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Psalms 139:1-24

Context
Psalm 139 1 

For the music director, a psalm of David.

139:1 O Lord, you examine me 2  and know.

139:2 You know when I sit down and when I get up;

even from far away you understand my motives.

139:3 You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest; 3 

you are aware of everything I do. 4 

139:4 Certainly 5  my tongue does not frame a word

without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it. 6 

139:5 You squeeze me in from behind and in front;

you place your hand on me.

139:6 Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension;

it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it. 7 

139:7 Where can I go to escape your spirit?

Where can I flee to escape your presence? 8 

139:8 If I were to ascend 9  to heaven, you would be there.

If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be. 10 

139:9 If I were to fly away 11  on the wings of the dawn, 12 

and settle down on the other side 13  of the sea,

139:10 even there your hand would guide me,

your right hand would grab hold of me.

139:11 If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me, 14 

and the light will turn to night all around me,” 15 

139:12 even the darkness is not too dark for you to see, 16 

and the night is as bright as 17  day;

darkness and light are the same to you. 18 

139:13 Certainly 19  you made my mind and heart; 20 

you wove me together 21  in my mother’s womb.

139:14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing. 22 

You knew me thoroughly; 23 

139:15 my bones were not hidden from you,

when 24  I was made in secret

and sewed together in the depths of the earth. 25 

139:16 Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. 26 

All the days ordained for me

were recorded in your scroll

before one of them came into existence. 27 

139:17 How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God! 28 

How vast is their sum total! 29 

139:18 If I tried to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand.

Even if I finished counting them,

I would still have to contend with you. 30 

139:19 If only 31  you would kill the wicked, O God!

Get away from me, you violent men! 32 

139:20 They 33  rebel against you 34  and act deceitfully; 35 

your enemies lie. 36 

139:21 O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you,

and despise those who oppose you? 37 

139:22 I absolutely hate them, 38 

they have become my enemies!

139:23 Examine me, and probe my thoughts! 39 

Test me, and know my concerns! 40 

139:24 See if there is any idolatrous tendency 41  in me,

and lead me in the reliable ancient path! 42 

1 sn Psalm 139. The psalmist acknowledges that God, who created him, is aware of his every action and thought. He invites God to examine his motives, for he is confident they are pure.

2 tn The statement is understood as generalizing – the psalmist describes what God typically does.

3 tn Heb “my traveling and my lying down you measure.” The verb זָרָה (zarah, “to measure”) is probably here a denominative from זָרָת (zarat, “a span; a measure”), though some derive it from זָרָה (zarat, “to winnow; to sift”; see BDB 279-80 s.v. זָרָה).

4 tn Heb “all my ways.”

5 tn Or “for.”

6 tn Heb “look, O Lord, you know all of it.”

7 tn Heb “too amazing [is this] knowledge for me, it is elevated, I cannot attain to it.”

8 tn Heb “Where can I go from your spirit, and where from your face can I flee?” God’s “spirit” may refer here (1) to his presence (note the parallel term, “your face,” and see Ps 104:29-30, where God’s “face” is his presence and his “spirit” is the life-giving breath he imparts) or (2) to his personal Spirit (see Ps 51:10).

9 tn The Hebrew verb סָלַק (salaq, “to ascend”) occurs only here in the OT, but the word is well-attested in Aramaic literature from different time periods and displays a wide semantic range (see DNWSI 2:788-90).

10 tn Heb “look, you.”

11 tn Heb “rise up.”

12 sn On the wings of the dawn. This personification of the “dawn” may find its roots in mythological traditions about the god Shachar, whose birth is described in an Ugaritic myth (see G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 126) and who is mentioned in Isa 14:12 as the father of Helel.

13 tn Heb “at the end.”

14 tn The Hebrew verb שׁוּף (shuf), which means “to crush; to wound,” in Gen 3:15 and Job 9:17, is problematic here. For a discussion of attempts to relate the verb to Arabic roots, see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 251. Many emend the form to יְשׂוּכֵּנִי (yesukkeniy), from the root שׂכך (“to cover,” an alternate form of סכך), a reading assumed in the present translation.

15 tn Heb “and night, light, around me.”

16 tn The words “to see” are supplied in the translation for clarification and for stylistic reasons.

17 tn Heb “shines like.”

18 tn Heb “like darkness, like light.”

19 tn Or “for.”

20 tn Heb “my kidneys.” The kidneys were sometimes viewed as the seat of one’s emotions and moral character (cf. Pss 7:9; 26:2). A number of translations, recognizing that “kidneys” does not communicate this idea to the modern reader, have generalized the concept: “inmost being” (NAB, NIV); “inward parts” (NASB, NRSV); “the delicate, inner parts of my body” (NLT). In the last instance, the focus is almost entirely on the physical body rather than the emotions or moral character. The present translation, by using a hendiadys (one concept expressed through two terms), links the concepts of emotion (heart) and moral character (mind).

21 tn The Hebrew verb סָכַךְ (sakhakh, “to weave together”) is an alternate form of שָׂכַךְ (sakhakh, “to weave”) used in Job 10:11.

