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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 139

 

 

Verse 1

Psalms 139.

David praiseth God for his all-seeing providence, and for his infinite mercies: he defieth the wicked: he prayeth for sincerity.

To the chief musician, A Psalm of David.

Title. מזמור לדוד למנצה lamnatseach ledavid mizmor. This psalm is generally thought to have been composed by David when he lay under the imputation of having evil designs against Saul: in which view, it is a solemn appeal to the divine omnipresence and omniscience, for his innocence in that matter: the Psalmist tacitly and elegantly intimating hereby, how foolish as well as impious it would be for him to prevaricate and dissemble with a God, whose knowledge and power it was impossible to elude. But it is Mr. Mudge's opinion, from the strong tincture of Chaldaism in the psalm, that it was written in or after the captivity. Be that as it may, the sentiments it contains are most noble and elevated. There is a peculiar beauty and a sublimity in the representation of the divine attributes in it, which deserve particular attention. The psalm begins with a devout contemplation of the omniscience of God; not, indeed, expressly considered in its utmost extent, as it penetrates at once, with an exact and infallible comprehension, through the whole scope of created nature, and reaches to the utmost verge and limits of the universe: nor as, together with the present system and complete actual state of things, it has an intuitive and clear view of the past, and conceives the most obscure and remote futurities, and all possible natures and modes of existence; but as it particularly respects mankind, and more immediately influences human morality and a serious humble discharge of all the duties of religion. O Lord! says the Psalmist, in a most elevated strain of thought and expression, thou hast searched, &c. to Psalms 139:6. This thought impressed upon his mind such a veneration and awe of the great Deity, the fountain and support of universal life and being, and he found his faculties so swallowed up, and as it were lost in meditating on so deep and immense a subject, that man's reason, in its utmost pride and glory, and with its most boasted improvements and acquisitions of knowledge, seemed now so debased, so weak, so narrow, and, in comparison with infinity, so despicable, that the author of this psalm could proceed no further without expressing his admiration at a boundless scope of intelligence, which he could neither explain nor comprehend; and therefore he immediately adds; such knowledge, &c. Psalms 139:6. See Foster's Discourses, vol. 1. 4to. p. 76.


Verse 4

Psalms 139:4. For there is not a word Or, When there is not a word in my tongue, O Lord, thou knowest all. But Mudge renders it, For, before the word is in my tongue, behold, O Lord, thou knowest the whole of it; i.e. "Thou knowest the whole matter of what I am going to say, before the word is formed upon my tongue."


Verse 6

Psalms 139:6. Such knowledge is too wonderful, &c.— Grotius supposes the meaning to be, "Thy knowledge, or rather, thy omniscience, is so great, that it is impossible to escape or fly from it." Mr. Mann thinks that the 6th verse should be rendered thus: Wonderful is thy knowledge, and elevated above me; I cannot prevail against it: From hence, says he, the Psalmist pursues the thought of God's omnipresence; Whither shall I go, &c.


