Fairview Baptist Church
2040 Main Street WW - Ashland, Kentucky 41102
"Where Everybody Is Somebody and Jesus is Lord"


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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Made For Something More

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:



In the next six sessions we will identify six descriptions of a person who is abiding in Christ day by day.


Jan. 21

I Am Wonderfully Made


Jan. 28

I Am a Child of the King


Feb. 04

I Am a Minister


Feb. 11

I Am a Priest


Feb. 18

I Am Just Passing Through


Feb. 25

I Am a Light






Every life counts—including mine.


Psalm 139:1-6,13-18





God Knows Us Intimately & Values Us (Ps. 139:1-6)

God Created Us & Has a Plan For Each of Us (Ps. 139:13-16)

God Is With Us (Ps. 139:17-18)


The name psalms comes from the Greek word psalmoi, which means songs. The implication is that this book served as the worship songbook for ancient Israel. In some ways, the Book of Psalms provide a powerful look at the lives of God’s people. With multiple authors writing across a thousand years, readers get the chance to see God at work among His followers over time.

While the historical setting of the psalms spanned from the time of Moses to the period after the Babylonian exile, the majority were written during the reigns of David and Solomon. David is credited with approximately half of the psalms, including Psalm 139. The canonical collection is divided into five “books” of roughly 30-40 psalms each. Many scholars believe the books were somehow connected to the Five Books of Moses and could have stood as individual units at some point. They also may have been grouped together for particular purposes related to leading worship.

Psalm 139 specifically focuses on the character of God, especially as it relates to His interaction with humanity. The psalm highlights two primary aspects of God’s nature: His omniscience and His omnipresence. The first reminds readers that God is all-knowing. Nothing escapes His attention and nothing catches Him by surprise. The second reflects God’s abiding presence with His people. Regardless of the situation, He stands ready to protect and support those who claim Him as Savior.

When taken together, God’s omniscience and omnipresence emphasize a third characteristic: His omnipotence. Because He knows us intimately and loves us immensely, He will act in power on our behalf because nothing can stand in His way.

Contemporary readers have seen Psalm 139 as an affirmation of human value. Because God created us, knows us, and loves us, we are valuable in His sight. And because we are valuable to Him, we should be valuable in our own eyes and in the eyes of one another.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Your alarm goes off in the morning, and you instinctively reach for your phone. But as you flip through all your social media options, a sinking feeling starts to gnaw at the pit of your stomach. All your “friends”—both the ones you actually know and the ones who are only digital acquaintances—have posted great pictures about fun experiences. Their kids are always perfectly groomed, and their vacations are the coolest ever.

Then you think about your own life. What have you done lately? Have you done anything noteworthy, anything special? Does anything you do really matter?

From God’s perspective, the answer is a resounding Yes! He made you from scratch and knows you better than anyone else ever could. Even better, He also loves you deeply—warts and all. Regardless of what you see on social media, the Creator of the universe knows you by name and considers you more valuable than you could ever imagine!

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


God Knows Us Intimately & Values Us (Ps. 139:1-6)

1  Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2  You know when I sit down and when I stand up; you understand my thoughts from far away. 3  You observe my travels and my rest; you are aware of all my ways. 4  Before a word is on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. 5  You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me. 6  This wondrous knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.








  1.   What is the setting for this week’s study? (see “The Setting,” pg. 1.)

  2.   What information does the “Introduction” provide regarding the value God puts on every human life? (see “Introduction,” pg. 1, “Then you think about  .  .  .  and “From God’s perspective  .  .  .  )

  3.   What does the paragraph in “The Setting” tell us about the focal psalm 139? (see “The Setting,” pg. 1, “Psalm 139 specifically focuses  .  .  .  )  

  4.   What is significant about the title “Lord” that David used to address God (v. 1)? (see Adv. comm., pg. 3, “David opened this magnificent psalm  .  .  .  and “The name is significant because  .  .  .  )

  5.   What do you think it means to be “searched”  by God? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4. “He said of God  .  .  .  and “This is not the .  .  .  )

  6.   How would you discuss the meaning of David’s use of the word “searched” in verse 1?  (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “David used active verbs  .  .  .  ,“ “This is not the surface-level  .  .  .  ,“  “In one respect  .  .  .   and “Because He has searched  .  .  .  )

  7.   What do you think it means that God “observe[s]” His people (v. 3)? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “Verses 3-4 continue the theme . . .  )

  8.   Do you think that knowing God is searching you and has complete knowledge of you brings you comfort?  Why, or why not?

  9.   What are the highlights of David’s understanding of God’s omnipotence? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “In verse 5, David  .  .  .  ,” )

10.   So, how does David’s description of God and His love for you make you feel? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “So, how does David’s  .  .  .  )

11.   Why do you think we have such a difficult time with our knowledge of God?

12.   What was David’s reason for saying his understanding of God was beyond him? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “He wrote that his . . . “ )

13.   How would you explain the meaning of the word “deism”? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4, “Deism is the belief that  .  .  .  and “While Deism has regained  .  .  .  )

14.   How has David’s writing has refuted deism? (see Adv. comm., pg. 4. ”While deism has regained  .  .  .  )

15.   How do you think God’s divine qualities provide us with a sense of value, security, and accountability?

16.   What does Heb. 4:13 add to the discussion?


Lasting Lessons in Ps. 139:1-6:

1. God knows and understands every detail of our lives.

2. We can be assured of God’s presence in every situation—whether good or bad.

3. God encircles our lives, providing both security and a sense of accountability.



God Created Us & Has a Plan For Each of Us (Ps. 139:13-16)

13 For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well. 15 My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.

  1.   What do you think David meant by using “inward parts” in verse 13? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, “David noted that God  .  .  .  )

  2.   What picture does David’s use of “knit me together” paint for you? (see Digging Deeper.)

  3.   How would you compare a woman’s womb of today with a woman’s womb during David’s time? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, “In addition, God  .  .  .  and “But David lived  .  .  .  )

  4.   Based on verse 14, for what did David declare that God was praiseworthy?

  5.   How did David come to know this (vv. 14-16)?

  6.   What do you think makes humanity God’s greatest creative masterpiece and so valuable? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, “This assessment of .  .  .  ,“  “God also said that we  .  .  .  ,“ and “Since we are remarkable  .  .  .  )

  7.   Based on what you have witnessed during your lifetime how would you assess the value of all humankind?

  8.   How would you contrast how we see humankind and how God see them?

  9.   How does David’s image of our creation in the “depths of the earth” reveal God’s omniscience and omnipresence? (see Adv. comm., pg. 5, “In reflecting on God’s amazing .  .  .  )

10.   Do you know that God has a plan for you and if He has a plan for you do you know what it is? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “What’s more, God doesn’t just know  .  .  .  )

11.   What does it mean to you that your days are planned by God before a single one of them began?

12.   What does it mean to you that you are made in the image of God?

13.   What does Romans 5:8 tell us about God’s love for us?

14.   What do you think is implied by this great love of God?

15.   What do you think God’s plan is for you?


Lasting Lessons in Ps. 139:13-16:

1. We are fearfully and wondrously made in the image of God.

2. God has a plan and purpose for our lives that existed before we were born.

3. Since we are God’s creation and live with God’s purpose on our lives, we each have genuine value in Him.



God Is With Us (Ps. 139:17-18)

17 God, how precious your thoughts are to me; how vast their sum is! 18 If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand; when I wake up, I am still with you.

