Psalm 139

PS139For the music director, for David a song


You have searched me Lord,

and you know…[i]

You know when I sit and when I rise

From afar you understand my thoughts.

You know when I am wondering and when I am lying down[ii],

you are acquainted with all my ways.

Before there is even a word on my tongue,

O Lord, you already know everything.

The paths behind me and before me, you have chosen[iii].

You have put your hand on me.

This[iv] knowledge is too wonderful for me,

It is beyond my reach. I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?

Where can I flee from your face?

If I ascend to the heavens, there you are.

And if I lie in the depths[v], behold you are there.

If I am carried[vi] by the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell at the ends of the sea.

Even there your hand guides me.

Your right hand takes hold of me.

And I say, “Surely the darkness will conceal[vii] me

but the night is light around me.”

Even the darkness is unable conceal anything from you

And the night will shine like the day,

The darkness will be as light.


For you created[viii] my inner most parts[ix],

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will thank you because you[x] are awesome

and marvelous wonders are your works,

You know[xi] well my soul.

My frame[xii], which was made in secret, was not hidden from you

I was formed in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed being,

and in your book all of the days ordained for me have been written

and there is not one day missing[xiii].


How precious to me are your friends[xiv] God.

They have become strong.

I count them, they are more than grains of sand

I awake and still I am with you[xv].

Will you slay the wicked, God?

Will you turn violent men away from me?

They speak deceitfully about you

Your enemies[xvi] lie.

God, those you hate I will hate

And those who rebel against you I will loath.

With a complete hatred, I will hate them.

They will be my enemies.

Search me God and know my heart,

Examine me and know the thoughts that trouble[xvii] me.

See if there is an idolatrous way within me.

And lead me in the way of eternity.




[i] Lit “and you will know” (ותדע), many versions have supplied the object but it is not in the text itself.

[ii] Lit. “my wondering and my Lying down” (ארחי ורבעי)

[iii] The LXX reads “The end and the beginning, you formed me (τὰ ἔσχατα καὶ τὰ ἀρχαῖα σὺ ἔπλασάς με)” indicating that the translators under stood the root to be יצר (to form) rather than צור (to enclose). NIDOTTE states “In Ps. 139:5, God hems the psalmist in on every side. This could be read negatively as a lament, complaining at God’s oppressive constraint. However, it might also be a positive assurance of his comprehensive care, or simply an affirmation of absolute sovereignty.” The context of the Psalm strongly supports the idea of positive assurance rather than negative lament. In spite of the textual challenges of this verse, the overall intent seems to be to describe God’s sovereign control over a person’s whole life from its beginning to its end.

[iv] The demonstrative pronoun “this” is added for clarification but it is not in the original text (פליאה דעת ממני).

[v] Lit. Sheol.

[vi] The verb נשא ‘to carry’ is active in form but appears to be passive in meaning. The NET translates this similarly as “If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn.”

[vii] The NET notes:  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. BHS, shows support for this emendation in Jerome’s, the Psalter according to the Hebrews.

[viii] NIDOTTE notes “The root קנה in the sense “create” is much disputed (Vawter; THAT, s.v.) but is to be maintained on the grounds of the comparative linguistic and religious evidence (De Moor for Ugartic; cf. KAI III 22a) and of its use and parallels in context (Ge. 14:19, 22; Deut 32:6; Ps 139:13; Prov 8:22; cf. Westermann on Ge. 4:1)

[ix] Lit. kidneys

[x] The MT reads “being feared (f. pl), I was wonderful”/“נוראות נפליתי”.  The feminine plural verb does not match the subject which is singular and makes the phrase ambiguous. In 11Qpsa this phrase reads “you are being feared”/ “אתה נורא” shifting the phrase to the 2nd person i.e. rather than speaking about me, this verse is speaking about God. This is echoed in the NET translation. The LXX and the Latin Vulgate both reflect an underlying Hebrew text that aligns to 11Qpsa. See “A favorite bible verse, misunderstood?

[xi] The change from “my soul knows it” (NIV, NASB, ESV) to “You know my soul” (NET), does not reflect a textual variation but only a change in vocalization. If we accept the shift to the 2nd person found in 11Qpsa, the LXX, and the Vulgate then this change of vocalization would be expected.

[xii] Lit. my bone.

[xiii] There are several variants that are all equally difficult. The MT reads “ולא אחד בהם”  but offers a marginal correction of “ולו אחד בהם”. 11Qpsa reads “ולו אח מהמה”

[xiv] רע is commonly used to convey the idea of friend/companion and was understood as “friend” by the translators of the LXX. “Friends” seems to fit the context better than the traditional translation of “thoughts” because the passage appears to be contrasting those who stand with God against those who have rebelled against God. Similarly, in James 2:23 Abraham is called a “friend of God” (φίλος θεοῦ) in recognition of his trust and allegiance with God, and Jesus calls believers,  who follow his commands, “friends” (φίλους) in Jn. 15:13-15.

[xv] This phrase is grammatically difficult. The MT reads הקיצתי ועודי עמך, but 11Qpsa reads הקיצותי ועוד עמכה.

[xvi] The NET translators’ note that “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 (nos®u; 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).“ The LXX translators understood this to mean cities. In this verse the idea of “carrying to nothing” נשאו לשוא is used idiomatically to describe dishonesty, in Ps. 24:4 we see a similar example but in the negative, לא נשא לשוא.

[xvii] While many translations translate שרעף as simply “thought” it is better understood as a disquieting or worrying thought. This nuance is communicated in the NASB and NIV as “anxious thoughts” and the NET as “concerns”

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