Some exegetical notes on the Hebrew Text of Psalm 139


Today’s post is featuring some exegetical notes on the text of Psalm 139. The Psalm itself is a treasure trove of spiritual richness and is worthy of study, meditation and application. A devotional version of this study based upon this post is available at the other blog site today at: and May those who read this post find it helpful in their own study.

1. Looking at the verbs in Psalm 139

Why focus upon the verbs? Because in the Hebrew Bible, the verb is king of the sentence, the paragraph and the message of the author. Below are parsings or breakdown of the verbs that are found in the Hebrew text. I have included a few comments on a handful of the verbs. For sake of study, an outline of the text will be offered:

a. God is all-knowing 139:1-6

139:1 חֲקַרְתַּנִי = Qal perfect 2nd masc singular with 1st common singular suffix of חָקַר, “You have examined me thoroughly”. וַתֵּדָֽע = Qal waw consec 2nd masc singular of יָדַע,  “and you have known”.

The term “Qal” refers to the most basic and fundamental of the Hebrew stems or verbal patterns. The “Qal” stem is the simple active stem in the Hebrew language. The term “perfect” refers to a an action that is viewed from the outside as a whole event. The context suggests that the Yahweh has been examining David already, and that His scrutiny is quite thorough.

As we will see, David’s whole point in this Psalm is to unpack how much God knows, and how knowing how much God knows is part of what entails trusting Him. The two verbs in this first verse will be repeated near the end of Psalm 139:23 to frame the Psalm and thus define its theme of God’s knowledge and examination of David. Here in Psalm 139:1 David is recounting God’s past examination and knowledge of Him, and in verse 23 we see David inviting God to do the same. These two verses together suggest the theme of this Psalm: Trusting God. In as far as you and I know God and surrender to God, we will trust God.

139:2 יָדַעְתָּ = Qal perfect 2nd masc singular of יָדַע, “You know”. בַּנְתָּה = Qal perfect 2nd masc singular w/ 3rd fem sing suffix, from בִּין, meaning “You have perceived it”.

139:3  זֵרִיתָ = Piel perfect 2nd masc sing of זָרָה, “You have (caused to) spread out”. הִסְכַּֽנְתָּה = Hiphil perfect 2nd masc sing w/ 3rd fem sing from סָכַן, “You have become very familar with it”.

The Piel stem refers to the subject of the verb being in a state or brought into a state. Sometimes too with the Piel stem there is a causitive idea. The Hiphil stem carries with it a more pure activity of causation brought about by the subject of the verb. Thus God is seen as causing things to be brought into a state of being spread out (זֵרִיתָ) and then causing Himself to become very acquainted with David in His thoughts about Him (הִסְכַּֽנְתָּה)

139:4 יָדַעְתָּ = Qal perfect 2nd masc singular of יָדַע, “You know”.

139:5 צַרְתָּנִי = Qal perf 2nd masc sing w/ 1st com sing suffix, from צוּר, “you have secured me”. וַתָּשֶׁת = Qal waw consec 2nd masc sing of שִׁית, “you have placed”

139:6 נִשְׂגְּבָה = Niphal perf 3rd fem sing of שָׂגַב. “It is in and of itself out of reach”. לֹא־אוּכַֽל = Qal imperf 1st comm singular of יָכֹל, Along with the negative partical לֹא “I am unable”

The Niphal stem is the middle/reflexive idea that conveys what the Qal does in the active. The Qal portrays the subject of the verb doing a simple action, whereas the Niphal stem pictures that same subject simply acting within themselves or being acted upon. The nature of God’s knowledge in an of itself is that it is beyond the Psalmist’s comprehension.

b. God is everywhere present 139:7-9

139:7 אֵלֵךְ = Qal imperfect 1st comm sing of יָלַךְ “Can I go”. אֶבְרָֽח = Qal imperfect 1st comm sing of בָּרַח “Can I flee”.

139:8 אֶסַּק = Qal imperf 1st comm sing of נָסַק, “I ascend”. אַצִּיעָה (has a conjunctive waw)= Hiphil 1st comm sing from יַצַע, “I spread out”

139:9 אֶשָּׂא = Piel imperf 1st comm sing of נָשָׂא, “I am borne continuously”. אֶשְׁכְּנָה = Piel imperf 1st comm sing of שָׁכַן, “I continuously dwell”

c. God is all-knowing 139:10-13

139:10 תַנְחֵנִי = Hiph imperf 2nd masc sing w/ 1st comm sing suffix of נָחָה, “You lead me out”. וְֽתֹאחֲזֵנִי = waw conjunctive.  Qal imperf 2nd masc singular w/ 1st comm sing suffix, “You have taken hold of me”

139:11 וָאֹמַר = waw conjunctive. Qal perf  3rd masc singular of אָמַר, “He can say”. לֹֽא־יַחְשִׁיךְ Hiphil imperf 3rd masc sing with negative particle, “He causes it to get dark”. 