  1.   How does knowing we are remarkably and wondrously made impact the way you see yourself and others?

  2.   What does it mean to you when you made something with your own hands and skill? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “If you’ve ever made  .  .  .  )

  3.   What does it mean to you that God’s thoughts of you are precious? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “But these “precious”  .  .  .  )

  4.   What difference do you think it would make if believers let sink in that God’s thoughts on our behalf amount to a “vast sum”? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, In addition, the affection  .  .  .  )

  5.   Looking at the question above, what picture did David paint to help us to understand the point of “a vast sum” ? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “To drive the point home,  .  .  .   )

  6.   How do you think God demonstrates His passion for us? (see Adv. comm., pg. 6, “God reveals His matchless  .  .  .  )

  7.   What do you think is implied by the truth that every life counts?

  8.   What does it mean to you that you are divinely loved and have a divine purpose?

  9.   What’s your reaction to God’s awareness of every aspect of your life?

10.   Since God knows everything, why do people try to hide things from Him?

11.   Where in our culture do we see life being devalued or disrespected?

12.   What actions can we take that reflect our belief in the value of all human life?


Lasting Lessons in Ps. 139:17-18:

1. God’s thoughts toward you are both precious and innumerable.

2. God’s presence remains with you in all of life—but will be most fully realized after death.

3. Since God knows us so well, we should strive to know Him as intimately as possible.



  Consider what makes an item valuable.  Some things may be valuable only because a society has deemed them so.  Other things take on value because they are rare commodities.  Even a common item may be deemed valuable because of who owns or owned it.  Something may be valued highly because of its usefulness.

What makes a person valuable?  Our culture may apply some of the same criteria.  Sadly, that opens the door to deciding that some people are not valuable.  They are common, have no fame, and therefore, they have nothing deemed unusual or worthy to offer.

In this study, we have seen why the Lord looks at all people as valuable, as persons of worth.  Every person is His creation, made for His purpose.  Therefore, we are to value them as well, even those we may think have nothing to offer us.

Here is some food for thought:

(1.) What are the people groups in your community that may be considered as unimportant, of little value, and therefore, neglected or ignored?  

(2.) What is needed to call attention to these people and to help restore them to being valued in your community, perhaps even in your church? 

(3.) Make it personal: What can you do that communicates to some specific individual “You are a person of worth in God’s sight but also to me?

How would you rate yourself on each of the three questions?  On a scale of 1 (being very little I can do) to 10 (there is a lot I WILL DO) how have I rated myself on each one?  Do I need to improve my rating by becoming active with each the people identified in each question?  Will I become involved? Why or why not? 

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

Psalm 139:1-6 (KJV)

1 O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. 5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

Psalm 139:13-18 (KJV)

13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 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. 17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! 18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.


New King James Version:  Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

Psalm 139:1-6 (NKJV)

1 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. 5 You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:13-18 (NKJV)

13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. 17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! 18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.


New International Version:  Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

Psalm 139:1-6 (NIV)

1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Psalm 139:13-18 (NIV)

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.


(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” The Pulpit Commentary,” “The Believer’s Commentary," and “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)


Lesson Outline — I Am Wonderfully Made” — Psalm 139:1-6,13-18




God Knows Us Intimately & Values Us (Ps. 139:1-6)

God Created Us & Has a Plan For Each of Us (Ps. 139:13-16)

God Is With Us (Ps. 139:17-18)


Advanced Bible Study Commentary:   Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

I.  God Knows Us Intimately and Values Us  (Ps. 139:1-6):  David opened this magnificent psalm by using a term we might tend to overlook: Lord. The small caps used by biblical translators remind us that this was not just an honorable, respectful way to address God. It was a use of His covenant name, the name God shared with Moses when He commissioned him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

The name is significant because it reveals a specific level of intimacy. God shared this name with His chosen people, and it represented the unique nature of their relationship with Him. While it certainly underscores God’s authority, it also highlights a special bond between the God who chooses and the people who were chosen.

After establishing the nature of God’s relationship with His people—and in reality all of His creation—David used active verbs to both describe God and to emphasize the value He places on each person. He said of God, you have searched me and known me. The Hebrew word for “search” is related to a deep, thorough exploration, like a spy discovering the secrets of a foreign land. Likewise, the word David used for “known” entails a deeply personal, intimate knowledge.

This is not the surface-level, social media knowledge that passes for relationship so often in our culture. David knew that God had dug down into the depths of his very being. Nothing was hidden. Nothing ever could be.

In one respect, nothing would seem more intimidating or terrifying than being searched by God and having every aspect of our lives known by Him. But David indicated that God’s thorough knowledge should provide comfort, not fear. Nothing is hidden from Him, so nothing surprises Him. And nothing that we face is outside His control.

Because He has searched us and known us (and because He created us), God understands us completely. The twin ideas of when I sit down and when I stand up encompass the totality of David’s day—rest and work. Again, God is well-acquainted with it all.

Theologians talk about the way God is both immanent and transcendent—which means He is both near us and far beyond our reach. That’s the image David presented in verse 2. God stands outside our human comprehension. In a sense, He is outside our grasp. But, while He stretches past our ability to understand Him, He understands us perfectly. He knows our very thoughts, along with the emotions that accompany those thoughts.

Verses 3-4 continue the theme of God’s omniscience and omnipresence—the aspects of His nature that allow Him to know everything and be everywhere. The term rendered observe in the CSB has been variously translated “discern” (NIV), “search out” (ESV), and “scrutinize” (NASB). But the idea is clear: God has sifted through David’s life like a farmer going through wheat—with an eye toward removing what is useless or harmful.1 David said that wherever we go (“my travels”) and whatever we do (“my ways”), God is keenly aware of our situations. He can even predict the very words that will come out of our mouths.

For some, these attributes of God could have been the matter of theological conversations or debates—things relegated to logic and the brain. For David, though, they were much more personal. They affected his life every day—as they did the life of everyone who claimed to follow God.

