God’s Infinite Knowledge and Universal Power
1 For the director.[b] A psalm of David.
[c]O Lord, you have examined me
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I stand;[d]
you perceive my thoughts from a distance.
3 You mark when I go out and when I lie down;
all my ways are open to you.
4 A word is not even on my tongue
and you, O Lord, are completely aware of it.
5 You enfold me from in front and from behind,
and you place your hand upon me.[e]
6 Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension,
far too sublime for me to attain.
7 [f]Where can I go to hide from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I take my rest in the netherworld, you are also there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn[g]
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your right hand will hold me fast.
11 [h]If I say, “Surely the darkness will conceal me
and the day around me will turn to night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for to you darkness and light are the same.
13 [i]You created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am wonderfully made;
awesome are your works,
as I know very well.
15 My body was not hidden from you
when I was being made in secret.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
you saw me in the womb.[j]
16 [k]The sum total of my days
were all recorded in your book.[l]
My life was fashioned
before it had come into being.
17 How precious to me are your designs, O God!
How vast in number they are!
18 If I were to attempt to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,[m]
I am still with you.
19 [n]If only you would slay the wicked, O God,
and the bloodthirsty would leave me![o]
20 They blaspheme your name
and treacherously rise up against you.[p]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord,
and loathe those who rise up against you?
22 My hatred for them is unlimited;
I regard them as my personal enemies.
23 Examine me, O God, and know my heart;[q]
test me and understand my thoughts.
24 See if I follow an evil way,
and guide me on the way to eternity.
- Psalm 139:1 This psalm is one of the pearls of the Psalter in its literary beauty and profound doctrine: the complete knowledge that God has about each person. The human heart is transparent to God’s look; he knows the most secret and most unknown movements of our souls. Feeling the hand of God on himself provoked sadness and anxiety in Job (see Job 23–24; Jer 15:6f), but in the psalmist, it instills serenity and abandonment. He no longer asks God to turn away his face but to lead him on the path of fidelity. The psalmist awakens to God; the one whom he thought he had to seek out is already there, present in him as his source of life, more present to him than he is to himself.
We can pray this psalm to remind ourselves of the complete knowledge that Jesus has of us (see Jn 10:14f). For he is our Creator and Savior (see Col 1:16f; Heb 1:1f), who restores the supernatural world and re-creates each of his disciples, making new creatures of them to his own image (see Eph 2:10; Col 3:11).
- Psalm 139:1 For the director: these words are thought to be a musical or liturgical notation.
- Psalm 139:1 God is all-seeing and all-knowing. His knowledge is not sterile but personal and active, discriminating in favor of those who are faithful to the Lord.
- Psalm 139:2 You know when I sit and when I stand: a Hebrew idiom that, when combined with the parallel “go out and lie down” (or “go out and come in”: see Isa 37:28), signifies: “in all that I do.”
- Psalm 139:5 Place your hand upon me: a gesture performed by the judge or the witness (see Job 9:33). It expresses God’s absolute mastery over human beings (see Ex 33:22; Rev 1:17).
- Psalm 139:7 God is all-present; he is everywhere to protect his children. He perceives all things in all places and there is no escaping him. The same images and teaching are found in Am 9:2f. See also Job 11:8; 23:8f; Prov 15:11; Isa 7:11; Jer 23:24; Jon 1:3.
- Psalm 139:9 Rise on the wings of the dawn: go to the most distant extremities of the east. Settle at the farthest limits of the sea: the uttermost bounds of the west.
- Psalm 139:11 There is only light with God, and his light brightens up the darkness. For to you darkness and light are the same: some consider this line to be a gloss.
- Psalm 139:13 God not only sees all and penetrates the inaccessible, but he is completely operative there, creating people and providing a purpose for all.
- Psalm 139:15 God knows all human beings intimately.
- Psalm 139:16 The text of these verses is obscure in several places.
- Psalm 139:16 [They] were all recorded in your book: an image familiar to the Prophets (see Neh 13:14; Dan 7:10; Mal 3:16) as well as the psalmists (see Pss 69:29; 109:13), which was reprised in the Dies Irae (the Sequence formerly used at Masses for the Dead): Liber scriptus proferetur, in quo totum continetur: “Lo, the book exactly worded, in which all has been recorded.” See note on Ps 56:9.
- Psalm 139:18 When I awake: in this context, these words may express a glimpse of the resurrection on the part of the psalmist, as in Ps 17:15 (see note there).
- Psalm 139:19 God is all-holy and opposes the wicked, whom he punishes for their wrongdoing. He leads the psalmist and the righteous in the way of God (the way to eternity: see Pss 1:6; 5:9; 73:18; 143:10; and note on 16:9-11) and not in the way of idolaters (the evil way: see Ps 16:4; Isa 48:5).
- Psalm 139:19 See notes on Pss 5:11; 35.
- Psalm 139:20 And . . . against you: the Hebrew is uncertain here.
- Psalm 139:23 Heart: see note on Ps 4:8.