Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
Ordinary A34


To the leader.A Of David.B A Psalm.C

Notes on superscript

A “leader” = natsach. Properly, something that glitters from a distance. So, something that stands out, excels, has status/standing (such as a chief musician or superintendent of Temple services). This can also mean to be permanent or enduring.
B “David” = david. From the same as dod (beloved, love, uncle); the root may mean to boil, which is used figuratively to describe love. So, this implies someone you love such as a friend, a lover, or a close family member like an uncle. David’s name likely means something like “beloved one.”
C “psalm” = mizmor. From zamar (making music; used specially of music to worship God; music with singing, singing praise, singing psalms); may be from zamar (to trim or prune). This is a melody or a psalm.

O Lord,D you have searchedE me and knownF me.

Notes on verse 1

D “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
E “searched” = chaqar. Properly, this means to penetrate. So, it means to thoroughly investigate, examine, ponder, or seek out.
F “known” = yada. This is to know, acknowledge, advise, answer, be aware, be acquainted with. Properly, this is to figure something out by seeing. It includes ideas of observation, recognition, and care about something. It can be used causatively for instruction, designation, and punishment.

2 You know when I sit downG and when I rise up;H
    you discernI my thoughtsJ from far away.

Notes on verse 2

G “sit down” = yashab. This is to sit and so to remain and so to dwell. It is sitting for any reason – as a judge, in order to ambush, or just sitting quietly. Causatively, this can mean settling or marrying. This can also mean continue, endure, or establish.
H “rise up” = qum. To arise, stand, accomplish, establish, abide. This is rising as in rising against, getting up after being sick or asleep, arising from one state to another, becoming powerful, or rising for action. It can also be standing in a figurative sense.
I “discern” = bin. This is to discern, consider, attend to. It refers to distinguishing things in one’s mind or, more generally, to understand.
J “thoughts” = rea. In the singular in Hebrew. 2x in OT – both in Psalm 139. Perhaps from ra’ah (to tend a flock, pasture, or graze. It can mean to rule or to associate with someone. Figuratively, it can be ruler or teacher). This is an association of ideas – a purpose or thought.

You search outK my pathL and my lying down,
    and are acquaintedM with all my ways.N

Notes on verse 3

K “search out” = zarah. This is to scatter or toss around. It can imply to disperse, cast away, or to scrutinize.
L “path” = orach. From arach (to go, travel, wander). This is a road that is widely used, highway, caravan, traveler, troop.
M “acquainted” = sakan. 12x in OT. This is being customary, of use, of acquainted with.
N “ways” = derek. From darak (to tread, march, to walk. Can also mean affixing a string to a box since one needs to step on it to bend it in the process; so also an archer). This is a road as a thing that is walked on. Can be used figuratively for the path that one’s life takes or how one chooses to live one’s life.

Even beforeO a wordP is on my tongue,
    QO Lord, you know it completely.

Notes on verse 4

O “even before” = ki + ayin. Literally “for there is not.”
P “word” = millah. From malal (to say, speak; often used in a poetic sense). This is something said – a word, speech, talking, or discourse.
Q {untranslated} = hen. This is a remark of surprise or excitement: lo! Behold! It can also mean if or though.

You hem me in,R behindS and before,T
    and lay your handU upon me.

Notes on verse 5

R “hem…in” = tsur. This is to confine, cramp, or bind in a literal or figurative sense. It can mean to besiege, assault, or distress.
S “behind” = achor. From achar (to be behind, delay, be late, procrastinate, continue). This is the back, behind, backward, time to come. It can also refer to facing to the north or the west.
T “before” = qedem. Perhaps from qadam (to come in front or be in front; to meet, anticipate, confront, receive, or rise; sometimes to meet for help). This is front, formerly, before, east, eternal, everlasting, antiquity.
U “hand” = kaph. From kaphaph (to bend – from a root meaning curve or bend down). This is palm of the hand or sole of the foot, footstep, grasp. Figuratively, it can also mean power.

6 Such knowledgeV is too wonderfulW for me;
    it is so highX that I cannot attainY it.

Notes on verse 6

V “knowledge” = daat. Related to “known” in v1. See note F above. This is knowledge, unawares, cunning, wittingly.
W “too wonderful” = pili. 2x in OT. From the same as pele (wonder, miracle, wonderful, marvelous thing). This is something wonderful or incomprehensible. It can also refer to a secret.
X “high” = sagab. This is to raise, lifted, high, set secure on high, excellent, or strong. It is inaccessibly high in a literal and figurative sense. It implies something that is safe and, therefore, something that is strong.
Y “attain” = yakol. This is to be able, endure, overcome, prevail.

Where can I goZ from your spirit?AA
    Or where can I flee from your presence?BB

If I ascend to heaven,CC you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol,DD you are there.