Contemporary believers should model David’s attitude. As important as proper theology is to our walk as believers, it can never usurp the relationship we have with God. We need to know more than the fact that He is omniscient and omnipresent—or even omnipotent. We also must understand that He uses these attributes for our good and His glory. In that personal light, we get a much clearer picture of who God is—and who we are in Him.

In verse 5, David switched gears ever so slightly to focus on God’s omnipotence—His all-encompassing power over everything and everyone. Because of deep affection for us, God protects us. You have encircled me; you have placed your hand

on me described God’s inescapable nearness. In other psalms, David referred to Him as a strong tower and refuge. Here, the imagery is different, but the idea is the same. Nothing can get to us without going through Him. Jesus made the same point when

teaching His disciples about God’s great care for His people.

But security is not the sole implication of God’s all-encompassing presence and power. This image also reinforces the fact that nothing we do or say is hidden from God. So, how does David’s description of God and His love for us make you feel? Awestruck? Overwhelmed? Grateful beyond words? Well, then you know exactly how David felt as he reflected on the value God places on each of us.

He wrote that this understanding of God was beyond me. To use a contemporary phrase, it blew his mind! There was no way he could properly process everything that God revealed to him. One might compare it to other instances when God revealed Himself to humans in the Scriptures, such as Isaiah in the temple vision or John in Revelation. The truth of who God is and how much He cares about us boggles the mind!

Deism is the belief that God essentially created the world, gave it a spin, and took His hands off. Since then, He’s been a passive—if not disinterested—observer. In this worldview, He is similar to a clockmaker who builds a machine and sets the gears in motion before hanging it on the wall. If God does step into our world, He does it to fix our problems or to make us happy.

While deism has regained momentum in some circles in the past two decades, it is refuted by David’s powerful confession of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Rather than backing away, God has been intimately involved in the affairs  f His creation. The only thing holding Him back is our own stubborn insistence on doing things our own way. But we never stray far from His hand. His intimate knowledge and passionate love prove that we hold intrinsic value—in His eyes and, ideally, in the eyes of one another.

II.  God Created Us and Has a Plan for Each of Us (Ps. 139:13-16):  When David wanted to describe God’s work in creating human life, he relied on the image of a seamstress weaving together an intricate design. One wrong stitch might go unnoticed at first, but it could create huge headaches later on. Fortunately, God never has such problems when He is the One creating the masterpiece.

David noted that God created his inward parts. The Hebrew term could also be translated “kidneys” and referred to a person’s vital organs. But Jewish thought also associated it with the emotions, attaching God’s work to every part of a person’s life.

The intricacy of the human body’s various systems is staggering. For example, the respiratory system and the circulatory system operate independently of each other in their different functions, yet they must work together to sustain life. The complexity only grows when we add the nervous system, the digestive system, and the many other networks that keep our bodies functioning.

And despite centuries of research and the benefits of medical advances, physicians will admit they have only scratched the surface. Only God knows the details of every aspect of our physical being. He created it all, and He sustains it all.

In addition, God doesn’t need to wait until we are born to understand who we are and what we are like. He does His work in the womb. In today’s world, the womb is not quite as mysterious as it would have been in David’s day. Through ultrasound, we can see a baby, identify his or her gender, and see potential problems early in the pregnancy.

But David lived in a different time. Little, if anything, was truly known about the inner workings of a woman’s womb. To the ancient Israelites, the conception and birth of child was powerfully connected to God’s oversight and blessing. As evidence, the Old Testament has several examples of barren women and their husbands who turned to God—rather than doctors—for relief from their stigma. Their number included Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah. Likewise, Luke opened his version of the New Testament narrative with the account of Elizabeth bearing a child after being barren for years.

These women relied on God’s intervention to create life within their bodies. Without Him, there was no hope of building a family legacy. As a result, they may have been more awestruck by God’s work in creating life than we are today—though we should not let our modern-day knowledge rob us of the incredible beauty of life provided by God.

David noted that he (and, by association, every other human being) was remarkably and wondrously made. While the English rendering paints a beautiful picture, it doesn’t reveal just how forceful the text is in Hebrew. It serves as a powerful testimony of God’s power and authority.

This assessment of human life not only affirms the intricate “knitting” God performs in the womb, but it also harkens back to the story of creation itself. After each day of work, God declared what He made as good—and even “very good” when all was said and done (Gen. 1:31).

God also said that we are created in His image (Gen. 1:27). Above the beauty of all His other creations, the human race represented His highest achievement—the one most like Him. And while that image was marred at the fall, we remain His image-bearers thousands of years later.

Since we are remarkably and wondrously made, we can know two things for certain. First, we are called to value the image of God in our own lives. Second, God expects us to honor His image in the lives of others. God’s image—and the value He bestows—is not limited by race, gender, language, or physical ability. Every person possesses God’s image, so every person deserves respect.

In reflecting on God’s amazing work, David again described God’s omniscience and omnipresence. Nothing was hidden from Him in the womb because God was the One at work in the womb. In many cases, the Scriptures used an image like depths of the earth to describe death, but here it emphasizes the life produced in the secrecy of the womb. David said my bones were not hidden from you. While the inward parts referred to the organs and possibly the emotions, the bones referred to the skeletal structure. This along with the muscular system serves as a complex patchwork that reflects God’s glory.2

What’s more, God doesn’t just know us in the womb, but He also has a plan for us. God saw David when he was formless, but He also had David’s days written in your book. This book serves as a symbol of God’s sovereignty and authority of the affairs of humanity. In addition, it reveals that the Lord has each of our days planned before a single of them began. God knows us. God loves us. And God has a purpose for us.

III.  God Is With Us (Ps. 139:17-18):  If you’ve ever made something with your own hands, you know it tends to hold an added sense of value in your mind. You spent time on it and, in some cases, saw it in your mind before it ever became a reality. That investment of time and creative energy makes it special for you.

That’s the idea behind David’s words in these verses.

God created us from nothing. He knew us and had a plan for our lives before we were ever born. He had a vision for us before anything could be seen. As a result, we hold a special place in His heart. David used the word precious to describe how God sees us.

But these “precious” thoughts should not be confused with mere sentimentality. Our value to God is rooted in His character and nature, rather than a warm feeling or nice memories. We are valuable because He says so.

In addition, the affection God reveals toward us is not just measured in quality but also in quantity. David pointed out that God’s thoughts on our behalf amount to a vast sum. The idea is that they are constant and incapable of being added up. We are on His mind every second of every day to a degree that we could never fathom.

