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Psalm 139[a]

For the music director, a psalm of David.

139 O Lord, you examine me[b] and know me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up;
even from far away you understand my motives.
You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest;[c]
you are aware of everything I do.[d]
Certainly[e] my tongue does not frame a word
without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.[f]
You squeeze me in from behind and in front;
you place your hand on me.
Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension;
it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it.[g]
Where can I go to escape your Spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?[h]
If I were to ascend[i] to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out[j] in Sheol, there you would be.[k]
If I were to fly away[l] on the wings of the dawn,[m]
and settle down on the other side[n] of the sea,
10 even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
11 If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me,[o]
and the light will turn to night all around me,”[p]
12 even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,[q]
and the night is as bright as[r] day;
darkness and light are the same to you.[s]
13 Certainly[t] you made my mind and heart;[u]
you wove me together[v] in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.[w]
You knew me thoroughly;[x]
15 my bones were not hidden from you,
when[y] I was made in secret
and sewed together in the depths of the earth.[z]
16 Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb.[aa]
All the days ordained for me
were recorded in your scroll
before one of them came into existence.[ab]
17 How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God![ac]
How vast is their sum total.[ad]
18 If I tried to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
Even if I finished counting them,
I would still have to contend with you.[ae]
19 If only[af] you would kill the wicked, O God!
Get away from me, you violent men![ag]
20 They[ah] rebel against you[ai] and act deceitfully;[aj]
your enemies lie.[ak]
21 O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you,
and despise those who oppose you?[al]
22 I absolutely hate them;[am]
they have become my enemies.
23 Examine me, O God, and probe my thoughts.[an]
Test me, and know my concerns.[ao]
24 See if there is any idolatrous way[ap] in me,
and lead me in the everlasting way.[aq]


  1. Psalm 139:1 sn Psalm 139. The psalmist acknowledges that God, who created him, is aware of his every action and thought. He invites God to examine his motives, for he is confident they are pure.
  2. Psalm 139:1 tn The statement is understood as generalizing—the psalmist describes what God typically does.
  3. Psalm 139:3 tn Heb “my traveling and my lying down you measure.” The verb זָרָה (zarah, “to measure”) is probably here a denominative from זֶרֶת (zeret, “a span; a measure”), though some derive it from זָרָה (zarat, “to winnow; to sift”; see BDB 279-80 s.v. זָרָה).
  4. Psalm 139:3 tn Heb “all my ways.”
  5. Psalm 139:4 tn Or “for.”
  6. Psalm 139:4 tn Heb “look, O Lord, you know all of it.”
  7. Psalm 139:6 tn Heb “too amazing [is this] knowledge for me, it is elevated, I cannot attain to it.”
  8. Psalm 139:7 tn Heb “Where can I go from your spirit, and where from your face can I flee?” God’s “spirit” may refer here (1) to his presence (note the parallel term, “your face,” and see Ps 104:29-30, where God’s “face” is his presence and his “spirit” is the life-giving breath he imparts) or (2) to his personal Spirit (see Ps 51:10).
  9. Psalm 139:8 tn The Hebrew verb סָלַק (salaq, “to ascend”) occurs only here in the OT, but the word is well-attested in Aramaic literature from different time periods and displays a wide semantic range (see DNWSI 2:788-90).
  10. Psalm 139:8 tn The verb יָצַע (yatzaʿ) is rare in the Bible (see Isa 58:5 also Hiphil, and Isa 1:14; Est 4:3 for Hophal examples). There are three main options for understanding this phrase. It may mean “to descend to Sheol,” as in the LXX. This takes the motion in the verb as very generic for this context and understands “Sheol” without a preposition as the default “to Sheol.” Many translations take it as spreading out [something] to act as a bed, couch, or area to lie down. It is uncertain that the idea of a bed has to be implied and this does not required to fit the other contexts. Or, as taken here, it may “to spread [oneself] out, to sprawl.” Each view has merits and it is difficult to decide because the are so few examples.
