Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 139
on the Whole Bible
Some of the Jewish doctors are of opinion that this is the most
excellent of all the psalms of David; and a very pious devout
meditation it is upon the doctrine of God's omniscience, which we
should therefore have our hearts fixed upon and filled with in singing
I. This doctrine is here asserted, and fully laid down,
II. It is confirmed by two arguments:--
1. God is every where present; therefore he knows all,
2. He made us, therefore he knows us,
III. Some inferences are drawn from this doctrine.
1. It may fill us with pleasing admiration of God,
2. With a holy dread and detestation of sin and sinners,
3. With a holy satisfaction in our own integrity, concerning which we
may appeal to God,
This great and self-evident truth, That God knows our hearts, and the
hearts of all the children of men, if we did but mix faith with it and
seriously consider it and apply it, would have a great influence upon
our holiness and upon our comfort.
To the chief musician. A psalm of David.
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
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I
cannot attain unto it.
David here lays down this great doctrine, That the God with whom we
have to do has a perfect knowledge of us, and that all the motions and
actions both of our inward and of our outward man are naked and open
I. He lays down this doctrine in the way of an address to God; he says
it to him, acknowledging it to him, and giving him the glory of it.
Divine truths look fully as well when they are prayed over as when they
are preached over, and much better than when they are disputed over.
When we speak of God to him himself we shall find ourselves concerned
to speak with the utmost degree both of sincerity and reverence, which
will be likely to make the impressions the deeper.
II. He lays it down in a way of application to himself, not, "Thou hast
known all," but, "Thou hast known me; that is it which I
am most concerned to believe and which it will be most profitable for
me to consider." Then we know these things for our good when we
know them for ourselves,
When we acknowledge, "Lord, all souls are thine," we must add, "My soul
is thine; thou that hatest all sin hatest my sin; thou that art good to
all, good to Israel, art good to me." So here, "Thou hast searched
me, and known me; known me as thoroughly as we know that which we
have most diligently and exactly searched into." David was a king, and
the hearts of kings are unsearchable to their subjects
but they are not so to their Sovereign.
III. He descends to particulars: "Thou knowest me wherever I am and
whatever I am doing, me and all that belongs to me."
1. "Thou knowest me and all my motions, my down-sitting
to rest, my up-rising to work, with what temper of mind I
compose myself when I sit down and stir up myself when I rise up, what
my soul reposes itself in as its stay and support, what it aims at and
reaches towards as its felicity and end. Thou knowest me when I come
home, how I walk before my house, and when I go abroad, on what errands
2. "Thou knowest all my imaginations. Nothing is more close and quick
than thought; it is always unknown to others; it is often unobserved by
ourselves, and yet thou understandest my thought afar off.
Though my thoughts be ever so foreign and distant from one another,
thou understandest the chain of them, and canst make out their
connexion, when so many of them slip my notice that I myself cannot."
Or, "Thou understandest them afar off, even before I think them,
and long after I have thought them and have myself forgotten them." Or,
"Thou understandest them from afar; from the height of heaven
thou seest into the depths of the heart,"
3. "Thou knowest me and all my designs and undertakings; thou
compassest every particular path; thou siftest (or
winnowest) my path" (so some), "so as thoroughly to
distinguish between the good and evil of what I do," as by sifting we
separate between the corn and the chaff. All our actions are ventilated
by the judgment of God,
God takes notice of every step we take, every right step and every
by-step. He is acquainted with all our ways, intimately
acquainted with them; he knows what rule we walk by, what end we walk
towards, what company we walk with.
4. "Thou knowest me in all my retirements; thou knowest my
lying down; when I am withdrawn from all company, and am reflecting
upon what has passed all day and composing myself to rest, thou knowest
what I have in my heart and with what thought I go to bed."
5. "Thou knowest me, and all I say
There is not a word in my tongue, not a vain word, nor a good
word, but thou knowest it altogether, knowest what it meant,
from what thought it came, and with what design it was uttered. There
is not a word at my tongue's end, ready to be spoken, yet checked and
kept in, but thou knowest it." When there is not a word in my
tongue, O Lord! thou knowest all (so some read it); for thoughts
are words to God.