As believers, if we truly let that fact sink into our hearts and minds, our lives will never be the same. Understanding that God is generous with both His thoughts and His love should implode self-doubt about our own value—and any hidden biases we might hold toward others.

To drive this point home, David took his readers to the beach. Trying to quantify God’s love, he said, was like trying to count the sands on the seashore. Even if that were possible, it still would fall short of God’s amazing thoughts about us. They would outnumber the grains of sand—not just on one beach but on every beach.

Earlier in the chapter, David had painted eloquent pictures of God’s presence in our lives. He knows our ups and downs, as well as our daily travels. He was with us—shaping us—while we were still developing in the womb. David returned to the concept of God’s omnipresence to close the passage.

God reveals His matchless heart for us through quantity and quality, but He also demonstrates this passion through His presence. Wherever we go and whatever we do, God is there. And wherever we lay our heads at night, we can be assured of God’s presence in our lives when the sun comes up the next morning.

Some commentators see a poetic reference to eternity in David’s language. In this case, the waking is not from sleep but from death. When the children of God pass from this life into the next, they discover He is still with them. In reality, this revelation of God’s presence will be more real than anything imaginable on earth.

Of course, we cannot truly know God to that extent until we encounter Him, to use Paul’s language, face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). However, that should not stop us from trying to get to know Him as well as we can until then. God doesn’t just know us. He wants a relationship with us—and relationships are a two-way street. We must pursue Him with a passion, just as He has always pursued us.

David’s words here also resemble Jesus’ parting words to His disciples in what has commonly been called the Great Commission. After sharing His authority and providing their marching orders for evangelizing the world, Jesus promised His presence:

“I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

His presence comforted David, empowered the early disciples, and continues to affirm our value in God’s eyes today.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The Pulpit Commentary:   Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

A song of praise to God for his omniscience, his omnipresence, and his marvelous powers, ending with a prayer for the destruction of the wicked, and for the purifying from evil of the psalmist's own heart. The psalm divides into four stanzas of six verses each — the first (vers. 1-6) dealing with the omniscience of God; the second (vers. 7-12), with his omnipresence; the third (vers. 13-18), with his omnipotence; and the fourth (vers. 19-24) containing the supplication.

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.

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.

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”).

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.

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).

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).

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).

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.”

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.

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.”

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;

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.

SOURCE:  The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 16: Mark & Luke; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

The Believer’s Commentary:  Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

Psalm 139: God Is so Great!

God is so great!

There is nothing He does not know.

There is nowhere He is not present.

There is nothing He cannot do.

If men insist on being the enemies of such a great God, they richly deserve their fate.

That, in brief, is the flow of David's meditation in this magnificent Psalm.

139:1, 2. First, he begins with the omniscience of God. God knows everything.

There is nothing He does not know.

Though limitless the universe and gloriously grand,

He knows the eternal story of every grain of sand.

But here it is His knowledge of the individual life that is particularly in view. In 1988 it was estimated that there were 5,000,000,000 people in the world. Yet God is intimately acquainted with each one. He knows all about every one of us.

He has searched us and known us! Words and deeds, thoughts and motives, He knows us inside out. He knows when we sit down to relax and when we rise up to engage in the varied activities of life. He can tell what we are thinking, and even anticipates our thoughts.

139:3.  He sees us when we walk and when we lie down; in other words, He keeps a constant watch on us. None of our ways is hidden from Him.

139:4.  He knows what we are going to say before we ever say it. The future as well as the past and present is completely open to Him.

139:5.  "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:13). And because His knowledge of us is so inconceivably absolute, He can guard us behind and before. Ever and always His hand is laid protectingly upon us.

139:6.  God's infinite knowledge boggles the mind. Our human brains strain under the weight of the idea. It is too exalted for us to comprehend. But when we come to the frontier of our capacity to understand and can go no farther, we can still bow in worship at the immensity of the knowledge of God!

139:13, 14.  So much then for the omnipresence of God. David now turns to consider His power and skill. And the particular phase of divine omnipotence he chooses is the marvelous development of a baby in his mother's womb. In a speck of watery material smaller than the dot over this i, all the future characteristics of the child are programmed—the color of his skin, eyes and hair, the shape of his facial features, the natural abilities he will have. All that the child will be physically and mentally is contained in germ form in that fertilized egg. From it will develop: ... 60 trillion cells, 100 thousand miles of nerve fiber, 60 thousand miles of vessels carrying blood around the body, 250 bones, to say nothing of joints, ligaments and muscles.

David describes the formation of the fetus with exquisite delicacy and beauty. "You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb." Yes, God formed our inward parts; each one a marvel of divine engineering. Think of the brain, for instance, with its capacity for recording facts, sounds, odors, sights, touch, pain; with its ability to recall; with its power to make computations; with its seemingly endless flair for making decisions and solving problems.

And God knit us together in our mother's womb. This aptly describes the marvelous weaving of the muscles, sinews, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and bones of the human frame.

David bursts forth in praise to the Lord. As he thinks of man, the crown of God's creation, he can only confess that he is fearfully and wonderfully made. The more we think of the marvels of the human body, its orderliness, its complexity, its beauty, its instincts and inherited factors—the more we wonder how anyone trained in natural science can fail to be a believer in an infinite Creator.

139:15.  Again the psalmist reverts to the time when his body was being formed in his mother's womb. Notice here that he uses the personal pronouns I, my, me to refer to the embryo or fetus. The scriptural view is that human personality exists before birth and that abortion therefore, except in cases of extreme medical necessity, is murder.

David was aware that God knew him through and through from the very beginning. His frame, that is, his skeletal structure was not hidden from God when David was being made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. It cannot mean below the surface of the earth; no one is formed there. In the context it can only mean "inside the mother's womb." A similar expression is found in Ephesians 4:9, which speaks of Christ as having descended into the lower parts of the earth. Once again in the context it refers to His entering the world through the ante-chamber of the virgin's womb. It is His Incarnation that is in view.

139:16.  When the psalmist speaks of his unformed... substance, he uses a word that means something rolled or wrapped together. Barnes and others think that the word most aptly denotes the embryo, or the fetus, "where all the members of the body are as yet folded up, or undeveloped; that is, before they have assumed their distinct form and proportions." Even in that preliminary phase of his existence, God's eyes beheld the sweet singer of Israel.

And in God's book, all the days of David's life were recorded by the divine Architect before that historic moment when David announced his arrival by that first lusty cry.

139:17, 18a.  The psalmist thinks of God's careful planning in the creation of his spirit, soul and body. How precious... are His thoughts—His attention to the minutest details. Andrew Ivy says, "Each cell almost without exception 'knows' its role in carrying out design or purpose for the welfare of the body as a whole."

