If I ascend up into heaven, you are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)If I make my bed in hell.—Literally, If I make Sheôl my bed. (For the thought see Amos 9:2, and comp. Proverbs 15:11; Job 26:6.)
This conviction that the underworld was not exempt from the vigilance and even from the visitation of Jehovah makes an advance in thought from Psalm 6:5 (where see Note), &c, where death is viewed as cutting off the Hebrew altogether from his relation to the Theocracy.
If I make my bed - Properly, "If I strew or spread my couch." If I should seek that as the place where to lie down.
In hell - Hebrew, "Sheol." See the notes at Isaiah 14:9, where the word is fully explained. The word here refers to the under-world - the abodes of the dead; and, in the apprehension of the psalmist, corresponds in depth with the word "heaven" in height. The two represent all worlds, above and below; and the idea is, that in neither direction, above or below, could he go where God would not be.
Thou art there - Or, more emphatically and impressively in the original, "Thou!" That is, the psalmist imagines himself in the highest heaven, or in the deepest abodes of the dead - and lo! God is there also! he has not gone from "him"! he is still in the presence of the same God!
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.If I make my bed in hell; if I should or could repose and hide myself in the grave, or in the lowest parts of the earth, which are at the farthest distance from heaven.
if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there; which, if understood of the place of the damned, is a place of torment, and a very unfit one to make a bed in, being a lake burning with fire and brimstone; and where the smoke of their torment ascends for ever, and they have no rest day nor night; their worm never dies, and their fire is not quenched; and even here God is: hell is not only naked before him, and all its inhabitants in his view; but he is here in his powerful presence, keeping the devils in chains of darkness; turning wicked men daily into it, pouring out his wrath upon them, placing and continuing an unpassable gulf between them and happy souls: though rather this is to be understood of the grave, in which sense the word is often used; and so Kimchi, Aben Ezra, and Arama, interpret it of the lowest parts of the earth, as opposed to heaven; the grave is a bed to the saints, where they lie down and rest, and sleep till the resurrection morn, Job 14:12; and here the Lord is watching over and keeping their dust, and will raise it up again at the last day. The Targum is,If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)8. Cp. Amos 9:2 ff.; Jeremiah 23:24.
If I should ascend up] Another Aramaic word.
if I make my bed in hell] Render, and if I should make Sheol my couch.Verse 8. - If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; i.e. "if I were to ascend up into heaven, if I could do so, thou wouldst still be there - I should not find myself where thou wert not; no, nor even if I went down to hell (Sheol), should I escape thee - thou wouldst be there also." If I make my bed in hell means, "if I go down and take my rest in hell" - the place of departed spirits. Behold, thou art there; literally, behold, thou! 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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