Psalm 139:16
Your eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in your book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) This difficult verse, rendered word for word, gives—

“My fœtus (literally, rolled) saw thine eyes,

And on thy book all of them were written;

Days were formed, and not (or, as the Hebrew margin, to him) one in them.”

The reading “substance yet being imperfect” of the Authorised Version follows the LXX. and Vulg., and (Symmachus, “shapeless thing”) periphrastically denotes the embryo, which the Hebrew word—literally, rolled, or wrapped, used in 2Kings 2:8, “of a mantle,” in Ezekiel 27:24, “bales” (Authorised Version, “clothes;” margin, “foldings”)—almost scientifically describes. (Comp. Job 10:8-12; 2 Maccabees 7:22.)

Others take it of the ball of the threads of destiny; but this is not a Hebrew conception. By inserting the word members, the Authorised Version suggests a possible, but not a probable, interpretation. The Hebrew language likes to use a pronoun before the word to which it refers has occurred (see Note, Psalm 68:14); and, in spite of the accents, we must refer all of them to “days” (Authorised Version, “in continuance”).

“Thine eyes beheld my embryo,

And in thy book were written

All the days, the days

Which were being formed,

When as yet there were none of them.”

But a much more satisfactory sense is obtained by adopting one slight change and following Symmachus in the last line—

“The days which are all reckoned, and not one of them is wanting.”

All the ancient versions make that which is written in God’s book either the days of life, or men born in the course of these days, each coming into being according to the Divine will.

Psalm 139:16. Thine eyes did see my substance — Hebrews גלמי, my rude mass, as Dr. Waterland renders the word: massa rudis et intricata adhuc, says Buxtorf, neque in veram formam evoluta, a mass, yet rude and entangled, and not unfolded into proper form. When the matter, out of which I was made, was an unshapen embryo, without any form, it was visible to thee how every part, however minute, would be wrought; and in thy book all my members were written — Before any of them were in being they lay open before thy eyes, and were discerned by thee as clearly as if the plan of them had been drawn in a book. Thy eternal wisdom formed the plan, and according to that, thy almighty power raised the structure. The allusion to the needlework seems to be still carried on. “As the embroiderer hath his book or pattern before him, to which he always recurs; so by a method as exact were all my members in continuance fashioned; and 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; so, by the skill of the divine workman, is a shapeless mass wrought into the most curious texture of parts, most skilfully interwoven and connected with each other, until it becomes a body harmoniously diversified with all the limbs and lineaments of a man, not one of which at first appeared, any more than the figures were to be seen in the ball of silk. But then, (which is the chief thing here insisted on by the psalmist,)

whereas the human artificer must have the clearest light, whereby to accomplish his task, the divine work-master seeth in secret, and effecteth all his wonders within the dark and narrow confines of the womb.” — Horne.139:7-16 We cannot see God, but he can see us. The psalmist did not desire to go from the Lord. Whither can I go? In the most distant corners of the world, in heaven, or in hell, I cannot go out of thy reach. No veil can hide us from God; not the thickest darkness. No disguise can save any person or action from being seen in the true light by him. Secret haunts of sin are as open before God as the most open villanies. On the other hand, the believer cannot be removed from the supporting, comforting presence of his Almighty Friend. Should the persecutor take his life, his soul will the sooner ascend to heaven. The grave cannot separate his body from the love of his Saviour, who will raise it a glorious body. No outward circumstances can separate him from his Lord. While in the path of duty, he may be happy in any situation, by the exercise of faith, hope, and prayer.Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect - This whole verse is very obscure, but the "idea" in this expression clearly is, "Before I had shape or form thou didst see what I was to be." The single word in the original translated "my substance, yet being unperfect," is גלם gôlem. It occurs only in this place, though the verb - גלם gâlam - is found in 2 Kings 2:8, where it is used in reference to the mantle of Elijah: And Elijah took his mantle, and "wrapped it together," etc. That is, he rolled it up, or he folded it. The noun, then, means that which "is" rolled or wrapped together; that which is folded up, and hence, is applicable to anything folded up or undeveloped; and would thus most aptly denote the embryo, or the foetus, where all the members of the body are as yet folded up, or undeveloped; that is, before they have assumed their distinct form and proportions. This is undoubtedly the idea here. Before the embryo had any such form that its future size, shape, or proportions could be marked by the eye of man, it was clearly and distinctly known by God.

And in thy book - Where thou recordest all things. Perhaps the allusion here would be to the book of an architect or draftsman, who, before his work is begun, draws his plan, or sketches it for the direction of the workmen.