139:18b.  "When I awake, I am still with You." It seems to me that the psalmist is here referring to the moment of his birth. In the preceding verses (13-18a) he has been emphasizing God's closeness to him during the nine months prior to his birth. But even after he is born the picture does not change; he is still with the Lord as his Sustainer, Protector and Guide. He speaks of his birth as an awaking just as we speak of it as "first seeing the light of day."

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

The Moody Bible Commentary:  Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

A. Praise God for His Faithfulness and Strength (138:1-3)

138:1-3.  David's asserts that he will give... thanks with all his heart... before the gods, in the presence of the gods. There are three possible meanings to this expression: (1) "gods" may refer to angels, i.e., supernatural beings in the presence of God (cf. 8:5), which is how the LXX translates this; (2) it could refer to human rulers (cf. 82:1); or (3) it could be false gods. In light of the setting being worship in the temple, the first option seems most likely. On bowing down toward God's holy temple see comment on 134:2. God's name represents a summary reference to His character and all the past deeds for which He is known cf. 5:11; 20:5; 23:3; 31:3). Praise is expressed for His lovingkindness (cf. comment on 5:7) and truth (v. 2; cf. comment on 43:3), as when He redeemed David from Saul (cf. 57:3; 1Sm 22:1; 24:3). There is a link between the word of God, which is truth (cf. Ps 119:160) and his name, which epitomizes His character.

B. Praise God, All the Nations of the Earth (138:4-6)

138:4-6.  This section looks forward to the time when all the kings of the earth, the Gentile nations they represent, will give thanks to You. The motivation for their praise is their having heard the words of Your mouth so the Gentiles might also come to know and worship the Lord with Israel (cf. Isa 19:24-25; 56:7; Eph 2:13-18). Together the redeemed of the Gentile nations and the people of Israel will sing of the ways of the Lord (cf. Rv 5:9-10; Pss 2:10-12; 22:27-31; 68:32). The concept of God's spiritual provision is also affirmed by David's statement that He regards the lowly (v. 6). The verb translated "regards," when used with God as the subject, typically signifies His assessment and provision of what is most needed (see comments on 4:6).

B. God Is Sovereign in Planning Personal Existence (139:13-16)

139:13-16. One aspect of David's confidence in the Lord is related to his knowledge that he was created by the Lord from conception to birth: You formed my inward parts... wove me in my mother's womb. David notes that he is wonderfully (or "divinely") made. Wonderfully is applied in the Bible to what God is and does (cf. comments on 119:121-128). The phrase in the depths of the earth (v. 15) is a poetic reference to the womb, not to geography. David confirms that not only did the Lord plan his life from the womb, but he knows the precise number of days that he would live, when as yet there was not one of them (v. 16). This verse strongly supports that there is actual human life in the womb, which should be protected.

C. God Is Active Guiding into the Everlasting Way (139:17-24)

139:17-18. When reviewing all the Lord knows about him, David exclaims How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! (cf. 36:7; 40:5). David finds comfort and encouragement in God's care for him: If I should count them [your thoughts toward me], they would outnumber the sand; they are innumerable. Asleep or awake, I am still with You.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.



Known (v. 1)—The word known refers to God’s thorough and intimate understanding of us. It can also refer to our awareness of His wondrous works (v. 14).

Encircled (v. 5)—This word refers to God’s all-encompassing presence so that we are under His full protection and care.

Knit me together (v. 13)—This phrase pictures God at work like a weaver making cloth. God’s knitting work is, however, on the newly developing human being in the womb.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.



PSALMS An Overview

By Francis X. Kimmitt

Francis X. Kimmitt is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, director of dual enrollment, and coordinator of institutional effectiveness at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee.


OW HAPPY IS THE ONE who does not walk in the advice on the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!  Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2, CSB).  So begins the Book of Psalms, one of the most beloved books in the entire Bible.  It comforts us when we find ourselves in the dark night of the soul, and it celebrates with us in our mountain top experiences and victories in life.

The Psalter (Book of Psalms) is truly timeless.  It is God’s Word to us, but it is also our words to Him, expressing the gamut of our emotions.  The Psalms allow us  to say to God what our hearts wan to say when we do not know what to say.  The psalmists have written the words down that speak for us and speak to us.

The term “psalms” comes from the Greek psalmoi, which means “songs.”  This is a translation of the Hebrew mizmor, which is often found in the title of individual psalms.  The Hebrew title of the Book of Psalms in Tehillim, “Praises.”1  The title is appropriate because the praise of God inhabits the book from start to finish, even the psalms of lament.

But how did the Hebrews use the Book of Psalms in ancient Israel?  The essential function of the Psalter was for use in worship by ancient Israel.  The Levitical musicians and singers performed many of the psalms and led the congregation to sing God’s praises.2  Israelites sang many of the psalms on the pilgrimages (the Songs of Ascents), at the high festivals (hallel psalms), or at the various times when they came to the temple to offer sacrifices or pray.3  The lament psalms, which comprise a significant portion of the Psalter, were also a regular part of the prayers of petition the people used when they gathered to pray in the sanctuary.4  Much as the psalms are used today, they were used in the public and private worship of the people of God, singing and praying to Him, offering praises, petitions, and thanksgivings for who He is and for all that He has done.

Interpreting the Psalms

One of the principal ways we interpret and understand the psalms is to consider the categories of the Psalms.  Each psalm can be classified into one of six categories: hymn, lament, song of thanksgiving, song of confidence, divine kingship song, or wisdom song.5  Hyms were for those times when life was good, when everything was right in the world.  They celebrate God as Creator and Redeemer.  The laments describe those times when all is not right in the world, what some have described as “the dark night of the soul.”  These are the times when the psalmists cry out to God wondering if He hears and why He seems not to answer.  The psalms of lament, with two exceptions (Pss. 44; 88), move from negative to positive, from lament to praise.  The Psalter as a whole exhibits this same movement, mirroring the life of our Lord and Savior.6

The songs of thanksgiving follow the laments just as surely as the sunrise follows the night.  The psalmist wrote, “you turned my lament into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Ps. 30:11, CSB).  So the songs of thanksgiving celebrate what the Lord has done in the lives of His people; they express the joy and gratitude of an appreciative people for God’s deliverance from the trials and tribulations of life.

The fourth category of psalms is the songs of confidence, also known as psalms of trust.  These psalms do not always convey a specific threat, trial, or anguish of the psalmist, as do the laments.  The distinguishing characteristic and dominant mood of these psalms is how they express trust in the ability and willingness of God to deliver the psalmist from whatever assails him.7  The best-known and arguably most-loved psalm is one of confidence, Psalm 23.

