Psalm 139:7
Where shall I go from your spirit? or where shall I flee from your presence?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(7) Spirit.—If this clause stood alone we should naturally understand by God’s Spirit His creative and providential power, from which nothing can escape (comp. Psalm 104:30). But taken in parallelism with presence in the next clause the expression leads on to a thought towards which the theology of the Old Testament was dimly feeling, which it nearly reached in the Book of Wisdom. “The Spirit of the Lord filleth the world,” but which found its perfect expression in our Saviour’s announcement to the woman of Samaria.

Psalm 139:7-12. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? — From thy knowledge and observation; or, from thee who art a Spirit? Whither shall I flee from thy presence? — I can go nowhere but thou art there, observing and judging, approving or disapproving: nor are there any means imaginable by which I can escape the reach of thy all-penetrating eye, or withdraw myself from thy universal and unbounded presence: neither can an ascent to heaven, nor a descent to the state of the dead, secure me from thine inspection, or divide me from thee. Nay, though I were able, with the swiftness of the rays of the rising sun, in an instant to shoot myself to the remotest parts of the earth or sea, even there should thy hand lead me — I should still exist in thee: thy presence would be diffused all around me; and thine enlivening power would support my frame. If I say, Surely the darkness, &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 splendours of the noon-day sun.” Dr. Horne, who very properly applies this doctrine of the divine omniscience and omnipresence to practical purposes, very justly observes here, We can never sin with security, but in a place where the eye of God cannot behold us; and, he asks, “Where is that place? Had we a mind to escape his inspection, whither should we go! Heaven is the seat of his glory, creation the scene of his providence, and the grave itself will be the theatre of his power; so that our efforts will be equally vain whether we ascend or descend, or fly abroad upon the wings of the morning light, which diffuseth itself with such velocity over the globe, from east to west. The arm of the Almighty will still, at pleasure, prevent and be ready to arrest the fugitives in their progress. Darkness may indeed conceal us and our deeds from the sight of men; but the divine presence, like that of the sun, turns night into day, and makes all things manifest before God. The same consideration which should restrain us from sin, should also encourage as to work righteousness, and comfort us under all our sorrows; namely, the thought that we are never out of the sight and protection of our Maker. The piety and the charity which are practised in cottages, the labour and pain which are patiently endured in the field, and on the bed of sickness; the misery and torment inflicted by persecution in the mines, the galleys, and the dungeons; all are under the inspection of Jehovah, and are noted down by him against the day of recompense. He sees, and he will reward all we do, and all we suffer, as becometh Christians.”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.Whither shall I go from thy spirit? - Where shall I go where thy spirit is not; that is, where thou art not; where there is no God. The word "spirit" here does not refer particularly to the Holy Spirit, but to God "as" a spirit. "Whither shall I go from the all-pervading Spirit - from God, considered as a spirit?" This is a clear statement that God is a "Spirit" (compare John 4:24); and that, as a spirit, he is Omnipresent.

Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? - Hebrew, From his face; that is, where he will not be, and will not see me. I cannot find a place - a spot in the universe, where there is not a God, and the same God. Fearful thought to those that hate him - that, much as they may wish or desire it, they can never find a place where there is not a holy God! Comforting to those that love him - that they will never be where they may not find a God - their God; that nowhere, at home or abroad, on land or on the ocean, on earth or above the stars, they will ever reach a world where they will not be in the presence of that God - that gracious Father - who can defend, comfort, guide, and sustain them.

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.

7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there, if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.

12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

Psalm 139:7

Here omnipresence is the theme, - a truth to which omniscience naturally leads up. "Whither shall I go from thy spirit?" Not that the Psalmist wished to go from God, or to avoid the power of the divine life; but he asks this question to set forth the fact that no one can escape from the all-pervading being and observation of the Great Invisible Spirit. Observe how the writer makes the matter personal to himself - "Whither shall I go?" It were well if we all thus applied truth to our own cases. It were wise for each one to say - The spirit of the Lord is ever around me: Jehovah is omnipresent to me. "Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" If, full of dread, I hastened to escape from that nearness of God which had become my terror, which way could I turn? "Whither?.... Whither?" He repeats his cry. No answer comes back to him. The reply to his first "Whither?" is its echo, - a second "Whither?" From the sight of God he cannot be hidden, but that is not all, m from the immediate, actual, constant presence of God he cannot be withdrawn. We must be, whether we will it or not, as near to God as our soul is to our body. This makes it dreadful work to sin; for we offend the Almighty to his face, and commit acts of treason at the very foot of his throne. Go from him, or flee from him we cannot: neither by patient travel nor by hasty flight can we withdraw from the all-surrounding Deity. His mind is in our mind; himself within ourselves. His spirit is over our spirit; our presence is ever in his presence.