Verse 7

Psalms 139:7. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, &c.— Though the Psalmist acknowledged the divine omniscience to be full of wonders, and a height to which no human, no finite understanding could possibly ascend; yet he saw, at the same time, that it might be capable of the plainest and most convincing proofs; and that there were really obvious and incontestable proofs of it in nature. And these, or at least the two general heads to which they are, in all their forms and variety of lights, reducible, he himself has in the subsequent part of the psalm distinctly mentioned, viz. God's being the contriver and author of the whole frame of things; and his constant, essential, and intimate presence with the system of creation, and with every individual comprehended in it. The last of these the Psalmist introduces by way of inquiry; how it was possible for any, if they were unnaturally inclined to it, and from an utter darkness of their reason, and ignorance of the most important privileges and consolations of derived and dependant natures, desirous of it,—to fly from that vital and efficacious Spirit, which co-exists with, animates, and diffuses beauty, and order, and tendencies to happiness, throughout the whole of created being. "Whither, says he, shall I go, &c. Psalms 139:8. If I ascend up into heaven, beyond which I cannot discern the most diminutive and contracted orbs of light,—thou art there: If I make my bed in hell, or could plunge myself into the most obscure and unknown mansions of the dead, and the worlds invisible, where even imagination loses itself in darkness, behold, thou art there. Psalms 139:9. If I take the wings of the morning, &c. i.e. If, with the swiftness of the rays of the rising sun, I could shoot myself in an instant to the uttermost parts of the western ocean, Psalms 139:10, even there shall thy hand lead me, &c. i.e. I should still exist in God; his presence would be diffused all around me; his enlivening power would support my frame. Psalms 139:11-12. If I say, surely, &c.—The darkness and the light are both alike to thee; Equally conspicuous am I, and all my circumstances, all my actions, under the thickest, and most impenetrable shades of night, as in the brightest splendors of the noon-day sun. Psalms 139:13. For thou hast possessed my reins, &c." See Foster's Discourses, as above, and Job 11:8. Bishop Lowth observes, that the common interpretation of the 9th verse does not satisfy him. He thinks that the two members of this distich, like those of the former, are plainly opposed to each other: that a two-fold passage is expressed, one to the east, the other to the west; and that the distance of the flight, not the celerity of it, is spoken of. "If I direct my wings towards the morning [or the east; If I dwell in the extremity of the western sea, &c." See his 16th and 29th Prelections.


Verse 13

Psalms 139:13. Thou hast possessed my reins, &c.— Or, Thou hast formed my reins; thou hast compacted me.


Verse 15

Psalms 139:15. Curiously wrought Bishop Lowth, speaking of images in the Hebrew poetry, taken from things sacred, has the following observation: "In that most perfect hymn, where the immensity of the Omnipresent Deity, and the admirable wisdom of the Divine Artificer in framing the human body, are celebrated, the poet uses a remarkable metaphor, drawn from the nicest tapestry work:

When I was formed in secret; When I was wrought, as with a needle, in the lowest parts of the earth.

He who remarks this, (but the man who consults versions only will hardly ever remark it,) and at the same time reflects upon the wonderful composition of the human body, the various implication of veins, arteries, fibres, membranes, and 'the inexplicable texture' of the whole frame, will immediately understand the beauty and elegance of this most apt translation. But he will not attain the whole force and dignity, unless he also consider that the most artful embroidery with the needle was dedicated by the Hebrews to the service of the sanctuary; and that the proper and singular use of this work was, by the immediate prescript of the divine law, applied in a certain part of the high-priest's dress, and in the curtains of the tabernacle. Exodus 26:36; Exodus 27:16; Exodus 28:39 and compare Ezekiel 13:18; Ezekiel 16:10. So that the Psalmist may well be supposed to have compared the wisdom of the Divine Artificer, particularly with that specimen of human art, whose dignity was, through religion, the highest, and whose elegance (Exodus 35:30-35.) was so exquisite, that the sacred writer seems to attribute it to a divine inspiration." See his 8th Prelection. The expression, in the lowest parts of the earth, means no more, says Mr. Mudge, than low down in the earth, as opposed to that height of heaven, where God sits, and inspects and orders every thing. Some render the words, In these lower regions of the earth.


Verse 16

Psalms 139:16. Thine eyes did see my substance, &c.— Or, Thine eyes did see my rude mass; and on thy books were all written, as they were daily fashioned, when, &c. Before any of his limbs were in being, they were all written down, he says, in God's book, and the very days upon which they were afterwards actually formed. Some think that the allusion to embroidery is here carried on. "As the embroiderer hath still his book or pattern before him, to which he always recurs; so, by a method as exact, were all my members in continuance fashioned; i.e. from the rude embryo, or mass, they daily received some degree of figuration, as, from the rude skeins of silk under the artificer's hands, there at length arises an unexpected beauty, and an accurate harmony of colours and proportions: all those members lay open before God's eyes, they were discerned by him as clearly as if the plan of them had been drawn in a book, even to the least figuration of the body of the child."


