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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 139

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-6


In this psalm David tells of the exercises of his heart as he goes the ways of God. Prophetically, these are the exercises of God’s people in the time of their trouble (Psalms 138:7).

The sin of all the tribes was idolatry. From that they will have to be cleansed. With the ten tribes, this cleansing occurs on the way to the promised land in the wilderness of the nations (Ezekiel 20:34-Zechariah :). With the two tribes it happens by means of the great tribulation. For them, in addition to the cleansing from the sin of idolatry, there is also the cleansing from the sin of rejecting Christ. The latter is specifically the sin of the two tribes. Psalm 139 shows us the glory of the LORD during the purification of the whole people.

Division of the psalm

Psalms 139:1-Joshua : The LORD is omniscient (all-knowing). Nothing is hidden from Him.
Psalms 139:7-2 Kings : The LORD is omnipresent (everywhere present). No one can hide from Him.
Psalms 139:13-Job : The LORD is omnipotent (all-mighty). Nothing is impossible for Him.
Psalms 139:19-Song of Solomon : Therefore the LORD will remove the wicked from among them.
Psalms 139:23-Jeremiah : Now that they have been purified, only one desire remains with them, and that is to be led by the LORD in the everlasting way.

God, the Omniscient

For “for the choir director” (Psalms 139:1) see at Psalm 4:1.

For “a Psalm of David” see at Psalm 3:1.

Through the troubles (Psalm 138) the faithful remnant comes into the presence of the LORD. We see this in Psalm 139. David begins by noting that the LORD knows him through and through (Psalms 139:1-Exodus :) and ends by praying that the LORD will use His knowledge and omnipotence to purify him (Psalms 139:23-Jeremiah :).

The presence of the LORD is like the Word of God. Its awareness works like a “two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The believer sees himself in it, as he sees himself in a mirror (cf. James 1:23-Jeremiah :). He comes to know himself through it. The LORD wants to purify the vine by His presence, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-Deuteronomy :), which means that the believer lives more to His honor and glorification.

God knows and sees everything. There is nothing that escapes His all-seeing eye. It goes even further, for He also fathoms everything, including man, every human being. According to a United Nations estimate, there were 7.7 billion people living on earth in 2019 [www.wikipedia.org; website visited 25-11-2020]. It is estimated that over 200,000 people have been added every day so far. And that’s a snapshot. These figures are already far beyond our thinking, let alone when we think of all the people who have lived on earth since Adam.

To God, these are not statistics. He fathoms and knows every human being who has ever lived and is living at this moment. To fathom means to examine extremely precisely and closely. The result of this precise examination is a perfect knowledge of man. Of course, for God, this close examination is not necessary. He knows man, because man is His own creature. What matters here is the deep impression David has of God through his dealings with Him. He works this out and applies it in what he says further in this psalm.

What David says here is not a factual statement, not a general confession, however true that may be, but a statement that indicates that he is deeply aware that God fathoms and knows him (Jeremiah 12:3). This confession is not made out of fear or under compulsion, but is done from a living relationship with and the utmost confidence in that God. It is a matter between “You” and “me”.

In the awareness of God’s omniscience, I may consider that God is present in every corner of my heart. In doing so, I also know that He knows me better than I know myself (1 John 3:19-Proverbs :). To Him even the most deeply hidden places in my heart are completely in the light (Psalms 139:12; Daniel 2:22). If this awareness makes me uneasy, I may be thinking of things in my heart that are not according to His will. In that case, I can remove – and if necessary, confess – my faulty thoughts and then ask Him for His will.

Knowing a person is much more than knowing facts. Knowing here has to do with knowing intimately, having a relationship with someone. It is not just that the LORD knows everything about David; it is that the LORD has a relationship with David. He knows the moments that I “sit down”, why I do it, and what I do then (Psalms 139:2). His knowledge of me is total. He also knows “when I rise up”, when I do, and why, what I intend to do (cf. Isaiah 37:28).

Even “my thoughts” are an opened book to Him. He not only knows what I think, but also “understands” what I think, and that even “from afar”. The latter refers not so much to distance – the LORD is always near – but more to time, that is, He knows everything about me far in advance. This is a comforting thought.

“My path and my lying down” are scrutinized by Him (Psalms 139:3). This is about daily life, from the morning, from getting up and leaving for daily work, to the evening, going back to bed. He scrutinizes how I conduct myself during those times and during those pursuits. There is nothing in everything I do throughout the day that surprises or amazes Him, for He is “intimately acquainted with all my ways” (cf. Job 31:4).

Also, everything I resolve to say, that is, even before I take a “word on my tongue”, He knows it (Psalms 139:4). His perfect knowledge of me means that nothing can be said or done by me that surprises Him. Rather, it is my amazement at Him, at His perfect knowledge of my whole being, including what I don’t even know yet myself, but what He sees in me that makes me say: “Behold, O LORD, You know it all.”