The divine kingship psalms focus on the Lord God as the universal ruler who is worthy of worship by all nations and all peoples.  The primary themes of these psalms are God’s activities in creation, redemption, and judgment.  Four psalms (93; 96; 97; 99) epitomize this category, containing the phrase: “The Lord reigns,” 8

Wisdom psalms comprise the final category of psalms.  The wisdom psalms remind the reader of the poetry of Job or the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.  Depending on your background and upbringing, they might even remind you of the sayings of your grandma or grandpa who had something wise to say on most subjects.  Their teaching tone, wisdom terms, and tipics help identify these as wisdom psalms.9  Examples of wisdom psalms are Psalm 1 and 119.

Divisions of the Psalter

The Psalter is divided into Books I through V, with each book ending in a doxology of praise.  Book I consists of Psalms 1-41; Book II: Psalms 42-72;  Book III: Psalms 73-89; Book IV: Psalms 90-106; and Book V; Psalms 107-150.  Psalms 146-150 comprise the doxology for Book V and the entire Psalter, bringing Tehillim to its fitting conclusion.  The Lord God is worthy to be praised as the sovereign Ruler over all nations and all creation.

The five-fold division appears to be as early as the first century BC, as rabbinic scholars have explained.10  Books I and II reflect the history of Israel’s united monarchy.  Books III focuses on the events of the divided kingdoms and the fall of Judah and Israel to Babylon and Assyria, respectively.  Book IV remembers the Babylonian exile, but it also holds out the hope of restoration and faith in the Lord who reigns.  Book V “celebrates the community of faith’s restoration to the land and the sovereignty of God over them.”11  Psalm 119, the celebration of Torah, plays an important role in the re-formation of the postexilic community.

Place of Psalm 1

Psalm 1 is not only the introduction to Book l of the Psalter, but taken together with Psalm 2, the introduction to the entire Book of Psalms.12  As a wisdom psalm, Psalm 1 presents a clear contrast between the two “ways,” or lifestyles: the way of the righteous and that of the wicked.  In describing the contrast, Psalm 1 sets the stage for the remainder of the Psalter.  We see the hostility of the wicked against the Lord and His anointed in Psalm 2.  It forms the backdrop of the psalms of lament and their pleas for help and deliverance.  It serves as a reason for thanksgiving for deliverance when the Lord acts on behalf of the righteous.

The righteous in Psalm 1 are blessed when they “delight in” and “meditate on” the torah of the Lord.  This Hebrew word is often translated “law,” as in the context of the wisdom psalms and wisdom literature, torah is better understood as “instruction” or “teaching.”13  The psalm teaches that the ones who live according to the principles of the Word of God will prosper.  The psalmist used a familiar (to the original audience) agricultural simile of a tree planted by a flowing stream to compare with the blessed man.  Just as this tree bears its fruit in its season because it is well-watered, so the blessed persons who live their lives according to God’s Word will bear godly fruit.

But the wicked are like the useless husks of wheat that are separated fom the grain and are blown away by the wind during the process of winnowing.  In another familiar agricultural simile, the psalmist in a few words states clearly that God’s judgment separates the wicked and the righteous.  The wicked have not place in the assembly of the righteous.  Why?  They have rejected the instruction (torah) of the Lord.

In the overarching picture of the Psalter, the man after God’s own heart (King David) will be the picture of the blessed righteous one when he follows the Lord and torah.  So too will Solomon be initially before he turns his heart to follow the gods of his foreign wives (Books I and II).  Then the kings who follow will be a mixture of good and bad as some follow the Lord but most chase after the false gods of their neighbors, rejecting the God of their fathers (Book III).  However, God is faithful to Israel during the exile (Book IV), and He brings His people back to the land promised to the patriarchs (Book V).  The promise of Psalm 1 is true: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but he way of the wicked will perish” (v. 6, author’s translation).     

1.  C.H. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 22.

2.  M.D. Futato, “The Book of Psalms” in Corner stone Giglical Commentary, vol. 7 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2009), 6.

3.  A.P. Ross, A Commentary on The Psalms, Vol. 1 (1—41) (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 148.

4.  Ibid,, 149.

5.  M.D. Futato,  interpreting The Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 1455-73.

6.  Ibid., 151.

7.  Ibid., 161; see also R.A. Jacobson & K.N. Jacobson, Invitation to the Psalms: A Readers Guide for Discovery & Engagement (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 50-51.

8.  Futato, Intpreting the Psalms, 165-71; Jacobson & Jacobson, Invitation to the Psalms, 68-71

9.  Futato, Intpreting the Psalms, 171-73; Jacobson & Jacobson, Invitation to the Psalms, 70-72.

10. N. deClaisse-Walford, R.A. Jacobson, & B. LaN. Tanner, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 26.

11. Ibid., 38; see also A.E. Hill & J.H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 428-32.

12. Hill & Watson, A Survey of the Old Testament, 422; Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 59; Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, 182; deClaisse-Walford et al., The Book of Psalms, 55; Futato, Interpreting the Psalms, 59-60.

13. Futato, Interpreting the Psalms, 60.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 43, No. 3; Spring 2017.

BARRENNESS in the Ancient Near East

By Julie Nall Knowles

Julie Nall Knowles is associate professor of English at The Baptist College of Florida, Graceville, Florida.

HANNAH knew the importance of bearing children when she married Elkanah, who lived in a hill village about 15 miles from Shiloh.  Women produced children, as many as possible, to maintain both lineage and tribe.  Children, especially a son, would continue the names of Elkanah’s fathers (1 Sam. 1:1) and transmit their possessions for years to come.



O hasten conception, Hannah may have used mandrakes—like Leah (Gen. 30:14-17) and the Beloved in Song of Songs: “The mandrakes send out their fragrance . . . I have stored [them]up for you, my lover” (7:13).1 Women ate the mandrakes’ roots, long associated with fertility, as “love-apples” and “tied them around their body in order to conceive.”2  Time passed.

Could Hannah have been infertile?  One remedy prescribed 21 stones on a linen thread tied around a barren woman’s neck3—reflecting the mystic multiplication of 3 times 7.  Swallowing tabernacle dust mixed with holy water (the “bitter water” ordeal) could result in fertility for a faithful wife (Num. 5:11-31); barren women swallowed dust or dirt as “straight fertility magic.”4 After a while, Elkanah could  have divorced Hannah for barrenness.  A similar stipulation appears in the Code of Hammurabi (Old Babylonian Empire, ca. 1700 BC).5 However, a marriage agreement between Hannah’s and Elkanah’s fathers may have required Hannah to find someone to bear children for her husband.  An ancient Nuzi Akkadian adoption tablet details such a contract:

Kelim-ninu has been given in marriage to Shennima.  If Kelim-ninu bears (children), Shennima shall not take another wife; but if Kelim-ninu does not bear, Kelim-ninu shall acquire a woman of the land of Lullu as wife for Shenniam.6

Could Hannah have “acquired” her fellow wife?  Anyway, following law and custom accepted across the land, Penninah arrived .  She gave Elkanah both sons and daughters (1 Sam. 1:4).