Verses 17-19

Psalms 139:17-19. How precious, &c.— This expresses the zeal and affection that he had for God. "As thou hast taken such care of me, so are the thoughts of thee precious to me above all things." The turn of the sentence shews this to be the meaning:—"I am ever thinking of thee; as soon as I wake, I find thee still in my thoughts; I cannot bear the impious man; and, ye men of blood, depart from me." Green renders the 17th verse, How precious unto me, O God, are the thoughts of thee! How numerous are the subjects of them!


Verse 20

Psalms 139:20. Take thy name in vain Take thee to falsehood. "Take thee (thy name is generally expressed) only to swear falsely by thee." Mudge.


Verse 24

Psalms 139:24. In the way everlasting As God's commandments are frequently said to be everlasting, the everlasting way, I suppose, says Mr. Mudge, means the way of God's law, in opposition to the wicked way, or way of provocation; the idol worship of the heathen, which in its nature was false, corrupt, and perishing, had a beginning, and would have an end.

The diction of this psalm is so delicate, and the thoughts throughout are so sublime, that they bespeak its royal author. It is a remark of Mons. Fleury's, that in Psalms 139:7 the Psalmist takes in the whole extent of the universe; and in Psalms 139:8 uses a more noble figure to express the ubiquity of God; If I take the wings of the morning, &c. "To this," continues our author, "he does not coolly say, It would be in vain; or, as he said before, thou art there, but he makes use of a finer and more elegant thought, as of a man who accused himself of extreme folly, in endeavouring to conceal himself from God.—So far shall I be from flying from thy presence, that even there also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Here the royal Psalmist seems to have exhausted his imagination: but, behold a new and more studied means of hiding himself from God: If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me, then shall my night be turned into day; still this is all folly and extravagance: the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and light to thee are both alike.

Let the modern wits, after this, look upon the honest shepherds of Palestine as a company of rude and unpolished clowns; let them, if they can, produce from prophane authors thoughts which are more sublime, more delicate, or better turned: not to mention the sound divinity and solid piety couched under these expressions!" See Dissert. on the Poetry of the Ancients. We shall conclude our notes on this noble psalm with a few brief remarks upon the omnipresence and omniscience of God. And, first, we may learn, that there can be no confusion, from the beginning to the end of things, to disturb and perplex the plan of his government, or to frustrate or impede its main design; because by his infinite understanding he perfectly knows, and being every where present, and infinitely the first power in the universe, is able to regulate all affairs, in all places, and at all times. Secondly, we learn that the whole universe may justly be considered as the temple of God, in every part of which he for ever resides; and consequently sincere adorations, praises, and prayers, may be rationally offered every where, and, when sincere, we have the highest reason to believe, will be graciously accepted through his Beloved Son. It appears from hence, farther, that God is perfectly qualified for being the Judge of the whole world; that no disguises can shelter from his eye; that all artifices and colourings of hypocrisy are vain; that circumspection of spirit, and regularity of conduct, are every where equally necessary; and that, as far as we are conscious of our integrity, we may derive inward comfort from the contemplation of God's omniscience, however we may be suspected, slandered, vilified, and persecuted by the world; and that no good disposition, no generous purpose formed, though it was not in our power to execute it, none of our concealed and most secret virtues, shall miss of their due reward through the blood of the Covenant. Lastly, when auctions and characters are of a mixed nature, the omniscient God knows infallibly how to separate the one part from the other; and among various principles which may jointly influence, to fix on the chief over-ruling principle which denominates the character; even when the mind of the agent may be too distrustful on the one hand, or too presumptuous and confident on the other: which to him should be a lesson of caution and self-examination; and to the world,—where some circumstances appear, that have a favourable aspect only,—a lesson against forward and uncharitable censures. The cognizance of the heart is subject to omniscience only: the heart is the true characteristic of virtue and vice; while outward, glaring, and seemingly incontestable evidences of both may be, in a great measure, fallacious. See Foster as above.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Naked and open are all things to him with whom we have to do. This truth the Psalmist here, as deeply affected with it, acknowledges. O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. When I sit in my house, or walk by the way; lie down on my bed, or rise to my labour; every step and motion thou seest; and my rising thoughts are understood by thee. Not a word is in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether; whether uttered, or only formed ready for speech. He is compassed around with God's presence and providence, and his hand is ever near to help him. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain unto it. We cannot know ourselves in any measure as God doth; much less can we by searching find out the Almighty to perfection, whose omnipresence and omniscience are mysteries to us unfathomable. But a practical sense of these upon our hearts we should labour to maintain: since God sees our very thoughts, they should be under restraint; since God hears, not an idle word should drop from our tongues; since God is with us in company, or alone, on our beds, at our tables, in our business, and his eye on all our works and ways, how careful, how circumspect should we be before him, and how fearful of offending!

