 12:11 s.w.), especially Absalom who rose up against his father (2 Sam. 18:31,32 s.w.). But David has a tendency to assume that all who rose up against him were arising against God. It's not always so that our enemy is God's enemy. Relationships and the hand of God in human affairs and relationships is more complex than that. And David in Ps. 139:21,22 goes further, to assume that his hatred of people is justified, because they must, he assumes, hate God because they are against him. Solomon seems to make the same mistake when he alludes to such 'risings up' in Prov. 28:28. We must note that "all in Asia" turned away from Paul personally (2 Tim. 1:15), and yet according to the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Rev. 2,3, there were many faithful individuals amongst them.   

Psa 139:22
I hate them with complete hatred; they have become my enemies-
David reached a great depth of hateful feeling for Saul here in :20-22. David also grieved for them, and in this sense his "hatred" of false ways was complete or "perfect" (AV). The same mixture of anger and yet grief is found in the Lord Himself; He looked round about upon them in anger, being grieved for their hard hearts (Mk. 3:5). We must ask ourselves whether we don’t have merely an indignant reaction at others’ unspirituality; the looking round on them with anger, and yet without the unpretended grief for the whole situation.

Psa 139:23
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts-
Reading through the book of Psalms in one or two sittings reveals that frequent and intense self-examination was a leading characteristic of David:, especially while on the run from Saul; as if he began to pick up false guilt from how he was being treated, wondering if it was all in fact justified (Ps. 4:4; 7:3; 17:3; 18:20-24; 19:12; 26:1; 39:1; 59:3; 66:18; 77:6; 86:2; 101:2; 109:3; 139:23,24).

Psa 139:24
See if there is any wicked way in me-
We're either led out and put to death for the sake of eternal life, or for eternal death. The logic is glaring. The Hebrew of Ps. 139:24 reveals a telling play on words which makes the same point: "Wicked way" is rendered in the AVmg. as 'way of pain'; the way of wickedness is itself the way of pain.

And lead me in the everlasting way
This could simply mean "the way that leads to everlasting life", or "the way which has always been of everlasting, God's way". This is the same leading commented upon on :10.