6. "Thou knowest me in every part of me: Thou hast beset me behind
and before, so that, go which way I will, I am under thy eye and
cannot possibly escape it. Thou hast laid thy hand upon me, and
I can not run away from thee." Wherever we are we are under the eye and
hand of God. perhaps it is an allusion to the physician's laying his
hand upon his patient to feel how his pulse beats or what temper he is
in. God knows us as we know not only what we see, but what we feel and
have our hands upon. All his saints are in his hand.
IV. He speaks of it with admiration
It is too wonderful for me; it is high.
1. "Thou hast such a knowledge of me as I have not of myself, nor can
have. I cannot take notice of all my own thoughts, nor make such a
judgment of myself as thou makest of me."
2. "It is such a knowledge as I cannot comprehend, much less describe.
That thou knowest all things I am sure, but how I cannot tell." We
cannot by searching find out how God searches and finds out us; nor do
we know how we are known.
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee
from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my
bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the
uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night
shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night
shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike
13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully
made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth
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.
It is of great use to us to know the certainty of the things wherein we
have been instructed, that we may not only believe them, but be able to
tell why we believe them, and to give a reason of the hope that is in
us. David is sure that God perfectly knows him and all his ways,
I. Because he is always under his eye. If God is omnipresent, he must
needs be omniscient; but he is omnipresent; this supposes the infinite
and immensity of his being, from which follows the ubiquity of his
presence; heaven and earth include the whole creation, and the Creator
he not only knows both, and governs both, but he fills both. Every part
of the creation is under God's intuition and influence. David here
acknowledges this also with application and sees himself thus open
1. No flight can remove us out of God's presence: "Whither shall I
go from thy Spirit, from thy presence, that is, from thy spiritual
presence, from thyself, who art a Spirit?" God is a Spirit, and
therefore it is folly to think that because we cannot see him he cannot
see us: Whither shall I flee from thy presence? Not that he
desired to go away from God; no, he desired nothing more than to be
near him; but he only puts the case, "Suppose I should be so foolish as
to think of getting out of thy sight, that I might shake off the awe of
thee, suppose I should think of revolting from my obedience to thee, or
of disowning a dependence on thee and of shifting for myself, alas!
whither can I go?" A heathen could say, Quocunque te flexeris, ibi
Deum videbis occurrentem tibi--Whithersoever thou turnest thyself, thou
wilt see God meeting thee. Seneca. He specifies the most remote and
distant places, and counts upon meeting God in them.
(1.) In heaven: "If I ascend thither, as I hope to do shortly,
thou art there, and it will be my eternal bliss to be with thee
there." Heaven is a vast large place, replenished with an innumerable
company, and yet there is no escaping God's eye there, in any corner,
or in any crowd. The inhabitants of that world have as necessary a
dependence upon God, and lie as open to his strict scrutiny, as the
inhabitants of this.
(2.) In hell--in Sheol, which may be understood of the
depth of the earth, the very centre of it. Should we dig as deep as we
can under ground, and think to hide ourselves there, we should be
mistaken; God knows that path which the vulture's eye never saw, and to
him the earth is all surface. Or it may be understood of the state of
the dead. When we are removed out of the sight of all living, yet not
out of the sight of the living God; from his eye we cannot hide
ourselves in the grave. Or it maybe understood of the place of the
damned: If I make my bed in hell (an uncomfortable place to make
a bed in, where there is no rest day or night, yet thousands will make
their bed for ever in those flames), behold, thou art there, in
thy power and justice. God's wrath is the fire which will there burn
(3.) In the remotest corners of this world: "If I take the wings of
the morning, the rays of the morning-light (called the wings of the
than which nothing more swift, and flee upon them to the uttermost
parts of the sea, or of the earth
should I flee to the most distant and obscure islands (the ultima
Thule, the Terra incognita), I should find thee there;
there shall thy hand lead me, as far as I go, and thy right
hand hold me, that I can go no further, that I cannot go out of thy
reach." God soon arrested Jonah when he fled to Tarshish from the
presence of the Lord.
