Psalm 139:11
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
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(11) If I say . . .—Rather,

I say only let darkness crush me,

And light become night around me.

Commentators have mostly been frightened by the metaphor in the first line, though it has been preserved both by the LXX. and Vulg., and can only be avoided either by forcing the meaning of the verb from what it bears in Genesis 3:15, Job 9:17, or altering the text. Yet the Latins could speak even in prose of a region “oppressed by darkness” (Sen. Ep. 82); and when night was used as figurative of death, nocte premi was a common poetical figure. Indeed, the word rendered darkness here is actually, in Psalm 88:6, used of death, and if we understood this figure here we might render the word trample, illustrating by Horace

“Jam te premet nox fabulæque Manes.”

Such a view would suit the thought to which the poet immediately passes—to God the darkness of death and the nothingness before birth are alike. On the other hand, as the main thought is that nowhere is there escape from God’s sight in height, or depth, or distance so to exhaust the possibilities we seem to need, darkness.

The second clause does not begin the apodosis: it is in synthetic parallelism with the first.

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.If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me - If I seek to find refuge in the darkness of the night so that God would not see me. The word rendered "cover" - שׁוף shûph - means properly to snap, to gape after; then, to lie in wait for; and then, to attack, or fall upon anyone, unexpectedly. It is rendered "bruise" (twice) in Genesis 3:15, "He shall "bruise" thy head, and thou shalt "bruise" his heel;" "breaketh" in Job 9:17, "He "breaketh" me with a tempest;" and in this place "cover." It does not occur elsewhere. Here it means to fall upon; to overpower; to cover. The idea is, If it should come suddenly upon me; if I should be involved in sudden darkness - "as if" the darkness should come and attempt to "snatch" me away from God. All this would be in vain, for it would be, so far as God is concerned, bright day around me.

Even the night shall be light about me - In respect to me. It shall be as if I stood in the full blaze of light. God can see me still; he can mark my goings; he can perceive all that I do as plainly then as at mid-day. This "is" so: and what a thought this is for a wicked man who seeks to escape detection in his crimes by perpetrating them in the night! What a thought for a good man, that in the darkest night of sorrow, when there seems to be nothing but deep midnight, when there appears to be not a ray of light in his dwelling, or on his path that all to the eye of God is as clear as noon-day! For in that night of sorrow God sees him as plainly as in the brightest days of prosperity and joy.


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.

Shall be as clear and manifest to God as the light itself.

If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me,.... The darkness of a cloud or of the night, so that my actions shall not be seen; that is, if I entertain such a thought in my mind, that what I do in the dark will escape the sight and knowledge of God, and so be emboldened to commit it;

even the night shall be light about me; and make all my works manifest, as light does.

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

(g) Though darkness is a hinderance to man's sight, yet is serves your eyes as well as the light.

11, 12. And if I say, Nay, but darkness might shroud me,

And the light about me become night;

Even darkness hideth not from thee, &c.

It is as impossible to hide from God under cover of darkness as it is to escape from Him by change of place (Psalm 139:8-9). The A.V. even the night shall be light about me seems to mean that the light of God’s presence will banish the terrors of darkness; but this sense does not fit the context. The Psalmist is not expressing his confidence in God’s protection, but his conviction of His omniscience. Those who think to escape God’s notice in the night as they avoid the eye of men (Job 24:13-17) do but delude themselves. The word rendered cover or shroud is a rare one, and is elsewhere taken to mean overwhelm (R.V.) but this sense does not suit the context and we must either assume that it has an unusual meaning, or emend the text. Symm. and Jer. render cover.

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. Psalm 139:11The future form אסּק, customary in the Aramaic, may be derived just as well from סלק (סלק), by means of the same mode of assimilation as in יסּב equals יסבּב, as from נסק (נסק), which latter is certainly only insecurely established by Daniel 6:24, להנסקה (cf. להנזקת, Ezra 4:22; הנפּק, Daniel 5:2), since the Nun, as in להנעלה, Daniel 4:3, can also be a compensation for the resolved doubling (vid., Bernstein in the Lexicon Chrestom. Kirschianae, and Levy s.v. נסק). אם with the simple future is followed by cohortatives (vid., on Psalm 73:16) with the equivalent אשּׂא among them: et si stratum facerem (mihi) infernum (accusative of the object as in Isaiah 58:5), etc. In other passages the wings of the sun (Malachi 4:2) and of the wind (Psalm 18:11) are mentioned, here we have the wings of the morning's dawn. Pennae aurorae, Eugubinus observes (1548), est velocissimus aurorae per omnem mundum decursus. It is therefore to be rendered: If I should lift wings (נשׂא כנפים as in Ezekiel 10:16, and frequently) such as the dawn of the morning has, i.e., could I fly with the swiftness with which the dawn of the morning spreads itself over the eastern sky, towards the extreme west and alight there. Heaven and Hades, as being that which is superterrestrial and subterrestrial, and the east and west are set over against one another. אחרית ים is the extreme end of the sea (of the Mediterranean with the "isles of the Gentiles"). In Psalm 139:10 follows the apodosis: nowhere is the hand of God, which governs everything, to be escaped, for dextera Dei ubique est. ואמר (not ואמר, Ezekiel 13:15), "therefore I spake," also has the value of a hypothetical protasis: quodsi dixerim. אך and חשׁך belongs together: merae tenebrae (vid: Psalm 39:6.); but ישׁוּפני is obscure. The signification secured to it of conterere, contundere, in Genesis 3:15; Job 9:17, which is followed by the lxx (Vulgate) καταπατήσει, is inappropriate to darkness. The signification inhiare, which may be deduced as possible from שׁאף, suits relatively better, yet not thoroughly well (why should it not have been יבלעני?). The signification obvelare, however, which one expects to find, and after which the Targum, Symmachus, Jerome, Saadia, and others render it, seems only to be guessed at from the connection, since שׁוּף has not this signification in any other instance, and in favour of it we cannot appeal either to נשׁף - whence נשׁף, which belongs together with נשׁב, נשׁם, and נפשׁ - or to עטף, the root of which is עת (עתה), or to צעף, whence צעיף, which does not signify to cover, veil, but according to Arab. ḍ‛f, to fold, fold together, to double. We must therefore either assign to ישׁוּפני the signification operiat me without being able to prove it, or we must put a verb of this signification in its place, viz., ישׂוּכני (Ewald) or יעוּפני (Bttcher), which latter is the more commendable here, where darkness (חשׁך, synon. עיפה, מעוּף) is the subject: and if I should say, let nothing but darkness cover me, and as night (the predicate placed first, as in Amos 4:13) let the light become about me, i.e., let the light become night that shall surround and cover me (בּעדני, poetic for בּעדי, like תּחתּני in 2 Samuel 22) - the darkness would spread abroad no obscurity (Psalm 105:28) that should extend beyond (מן) Thy piercing eye and remove me from Thee. In the word יאיר, too, the Hiphil signification is not lost: the night would give out light from itself, as if it were the day; for the distinction of day and night has no conditioning influence upon God, who is above and superior to all created things (der Uebercreatrliche), who is light in Himself. The two כ are correlative, as e.g., in 1 Kings 22:4. חשׁיכה (with a superfluous Jod) is an old word, but אורה (cf. Aramaic אורתּא) is a later one.
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