The growing family traveled annually to worship in Shiloh, then the home of the4 ark of the covenant.  On each pilgrimage, Penninah reminded Hannah that she had no children (vv. 6-7).  Early Israelites thought illness and tragedies resulted from sin; barrenness was considered sin, sickness, and one of the worst of disgraces.  Why did Hannah not defend herself?

Possibly, her marriage agreement ordered Hannah to treat a second wife amiably.  In Calah, Assyria’s ancient capital (near Mosul, Iraq), a lady named Subietu had a contract stating that for no sons, Subietu’s husband would take a second woman, and it stipulated Subietu’s treatment of a “rival”:

Amat-Astarti . . . gives her daughter Subietu to Milki-ramu, the son of Abdi-Asuzi . . . . . (most of the text outlines the dowry).  If Subietu does not bear sons he shall take a handmaid . . . . She (the wife) shall not curse, strike, nor be furious and treat her (the handmaid) improperly.7

A wife’s dowry likely prevented many husbands from discarding a barren woman, for the Code of Hammurabi established that if a man discarded his barren wife he had to return the dowry to her he had received when they were married.8 But Elkanah loved Hannah and continued taking her to Shiloh (vv. 5-8).

Hannah could have stayed home and joined Canaanites as they observed pagan rituals.  She could have helped women “mourning” for Tammuz, the Akkadian god of fertility (Ezek. 8:14) or danced around a cult object (pole?), worshiping the fertility goddess Asherah.  Forms of her cult were located mainly in Syria and Canaan.  Also in Canaan, seasonal ceremonies celebrated Baal, the highest fertility deity.  By joining Baal devotees, “it was believed possible to insure fertility of crops, to secure offspring with divine sanction, or to feel one’s self assimilated to the deity.”9 Inscriptions on a tablet from Ugarit, an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast (Ras Shamra, Syria), outline cultic practices; one line translates, “Over the fire, seven times the sweet-voiced youths chant, ‘Coriander in milk, mint in butter,’”10 If this were a dish eaten in a ceremonial meal, could neighbors have invited barren Hannah to join the worship of Baal?

Through near despair, Hannah never stooped to idolatry.  She was neither sick nor sinful, yet “the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5).  Once, after their sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah abruptly left and hastened to Yahweh’s sanctuary.  There, she urgently begged God for a son (vv. 9-11).  “It is completely in accordance with Eastern custom that Hannah asks not for a child, or children, but for a son.”11

In the Ugaritic epic poem of Aqht, the hero’s father Dan’el prays for a son in a shrine to his gods.12 In the poem “there is no sign that Dan’el acknowledges a physical disability either in himself or in his wife.”13 The high god, El, sent Dan’el home to his wife; in due time, a son, Aqht, was born.

At the sanctuary of the God of Israel, Hannah cried so bitterly and prayed so fervently that to El the priest she seemed like a drunken cult debauchee (vv. 11-14).  “Do not take your servant for a wicked woman,” Hannah protested, “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (vv. 15-16).

“Go in peace,” Eli answered, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (v. 17).  With joy, Hannah returned home, conceived, and gave birth to a son.

Hannah named him Samuel (“His name is God”) and dedicated him for a lifetime of priestly service (1:20—2:11).  While Eli trained Samuel, Yahweh blessed Hannah with five more children (2:21).  To be sure, it is our God who “settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children” (Ps. 113:9).

1.   All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).

2.   Raphael Patai, Sex and Family in the Bible and theMiddle East (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959), 74-76.

3.   Robert D. Biggs, “Medicine, Surgery, and Public Health in Ancient Mesopotamia” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. in chief Jack M. Sasson (New York:Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), 3:1917.

4.    Patai, 91.

5.    W. W. Davies, The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1905), 138 (p. 65).

6.   “Documents From the Practice of Law” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1969), 220.

7.   John Van Seters, “The Problem of Childlessness in Near Eastern Law and the Patriarchs of Israel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 87.4 (December 1968): 407.

8.   Davies, 138 (p. 65).

9.   Beatrice A. Brooks, “Fertility Cult Functionaries in the Old Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 60.3 (1941): 230.

10. This line has been suggested to be a Canaanite pagan ritual forbidden to Israelites, the law “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 14:21). However, in this Ugaritic tablet, no animal is being cooked. See Jack M. Sasson, “Should Cheeseburgers Be Kosher?” Bible Review 19.6 (December 2003): 43.

11. Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I and II Samuel: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), 25.

12. Baruch Margalit, The Ugaritic Poem of AQHT:Text, Translation, Commentary (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,1989), 144.

13. Ibid., 264.

: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 35, No. 3; Spring 2009.

The Nature of the Hebrew Psalms

By Billy K. Smith

Billy Smith is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA.


HE PSALMS ARE COLLECTIONS OF SONGS and prayers from Israel’s worship materials that the efaithful preserved and passed along to subsequent generations.  They became part of Israel’s sacred literature through a process of validation by usefulness.  The Hebrew title of the collection of Psalms is “Praises,” (tehillim [teh-heh-LEEM]).  Psalm 72:20 has the word “prayers” (tephillot [teh-fill-OATH]) as a descriptive term that reveals the nature of many psalms.

J.A. Soggin said that in the Psalter one could find a cross section of the religious life of Israel as well as the story of faith of Israel.1  A variety of religious settings called for a variety of types of psalms.  Psalm 2 was used on the coronation day of a king, or on an annual celebration of it.  Psalm 30 was a song to be used at the dedication of the Temple.  The superscriptions of Psalms 38 and 70 reveal their association with the memorial offering.  Some psalms served as prayers (Pss. 17; 86; 90; 1020 etc.)  The occasion for using Psalm 100 was the thank offering.  Personal or national distress produced the need for psalms of lamentation.  Psalms 15 and 24 functioned as entrance liturgies for pilgrims preparing to enter the Temple. 

The work of Hermann Gunkel during the early part of this century represented a sharp turning point in the study of the Book of Psalms.  His work involved the classification of Psalms according to literary types.  He also attempted to reconstruct the situations in life that produced the psalms and the religious settings where they were used.  Gunkel distinguished six main types: hymns of praise, enthronement psalms, laments of the community, royal psalms, laments of the individual, and individual songs of thanksgiving.