2. No veil can hide us from God's eye, no, not that of the thickest
"If I say, Yet the darkness shall cover me, when nothing
else will, alas! I find myself deceived; the curtains of the evening
will stand me in no more stead than the wings of the morning; even
the night shall be light about me. That which often favours the
escape of a pursued criminal, and the retreat of a beaten army, will do
me no kindness in fleeing from them." When God divided between the
light and darkness it was with a reservation of this prerogative, that
to himself the darkness and the light should still be both
alike. "The darkness darkeneth not from thee, for there is
no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide
themselves." No hypocritical mask or disguise, how specious soever, can
save any person or action from appearing in a true light before God.
Secret haunts of sin are as open before God as the most open and
II. Because he is the work of his hands. He that framed the engine
knows all the motions of it. God made us, and therefore no doubt he
knows us; he saw us when we were in the forming, and can we be hidden
from him now that we are formed? This argument he insists upon
"Thou hast possessed my reins; thou art Master of my most secret
thoughts and intentions, and the innermost recesses of my soul; thou
not only knowest, but governest, them, as we do that which we have
possession of; and the possession thou hast of my reins is a rightful
possession, for thou coveredst me in my mother's womb, that is,
thou madest me
thou madest me in secret. The soul is concealed form all about us.
Who knows the things of a man, save the spirit of a man?"
1 Corinthians 2:11.
Hence we read of the hidden man of the heart. But it was God
himself that thus covered us, and therefore he can, when he pleases,
discover us; when he hid us from all the world he did not intend to
hide us from himself. Concerning the formation of man, of each of
1. The glory of it is here given to God, entirely to him; for it is
he that has made us and not we ourselves. "I will praise thee, the
author of my being; my parents were only the instruments of it." It was
(1.) Under the divine inspection: My substance, when hid in the
womb, nay, when it was yet but in fieri--in the forming, an
unshapen embryo, was not hidden from thee; thy eyes did see my
(2.) By the divine operation. As the eye of God saw us then, so his
hand wrought us; we were his work.
(3.) According to the divine model: In thy book all my members were
written. Eternal wisdom formed the plan, and by that almighty power
raised the noble structure.
2. Glorious things are here said concerning it. The generation of man
is to be considered with the same pious veneration as his creation at
first. Consider it,
(1.) As a great marvel, a great miracle we might call it, but that it
is done in the ordinary course of nature. We are fearfully and
wonderfully made; we may justly be astonished at the admirable
contrivance of these living temples, the composition of every part, and
the harmony of all together.
(2.) As a great mystery, a mystery of nature: My soul knows right
well that it is marvellous, but how to describe it for any one else
I know not; for I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in
the womb as in the lowest parts of the earth, so privately, and
so far out of sight.
(3.) As a great mercy, that all our members in continuance were
fashioned, according as they were written in the book of God's wise
counsel, when as yet there was none of them; or, as some read
it, and none of them was left out. If any of our members had
been wanting in God's book, they would have been wanting in our bodies,
but, through his goodness, we have all our limbs and sense, the want of
any of which might have made us burdens to ourselves. See what reason
we have then to praise God for our creation, and to conclude that he
who saw our substance when it was unfashioned sees it now that it is
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.
19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me
therefore, ye bloody men.
20 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies
take thy name in vain.
21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I
grieved with those that rise up against thee?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in
the way everlasting.
Here the psalmist makes application of the doctrine of God's
omniscience, divers ways.
I. He acknowledges, with wonder and thankfulness, the care God had
taken of him all his days,
God, who knew him, thought of him, and his thoughts towards him were
thoughts of love, thought of good, and not of evil,
God's omniscience, which might justly have watched over us to do us
hurt, has been employed for us, and has watched over us to do us good,
God's counsels concerning us and our welfare have been,
1. Precious to admiration: How precious are they! They are deep
in themselves, such as cannot possibly be fathomed and comprehended.
