Psalm 139:5
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) Beset—as a beleagured city from which there is no escape.

139:1-6 God has perfect knowledge of us, and all our thoughts and actions are open before him. It is more profitable to meditate on Divine truths, applying them to our own cases, and with hearts lifted to God in prayer, than with a curious or disputing frame of mind. That God knows all things, is omniscient; that he is every where, is omnipresent; are truths acknowledged by all, yet they are seldom rightly believed in by mankind. God takes strict notice of every step we take, every right step and every by step. He knows what rule we walk by, what end we walk toward, what company we walk with. When I am withdrawn from all company, thou knowest what I have in my heart. There is not a vain word, not a good word, but thou knowest from what thought it came, and with what design it was uttered. Wherever we are, we are under the eye and hand of God. We cannot by searching find how God searches us out; nor do we know how we are known. Such thoughts should restrain us from sin.Thou hast beset me behind and before - The word rendered "beset" - צור tsûr - means properly to press; to press upon; to compress. It has reference commonly to the siege of a city, or to the pressing on of troops in war; and then it comes to mean to besiege, hem in, closely surround, so that there is no way of escape. This is the idea here - that God was on every side of him; that he could not escape in any direction. He was like a garrison besieged in a city so that there was no means of escape. There is a transition here (not an unnatural one), from the idea of the Omniscience of God to that of His Omnipresence, and the remarks which follow have a main reference to the latter.

And laid thine hand upon me - That is, If I try to escape in any direction I find thine band laid upon me there. Escape is impossible.

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.

Thou hast beset me behind and before, with thine all-seeing and all-disposing providence.

And laid thine hand upon me; thou keepest me, as it were, with a strong hand, in thy sight and under thy power.

Thou hast beset me behind and before,.... Art on every side of me, all around me, like one besieged in a strait place; so that there is nothing I can think, say, or do, but what is known unto thee. The two Kimchis, father and son, render the word, "thou hast formed me": and interpret it of the formation of his body, of which, in Psalm 139:14; see Job 10:8 but it denotes how God compasses men with his presence and providence, so that nothing escapes his knowledge;

and laid thine hand upon me; not his afflicting hand, which sometimes presses hard; though the Targum thus paraphrases it,

"and stirred against me the stroke of thine hand:''

but rather his hand of power and providence, to preserve, protect, and defend him. Or it signifies that he was so near to him that his hand was upon him, and he was perfectly known; as anything is that is before a man, and he has his hand upon.

Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine {d} hand upon me.

(d) You so guide me with your hand, that I can turn no way, but where you appoint me.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. beset me] The word is used of besieging a town. God hems him in on all sides so that he cannot escape. The P.B.V. thou hast fashioned me follows the LXX and other Ancient Versions in a less probable rendering.

laid thine hand upon me] God holds him fast in His grasp, exercises His authority over him. Cp. Job 9:33.

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). Psalm 139:5The 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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