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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Winter
Study Theme: Made
For Something More
What This Lesson Is About:
the next six sessions we will identify six descriptions of a person who is
abiding in Christ day by day.
I Am Wonderfully Made
I Am a Child of the King
I Am a Minister
I Am a Priest
I Am Just Passing Through
I Am a Light
Every life counts—including
God Knows Us Intimately & Values Us (Ps.
God Created Us & Has a Plan For Each of Us
God Is With Us (Ps. 139:17-18)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Knows Us Intimately & Values Us (Ps. 139:1-6)
Lord, you have searched me and known
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.
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
God Created Us & Has a Plan For Each of Us (Ps. 139:13-16)
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.
do you think David meant by using “inward parts” in verse 13? (see Adv.
comm., pg. 5, “David noted that God
. “ )
picture does David’s use of “knit me
together” paint for you? (see Digging Deeper.)
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
. “ )
on verse 14, for what did David declare that God was praiseworthy?
did David come to know this (vv. 14-16)?
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 .
. . ”
on what you have witnessed during your lifetime how would you assess the value
of all humankind?
would you contrast how we see humankind and how God see them?
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 . .
. “ )
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 .
does it mean to you that your days are planned by God before a single one of
does it mean to you that you are made in the image of God?
does Romans 5:8 tell us about God’s love for us?
do you think is implied by this great love of God?
do you think God’s plan is for you?
Lessons in Ps. 139:13-16:
We are fearfully and wondrously made in the image of God.
God has a plan and purpose for our lives that existed before we were born.
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)
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.
does knowing we are remarkably and wondrously made impact the way you see
yourself and others?
does it mean to you when you made something with your own hands and skill? (see
Adv. comm., pg. 6, “If you’ve ever
does it mean to you that God’s thoughts of you are precious? (see Adv. comm.,
pg. 6, “But these “precious” .
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
. “ )
do you think is implied by the truth that every life counts?
does it mean to you that you are divinely loved and have a divine purpose?
your reaction to God’s awareness of every aspect of your life?
Since God knows
everything, why do people try to hide things from Him?
Where in our culture
do we see life being devalued or disrespected?
What actions can we take
that reflect our belief in the value of all human life?
Lessons in Ps. 139:17-18:
God’s thoughts toward you are both precious and innumerable.
God’s presence remains with you in all of life—but will be most fully
realized after death.
Since God knows us so well, we should strive to know Him as intimately as
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
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?
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of
King James Version: Psalm
Psalm 139:1-6 (KJV)
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)
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 (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)
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 (NIV)
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)
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
“The Pulpit Commentary,” “The Believer’s Commentary," and “The
Moody Bible Commentary,”
and is provided for your study.)
Lesson Outline — “I
Am Wonderfully Made”
God Knows Us
Intimately & Values Us (Ps. 139:1-6)
God Created Us & Has a Plan For Each of Us
God Is With Us (Ps. 139:17-18)
Bible Study Commentary: Psalm
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Pulpit Commentary: Psalm
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
(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
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
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
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.
The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 16:
Mark & Luke; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
The Believer’s Commentary:
Psalm 139: God Is so Great!
God is so great!
nothing He does not know.
nowhere He is not present.
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
139:1, 2. First, he
begins with the omniscience of God. God knows everything.
nothing He does not know.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
PSALMS An Overview
Kimmitt is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, director of dual enrollment,
and coordinator of institutional effectiveness at Bryan College in Dayton,
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
C.H. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
M.D. Futato, “The Book of Psalms” in
Corner stone Giglical Commentary, vol.
7 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2009), 6.
A.P. Ross, A Commentary on The Psalms, Vol. 1 (1—41) (Grand Rapids: Kregel,
M.D. Futato, interpreting The Psalms: An
Exegetical Handbook (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 1455-73.
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.
Futato, Intpreting the Psalms, 165-71; Jacobson & Jacobson, Invitation
to the Psalms, 68-71
Futato, Intpreting the Psalms, 171-73; Jacobson & Jacobson, Invitation
to the Psalms, 70-72.
N. deClaisse-Walford, R.A. Jacobson,
& B. LaN. Tanner, The Book of Psalms (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 26.
Ibid., 38; see also A.E. Hill & J.H.
Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd
ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 428-32.
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.
Futato, Interpreting the Psalms, 60.
BARRENNESS in the Ancient Near East
By Julie Nall Knowles
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
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
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”
All Scripture quotations are from the New
International Version (NIV).
and Family in the Bible and theMiddle East (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,
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.
W. W. Davies, The
Codes of Hammurabi and Moses (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1905),
138 (p. 65).
“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.
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.
Davies, 138 (p. 65).
Beatrice A. Brooks, “Fertility Cult Functionaries in the Old
Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 60.3
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
(December 2003): 43.
Wilhelm Hertzberg, I and II Samuel: A Commentary (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1964), 25.
Baruch Margalit, The
Ugaritic Poem of AQHT:Text, Translation, Commentary (Berlin:
Walter de Gruyter,1989), 144.
The Nature of the Hebrew Psalms
By Billy K.
is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, New Orleans Baptist Theological
Seminary, New Orleans, LA.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
God is Holy. Holy (kadosh [kah-DOSH]) is what God is in His essential being (Ps. 22:3;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
[kah-TAH]) is from a verbal root
meaning “to miss the mark.” Transgression
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).
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. ♦
J.A. Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. J. Bowden (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1976), p. 374.
A.A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, vol. 1, in The
Attic Press, Inc., 1972), p. 32.
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;
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.