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Psalms 139:6-16

Context

139:6 Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension;

it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it. 1 

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

Where can I flee to escape your presence? 2 

139:8 If I were to ascend 3  to heaven, you would be there.

If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be. 4 

139:9 If I were to fly away 5  on the wings of the dawn, 6 

and settle down on the other side 7  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, 8 

and the light will turn to night all around me,” 9 

139:12 even the darkness is not too dark for you to see, 10 

and the night is as bright as 11  day;

darkness and light are the same to you. 12 

139:13 Certainly 13  you made my mind and heart; 14 

you wove me together 15  in my mother’s womb.

139:14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing. 16 

You knew me thoroughly; 17 

139:15 my bones were not hidden from you,

when 18  I was made in secret

and sewed together in the depths of the earth. 19 

139:16 Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. 20 

All the days ordained for me

were recorded in your scroll

before one of them came into existence. 21 

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

2 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).

3 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).

4 tn Heb “look, you.”

5 tn Heb “rise up.”

6 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.

7 tn Heb “at the end.”

8 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.

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

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

11 tn Heb “shines like.”

12 tn Heb “like darkness, like light.”

13 tn Or “for.”

14 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).

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

16 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”).

17 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.

18 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).

19 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.

20 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.

21 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).



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