  11. Psalm 139:8 tn Heb “look, you.”
  12. Psalm 139:9 tn Heb “rise up.”
  13. Psalm 139:9 sn On the wings of the dawn. This personification of the “dawn” may find its roots in mythological traditions about the god Shachar, whose birth is described in an Ugaritic myth (see G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 126) and who is mentioned in Isa 14:12 as the father of Helel.
  14. Psalm 139:9 tn Heb “at the end.”
  15. Psalm 139:11 tn 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 (yesukkeni), from the root שָׂכַך (sakhakh, “to cover,” an alternate form of סָכַך [sakhakh]), a reading assumed in the present translation.
  16. Psalm 139:11 tn Heb “and night, light, around me.”
  17. Psalm 139:12 tn The words “to see” are supplied in the translation for clarification and for stylistic reasons.
  18. Psalm 139:12 tn Heb “shines like.”
  19. Psalm 139:12 tn Heb “like darkness, like light.”
  20. Psalm 139:13 tn Or “for.”
  21. Psalm 139:13 tn Heb “my kidneys.” The kidneys were sometimes viewed as the seat of one’s emotions and moral character (cf. Pss 7:9; 26:2). A number of translations, recognizing that “kidneys” does not communicate this idea to the modern reader, have generalized the concept: “inmost being” (NAB, NIV); “inward parts” (NASB, NRSV); “the delicate, inner parts of my body” (NLT). In the last instance, the focus is almost entirely on the physical body rather than the emotions or moral character. The present translation, by using a hendiadys (one concept expressed through two terms), links the concepts of emotion (heart) and moral character (mind).
  22. Psalm 139:13 tn The Hebrew verb סָכַךְ (sakhakh, “to weave together”) is an alternate form of שָׂכַךְ (sakhakh, “to weave”) used in Job 10:11.
  23. Psalm 139:14 tc Heb “because awesome things, I am distinct, amazing [are] your works.” The text as it stands is syntactically problematic and makes little, if any, sense. The Niphal of פָּלָה (palah) occurs elsewhere only in Exod 33:16. Many take the form from פָלָא (palaʾ; see GKC 216 §75.qq), which in the Niphal perfect means “to be amazing” (see 2 Sam 1:26; Ps 118:23; Prov 30:18). Some, following the LXX and some other ancient witnesses, also prefer to emend the verb from first to second person, “you are amazing” (see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 [WBC], 249, 251). The present translation assumes the text conflates two variants: נִפְלָאִים (niflaʾim), the otherwise unattested masculine plural participle of פָלָא, and נִפְלָאוֹת (niflaʾot), the usual (feminine) plural form of the Niphal participle. The latter has been changed to a verb by later scribes in an attempt to accommodate it syntactically. The original text likely read, נוראות נפלאותים מעשׂיך (“your works [are] awesome [and] amazing”).
  24. Psalm 139:14 tc Heb “and my being knows very much.” Better parallelism is achieved (see v. 15a) if one emends יֹדַעַת (yodaʿat), a Qal active participle, feminine singular form, to יָדַעְתָּ (yadaʿta), a Qal perfect second masculine singular perfect. See L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 252.
  25. Psalm 139:15 tc The Hebrew term אֲשֶׁר (ʾasher, “which”) should probably be emended to כֲּאַשֶׁר (kaʾasher, “when”). The כ (kaf) may have been lost by haplography (note the kaf at the end of the preceding form).
  26. Psalm 139:15 sn The phrase depths of the earth may be metaphorical (euphemistic) or it may reflect a prescientific belief about the origins of the embryo deep beneath the earth’s surface (see H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 96-97). Job 1:21 also closely associates the mother’s womb with the earth.
  27. Psalm 139:16 tn Heb “Your eyes saw my shapeless form.” The Hebrew noun גֹּלֶם (golem) occurs only here in the OT. In later Hebrew the word refers to “a lump, a shapeless or lifeless substance,” and to “unfinished matter, a vessel wanting finishing” (Jastrow 222 s.v. גּוֹלֶם). The translation employs the dynamic rendering “when I was inside the womb” to clarify that the speaker was still in his mother’s womb at the time he was “seen” by God.