Psalm 139:8

"If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there." Filling the loftiest region with his yet loftier presence, Jehovah is in the heavenly place, at home, upon his throne. The ascent, if it were possible, would be unavailing for purposes of escape; it would, in fact, be a flying into the centre of the fire to avoid the heat. There would he be immediately confronted by the terrible personality of God. Note the abrupt words - "Thou, there." "If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there." Descending into the lowest imaginable depths among the dead, there should we find the Lord. Thou! says the Psalmist, as if he felt that God was the one great Existence in all places. Whatever Hades may be, or whoever may be there, one thing is certain, Thou, O Jehovah, art there. Two regions, the one of glory and the other of darkness, are set in contrast, and this one fact is asserted of both - "thou art there." Whether we rise up or lie down, take our wing or make our bed, we shall find God near us. A "behold" is added to the second clause, since it seems more a wonder to meet with God in hell than in heaven, in Hades than in Paradise. Of course the presence of God produces very different effects in these places, but it is unquestionably in each; the bliss of one, the terror of the other. What an awful thought, that some men seem resolved to take up their night's abode In hell, a night which shall know no morning.

Psalm 139:9

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea." - If I could fly with all swiftness, and find a habitation where the mariner has not yet ploughed the deep, yet I could not reach the boundaries of the divine presence. Light flies with inconceivable rapidity, and it flashes far afield beyond all human ken; it illuminates the great and wide sea, and sets its waves gleaming afar; but its speed would utterly fail if employed in flying from the Lord. Were we to speed on the wings of the morning breeze, and break into oceans unknown to chart and map, yet there we should find the Lord already present. He who saves to the uttermost would be with us in the uttermost parts of the sea.

Psalm 139:10

"Even there shall thy hand lead me." We could only fly from God by his own power. The Lord would be leading, covering, preserving, sustaining us even when we were fugitives from him. "And thy right hand shall hold me." In the uttermost parts of the sea my arrest would be as certain as at home, God's right hand would there seize and detain the runaway. Should we be commanded on the most distant errand, we may assuredly depend upon the upholding right hand of God as with us in all mercy, wisdom, and power. The exploring missionary in his lonely wanderings is led, in his solitary feebleness he is held. Both the hands of God are with his own servants to sustain them, and against rebels to overthrow them; and in this respect it matters not to what realms they resort, the active energy of God is around them still.

continued...

From thy spirit; either,

1. From the Holy Ghost, the third person in the Trinity: or,

2. From thee, who art a Spirit, and therefore canst penetrate into the most secret parts: or,

3. From thy mind or understanding, of which he is here speaking, as this word seems to be taken, Isaiah 40:13, compared with Romans 11:34; for what there is called the spirit of the Lord, is here called the mind of the Lord. And as the Spirit of God is oft used in Scripture for its gifts and graces, so the spirit of God in this place may be put for that knowledge which is an attribute or action of God.

From thy presence; a man can go to no place which is out of thy sight. Whither shall I go from thy spirit?.... Or, "from thy wind?" which some interpret literally, the wind being God's creature; which he brings out of his treasures, and holds in his fists, and disposes of as he pleases; this takes its circuit through all the points of the heavens, and blows everywhere, more or less. Rather God himself is meant, who is a Spirit, John 4:24 not a body, or consisting of corporeal parts, which are only ascribed to him in a figurative sense; and who has something analogous to spirit, being simple and uncompounded, invisible, incorruptible, immaterial, and immortal; but is different from all other spirits, being uncreated, eternal, infinite, and immense; so that there is no going from him, as to be out of his sight; nor to any place out of his reach, nor from his wrath and justice, nor so as to escape his righteous judgment. It may signify his all-conscious mind, his all-comprehending understanding and knowledge, which reaches to all persons, places, and things; compare Isaiah 40:13; with Romans 11:34; though it seems best of all to understand it of the third Person, the blessed Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son; and who is possessed of the same perfections, of omniscience, omnipresence, and immensity, as they are; who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and pervades them all; and is the Maker of all men, and is present with them to uphold their souls in life, and there is no going from him; particularly he is in all believers, and dwells with them; nor do they desire to go from him, but deprecate his departure from them;