Notes on verses 7-8

Z “go” = halak. This is go, come, walk. It is walk literally and figuratively and includes people and animals. It can be used figuratively for one’s moral life – how we walk according to God’s way or against it. It can also refer to the walk of life as in the course one’s life takes, the choices we make, etc.
AA “spirit” = ruach. This is breath, wind, air, cool, spirit. This is wind, which resembles the breath and so this can be used figuratively for life itself or being frail/mortal/impermanent. It can refer to the air of the sky or the spirit.
BB “presence” = paneh. Literally “face.”
CC “heaven” = shamayim. Root may mean being lofty. This is sky, the air, or heaven. It is in a dual noun form so this might refer to the part of the sky where the clouds move on the one hand and the part beyond that where the sun, moon, and stars are on the other hand.
DD “Sheol” = sheol. Perhaps from sha’al (to ask, request). This is the place where the dead go, the grace, the underworld.

9 If I takeEE the wingsFF of the morningGG
    and settle at the farthest limitsHH of the sea,II

Notes on verse 9

EE “take” = nasa. This to lift in a broad sense, literally and figuratively. So it could be to carry, take, or arise. It could also be bring forth, advance, accept.
FF “wings” = kanpah. This is wing, edge, corner, extremity. It can also be a flap or fold of a garment or the pinnacle of a building.
GG “morning” = schachar. Perhaps related to schachar (to look for in a diligent way or to look for early). This is early light, the dawn, or the morning.
HH “farthest limits” = acharith. Related to “behind” in v5. From achar (see note S above). This is the end, last, remnant, residue, reward, uttermost, or the future.
II “sea” = yam. Root may mean to roar. This is the sea, often referring to the Mediterranean. It comes from the root in the sense of the roar of crashing surf. This word is sometimes used for rivers or other sources of water. It can mean to the west or to the south.

10 even there your handJJ shall leadKK me,
    and your right handLL shall holdMM me fast.

Notes on verse 10

JJ “hand” = yad. This is hand, ability, power. Hand in a literal sense, but also what one can do or the means by which one does it.
KK “lead” = nachah. This is lead, guide, or bring. It can be used for transporting into exile or coming in as colonists. This is the word used in Psalm 23 “he leads me in the paths of righteousness.”
LL “right hand” = yamin. May be from yamam (to go or choose the right, use the right hand; to be physically fit or firm). This can mean right hand, right side, or south. Since most people are right-handed, the metaphorical usage of this word presumes that the right hand is stronger and more agile. Thus, it is the instrument of power and action.
MM “hold” = achaz. This is to grasp, catch, seize, take and hold in possession. It can also be to be afraid or hold back.

11 If I say, “Surely the darknessNN shall coverOO me,
    and the lightPP around me become night,”QQ

Notes on verse 11

NN “darkness” = choshek. From chashak (to be or become dark). This is literal darkness is contrast to light. Figuratively, it can be obscurity, sorrow, misery, blindness, wickedness, destruction, death. It can also be hiding places. Additionally, it can mean judgment, mourning, ignorance, evil, or sin.
OO “cover” = shuph. 4x in OT. This is to gape, bruise, overwhelm, snape at, or cover.
PP “light” = or. From or (to be or become light). This is light, sun, sunshine, dawn, or daylight. Figuratively, it can refer to light from instruction, light of a face (that is to say one that is cheerful or finds favor). It can refer to prosperity or salvation; a light that guides, a light eternal from Zion.
QQ “night” = layil. Properly, this refers to light twisting away. It is used for night or midnight. Figuratively, this can mean adversity.

12 even the darkness is not darkRR to you;
    the night is as brightSS as the day,
    for darknessTT is as lightUU to you.

Notes on verse 12

RR “dark” = chashak. 18x in OT. Related to “darkness” in v11. See note NN above.
SS “is as bright” = or. Related to “light” in v11. See note PP above.
TT “dakness” = chashekah. Related to “Darkness” in v11 & “dark” in v12. 5x in OT. From chashak (see note NN above). This is darkness – used figuratively for misery.
UU “light” = orah. Related to “light” in v11 & “is as bright” in v12. 5x in OT. From or (see note PP above). This is light or luminosity. Figuratively, it can mean prosperity. It can also refer to a plant or herb.

23 Search me, O God,VV and know my heart;WW
    testXX me and know my thoughts.YY

24 See if there is any wickedZZ way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.AAA

Notes on verses 23-24

VV “God” = el.
WW “heart” = lebab. May be related to labab (to encourage; properly, to be encased as with fat; used in a good sense, this means to transport someone with love; used in a bad sense, it can mean to dull one’s senses). This is the heart, courage, one’s inner self, the mind, or the will. Heart is only used in a figurative sense in the Old and New Testaments.
XX “test” = bachan. This is to examine, test, or prove – as one tests metals. It can also be used literally or figuratively for investigating or trying.
YY “thoughts” = sarappim. 2x in OT. From the same as seippim (anxious thoughts) OR from saiph (opinion, a divided mind); from seippah (division, split opinion); from saiph (branch, cleft); from saaph (to divide up, cut branches from a tree); from seappah (branch, bough). This is anxious thoughts or other cogitation.
ZZ “wicked” = otseb. 3x in OT. From etseb (pain, sorrow, painful toil, mental or physical pain, idol); from atsab (to hurt, pain, carve, make, worry, anger). This is sorrow, pain, an idol.
AAA “everlasting” = olam. This is a long scope of time whether in the past (antiquity, ancient time) or in the future (eternal, everlasting).

Image credit: “Sunset Sets the Sky Ablaze at South Dakota’s Waubay National Wildlife Refuge” by Spencer Neuharth.

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