Psalm 139 is one of the most beloved Psalms in the book of Psalms. It is a hymn of praise and worship that expresses the belief in God’s omniscience and omnipresence.
- 1 What is Psalm 139?
- 2 Historical and cultural context
- 3 Themes of Psalm 139
- 4 Notable verses: Analysis of verses 13-16
- 5 Literary techniques
- 6 Frequently asked questions
What is Psalm 139?
Psalm 139 is a chapter in the Book of Psalms, which is a book in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It is a religious poem or song that expresses praise and worship to God. It specifically focuses on God’s omniscience and omnipresence, and it reflects the speaker’s deep sense of God’s intimate knowledge of and involvement in their life.
With its 24 verses, Psalm 139 is considered a long Psalm and one of the most meditative and reflective Psalms in the book of Psalms. It is commonly recognized as a powerful and moving expression of devotion and faith.
The text of Psalm 139 reads as follows:
Psalm 139 (NIV – New International Version of the Bible)
1 O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139 (KJV – King James Version of the Bible)
1 O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
20 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
21 Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Historical and cultural context
Psalm 139 was likely composed during the time of King David, in ancient Israel, around 10th century BCE. Psalms, including Psalm 139, were likely used in religious ceremonies and as part of personal devotion by the Israelites. It reflects the religious beliefs and practices of ancient Israel, such as monotheism, the belief in one all-powerful God; the sense of God’s presence and involvement in the world, and the importance of praise and worship as a way of expressing devotion to God.
It also expresses a deep sense of God’s omniscience and omnipresence, and the idea that God is intimately involved in the lives of individuals and cares for them deeply. These beliefs were central to the religious understanding of the Israelites and are reflected in the language and imagery used in Psalm 139.
Themes of Psalm 139
- God’s Omniscience: This is expressed as a belief that God knows everything about them, including their thoughts and actions, and that God is always present in their life.
- God’s Omnipresence: The psalmist acknowledges that God is present everywhere, both in the physical world and in the spiritual realm.
- God’s protection and guidance: The belief that God protects and guides them, and that God is always with them.
- Devotion and worship: The psalmist expresses a deep sense of devotion and worship to God and acknowledges the importance of praising and honoring God.
- God’s creation and Sovereignty: Expressed through the appreciation for God’s creation and acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and power over the world.
- Fear and Awe of God: Acknowledgment of the fear and awe of God, in light of God’s infinite knowledge and power.
- God’s justice and righteousness: The psalmist also acknowledges God’s justice and righteousness, and the belief that God will ultimately judge and punish the wicked.
- Personal reflection and introspection: The psalmist reflects on his own self and his own experiences, and how God is always involved in his life.
Notable verses: Analysis of verses 13-16
Verse 13-16 of Psalm 139 is a powerful reflection on God’s knowledge and understanding of the individual. It emphasizes God’s intimate and personal relationship with each person and the depth of His understanding of the human soul.
Verse 13 states “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.”
This verse speaks of God’s sovereignty and His active involvement in the formation and conception of every individual. It highlights the idea that God is present and involved in every aspect of our lives, even before we are born.
Verse 14 says “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
This verse speaks about the wonder and awe that we should have for God’s creation, specifically the human being. It reflects on the intricate and complex design of the human body and soul and acknowledges that it is a reflection of God’s marvelous works. It is also a reminder of the worth of every individual as it is created by God.
Verse 15 states “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”
This verse speaks of God’s intimate and personal knowledge of the individual. It implies that even before we are born, God knows us intimately and understands the intricacies of our being.
Verse 16 says “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
This verse further emphasizes God’s intimate and personal knowledge of the individual. It speaks of God’s foreknowledge and understanding of the individual, even before they are fully formed. It also implies that God has a plan and purpose for every individual’s life.
Psalm 139 uses several literary techniques to convey its message and themes:
- Parallelism: This is a common technique used in Hebrew poetry, in which similar or contrasting ideas are presented in successive lines or clauses. This technique is used throughout Psalm 139 to express the themes of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and intimate involvement in the life of the Psalmist.
- Personification: The Psalmist uses personification to describe God’s actions, for example in verse 5, “You hem me in behind and before” and verse 7, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
- Repetition: Repetition of certain words and phrases are used to emphasize the main themes of the psalm, such as “Thou knowest” and “Thou hast searched me” to express God’s omniscience, and “Thou art there” to express God’s omnipresence.
- Imagery: The Psalmist uses rich imagery to convey the themes of the psalm, such as the imagery of God’s hand leading and holding the Psalmist to express God’s protection and guidance.
- Antithesis: They use antithesis to contrast light and darkness, day and night, to express the idea that God sees and knows everything, even the darkest secrets.
- Metaphors: It is used metaphors such as “compassest my path” to express God’s all-knowing and all-seeing nature, and “my reins” to express God’s intimate knowledge of the Psalmist.
These literary techniques are common to Hebrew poetry and help to convey the themes and messages of Psalm 139 in a powerful and evocative way.
Frequently asked questions
Who wrote Psalm 139?
Psalm 139 is traditionally attributed to King David. David was the second king of Israel, who reigned in the 10th century BCE. He is known for his military successes, his role in the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his authorship of many of the Psalms.
Although the authorship of the psalms is traditionally attributed to David, it is not certain who wrote Psalm 139. Many of the Psalms are anonymous, and it is believed that they were written by various authors over a long period of time.
What does Psalm 139 mean?
Psalm 139 is a religious poem or hymn that expresses praise and worship to God. It acknowledges God’s omniscience and omnipresence, emphasizing that God knows and sees everything and is always present.
When did David write Psalm 139?
The exact date when King David wrote Psalm 139 is not known. David was the second king of Israel, who reigned in the 10th century BCE. It is believed that David wrote many of the Psalms during his lifetime, but the dating of the composition of the Psalms is not always clear. In fact, many of the Psalms were likely written over a long period of time and by multiple authors.
How old was David when he wrote Psalm 139?
The exact age of King David when he wrote Psalm 139 is not known. The Psalms were likely written over a long period of time and by multiple authors.
David’s reign as king of Israel is believed to have lasted for 40 years, and it is possible that he wrote Psalm 139 at any point during his life.
Why did David write Psalm 139?
The purpose why King David wrote Psalm 139 is not known for certain. Psalms, including Psalm 139, were likely used in ancient Jewish worship, either as part of a temple service or as part of personal devotion. It is believed that David, as a king and a prophet, wrote many of the Psalms as a way to express his devotion to God and to reflect on God’s presence in his life.