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Thursday, March 3, 2022

Class Assignment: Theologizing: Psalm 139










Theologizing: Psalm 139






The King’s University, Southlake, Texas

Biblical Background and Interpretation (2021FA-BIBL-2301-ONL)

Professor: Dr. J. Wallace



By Darrell Wolfe


Psalm 139 LEB


139 For the music director. Of David. A psalm. 1 O Yahweh, you have searched me, and you know me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up. You understand my thought from afar. 3 You search out my wandering and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word yet on my tongue, but behold, O Yahweh, you know it completely. 5 You barricade me behind and in front, and set your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is set high; I cannot prevail against it. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit, or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, there you are, and if I make my bed in Sheol, look! There you are. 9 If I lift up the wings of the dawn, and I alight on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand would lead me, and your right hand would hold me fast. 11 And if I should say, “Surely darkness will cover me, and the light around me will be as night,” 12 even the darkness is not too dark for you, and the night shines as the day— the darkness and the light are alike for you. 13 Indeed you created my inward parts;d you wove me in my mothers womb. 14 I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was created secretly, and intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my embryo, and in your book they all were written— days fashioned for me when there was not one of them. 17 And to me, how precious are your thoughts, O God; how vast is their sum. 18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. I awaken, and I am still with you.

19 If only you would kill the wicked, O God— so get away from me, you bloodthirsty menj 20 who speak against you deceitfully. Your enemies take your name in vain. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Yahweh? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with a complete hatred; they have become my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 And see if there is in me the worship of false gods, and lead me in the way everlasting.[1]


In Psalm 139, the author begins by exposing all the ways in which YHWH is greater, bigger, and more powerful than him (or her) and by extension human beings as a whole. However, in verse 19, the author pivots to a question that is in his heart along with a plea to see the whole picture. Paraphrasing the question and final response: “Why don’t you kill the wicked? You hate them, I hate them too. Search my heart and see that I hate what you hate. Help me see the way you do things in the perspective of eternity.” The author explores the following themes:

What does the passage teach us about God?

The overwhelming presence of God is everywhere. His attention is on humanity constantly. He sees all. He knows everything. No matter how far a human tries to run (up to the skies, down to Sheol, or as far across the earth as one can manage), YHWH is right there. He knows, sees all, and he is everywhere. There is just this one thing that is bothering the author of Psalm 139. He doesn’t understand why YHWH does not kill the wicked. Put in modern terms, “Why is evil allowed to persist? Why does God allow evil?”.

What does the passage teach us about humankind?

Standing before YHWH, human beings are completely naked (physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially, relationally, and in any other way that matters). For YHWH sees everything there is to see. While he is big enough to command star-systems, he still pays attention to his human beings. He sees simple things, such as rising and sitting. He knows every word that his humans have spoken and will speak. He is powerful enough to block any move they make if he so desires. The author says that YHWH created humanity in the womb, and he knows even our bones and inner parts. Even before a human being takes form, YWHW knows that person’s make-up and has a plan ready for their entire lifetime.

It is also noteworthy that a Hebraism in the text does not come through in English translation well. In Psalm 139:13, the word (כִּלְיָה) kilyâ translated “inward parts” is literally “my kidneys”, which were thought to be the seat of the emotions. The inference is that God knows our bodies, our thoughts, and our emotional state as well.[2] In verse 17, the author goes on to express how he has an emotional attachment to YHWH’s thoughts and holds them precious.

What does the passage teach us about the relationship between God and humankind?

Given all of that power, why is evil allowed to persist? Even knowing all of this, human beings can be confused about the ways God chooses to wield his authority.

·         Why, when he wields all of this ability and power, does he allow wickedness to occur?

·         What relationship should we have with our enemies?

·         If God hates injustice, we should hate those who hate God, right? Should this give us some kind of piety reward?

The author then submits to God’s searching his own heart so that he might learn God’s ways better.

What does the passage teach us about the responsibilities God gives to humankind?

The author invites the reader to examine all the ways YHWH is bigger and greater than human beings. It is not our job to understand all of God’s ways, it is our job to submit to God’s judgment even in our doubts and fears and questions.

What does the passage teach us about how people should treat each other, particularly in light of our relationship with God?

Herein lies an interpretive problem with this passage. The author would seem to be under the impression that hating the enemies of YHWH is the right attitude to hold. The author invites YHWH to examine his heart and see that it is true. A face-value reading might lead one to assume the passage indicates that we should hate our enemies. Mounce comments:

The OT often pairs the verb śānēʾ with its antithesis, love. (a) It can characterize one’s emotions toward various objects. For example, “the LORD loves righteousness and hates wickedness” (Ps 45:7). The psalmist says, “I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law” (119:163). There is “a time to love and a time to hate” (Eccl 3:8).[3]

The theme of loving those in covenant and hating those who come against YHWH is common in the Hebrew Tanakh. So how does one reconcile this with the words of Jesus to “love your enemies”.[4]

Jesus is remembered as calling for more even than “love of neighbor” as the acme of Torah obedience. It is not that love of neighbor can be complemented with hatred of enemy, as Qumran taught (1QS I, 10–11), without the love being compromised.[5]

Warstler notes that imprecatory Psalms call curses on behalf of covenant. Rather than a “petty” personal agenda, these are covenant curses in line with covenant mindsets common to the Ancient Near East.[6] A broader reading of the larger structure of the Psalms as interconnected units may paint a more telling picture, and a broader reading of scripture may show us that this Psalm is not teaching us to hate our enemies. However, the more immediate message driven from the text is that sometimes we will come to God with questions we do not have the answers for. And we can submit our admiration of Him, and our questions about the way he chooses to run the universe, equally to him. As we submit ourselves for examination, we hope to see his ways more clearly in that state of submission to covenant (חֶסֶד) Hesed.




Christian Standard Bible® (CSB). Nashville, Tennessee.: Holman Bible Pub, 2017.


Mounce, William D., ed. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006.


Perrin, Nicholas, Jeannine K. Brown, and Joel B. Green. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (DJG). IVP Bible Dictionary Series. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2013.


The Lexham English Bible (LEB), Fourth Edition. Logo Bible Software. Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010.


The NET Bible First Edition Notes. Biblical Studies Press, 2006.


[1] The Lexham English Bible (LEB), Fourth Edition, Logo Bible Software, Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.) (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2010), Psalm 139,

[2] The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Psalms > Notes for 139:13.

[3] William D. Mounce, ed., Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006), 321.

[4] LEB, Mat 5:43-48; Luk 6:27-36.

[5] Nicholas Perrin, Jeannine K. Brown, and Joel B. Green, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (DJG), IVP Bible Dictionary Series (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2013), 511,

[6] Christian Standard Bible® (CSB) (Nashville, Tennessee.: Holman Bible Pub, 2017), Notes, Pg 916.


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