That all-knowing God protects me and covers me with His hand, which He lovingly lays upon me (Psalms 139:5). He has “enclosed me behind and before”. The word ‘enclose’ is sometimes used for the siege of a city, so that it is completely enclosed. That is what God is doing to me. I can’t do anything outside of Him without Him knowing. I cannot take a step backward or forward, or He is there. This does not make me afraid, but gives me peace. Above all, it is His protection from enemies who want to attack me from behind or from the front. This section of Psalms 139:1-Joshua : tells me that the omniscience of the LORD is used by Him to protect me (Psalms 139:5-Joshua :).

By “from behind” we can also think of our past and by “before” of our future. Sometimes thoughts of our past can attack us and thoughts of the future can trouble us. Then He places Himself behind us and in front of us. With this He says, as it were, that the past is in His hand and that with regard to the past everything has been made good through the work of His Son. And as for the future, everything is also in His hand. By the same work of His Son we shall be with Him forever. Next, He lays His hand upon me, with which He says to me: ‘You are Mine.’

Then we feel the reaction of Psalms 139:6 rise up in us. In great wonder we say to Him: “[Such] knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is [too] high, I cannot attain to it.” The human mind falls completely short of knowing things that are beyond knowledge. There are no words to describe it (cf. Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 4:7). The only thing appropriate here is to fall on our knees and worship Him.

Verses 7-12

God, the Omnipresent

Having described the omniscience of God in an impressive way, David speaks in these verses in an equally impressive way of the omnipresence of God. It is impossible to go anywhere where God’s Spirit could not reach me, or to go anywhere where I am no longer in God’s presence (Psalms 139:7; Jeremiah 23:24). The prophet Jonah tried, but he failed (Jonah 1:1-Esther :).

When David speaks of where he can “from Your Spirit” and “flee from Your presence” he does not mean to say that he wants to. He wants to make it even more clear that God, Who is Spirit (John 4:24), knows everything and is present everywhere. It is impossible for man to hide from Him. There is no place in creation where He is not, because He created everything. The question is not: Where is God, but: Where is God not? He is not part of His universe, He is not a component of it, but rules over it with perfect knowledge of every detail in it.

Imagine, says David, that I ascended to heaven (Psalms 139:8; cf. Amos 9:1-Exodus :). Then I would meet You there, for You dwell there. Now if I descended to the deepest place in creation, Sheol, the realm of the dead, then I will meet You there also, for there You are also.

In the height and in the depth, I cannot escape You. Now if I tried it in the breadth or in the length (Psalms 139:9). Let me “take the wings of the dawn” and “dwell in the remotest part of the sea”. That is, he moves at the speed of sunrise, changing darkness into light – close to the equator this is very fast – and goes to dwell in the remotest place on earth.

The possibilities David mentions for escaping God are at the same moment answered by himself: it is simply impossible to go anywhere where God is not. David comes to a comforting conclusion through his questions, and that is that God’s hand leads him everywhere (Psalms 139:10). And he discovers – not only that God does not let go of him, but – that God’s right hand lays hold of him. The section of Psalms 139:7-2 Kings : makes it clear that the LORD uses His omnipresence to guide us (Psalms 139:10) and illuminate us with His presence (Psalms 139:11-2 Kings :).

Then, if distance offers no way to escape God, it may be possible to be swallowed up by darkness, and that even the light around him would be night (Psalms 139:11). But then what happens? Then, because of God’s presence with him, the night turns into the light around him (cf. Acts 12:7). He comes into the full light. Where God comes, it automatically becomes light, because God is light.

Darkness makes things dark for us. This is also true spiritually. Many things in our lives are “dark” to us; we don’t understand them. For God, it is not so. It makes no difference to Him whether it is night or day, or whether there is darkness or light (Psalms 139:12). Everything is light to Him. Day and night, light and darkness, it is all created by Him and therefore nothing is hidden from Him.

Verses 13-18

God, the Former of Life

God knows everything and is everywhere because He created everything. He also knows man because He created man. For the believer is added the tremendous encouragement that God knows him in grace. The word “for” (Psalms 139:13) indicates that now comes the explanation of the above. Of course God knows everything about me, of course God is everywhere where I am, because He is my Maker. The LORD is not only the almighty Creator of heaven and earth, He is also my Creator, He made me. Therefore, He knows me thoroughly and guides me in my ways, until death and resurrection (Psalms 139:18).

In describing his own creation, David begins with his “inward parts”, literally “kidneys”. The kidneys are the innermost part of man. In the spiritual application they are associated with the deliberations that a man has. God tests the kidneys (Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10Jeremiah 20:12; Lamentations 3:13; Revelation 2:23) to see if his conscience is clean or not. They are also seen as the symbol of wisdom, the not material part, but more emotional and spiritual part of man (Job 16:13; Job 19:27Job 38:26; Psalms 7:10; Psalms 16:7Psalms 26:2; Psalms 73:21; Proverbs 23:16).

Then he talks about how God “wove me in my mother’s womb”. That deeply hidden, dark place is light to Him. There God has artfully ‘composed’ Him. He has connected all the parts harmoniously. Therefore He has perfect knowledge of man and there is nothing in man that He does not know. He put it all in place Himself in exactly the place He wanted and with the function He gave it. He has made it into one whole, with each ‘part’ supporting the other ‘part’.