or whither shall I flee from thy presence? which is everywhere, for God's presence is omnipresence; his powerful presence and providence are with all his creatures, to support and uphold them in being; he is not far from, but near to them; in him they live, move, and have their being: and so there is no fleeing from him or that; and as to his gracious presence, which is with all his people, in all places at the same time; they do not desire to flee from it, but always to have it; and are concerned for it, if at any time it is removed from them, as to their apprehension of it. Or, "from thy face" (e); that is, from Christ, who is the face of Jehovah; the image of the invisible God, the express image of his person, in whom all the perfections of God are displayed; and such a likeness, that he that has seen the one has seen the other; he is the Angel of his face or presence, and who always appears before him, and in whom he is seen. Now there is no fleeing from him, for he is everywhere; where God is, his face is: and a sensible sinner desires to flee to him, and not from him; for there is no other refuge to flee unto for life and salvation but to him; and gracious souls desire to be always with him now, and hope to be for ever with him hereafter; they seek him, the face of God, now, and expect to see it more clearly in the world to come.

(e) "a facie tua", Pagninus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

Whither shall I go from thy {e} spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

(e) From your power and knowledge?

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
7. The power and presence of God are universal. The Psalmist’s question does not imply that he wishes to escape from God, but that escape would be impossible if he wished it. The ‘spirit of Jehovah’ in the O.T. is “the living energy of a personal God” (see Swete in Hastings’ Bible Dict. ii. p. 404): His ‘presence’ (lit. countenance) is His personal manifestation of Himself in relation to men. See Oehler, Theology of O.T. i. § 57. Cp. Exodus 33:14-15; Jonah 1:3; Jonah 1:10; Isaiah 63:9-10; Wis 1:7 ff.

7–12. God is everywhere present: man cannot escape or hide himself.Verse 7. - Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? The transition is now made from God's omniscience to God's omnipresence, ver. 5 having paved the way for it. God's presence is not to be escaped; his spirit is everywhere. "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). When Jonah sought to flee from his presence, he only found himself brought more absolutely and more perceptibly into his presence (comp. Jeremiah 23:24). The Aramaic forms in this strophe are the ἅπαξ λεγομ רע (ground-form רעי) in Psalm 139:2 and Psalm 139:17, endeavour, desire, thinking, like רעוּת and רעיון in the post-exilic books, from רעה (רעא), cupere, cogitare; and the ἅπ. λεγ. רבע in Psalm 139:3, equivalent to רבץ, a lying down, if רבעי be not rather an infinitive like בּלעי in Job 7:19, since ארחי is undoubtedly not inflected from ארח, but, as being infinitive, like עברי in Deuteronomy 4:21, from ארח; and the verb ארח also, with the exception of this passage, only occurs in the speeches of Elihu (Job 34:8), which are almost more strongly Aramaizing than the Book of Job itself. Further, as an Aramaizing feature we have the objective relation marked by Lamed in the expression בּנתּה לרעי, Thou understandest my thinking, as in Psalm 116:16; Psalm 129:3; Psalm 135:11; Psalm 136:19. The monostichic opening is after the Davidic style, e.g., Psalm 23:1. Among the prophets, Isaiah in particular is fond of such thematic introductions as we have here in Psalm 139:1. On ותּדע instead of ותּדעני vid., on Psalm 107:20; the pronominal object stands once beside the first verb, or even beside the second (2 Kings 9:25), instead of twice (Hitzig). The "me" is then expanded: sitting down, rising up, walking and lying, are the sum of human conditions or states. רעי is the totality or sum of the life of the spirit and soul of man, and דּרכי the sum of human action. The divine knowledge, as ותּדע says, is the result of the scrutiny of man. The poet, however, in Psalm 139:2 and Psalm 139:3 uses the perfect throughout as a mood of that which is practically existing, because that scrutiny is a scrutiny that is never unexecuted, and the knowledge is consequently an ever-present knowledge. מרחוק is meant to say that He sees into not merely the thought that is fully fashioned and matured, but even that which is being evolved. זרית from זרה is combined by Luther (with Azulai and others) with זר, a wreath (from זרר, constringere, cingere), inasmuch as he renders: whether I walk or lie down, Thou art round about me (Ich gehe oder lige, so bistu umb mich). זרה ought to have the same meaning here, if with Wetzstein one were to compare the Arabic, and more particularly Beduin, drrâ, dherrâ, to protect; the notion of affording protection does not accord with this train of thought, which has reference to God's omniscience: what ought therefore to be meant is a hedging round which secures its object to the knowledge, or even a protecting that places it in security against any exchanging, which will not suffer the object to escape it.