22 tc Heb “because awesome things, I am distinct, amazing [are] your works.” The text as it stands is syntactically problematic and makes little, if any, sense. The Niphal of פָּלָה (pala’) occurs elsewhere only in Exod 33:16. Many take the form from פָלָא (pala’; see GKC 216 §75.qq), which in the Niphal perfect means “to be amazing” (see 2 Sam 1:26; Ps 118:23; Prov 30:18). Some, following the LXX and some other ancient witnesses, also prefer to emend the verb from first to second person, “you are amazing” (see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 [WBC], 249, 251). The present translation assumes the text conflates two variants: נפלאים, the otherwise unattested masculine plural participle of פָלָא, and נִפְלָאוֹת (niflaot), the usual (feminine) plural form of the Niphal participle. The latter has been changed to a verb by later scribes in an attempt to accommodate it syntactically. The original text likely read, נוראות נפלאותים מעשׂיך (“your works [are] awesome [and] amazing”).

23 tc Heb “and my being knows very much.” Better parallelism is achieved (see v. 15a) if one emends יֹדַעַת (yodaat), a Qal active participle, feminine singular form, to יָדַעְתָּ (yadata), a Qal perfect second masculine singular perfect. See L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 252.

24 tc The Hebrew term אֲשֶׁר (’asher, “which”) should probably be emended to כֲּאַשֶׁר (kaasher, “when”). The kaf (כ) may have been lost by haplography (note the kaf at the end of the preceding form).

25 sn The phrase depths of the earth may be metaphorical (euphemistic) or it may reflect a prescientific belief about the origins of the embryo deep beneath the earth’s surface (see H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 96-97). Job 1:21 also closely associates the mother’s womb with the earth.

26 tn Heb “Your eyes saw my shapeless form.” The Hebrew noun גֹּלֶם (golem) occurs only here in the OT. In later Hebrew the word refers to “a lump, a shapeless or lifeless substance,” and to “unfinished matter, a vessel wanting finishing” (Jastrow 222 s.v. גּוֹלֶם). The translation employs the dynamic rendering “when I was inside the womb” to clarify that the speaker was still in his mother’s womb at the time he was “seen” by God.

27 tn Heb “and on your scroll all of them were written, [the] days [which] were formed, and [there was] not one among them.” This “scroll” may be the “scroll of life” mentioned in Ps 69:28 (see the note on the word “living” there).

28 tn Heb “and to me how precious are your thoughts, O God.” The Hebrew verb יָקַר (yaqar) probably has the sense of “difficult [to comprehend]” here (see HALOT 432 s.v. יקר qal.1 and note the use of Aramaic יַקִּר in Dan 2:11). Elsewhere in the immediate context the psalmist expresses his amazement at the extent of God’s knowledge about him (see vv. 1-6, 17b-18).

29 tn Heb “how vast are their heads.” Here the Hebrew word “head” is used of the “sum total” of God’s knowledge of the psalmist.

30 tc Heb “I awake and I [am] still with you.” A reference to the psalmist awaking from sleep makes little, if any, sense contextually. For this reason some propose an emendation to הֲקִצּוֹתִי (haqitsoti), a Hiphil perfect form from an otherwise unattested verb קָצַץ (qatsats) understood as a denominative of קֵץ (qets, “end”). See L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 252-53.

31 tn The Hebrew particle אִם (’im, “if”) and following prefixed verbal form here express a wish (see Pss 81:8; 95:7, as well as GKC 321 §109.b).

32 tn Heb “men of bloodshed.”

33 tn Heb “who.”

34 tc Heb “they speak [of] you.” The suffixed form of the verb אָמַר (’amar, “to speak”) is peculiar. The translation assumes an emendation to יַמְרֻךָ (yamrukha), a Hiphil form from מָרָה (marah, “to rebel”; see Ps 78:40).

35 tn Heb “by deceit.”

36 tc Heb “lifted up for emptiness, your cities.” The Hebrew text as it stands makes no sense. The form נָשֻׂא (nasu’; a Qal passive participle) should be emended to נָשְׂאוּ (nosÿu; a Qal perfect, third common plural, “[they] lift up”). Many emend עָרֶיךָ (’arekha, “your cities”) to עָלֶיךָ (’alekha, “against you”), but it is preferable to understand the noun as an Aramaism and translate “your enemies” (see Dan 4:16 and L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 [WBC], 253).

37 tc Heb “who raise themselves up against you.” The form וּבִתְקוֹמְמֶיךָ (uvitqomÿmekha) should be emended to וּבְמִתְקוֹמְמֶיךָ (uvÿmitqomÿmekha), a Hitpolel participle (the prefixed mem [מ] of the participle is accidentally omitted in the MT, though a few medieval Hebrew mss have it).

38 tn Heb “[with] completeness of hatred I hate them.”

39 tn Heb “and know my heart.”

40 tn The Hebrew noun שַׂרְעַפַּי (sarapay, “concerns”) is used of “worries” in Ps 94:19.

41 tn Many understand the Hebrew term עֹצֶב (’otsev) as a noun meaning “pain,” and translate the phrase דֶּרֶךְ עֹצֶב (derekhotsev) as “of pain,” but this makes little sense here. (Some interpret it to refer to actions which bring pain to others.) It is preferable to take עֹצֶב as “idol” (see HALOT 865 s.v. I עֹצֶב) and understand “way of an idol” to refer to idolatrous actions or tendency. See L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 253.

42 tn Heb “in the path of antiquity.” This probably refers to the moral path prescribed by the Lord at the beginning of Israel’s history. See Jer 6:16; 18:15, as well as L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 253.



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