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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 139

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations


Psalms 139:0


This Psalm is esteemed by the Hebrews the most excellent in the whole book. The matter of it is noble and sublime, and so is the style. The occasion of it seems to have been those heavy censures and reproaches wherewith David was loaded by his enemies, who branded him for a notorious hypocrite and imposter, that pretended religion only for the covering and promoting his own ambitious and wicked designs against his lawful king, whose life and crown he sought to take away. Against these he comforteth himself with the consideration of God’s omniscience, to whom he appeals as the only proper judge of the integrity of his heart.

David magnifieth the all-seeing providence of God, Psalms 139:1-16; his great and tender mercies to him before he had a being in the world, Psalms 139:17,Psalms 139:18; abhorreth all converse with wicked men, Psalms 139:19-22; prayeth for and testifieth his sincerity, Psalms 139:23,Psalms 139:24.

Verse 2

Known me, i.e. known me exactly, as men do those things which they diligently search out.

My downsitting and mine uprising; all my postures and motions, my actions and my cessations from action.

My thought; all my secret counsels and designs.

Afar off; before they are perfectly formed in my mind. Thou knowest what my thoughts will be in such and such circumstances long before I know it, yea, from all eternity.

Verse 3

Thou compassest my path; thou watchest me on every side, and therefore discernest every step which I take. It is a metaphor either from huntsmen watching all the motions and lurking-places of wild beasts, that they may catch them; or from soldiers besieging their enemies in a city, and setting watches round about them.

My lying down; me, when I lie down in my bed, where men oft contrive what they execute in the day time.

Verse 4

Thou knowest what I speak, and with what design and disposition of mind. Or rather, as others render it, and which is more admirable, When there is not a word, &c. Thou knowest what I intend to speak, either in prayer to thee, or in conversation with men, when I have not yet uttered one word of it.

Verse 5

Thou hast beset me behind and before, with thine all-seeing and all-disposing providence.

And laid thine hand upon me; thou keepest me, as it were, with a strong hand, in thy sight and under thy power.

Verse 6

I am so far from equalling thy knowledge, that I cannot apprehend it, in what manner thou dost so perfectly know all things, even such as are most secret, and have yet no being, and seem to depend upon many casualties and uncertainties.

Verse 7

From thy spirit; either,

1. From the Holy Ghost, the third person in the Trinity: or,

2. From thee, who art a Spirit, and therefore canst penetrate into the most secret parts: or,

3. From thy mind or understanding, of which he is here speaking, as this word seems to be taken, Isaiah 40:13, compared with Romans 11:34; for what there is called the spirit of the Lord, is here called the mind of the Lord. And as the Spirit of God is oft used in Scripture for its gifts and graces, so the spirit of God in this place may be put for that knowledge which is an attribute or action of God.

From thy presence; a man can go to no place which is out of thy sight.

Verse 8

If I make my bed in hell; if I should or could repose and hide myself in the grave, or in the lowest parts of the earth, which are at the farthest distance from heaven.

Verse 9

If I should flee as swiftly from try presence as the morning light doth, which in an instant scattereth itself from east to west; for the sea being the western border of Canaan, is oft put for the west in Scripture. And wings are poetically ascribed to the morning or morning light here, as they are elsewhere to the sun, as Malachi 4:2, and to the winds, as Psalms 18:10; Psalms 104:3, and to other things of eminent swiftness.

Verse 10

I could neither go thither without thy conduct, nor subsist there without thy powerful support, and much less could I go out of try sight; for a man may see many things which, are out of his power.

Verse 11

Shall be as clear and manifest to God as the light itself.

Verse 12

Shineth, or enlighteneth, as this word is used, Psalms 19:8; Proverbs 29:13, &c.; discovereth me and all mine actions.

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee: this is repeated so oft to reprove and confute the ridiculous conceits of many ungodly men, who flatter themselves with hopes of secrecy and impunity for those sins which they commit in the dark. See Isaiah 29:15.

Verse 13

Thou hast possessed; or, thou dost possess; thou dwellest in them, thou art the Owner and Governor of them, and therefore must needs know them. Or,

thou hast formed, as some of the ancients and others render it.

My reins; the most inward and hidden part of the body, supposed also to be the seat of men’s lusts and passions.

Thou hast covered me; either,

1. With that covering called the after-birth, wherein the infant is wrapped and preserved in the womb by the wonderful care of Divine Providence. Or,

2. With skin and flesh, as it is expressed, Job 10:11.

Verse 14

I am fearfully and wonderfully made; thy infinite power and wisdom, manifested in the rare and curious structure of man’s body, doth fill me with wonder and astonishment, and with the dread of thy majesty.

Marvellous are thy works; both in the lesser world, man, and in the greater.

My soul knoweth right well; I am well assured, both by thy word, and by the contemplation and study of thy works, to which I have much addicted myself, that they are wonderful, although I do not so accurately understand all the particulars of them as I would do.

Verse 15

My substance; or, My bone, as the LXX. and others render the word. And bone may be here taken collectively for bones, as is usual in such words, or for the whole fabric of the bones And the bones may be very fitly mentioned here, because they are inward and invisible, as being covered with skin, and flesh, and sinews. Or the bones may be put synecdochically for the whole body, as being the most substantial part of it, as they are Psalms 35:10.

In secret; in the dark vault of my mother’s womb.