Although David did not possess the medical knowledge of the origin of human life and body that we possess, he gives thanks God because he is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). As all of God’s works are wondrous, so is he. He is deeply convinced – “my soul knows it very well” – that God has a personal plan with him. This every one of His own may know and say with certainty (cf. Ephesians 2:10).

When David was made in secret, none of his “bones” [“frame” is literally “bones”] were hidden from God (Psalms 139:15). They are an integral part of his body. The bones give strength to the body. Together with the muscles, they allow the body to move. God did not need a lamp when making the bones in man. He embroidered a work of art without light in the dark hidden because He is present as light in the hidden. “The depths of the earth” is a poetic description for “the secret”. It emphasizes that these are the most hidden places, something that cannot be seen by human eyes (cf. Job 28:7).

In Psalms 139:16, David speaks of the eyes of God that saw His embryo, His “unformed substance”. He has described in His “book” all the “days that were ordained [for me], when as yet there was not one of them”. His name is written in the book of life of the Lamb Who has been slain (Revelation 13:8). God describes in advance how a human life proceeds (cf. Jeremiah 1:5). To Him not only is darkness like light, but also the future is to Him like the present.

God knew our thoughts long before we thought of Him (Psalms 139:2), but He also has thoughts Himself (Psalms 139:17). This goes beyond the wonders of God’s omniscience and omnipresence and how He made everything. It is about the thoughts of God that are behind His works (cf. Psalms 40:5). These are precious to the believer, although their number is completely beyond his thinking. The LORD fathoms the psalmist through and through, while to the psalmist the LORD is unfathomable.

God’s thoughts are innumerable, even more innumerable than “the sand” (Psalms 139:18; cf. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12; Hebrews 11:22). This does not cause doubt, but gives utter peace. The God-fearing falls asleep with the thought of God. Psalms 139:13-Nehemiah : deal with the pregnancy, when the psalmist was still in his mother’s womb, before his birth. In Psalms 139:18 it is about the situation after death. If he were to awaken later, after death, he would still be with the LORD.

Verses 19-22

God Will Judge

One who, like David and like every God-fearing, is connected to God and lives from that connection, is aware of the radical separation between him and the wicked. He will ask God to “slay the wicked” (Psalms 139:19). He says to the “men of bloodshed” to depart from him (cf. Proverbs 29:10). Among these people there is no respect for the life of which David has been so deeply impressed.

They are out to thwart God’s plans and prevent their execution (Psalms 139:20). The God-fearing submits this to God: “For they speak against You wickedly, and Your enemies take [Your name] in vain.” The influence of the wicked and men of bloodshed leads to destruction of those who come under their influence. God must put an end to this pernicious influence so that no more people are dragged along the path of destruction.

The God-fearing knows the heart of God and His hatred of sin (Psalms 139:21). He cannot do otherwise than take God’s side against God’s haters. He is loathes those who rise up against God – they are rebels, rebellious, who reject all authority – to keep Him from the blessing He wants to give to His own. Do we also loathe people who, in order to indulge their own lusts, deliberately go against everything God has given as a blessing? Dedication to the Lord excludes all loyalty to those who hate Him. Love for them implies that we expect them to distance themselves from such behavior.

For the God-fearing, it is not a question. He hates them with utmost hatred (Psalms 139:22). It is not about those people per se, because God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, rather He wants them to repent and live. If, however, people continue unstoppably on a path of sin and drag others along with them, they prove to be enemies of God. Such people will be seen by every God-fearing as his own enemies.

Verses 23-24

Search Me

The God-fearing hates all who stand up to God (Psalms 139:22). He does so not in a proud spirit, but out of love for God. This is also evident in his prayer in these verses. He also hates the thought that there would be anything present in himself that is not subject to God. Therefore, in these final verses he asks God for a complete ‘screening’ of his heart and anxious thoughts. After asking for judgment on the wicked and the enemies of God, he now asks for God’s judgment on himself.

These two go together. It is a separation of chaff from wheat. Also in Psalm 26 we see that the testing of the believer and aversion to a God-hostile walk are mentioned in the same breath (Psalms 26:2-Deuteronomy :).

He began the psalm by noting that God searches and knows him (Psalms 139:1). Now he asks God to search him and show him what is in his heart (Psalms 139:23; cf. Jeremiah 17:9-2 Samuel :). He places himself in the presence of God and asks to try him, to try him as to the uprightness and purity of his thoughts (cf. Hebrews 4:12-1 Chronicles :).

He wants nothing more than to live in accordance with the will of God. Therefore, he asks that God look at his spiritual condition and see if in him there is “any hurtful way” (Psalms 139:24). The Hebrew word for ‘hurtful’ is literally ‘idolatrous’. That is, a hurtful way is an idolatrous way, the way of the wicked who have put aside the LORD. If so, David says to God, will You let me know.

He then asks that God lead him “in the everlasting way”. The everlasting way is the old way of the righteous (Psalms 1:6; Jeremiah 6:16). That is what his desire is for. He wants to go in the way where life from and with God is lived. That way also ends in eternal life, with Him Who is its source, God Himself. Death does not end that way, but is a final step on that way that brings him into full, undisturbed fellowship with God.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 139". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-139.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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