Verse 1. - O Lord, thou hast searched me; rather, hast searched me out; i.e. examined into all my thoughts and feelings (comp. Psalm 17:3). And known me; i.e. arrived at a full knowledge of my spiritual condition.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Verse 2. - Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising. All that I do from one end of the day to the other. Thou understandest my thought afar off; i.e. while it is just forming - long before it is a fully developed thought.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
Verse 3. - Thou compassest (rather, siftest) my path and my lying down; literally, my path and my couch - the time of my activity and the time of my rest. And art acquainted with all my ways (comp. Psalm 119:168, "All my ways are before thee").
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Verse 4. - For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. What has been already said of deeds and thoughts is now extended to "words." God hears every word we speak.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Verse 5. - Thou hast beset me behind and before; i.e. "thou art ever close to me, and therefore hast complete knowledge of me. Thine omniscience arises out of thy omnipresence." And laid thine hand upon me. To uphold me, and at the same time to restrain me (comp. ver. 10).
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Verse 6. - Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. The psalmist does not say, "such knowledge," but simply "knowledge," i.e. real true knowledge, such as deserves the name. "The thought of God's omniscience makes him feel as if real knowledge were beyond his reach" (Kay).
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
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).
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
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!
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Verses 9, 10. - If I take the wings of the morning. If I were to speed across the earth on the wings of the dawn, and, having done so, were then to dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea - the extreme west, where the sun sets - even there shall thy hand lead me. In that distant region I should still find thy guiding hand. And thy right hand shall hold me. Thy strong right hand would uphold me.
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Verses 11, 12. - If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. If I think to escape thee by plunging into darkness, and say to myself, "Surely the darkness shall screen me, and night take the place of light about me," so that I cannot be seen, even then my object is not accomplished; even the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day. Thy essential light penetrates every dark place, and makes the deepest gloom as radiant as the brightest sunshine. The darkness and the light are both alike to thee; literally, as the darkness, so the light; but the paraphrase of the Authorized Version gives the true sense.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
Verse 13. - For thou hast possessed my reins. Thou knowest me and seest me always, because thou madest me. Thy omniscience and thy omnipresence both rest upon thine omnipotence. Thou hast covered me (rather, woven me) in my mother's womb (comp. Job 10:11).
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
Verse 14. - I will praise thee. The note of praise, which has rung through the whole poem in an undertone, is here openly struck. Reflections upon God's wonderful works must overflow into praise; and the phenomena of man's creation and birth are, at least, as calculated to call forth praise and adoration as any other. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The wonderfulness of the human mechanism is so great that, if realized, it produces a sensation of fear. It has been said that, if we could see one-half of what is going on within us, we should not dare to move. Marvelous are thy works; i.e. thy doings generally. And that my soul knoweth right well. The extent of the marvelousness I may not be able to comprehend; but at least I know the fact that they are marvelous, That fact I know "right well."
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Verse 15. - My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret. The formation of the embryo in the womb seems to be intended. This remains as much a mystery as ever, notwithstanding all the pryings of modern science. And curiously wrought; literally, and embroidered, or woven with threads of divers colors (comp. ver. 13b; and note that modern science speaks of the various "tissues" of the human frame, and calls a portion of medical knowledge "histology"). In the lowest parts of the earth. This is scarcely to be taken literally. It is perhaps only a variant for the "secretly" of the preceding clause.
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.
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."
How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
Verse 17. - How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! If God's works are admirable, and, therefore, precious, so still more are his thoughts - those deep counsels of his, which must have preceded all manifestation of himself in act or work. How great is the sum of them! Were they all added together, how immeasurable would be the amount! What a treasure of wisdom and knowledge;
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
Verse 18. - If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand (comp. Psalm 40:5, "Thy thoughts which are to usward cannot be reckoned up"). When I awake, I am still with thee. I meditate on thee, both sleeping and waking, nor ever find the subject of my thought exhausted.
Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
Verse 19. - Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God; or, "Oh that thou wouldst slay the wicked!" (comp. Psalm 5:6, 10; Psalm 7:9-13; Psalm 9:19; Psalm 10:15; Psalm 21:8-12, etc.). Depart from me therefore, ye bloody men (comp. Psalm 119:115). There is no fellowship between light and darkness, between the wicked and the God-fearing.
For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
Verse 20. - For they speak against thee wickedly; literally, who speak of thee for wickedness; i.e. use thy Name for the accomplishment of wicked ends. And thine enemies take thy Name in vain. The text must be altered to produce this meaning. As it stands, it can only be rendered, "Thine enemies lift up [their scull to vanity" (comp. Psalm 24:4).
Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
Verse 21. - Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? Those who love God must hate God's enemies. The psalmist claims to be of this number.
I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
Verse 22. - I hate them with perfect hatred; i.e. with pure, absolute, intense hatred - a hatred commensurate with the love that he felt towards all God's saints. I count them mine enemies; i.e. I regard them as my private foes. I have the same feeling towards them as I have towards those who are at open enmity with me, and seek my destruction. The command had not yet been given, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44).
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
Verse 23. - Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts. Examine me, and see if I have not represented my feelings as they really are. Keep on always searching me out (comp. ver. 1), and "trying my reins and my heart" (Psalm 26:2). My desire is to be proved and tested.
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Verse 24. - And see if there be any wicked way in me; literally, any way of grief. "Ways of grief" are ways which lead to grief, which involve either bitter repentance or severe chastisement. And lead me in the way everlasting; i.e. either "the way that leadeth to everlasting life," or "the good old way, the way that endures - the way of righteousness." David, with all his faults, is one of those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matthew 5:6).