139:13 קָנָה is represented by a Qal perf 3rd masc sing. “He acquires”.

d. God is all powerful 139:14-16

139:14 נוֹרָאוֹת = Niphal participle fem plural of יָרֵא “They are to be feared”. נִפְלֵיתִי = Niphal perfect 1st comm sing of פָּלָה, “I have considered distinguished”, נִפְלָאִים = Niphal participle masc plural, “wonders”. יֹדַעַת = Qal perfect 2nd masc sing of יָדַע “You have known”.

139:15 לֹא־נִכְחַדַ niphal perfect 3rd masc sing with a negative particle “Not hidden, concealed”. עֻשֵּׂיתִי Pual participle 1st com sing from עָשָׂה “I was made”. רֻקַּמְתִּי Pual participle 1st comm sing from רָקַם, “I was woven”.

Only God is powerful enough to pentrate the veil of life’s mystery. All of His absolute attributes (all-powerful; all knowing; all-good; everywhere present) work together in infinitely equal measure to define His Divine being.

e. God is all-good 139:16-21

139:16 רָאוּ = Qal perf 3rd comm plural of רָאָה “they have seen”. יִכָּתֵבוּ = Qal imperf 3rd comm plural of כָּתַב, “they are written”. יֻצָּרוּ = Pual perf 3rd common plural, “They were formed”

139:17 יָּקְרוּ = Qal perf 3rd comm plural of יָקַר = “They are precious”. אֶסְפְּרֵם = Piel imperf 1st comm sing of סָפַר, “I will remain in a state of recounting”. הֱקִיצֹתִי = Hiphil perfect 1st comm sing of קוּץ, “I will cause to rise up”.

139:18 תִּקְטֹל = Qal imperf 2nd masc sing of קָטַל, “You slay”.

139:19 סוּרוּ = Qal perfect 3rd comm plural of סוּר, “they turn aside”.

139:20  יֹאמְרֻךָ = Piel Imperf 3rd masc sing w/ 2nd masc sing suffix “Let it be said to you”

139:21 הֲלֽוֹא־מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ = Piel part masc plural w/ 2nd masc sing suffix, along with negative particle and the interrogative heh, from שָׂנֵא, “are not those who hate you”.  אֶשְׂנָא = Qal imperf 1st comm sing of שִׂנְאָה

The teaching of God’s perfect hatred has to do with Him hating “what people become” moreso than a vindictive, offense laden hatred found typically in human beings. Perfect hatred for what drug dealers do the outcomes of their actions is deemed just and right. To hate injustice is included under the umbrella of the doctrine of perfect hatred.

f. God can be trusted, since knowing Him and surrendering to Him.

139:22 שִׂנְאָה = Qal perf 3rd masc sing of שִׂנְאָה. “To hate”. 

139:23 חָקְרֵנִי = Qal imperative sing w/ 1st comm sing suffix. “Search me thoroughly”. וְדַע = waw conjunctive. Qal imperative sing from יָדַע, “keep on knowing”. בְּחָנֵנִי = Qal imperative sing of בָּחַן, “Thoroughly test me”. וְדַע = waw conjunctive. Qal imperative sing from יָדַע, “keep on knowing”.

139:24 וּרְאֵה = Qal imperative sing, “see”. וּנְחֵנִי = Waw conjunctive. Qal imperative w/ 1st comm sing suffix. “Lead me”.

2. Textual Criticism Notes on Psalm 139:14

This one verse stuck out simply because in the NASB there is a note on Psalm 139:14: “Some ancient versions read ‘You are fearfully wonderful’ “. The note on נִפְלֵיתִי “I have been distinguished, set apart” states that the LXX and Syriac versions read the verb as having a 2nd singular ending, thus “You are distinguished. wonderful”. Furthermore, the note has the Latin abbreviation “Hier” referring to the sacred name “Yah” being attached to the end of this variation, thus suggesting “You are the wonderful Yah” or “You are the wonderful Lord”.


About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
This entry was posted in Exegesis, Hebrew Text/Translation, translation. Bookmark the permalink.

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