Curiously wrought, Heb. embroidered; exquisitely composed of bones, and muscles, and sinews, and veins, and arteries, and other parts, all framed with such wonderful skill, that even heathens, upon the contemplation of all the parts of man’s body, and how excellently they were framed, both for beauty and use, have broken forth into pangs of admiration and adoration of the Creator of man, as Galen particularly did.

In the lowest parts of the earth; or, as it were in the lowest parts of the earth. So there is only an ellipsis of the note of similitude, which is very frequent in Scripture, as hath been often said and proved. In a place as secret and remote from human eyes as the lowest parts of the earth are, to wit, in my mother’s womb. And so what is said in the former clause is repeated in this in other words.

Verse 16

Yet being unperfect; when I was a mere embryo, a rude and shapeless lump, when I was first conceived.

In thy book; in thy counsel and providence, by which thou didst contrive and effect this great work, and all the parts of it, according to that model which thou hadst appointed. This is a metaphor taken from workmen, who when they are to make some curious structure, they first draw a rude draught or delineation of it, by which they govern themselves in the building of it.

All my members; all the several parts of my substance.

When in continuance were fashioned; which in due time and by degrees were formed into bones, fleshy sinews, &c. Or, as it is in the margin, what days (and the days in which) they were or should be fashioned; by what steps, in what order and time, each part of the body should receive its proper form. This also was written or appointed by God.

When as yet there was none of them, Heb. and not one of them; understand either yet was, as it is in our translation; or, was lacking, to wit, in thy book. All my parts without exception were written by thee. But then these words are not to bc joined with those immediately foregoing, but with the former, and the words are to be read thus, in thy book all my members were written, (which in continuance were fashioned,) when as yet, &c.

Verse 17

Thy thoughts: thy is taken either,

1. Passively, my thoughts of thee; or rather,

2. Actively, thy thoughts, counsels, or contrivances on my behalf, which are admirable and amiable in mine eyes. Thou didst not only form me at first, but ever since my conception and birth thy thoughts have been employed for me, in preserving and providing for me, and blessing of me.

How great is the sum of them! thy gracious designs and providences towards me are numberless, as it follows.

Verse 18

To wit, by my thoughts and meditations. Thy wonderful counsels and works on my behalf come constantly into my mind, not only in the day time, but even in the night season, which is commonly devoted to rest and sleep; whensoever I awake, either in the night or in the morning. These are my last thoughts when I lie down, and my first when I rise.

Verse 19

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked: and as thou hast precious and gracious thoughts towards me, and all that love and fear thee; so thou hast other kinds of thoughts and purposes towards wicked men, such as thou knowest mine enemies to be, even to destroy them utterly.

Depart from me therefore; I renounce your friendship and society. I will not partake with you in your sins, lest I should also partake of your plagues.

Ye bloody men, Heb. ye men of blood; either,

1. Passively, deserving death, or guilty of blood, or of death, as the phrase is, Numbers 35:27,Numbers 35:31; Matthew 26:66. Or rather,

2. Actively, blood-thirsty, or shedders of blood, as this phrase is generally taken, as 2 Samuel 16:8; Psalms 26:9; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 59:2. Having called them wicked men in general, he now gives a particular account of their wickedness; they were unjust and cruel towards men, and withal profane and impious towards God, as he tells us in the next verse.

Verse 20

They speak against thee wickedly, by profane scoffs, and a professed denial or contempt of thine omniscience and providence. Or,

they speak of thee in or unto wickedness; they make use of religion to cover or further their wicked designs. But our translation is more favoured by the context, which speaks of God’s open and professed enemies.

And thine enemies take thy name in vain; or, according to the order of the Hebrew words, and take thy name in vain, and are thine enemies, or haters of thee, as it follows Psalms 139:21. These words,

thy name, are understood here, as also Isaiah 3:7, out of Exodus 20:7, where they are expressed. They abuse thy blessed name with hellish oaths, and perjuries, and blasphemies.

Verse 21

I appeal to thee, the omnipresent and omniscient God, whether I do not perfectly hate them so far as they are enemies to God and goodness.

That rise up against thee, in open hostility and rebellion against thine authority.

Verse 22

I am no less grieved with their enmity against thee, than if they directed it against myself.

Verse 23

And whether I do not speak this from my very heart, do thou judge, who art the Searcher of hearts, and deal with me accordingly.

Verse 24

Wicked way in me, Heb. way of trouble or grief; any course of life which is grievous, either,

1. To myself, as all sin is to the sinner sooner or later: or,

2. To others; as I am accused of causing much trouble and designing mischief to the king and kingdom.

In the way everlasting; in the right and good way, which is lasting, and leads to everlasting life; whereas the way of wickedness, to which this is opposed, will perish, as is said, Psalms 1:6, and bring men into utter destruction. Or, as others render it, in the old way, which is the good way, as it is called Jeremiah 6:16; in the way of righteousness and holiness, which may well be called the old way, because it was from the beginning of the world written in man’s heart, whereas wickedness is of a later date. Possibly it may be rendered, in thy way (the ellipsis of the pronoun being very frequent, as hath been noted and proved before; or, in the way, to wit, the way of God, which is oft called emphatically the way, as Psalms 25:8; Psalms 119:1; Proverbs 23:19; Proverbs 29:27, and which is sufficiently understood from its opposition to the wicked way in the former clause) for ever, or as long as I live, as this Hebrew word olam without any prefix to it is used, Job 41:4; Psalms 21:4; Psalms 45:7, and elsewhere. But this with submission.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 139". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/psalms-139.html. 1685.
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