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Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

1

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

3

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

4

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.


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1. O Jehovah! thou hast searched me David declares, in the outset of this Psalm, that he does not come before God with any idea of its being possible to succeed by dissimulation, as hypocrites will take advantage of secret refuges to prosecute sinful indulgences, but that he voluntarily lays bare his innermost heart for inspection, as one convinced of the impossibility of deceiving God. It is thine, he says, O God! to discover every secret thought, nor is there anything which can escape thy notice, He then insists upon particulars, to show that his whole life was known to God, who watched him in all his motions — when he slept, when he arose, or when he walked abroad. The word רע, rea, which we have rendered thought, signifies also a friend or companion, on which account some read — thou knowest what is nearest me afar off, a meaning more to the point than any other, if it could be supported by example. The reference would then be very appropriately to the fact that the most distant objects are contemplated as near by God. Some for afar off read beforehand, in which signification the Hebrew word is elsewhere taken, as if he had said — O Lord, every thought which I conceive in my heart is already known to thee beforehand. But I prefer the other meaning, That God is not confined to heaven, indulging in a state of repose, and indifferent to human concerns, according to the Epicurean idea, and that however far off we may be from him, he is never far off from us.

The verb זרה, zarah, means to winnow as well as to compass, so that we may very properly read the third verse — thou winnowest my ways, 201201     Piscator, Campensis, Pagninus, Luther, and our English Version, read “thou compassest.” This no doubt gives the meaning, of the original, though not the precise idea, which is noticed on the margin of our English Bible to be “winnowest.” The verb זרה, zarah, employed, signifies to disperse, to fan, to ventilate, to winnow; and here it denotes that as men separate the corn from the chaff, so God separates between, or investigates, the good and the bad in the daily conduct of men. Hence the Septuagint reads ἐξιχνίασας, “thou hast investigated.” Bishop Hare, who renders “thou dost compass,” supposes it to be a metaphor taken from hunting. “Winnowing,” says Archbishop Secker,” would sound uncouth But Mudge hath hit on the word siftest, which, though an idea somewhat different, suits very well.” a figurative expression to denote the bringing of anything which is unknown to light. The reader is left to his own option, for the other rendering which I have adopted is also.appropriate. There has been also a difference of opinion amongst interpreters as to the last clause of the verse. The verb סכן, sachan, in the Hiphil conjugation, as here, signifies to render successful, which has led some to think that David here thanks God for crowning his actions with success; but this is a sense which does not at all suit the scope of the Psalmist in the context, for he is not speaking of thanksgiving. Equally forced is the meaning given to the words by others — Thou hast made me to get acquainted or accustomed with my ways; 202202     “Fecisti assuescere vias meas.” — Lat. as if he praised God for being endued with wisdom and counsel. Though the verb be in the Hiphil, I have therefore felt no hesitation in assigning it a neuter signification — Lord, thou art accustomed to my ways, so that they are familiar to thee.

4. For there is not a word, etc. The words admit a double meaning. Accordingly some understand them to imply that God knows what, we are about to say before the words are formed on our tongue; others, that though we speak not a word, and try by silence to conceal our secret intentions, we cannot elude his notice. Either rendering amounts to the same thing, and it is of no consequence which we adopt. The idea meant to be conveyed is, that while the tongue is the index of thought to man, being the great medium of communication, God, who knows the heart, is independent of words. And use is made of the demonstrative particle lo! to indicate emphatically that the innermost recesses of our spirit stand present to his view.




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