All my members were written - The words "my members" are not in the original. The Hebrew is, as in the margin, "all of them." The reference may be, not to the members of his body, but to his "days" (see the margin on the succeeding phrase) - and then the sense would be, all my "days," or all the periods of my life, were delineated in thy book. That is, When my substance - my form - was not yet developed, when yet an embryo, and when nothing could be determined from that by the eye of man as to what I was to be, all the future was known to God, and was written down - just what should be my form and vigor; how long I should live; what I should be; what would be the events of my life.

Which in continuance were fashioned - Margin, "What days they should be fashioned." Literally, "Days should be formed." DeWette renders this, "The days were determined before any one of them was." There is nothing in the Hebrew to correspond with the phrase "in continuance." The simple idea is, The days of my life were determined on, the whole matter was fixed and settled, not by anything seen in the embryo, but "before" there was any form - before there were any means of judging from what I then was to what I would be - all was seen and arranged in the divine mind.

When as yet there was none of them - literally, "And not one among them." Before there was one of them in actual existence. Not one development had yet occurred from which it could be inferred what the rest would be. The entire knowledge on the subject must have been based on Omniscience.

PSALM 139

Ps 139:1-24. After presenting the sublime doctrines of God's omnipresence and omniscience, the Psalmist appeals to Him, avowing his innocence, his abhorrence of the wicked, and his ready submission to the closest scrutiny. Admonition to the wicked and comfort to the pious are alike implied inferences from these doctrines.

Yet being unperfect; when I was a mere embryo, a rude and shapeless lump, when I was first conceived.

In thy book; in thy counsel and providence, by which thou didst contrive and effect this great work, and all the parts of it, according to that model which thou hadst appointed. This is a metaphor taken from workmen, who when they are to make some curious structure, they first draw a rude draught or delineation of it, by which they govern themselves in the building of it.

All my members; all the several parts of my substance.

When in continuance were fashioned; which in due time and by degrees were formed into bones, fleshy sinews, &c. Or, as it is in the margin, what days (and the days in which) they were or should be fashioned; by what steps, in what order and time, each part of the body should receive its proper form. This also was written or appointed by God.

When as yet there was none of them, Heb. and not one of them; understand either yet was, as it is in our translation; or, was lacking, to wit, in thy book. All my parts without exception were written by thee. But then these words are not to bc joined with those immediately foregoing, but with the former, and the words are to be read thus, in thy book all my members were written, (which in continuance were fashioned,) when as yet, &c. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect,.... The word (q) for "substance" signifies a bottom of yarn wound up, or any rude or unformed lump; and designs that conglomerated mass of matter separated in the womb, containing all the essentials of the human frame, but not yet distinguished or reduced into any form or order; yet, even when in this state, the eyes of the Lord see it and all its parts distinctly;

and in thy book all my members were written: which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them; in the book of God's eternal mind, and designs, the plan of the human body was drawn, all the parts of it described, and their form, places, and uses fixed, even when as yet not one of them was in actual being; but in due time they are all exactly formed and fashioned according to the model of them in the mind of God; who has as perfect knowledge of them beforehand as if they were written down in a book before him, Or "in thy book are written all of them, what days they should be fashioned"; not only each of the members of the body were put down in this book, but each of the days in which they should be formed and come into order: "when" as yet there was "none of them"; none of those days, before they took place, even before all time; the Targum is,

"in the book of thy memory all my days are written, in the day the world was created, from the beginning that all creatures were created.''

(q) "informe meum", Montanus; "glomus meam", Michaelis.

Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; {l} and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

(l) Seeing that you knew me before I was composed of either flesh or bone, much more now must you know me when you have fashioned me.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
16. my substance, yet being unperfect] R.V. mine unperfect substance. The word (gôlem) is a different one from that in Psalm 139:15, and denotes the undeveloped embryo. Cp. Aram, gôlmâ, an unfinished vessel.

all my members] Lit. all of them, which A.V. and R.V. interpret to mean all the members into which the embryo was to develop. But it is better (cp. R.V. marg.) to regard the pronoun as anticipatory, and to render,

And in thy book were all of them written,

Even days which were formed,

When as yet there was none of them.

Each day of his life with all its history was pre-determined by the Creator and recorded in His book, before one of them actually was in existence:—a clear expression of the truth that there is an ideal plan of life providentially marked out for every individual. (Ephesians 2:10.)