  28. Psalm 139:16 tn Heb “and on your scroll all of them were written, [the] days [which] were formed, and [there was] not one among them.” This “scroll” may be the “scroll of life” mentioned in Ps 69:28 (see the note on the word “living” there).
  29. Psalm 139:17 tn Heb “and to me how precious are your thoughts, O God.” The Hebrew verb יָקַר (yaqar) probably has the sense of “difficult [to comprehend]” here (see HALOT 432 s.v. יקר qal.1 and note the use of Aramaic יַקִּר in Dan 2:11). Elsewhere in the immediate context the psalmist expresses his amazement at the extent of God’s knowledge about him (see vv. 1-6, 17b-18).
  30. Psalm 139:17 tn Heb “how vast are their heads.” Here the Hebrew word “head” is used of the “sum total” of God’s knowledge of the psalmist.
  31. Psalm 139:18 tc Heb “I awake and I [am] still with you.” A reference to the psalmist awaking from sleep makes little, if any, sense contextually. For this reason some propose an emendation to הֲקִצּוֹתִי (haqitsoti), a Hiphil perfect form from an otherwise unattested verb קָצַץ (qatsats) understood as a denominative of קֵץ (qets, “end”). See L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 252-53.
  32. Psalm 139:19 tn The Hebrew particle אִם (ʾim, “if”) and following prefixed verbal form here express a wish (see Pss 81:8; 95:7, as well as GKC 321 §109.b).
  33. Psalm 139:19 tn Heb “men of bloodshed.”
  34. Psalm 139:20 tn Heb “who.”
  35. Psalm 139:20 tc Heb “they speak [of] you.” The suffixed form of the verb אָמַר (ʾamar, “to speak”) is peculiar. The translation assumes an emendation to יַמְרֻךָ (yamrukha), a Hiphil form from מָרָה (marah, “to rebel”; see Ps 78:40).
  36. Psalm 139:20 tn Heb “by deceit.”
  37. Psalm 139:20 tc Heb “lifted up for emptiness, your cities.” The form נָשֻׂא (nasuʾ; a Qal passive participle) should be emended to נָשְׂאוּ (naseʾu; a Qal perfect, third common plural, “[they] lift up”). Many emend עָרֶיךָ (ʿarekha, “your cities”) to עָלֶיךָ (ʿalekha, “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).
  38. Psalm 139:21 tc Heb “who raise themselves up against you.” The form וּבִתְקוֹמְמֶיךָ (uvitqomemekha) should be emended to וּבְמִתְקוֹמְמֶיךָ (uvemitqomemekha), a Hitpolel participle (the prefixed מ [mem] of the participle is accidentally omitted in the MT, though a few medieval Hebrew mss have it).
  39. Psalm 139:22 tn Heb “[with] completeness of hatred I hate them.”
  40. Psalm 139:23 tn Heb “and know my heart.”
  41. Psalm 139:23 tn The Hebrew noun שַׂרְעַפַּי (sarʿappay, “concerns”) is used of “worries” in Ps 94:19.
  42. Psalm 139:24 tn Many understand the Hebrew term עֹצֶב (ʿotsev) as a noun meaning “pain,” and translate the phrase דֶּרֶךְ עֹצֶב (derekh ʿotsev) as “of pain,” but this makes little sense here. (Some interpret it to refer to actions which bring pain to others.) It is preferable to take עֹצֶב as “idol” (see HALOT 865 s.v. I עֹצֶב) and understand “way of an idol” to refer to idolatrous actions or tendency. See L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 253.
  43. Psalm 139:24 tn Or “in the ancient path.” This phrase may refer to the moral path prescribed by the Lord at the beginning of Israel’s history. See Jer 6:16; 18:15, as well as L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 253.