Many of the psalms reflect a mixture of types.  For instance, a psalm may be partly lament and partly a song of thanksgiving.  This means that typing is “not an exact science”2 and that different writers may categorize the same psalm in several different ways.

Hymns of praise are the response of the worshiper(s) to the works of God or to His saving intervention.  This type psalm focuses on the greatness of God.  Usually it begins with an exhortation to praise the Lord (Ps. 113:1).  The main body of the psalm notes the cause for praise, such as God’s deeds or qualities.  Often the conclusion of the psalm reechoes the introductory exhortation to praise (Ps. 8:1-9).  Examples of hymns of praise include Psalms 8; 19:1-6; 100; 103; 145-150.

Psalms of lamentation are of two kinds, individual and community.  Laments usually consist of an introduction that invokes the name of the Lord and a call for help expressed with an imperative form of the verb.  The main body contains a description of distress or misfortune.  This is followed by a cry for help and deliverance.

Two subtypes of individual laments are prayers of the unjustly accused person and psalms of penitence.  Examples of the unjustly accused songs are Psalms 3; 5; 7;, 17; 22; 25—28; 35; 39.  The seven penitential psalms are Psalms 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; and 143.

The subject matter of royal psalms was the relationship between God and the king of Israel or Judah.  In post-Exilic times some of these psalms were interpreted with a view toward the messianic king of the future.  Among the royal psalms are the following: Psalms 2; 18; 45; 110; 132.  Various ones of these typically are identified as messianic psalms (Pss. 2; 110).

Psalms 47; 93; and 96—99 are enthronement psalms.  Sigmund Mowinckel set up the hypothesis that  Israel celebrated a festival of the Lord’s enthronement as part of the autumn New Year’s festival.  Many of these psalms begin with the declaration “The Lord reigns,” or “The Lord is king.”  Mowinckel interpreted the phrase to mean “The Lord has become king.”  In these psalms Israel celebrated the future inauguration of God’s rule over the entire world.

As to form and subject matter, psalms of thanksgiving are related both to the hymns and to the lament.  Two types of thanksgiving are in the psalter: community and individual.  Examples of the former include Psalms 66; 67; 124; and 129.  An individual thanksgiving is combined frequently with a lament (Pss 6: 13; 22; 102; and 130).

Hebrew poetry is rhythmical, but it does not rhyme.  The usual structure of Hebrew poetry is in parallel lines.  These lines may be similar to one another, contrast with one another, or complement one another.  In Hebrew poetry the rhythm arises from the nature of each line.  For example, two parallel lines may have three beats each, or two beats each, of four beats each.  Unequal rhythms may occur, such as three beats followed by two beats.  This halting rhythm is the typical beat of a lament.  Hymns of praise usually have parallel lines with three beats per line.  A single psalm may reflect more than one type of rhythm.

The psalms contain a cross section of Old Testament teachings.  They run the gamut of theological topics, including God, man, sin, salvation, judgment, creation, the afterlife, and many other subjects.  Let’s start with a summary of their teaching on the doctrine of God.

The psalmists revealed their understanding of God through their use of various names, titles, and attributes for Him, as well as through the recitation of His works.  Several main trughs about God have filtered through these channels of communication.

1. God is Powerful.  The generic term for God (or gods), Elohim, probably comes from a verbal root meaning either “be strong,” or “be in front.”  Both power and priority should come to mind when thinking about his name for God.

Yahweh, the personal name of Israel’s covenant God, probably came from a verbal root meaning “to be.”  If it is from the causative form of that verb, as some interpreters believe, then Israel’s God is the One who causes to be, the life-giver, the Creator.  This name may declare God’s active presence, promising to “be there” with His people to act in their behalf.

Adonai [AD-oh-nigh] is a plural noun applied to Israel’s God.  It means “lord,” or “master.”  Power and authority are proper associates of the name.

2. God is Holy.  Holy (kadosh [kah-DOSH]) is what God is in His essential being (Ps. 22:3; 99:3,5,9).3  The verbal root of the adjective “holy” means “to separate,” “to be set apart,” or “to consecrate.”  To say that God is holy is to assert that He is wholly separate from mankind, other than, above, and distinct from all human beings.

3. God is Love.  Steadfast love (chesed [KESS-idp]) is uniquely a covenant term, descriptive of covenant fidelity.  Applied to God it denotes God’s faithfulness to the covenant promises He made to Israel.

4. God is Merciful.  The psalmists employed the noun (rachamin [rah-cah-MEEM]) to describe God’s mercy, compassion, or pity (25:6; 40:11; 51:1-2; 103:4,8,13).  This is a plural noun that suggests the fullness of God’s mercy.

5.  God is Good.  Good (tob [TOWV]) is an adjective the psalmists applied to God to define as aspect of His nature.  The goodness in God’s nature manifested itself in the goodness of God’s actions to establish or to maintain the welfare of His people.

The psalmists set forth the complex nature of people by the terms and titles they used for them.  They employed a variety of words to describe their nature and to show their response to God.

1. People will frail.

The Hebrew words (adam [ah-DAHM]) and (enosh [eh-KNOWSH]), both translated “mankind,” may hint at the race’s frailty.  (adamah [ah-dah-MAH]), “ground.”  Enosh is from a verbal root meaning “to be weak,” or “to be sickly.”  “Mortal” may be the connotation.  Flesh basar [bah-SAHR]) may designate the innate weakness of human beings (Pss. 56:4; 78:39; 63:1).

2. People are sinners.

Sin (chata’  [kah-TAH]) is from a verbal root meaning “to miss the mark.”  Transgression (pesha’  [peh-SHAH]) always carries the idea of rebellion against constituted authority.  Iniquity (‘avon [ah-WONE]) is from a verbal root that means “to err” or “to go astray.”  Moral crookedness or perversion is the idea in the noun.

3. People are objects of God’s care.  One psalmist expressed astonishment that mortals are the object of God’s concern (Ps. 8); that a majestic God, Creator of such a vast universe, would remember each individual is startling (Ps. 8:1-4).

The summation of the psalms, then, might be the writers’ exalted view of God and their awe over His love for mankind.  When these two understandings are made the basis of a person’s life, a proper relationship with God is the result—which was exactly the psalmists’ aim.

1.  J.A. Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. J. Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), p. 374.

2.  A.A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, vol. 1, in The Attic Press, Inc., 1972), p. 32.

3.  B.K. Smith, Words Speak: A Word Study of the Book of Psalms (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1984), p. 14.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1989.




(17, 155)  What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found:  What prophet ended his book with God’s threat to come and strike the land with a curse?   Answer Next Week:

Last Week’s Question: What epistle says that blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth?  Answer: James; James 3:10.