The Q’rç or traditional reading of the Hebrew text, reads , ‘for it’ instead of lô’ ‘not’ (see note on Psalm 100:3), giving the sense, and for it there was one among them: one of them was pre-ordained as ‘its day,’ the day of its birth. Cp. ‘his day,’ Job 3:1.Verse 16. - Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; or, "my embryo." The Hebrew text has but the single word גלמי, which probably means, "the still unformed embryonic mass" (Hengstenberg). And in thy book all my members were written; literally, all of them; but the pronoun has no antecedent. Professor Cheyne and others suspect the passage to have suffered corruption. But the general meaning can scarcely have been very different from that assigned to the passage in the Authorized Version. Which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. Modern critics mostly translate "the days," or "my days," "were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them;" i.e. "my life was planned out by God, and settled, before I began to be." The future form אסּק, customary in the Aramaic, may be derived just as well from סלק (סלק), by means of the same mode of assimilation as in יסּב equals יסבּב, as from נסק (נסק), which latter is certainly only insecurely established by Daniel 6:24, להנסקה (cf. להנזקת, Ezra 4:22; הנפּק, Daniel 5:2), since the Nun, as in להנעלה, Daniel 4:3, can also be a compensation for the resolved doubling (vid., Bernstein in the Lexicon Chrestom. Kirschianae, and Levy s.v. נסק). אם with the simple future is followed by cohortatives (vid., on Psalm 73:16) with the equivalent אשּׂא among them: et si stratum facerem (mihi) infernum (accusative of the object as in Isaiah 58:5), etc. In other passages the wings of the sun (Malachi 4:2) and of the wind (Psalm 18:11) are mentioned, here we have the wings of the morning's dawn. Pennae aurorae, Eugubinus observes (1548), est velocissimus aurorae per omnem mundum decursus. It is therefore to be rendered: If I should lift wings (נשׂא כנפים as in Ezekiel 10:16, and frequently) such as the dawn of the morning has, i.e., could I fly with the swiftness with which the dawn of the morning spreads itself over the eastern sky, towards the extreme west and alight there. Heaven and Hades, as being that which is superterrestrial and subterrestrial, and the east and west are set over against one another. אחרית ים is the extreme end of the sea (of the Mediterranean with the "isles of the Gentiles"). In Psalm 139:10 follows the apodosis: nowhere is the hand of God, which governs everything, to be escaped, for dextera Dei ubique est. ואמר (not ואמר, Ezekiel 13:15), "therefore I spake," also has the value of a hypothetical protasis: quodsi dixerim. אך and חשׁך belongs together: merae tenebrae (vid: Psalm 39:6.); but ישׁוּפני is obscure. The signification secured to it of conterere, contundere, in Genesis 3:15; Job 9:17, which is followed by the lxx (Vulgate) καταπατήσει, is inappropriate to darkness. The signification inhiare, which may be deduced as possible from שׁאף, suits relatively better, yet not thoroughly well (why should it not have been יבלעני?). The signification obvelare, however, which one expects to find, and after which the Targum, Symmachus, Jerome, Saadia, and others render it, seems only to be guessed at from the connection, since שׁוּף has not this signification in any other instance, and in favour of it we cannot appeal either to נשׁף - whence נשׁף, which belongs together with נשׁב, נשׁם, and נפשׁ - or to עטף, the root of which is עת (עתה), or to צעף, whence צעיף, which does not signify to cover, veil, but according to Arab. ḍ‛f, to fold, fold together, to double. We must therefore either assign to ישׁוּפני the signification operiat me without being able to prove it, or we must put a verb of this signification in its place, viz., ישׂוּכני (Ewald) or יעוּפני (Bttcher), which latter is the more commendable here, where darkness (חשׁך, synon. עיפה, מעוּף) is the subject: and if I should say, let nothing but darkness cover me, and as night (the predicate placed first, as in Amos 4:13) let the light become about me, i.e., let the light become night that shall surround and cover me (בּעדני, poetic for בּעדי, like תּחתּני in 2 Samuel 22) - the darkness would spread abroad no obscurity (Psalm 105:28) that should extend beyond (מן) Thy piercing eye and remove me from Thee. In the word יאיר, too, the Hiphil signification is not lost: the night would give out light from itself, as if it were the day; for the distinction of day and night has no conditioning influence upon God, who is above and superior to all created things (der Uebercreatrliche), who is light in Himself. The two כ are correlative, as e.g., in 1 Kings 22:4. חשׁיכה (with a superfluous Jod) is an old word, but אורה (cf. Aramaic אורתּא) is a later one.
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