Providence has had a vast reach in its dispensations concerning us, and
has brought things about for our good quite beyond our contrivance and
foresight. They are dear to us; we must think of them with a great
deal of reverence, and yet with pleasure and thankfulness. Our thoughts
concerning God must be delightful to us, above any other thoughts.
2. Numerous to admiration: How great is the sum of them! We
cannot conceive how many God's kind counsels have been concerning us,
how many good turns he has done us, and what variety of mercies we have
received from him. If we would count them, the heads of
them, much more the particulars of them, they are more in number
than the sand, and yet every one great and very considerable,
We cannot conceive the multitude of God's compassions, which are all
new every morning.
3. Constant at all times: "When I awake, every morning, I am
still with thee, under thy eye and care, safe and easy under thy
protection." This bespeaks also the continual devout sense David had of
the eye of God upon him: When I awake I am with thee, in my
thoughts; and it would help to keep us in the fear of the Lord all the
day long if, when we awake in the morning, our first thoughts were of
him and we did then set him before us.
II. He concludes from this doctrine that ruin will certainly be the end
of sinners. God knows all the wickedness of the wicked, and therefore
he will reckon for it: "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God!
for all their wickedness is open before thee, however it may be
artfully disguised and coloured over, to hide it from the eye of the
world. However thou suffer them to prosper for a while, surely thou
wilt slay them at last." Now observe,
1. The reason why God will punish them, because they daringly affront
him and set him at defiance
They speak against thee wickedly; they set their mouth
against the heavens
and shall be called to account for the hard speeches they have
spoken against him,
They are his enemies, and declare their enmity by taking his
name in vain, as we show our contempt of a man if we make a by-word
of his name, and never mention him but in a way of jest and banter.
Those that profane the sacred forms of swearing or praying by using
them in an impertinent irreverent manner take God's name in vain, and
thereby show themselves enemies to him. Some make it to be a
description of hypocrites: "They speak of thee for mischief; they talk
of God, pretending to piety, but it is with some ill design, for a
cloak of maliciousness; and, being enemies to God, while they pretend
friendship, they take his name in vain; they swear
2. The use David makes of this prospect which he has of the ruin of the
(1.) He defies them: "Depart from me, you bloody men; you shall
not debauch me, for I will not admit your friendship nor have
fellowship with you; and you cannot destroy me, for, being under God's
protection, he shall force you to depart from me."
(2.) He detests them
"Lord, thou knowest the heart, and canst witness for me; do not I
hate those that hate thee, and for that reason, because they hate
thee? I hate them because I love thee, and hate to see such affronts
and indignities put upon thy blessed name. Am not I grieved with
those that rise up against thee, grieved to see their rebellion and
to foresee their ruin, which it will certainly end in?" Note, Sin is
hated, and sinners are lamented, by all that fear God. "I hate
them" (that is, "I hate the work of them that turn aside,"
as he explains himself,
"with a sincere and perfect hatred; I count those that
are enemies to God as enemies to me, and will not have any intimacy
III. He appeals to God concerning his sincerity,
1. He desires that as far as he was in the wrong God would discover it
to him. Those that are upright can take comfort in God's omniscience as
a witness of their uprightness, and can with a humble confidence beg of
him to search and try them, to discover them to themselves (for a good
man desires to know the worst of himself) and to discover them to
others. He that means honestly could wish he had a window in his breast
that any man may look into his heart: "Lord, I hope I am not in a
wicked way, but see if there be any wicked way in me, any
corrupt inclination remaining; let me see it; and root it out of me,
for I do not allow it."
2. He desires that, as far as he was in the right, he might be
forwarded in it, which he that knows the heart knows how to do
effectually: Lead me in the way everlasting. Note,
(1.) The way of godliness is an everlasting way; it is everlastingly
true and good, pleasing to God and profitable to us, and will end in
everlasting life. It is the way of antiquity (so some), the
good old way.
(2.) All the saints desire to be kept and led in this way, that they
may not miss it, turn out of it, nor tire in it.