Psalm 139

1   For the leader. A psalm of David.



LORD, you have probed me, you know me:

2   you know when I sit and stand;

you understand my thoughts from afar.

3   You sift through my travels and my rest;

with all my ways you are familiar.

4    Even before a word is on my tongue,

LORD, you know it all.

5   Behind and before you encircle me

and rest your hand upon me.

6   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

far too lofty for me to reach.



7   Where can I go from your spirit?

From your presence, where can I flee?

8   If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;

if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.

9    If I take the wings of dawn

and dwell beyond the sea,

10   Even there your hand guides me,

your right hand holds me fast.

11   If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,

and night shall be my light”—

12   Darkness is not dark for you,

and night shines as the day.

Darkness and light are but one.



13  You formed my inmost being;

you knit me in my mother’s womb.

14  I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;

wonderful are your works!

My very self you know.

15  My bones are not hidden from you,

When I was being made in secret,

fashioned in the depths of the earth.

16  Your eyes saw me unformed;

in your book all are written down;

my days were shaped, before one came to be.



17  How precious to me are your designs, O God;

how vast the sum of them!

18  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands;

when I complete them, still you are with me.

19  When you would destroy the wicked, O God,

the bloodthirsty depart from me!

20  Your foes who conspire a plot against you

are exalted in vain.

21  Do I not hate, LORD, those who hate you?

Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?

22  With fierce hatred I hate them,

enemies I count as my own.



23  Probe me, God, know my heart;

try me, know my thoughts.

24  See if there is a wicked path in me;

lead me along an ancient path.



Sense of intimacy with God is very present – especially with regard to God knowing us.  Verb we translate as “know” is also used for sexual intimacy (occurs 6  times, 3 in the opening stanza in NAB translation)


Context: perhaps / likely – a “he said, she said” dispute brought to the temple priests.    “my enemies” described as “God’s enemies” as well.


Krauss p. 513: “The singer of the psalm was  persecuted by “enemies”.  In v. 21 we are told that the enemies hate (the LORD).  With intent to murder, they surround the psalmist (v. 19).  Obviously they have leveled serious reproaches against him and perhaps have even accused the oppressed person of being an idolater.  In this dire situation the persecuted one took refuge with (the LORD) and submitted to a divine judgment.”



Notes for Verses 1 through 6

The affirmation is that God knows everything about us, nothing is hidden.  The accused enter the Temple area with the intent to seek God’s judgment on what is in their hearts.


McCann on p. 125 – God’s knowledge of us is not threatening / overwhelming but comforting.  To be encircled here seen as being protected (circle the wagons!)  (In our days now – if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear (of NSA)).



Notes for Verses 7 through 12

What is the concern of this unit?  Should we read it as “Where can I escape from this overwhelming force for a moment of peace?”   or  McCann suggests p. 126 there is no place where God is not, therefore I am always – even in exile, even in jail, etc. – under God’s protection.


John 1:5 “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”


Krauss p. 515 – this section is standard praises of the Most High God and God’s omniscience


This was a key concept – that the LORD was not tied to the land of Israel, that the LORD was everywhere in power and might and knowledge – including the lands of exile.


Notes for Verses 13 through 16

God’s knowledge of us is past, present, and future.


The creator of the world judges the world.


Notes for Verses 17 through 22

God knows us intimately, we cannot comprehend God but can know his presence and protection


Image of “grains of sand” for that which is limitless


Some commentators of verses 19-22 “seem to be disgustingly inferior”    Lectionaries and songs leave them out.


McCann p. 128: there are 57 places in the psalms where there is a plea for God to kill my enemies or celebrates that God will or has already done so.


p. 129: “The worst thing that can happen in the face of severe victimization is silence, which can easily pass for acquiescence or apathy.  But the psalmists never remain silent.  They give voice to their victimization, and such is the first step toward addressing and removing the threat.”


These are prayers to God that GOD set things right, for justice to be done  p. 129: “…it is profound good news that God hates injustice, unrighteousness, and victimization.  Indeed, we should hate such things as well.”


My enemies are YOUR enemies!  Something we need to remember, especially today, that isn’t necessarily true!


Notes for Verses 23, 24

Here I find submission, even an eagerness to be known, for the sake of being vindicated over one’s enemies.


Psalm 139 for Today

Our lives are a gift from God, every life has value.  This is severely challenged in our world today – so many people are considered to be “throwaways”, can be “collateral damage”.


This is a significant part of the church’s opposition to abortion (not the psalm, the attitude that it captures).


There is nowhere we can run to in order to escape from God’s judgment.  BUT, no one can escape God’s grasp, no one is beyond redemption and grace.





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