Psalm 139:16
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy 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." Psalm 139:16The embryo folded up in the shape of an egg is here called גּלם, from גּלם, to roll or wrap together (cf. glomus, a ball), in the Talmud said of any kind of unshapen mass (lxx ἀκατέργαστον, Symmachus ἀμόρφωτον) and raw material, e.g., of the wood or metal that is to be formed into a vessel (Chullin 25a, to which Saadia has already referred).

(Note: Epiphanius, Haer, xxx. 31, says the Hebrew γολμη signifies the peeled grains of spelt or wheat before they are mixed up and backed, the still raw (only bruised) flour-grains - a signification that can now no longer be supported by examples.)

As to the rest, compare similar retrospective glances into the embryonic state in Job 10:8-12, 2 Macc. 7:22f. (Psychology, S. 209ff., tr. pp. 247f.). On the words in libro tuo Bellarmine makes the following correct observation: quia habes apud te exemplaria sive ideas omnium, quomodo pictor vel sculptor scit ex informi materia quid futurum sit, quia videt exemplar. The signification of the future יכּתבוּ is regulated by ראוּ, and becomes, as relating to the synchronous past, scribebantur. The days יצּרוּ, which were already formed, are the subject. It is usually rendered: "the days which had first to be formed." If יצּרוּ could be equivalent to ייצּרוּ, it would be to be preferred; but this rejection of the praeform. fut. is only allowed in the fut. Piel of the verbs Pe Jod, and that after a Waw convertens, e.g., ויּבּשׁ equals וייבּשׁ, Nahum 1:4 (cf. Caspari on Obadiah 1:11).

(Note: But outside the Old Testament it also occurs in the Pual, though as a wrong use of the word; vide my Anekdota (1841), S. 372f.)

Accordingly, assuming the original character of the לא in a negative signification, it is to be rendered: The days which were (already) formed, and there was not one among them, i.e., when none among them had as yet become a reality. The suffix of כּלּם points to the succeeding ימים, to which יצּרוּ is appended as an attributive clause; ולא אחד בּהם is subordinated to this יצּרוּ: cum non or nondum (Job 22:16) unus inter eos equals unus eorum (Exodus 14:28) esset. But the expression (instead of ועוד לא היה or טרם יהיה) remains doubtful, and it becomes a question whether the Ker ולו (vid., on Psalm 100:3), which stands side by side with the Chethb ולא (which the lxx, Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, the Targum, Syriac, Jerome, and Saadia follow), is not to be preferred. This ולו, referred to גלמי, gives the acceptable meaning: and for it (viz., its birth) one among them (these days), without our needing to make any change in the proposed exposition down to יצרו. We decide in favour of this, because this ולו אחד בהם does not, as ולא אחד בהם, make one feel to miss any היה, and because the ולי which begins Psalm 139:17 connects itself to it by way of continuation. The accentuation has failed to discern the reference of כלם to the following ימים, inasmuch as it places Olewejored against יכתבו. Hupfeld follows this accentuation, referring כלם back to גלמי as a coil of days of one's life; and Hitzig does the same, referring it to the embryos. But the precedence of the relative pronoun occurs in other instances also,

(Note: The Hebrew poet, says Gesenius (Lehrgebude, S. 739f.), sometimes uses the pronoun before the thing to which it referred has even been spoken of. This phenomenon belongs to the Hebrew style generally, vid., my Anekdota (1841), S. 382.)

and is devoid of all harshness, especially in connection with כּלּם, which directly signifies altogether (e.g., Isaiah 43:14).

It is the confession of the omniscience that is united with the omnipotence of God, which the poet here gives utterance to with reference to himself, just as Jahve says with reference to Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1:5. Among the days which were preformed in the idea of God (cf. on יצרו, Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26) there was also one, says the poet, for the embryonic beginning of my life. The divine knowledge embraces the beginning, development, and completion of all things (Psychology, S. 37ff., tr. pp. 46ff.). The knowledge of the thoughts of God which are written in the book of creation and revelation is the poet's cherished possession, and to ponder over them is his favourite pursuit: they are precious to him, יקרוּ (after Psalm 36:8), not: difficult of comprehension (schwerbegreiflich, Maurer, Olshausen), after Daniel 2:11, which would surely have been expressed by עמקוּ (Psalm 92:6), more readily: very weighty (schwergewichtig, Hitzig), but better according to the prevailing Hebrew usage: highly valued (schwergewerthet), cara.

(Note: It should be noted that the radical idea of the verb, viz., being heavy (German schwer), is retained in all these renderings. - Tr.)

"Their sums" are powerful, prodigious (Psalm 40:6), and cannot be brought to a summa summarum. If he desires to count them (fut. hypothet. as in Psalm 91:7; Job 20:24), they prove themselves to be more than the sand with its grains, that is to say, innumerable. He falls asleep over the pondering upon them, wearied out; and when he wakes up, he is still with God, i.e., still ever absorbed in the contemplation of the Unsearchable One, which even the sleep of fatigue could not entirely interrupt. Ewald explains it somewhat differently: if I am lost in the stream of thoughts and images, and recover myself from this state of reverie, yet I am still ever with Thee, without coming to an end. But it could only perhaps be interpreted thus if it were העירותי or התעוררתּי. Hofmann's interpretation is altogether different: I will count them, the more numerous than the sand, when I awake and am continually with Thee, viz., in the other world, after the awaking from the sleep of death. This is at once impossible, because הקיצתי cannot here, according to its position, be a perf. hypotheticum. Also in connection with this interpretation עוד would be an inappropriate expression for "continually," since the word only has the sense of the continual duration of an action or a state already existing; here of one that has not even been closed and broken off by sleep. He has not done; waking and dreaming and waking up, he is carried away by that endless, and yet also endlessly attractive, pursuit, the most fitting occupation of one who is awake, and the sweetest (cf. Jeremiah 31:26) of one who is asleep and dreaming.

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