(Note: This Verb. tert. Arab. w et y is old, and the derivative dherâ, protection, is an elegant word; with reference to another derivative, dherwe, a wall of rock protecting one from the winds, vid., Job, at Job 24:7, note. The II form (Piel) signifies to protect in the widest possible sense, e.g., (in Neshwn, ii. 343b), "[Arab.] drâ 'l-šâh, he protected the sheep (against being exchanged) by leaving a lock of wool upon their backs when they were shorn, by which they might be recognised among other sheep.")

The Arabic ḏrâ, to know, which is far removed in sound, is by no means to be compared; it is related to Arab. dr', to push, urge forward, and denotes knowledge that is gained by testing and experimenting. But we also have no need of that Arab. ḏrâ, to protect, since we can remain within the range of the guaranteed Hebrew usage, inasmuch as זרה, to winnow, i.e., to spread out that which has been threshed and expose it to the current of the wind, in Arabic likewise ḏrrâ, (whence מזרה, midhrâ, a winnowing-fork, like רחת, racht, a winnowing-shovel), gives an appropriate metaphor. Here it is equivalent to: to investigate and search out to the very bottom; lxx, Symmachus, and Theodotion, ἐξιξηνίασας, after which the Italic renders investigasti, and Jerome eventilasti. הסכּין with the accusative, as in Job 22:21 with עם: to enter into neighbourly, close, familiar relationship, or to stand in such relationship, with any one; cogn. שׁכן, Arab. skn. God is acquainted with all our ways not only superficially, but closely and thoroughly, as that to which He is accustomed.

In Psalm 139:4 this omniscience of God is illustratively corroborated with כּי; Psalm 139:4 has the value of a relative clause, which, however, takes the form of an independent clause. מלּה (pronounced by Jerome in his letter to Sunnia and Fretela, 82, MALA) is an Aramaic word that has been already incorporated in the poetry of the Davidico-Salomonic age. כלּהּ signifies both all of it and every one. In Psalm 139:5 Luther has been misled by the lxx and Vulgate, which take צוּר in the signification formare (whence צוּרה, forma); it signifies, as the definition "behind and before" shows, to surround, encompass. God is acquainted with man, for He holds him surrounded on all sides, and man can do nothing, if God, whose confining hand he has lying upon him (Job 9:23), does not allow him the requisite freedom of motion. Instead of דּעתּך (XX ἡ γνῶσίς σου) the poet purposely says in Psalm 139:6 merely דּעת: a knowledge, so all-penetrating, all-comprehensive as God's knowledge. The Ker reads פּליאה, but the Chethb פּלאיּה is supported by the Chethb פּלאי in Judges 13:18, the Ker of which there is not פּליא, but פּלי (the pausal form of an adjective פּלי, the feminine of which would be פּליּה). With ממּנּי the transcendence, with נשׂגּבה the unattainableness, and with להּ לא־אוּכל the incomprehensibleness of the fact of the omniscience of God is expressed, and with this, to the mind of the poet, coincides God's omnipresence; for true, not merely phenomenal, knowledge is not possible without the immanence of the knowing one in the thing known. God, however, is omnipresent, sustaining the life of all things by His Spirit, and revealing Himself either in love or in wrath - what the poet styles His countenance. To flee from this omnipresence (מן, away from), as the sinner and he who is conscious of his guilt would gladly do, is impossible. Concerning the first אנּה, which is here accented on the ultima, vid., on Psalm 116:4.

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