2nd, Nothing can be conceived more sublime and affecting, than the description here given of God's universal presence.

1. He filleth all things. There is no escaping his eye by flight, nor concealment, by darkness. Should we attempt by flight to elude his search, whither shall we go? If I ascend up to heaven, God is there, and filleth it with his presence; If I make my bed in hell, hid in the silent grave, or even lying down in everlasting burnings, he is there, watching over the dust of his faithful people, and present in his wrath, even in the place of torment. If I take the wings of the morning, and meet the rising sun in the most distant east, or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, or of the west, where the descending beam of day seems extinguished in the waters of the ocean, even there shalt thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me; far from escaping, thou must support my steps; and there, as much as ever, I am in thy power, and under thine eye, nor can darkness conceal me from thee. If I am fool enough to say, surely the darkness shall cover me, vain would be my hope; even the night shall be light about me; yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. Let the workers of iniquity then tremble at the thought; God's eye is upon them, nor is there any darkness, or shadow of death, where they can hide themselves.

2. He made all things, and must needs therefore be acquainted with the work of his own hands. Thou hast possessed my reins; art acquainted with all that passeth in my inmost soul; for thou hast covered me in the womb; when there an embrio, thine eye beheld the unformed mass, and by thy plastic hand curiously wrought, each limb received its nice proportion, and every vessel discharged its several office. A miracle to ourselves! so fearfully and wonderfully are we made: a mystery inexplicable; all that we know, (and that is glaringly evident,) is this, that Marvellous are thy works! deserving our highest praise and adoration, and worthy to be had in everlasting remembrance.

3rdly, We have,

1. The Psalmist's grateful acknowledgment of God's care over him. How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God, thoughts of mercy, peace, and grace, which David with great delight meditated upon. How great is the sum of them! so innumerable, that the sand of the sea might be easier counted; and so continual, that every morning increased the sum: when I awake, I am still with thee, enjoy thy constant protection, and am happy in a sense of thy reviving presence. Note; A heart enlightened to know God's grace in Jesus Christ, is lost in wonder on the contemplation, and can only cry, O the depth!

2. He foresees the destruction of the wicked. Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: they are described as bloody men, they speak against thee wickedly, proud and blasphemers, and thine enemies in heart and practice, shewing their enmity against God's government and law; they take thy name in vain, perjured or profane; and just therefore it is, that their end should be according to their works.

3. He professes his own abhorrence of their practices and ways. Depart from me, I will have no fellowship with these unfruitful works of darkness, nor keep company with such evil doers. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? not their persons, but their sins; and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? grieved at the dishonour brought on God by their rebellion, grieved at the misery which they bring on themselves by their sins. I hate them with perfect hatred, sincerely detest their evil ways; I count them mine enemies, they must be enemies to me, because enemies to thee. Note; (1.) The ways of sinners we may hate, while we have the truest love and pity to their souls. (2.) They who hate God, must hate his image, wherever it appears.

4. He appeals to God for his own simplicity, and a great rejoicing it is to have the testimony of a good conscience. Search me, O God, for sincerity starts not at inquiry, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, for I desire to conceal nothing from thee, and see if there be any wicked way in me; I wish allowedly to be found in none, but who can understand his errors? discover it to me if I err, and shew me the evil, that it may be lamented and renounced; and lead me in the way everlasting, lead me in the paths of holiness, to the kingdom of everlasting glory, guided by thy word, upheld by thy Spirit, and enabled to persevere faithfully unto the end. And to this every pious soul will add its hearty Amen!

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 139:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/psalms-139.html. 1801-1803.

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