The Background Of Psalm 139 -- By: E. J. Young

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 08:3 (Summer 1965)
Article: The Background Of Psalm 139
Author: E. J. Young


The Background Of Psalm 139

E. J. Young

Psalm 139 is one of the grandest of all the Psalms, for it brings us face to face with the majesty and power of God. Immediately it exalts God as all knowing and omnipresent, and clearly shows that all of man’s life is in God’s hands.

The Psalm is a prayer and brings us right away to a contemplation of God’s omniscience, particularly as this has to do with the Psalmist himself. This consideration of God’s omniscience leads naturally to the contemplation of God’s omnipresence. And at this point one of the principal exegetical questions involved in the study of this Psalm emerges. David asks “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (verse 7) What is the reason for asking such a question? Is the Psalmist merely suggesting that it is impossible to flee from God? On this interpretation David is asserting the greatness of God and in a somewhat theoretical manner, declaring that there is no escape from Him. More likely, however, David speaks as a sinner, for later in the Psalm he appeals to God to search him and to see if there be any wicked way in him. As a sinner, David fears before God and seeks to escape His presence.

To escape from God, however, for whatever reason, is impossible, for not only is He omniscient, He is also omnipresent. From these thoughts David turns to reflect upon God’s relationship to himself. From the very first, when he was but an embryo in the womb of his mother, God had been with David. Those therefore, who oppose so great a God are also David’s enemies and he must hate them with a perfect hatred. He closes with an appeal to God to search him and to lead him in the way everlasting.

Whence come such sublime thoughts? What is their origin? For those who will not acknowledge that the Bible is a revelation from God such questions become truly embarrassing. It is our purpose in this paper to consider a fairly recent attempt to account for the origin of this Psalm. For some time attention has been called to supposed similarities between Psalm 139 and certain of the Vedic hymns. Hints to this effect were early given by Max Müller and later direct attention was drawn to a supposed relationship. Perhaps the most exhaustive study of the subject has been made by Hildebrecht Hommel, son of the well known Dr. Fritz Hommel, in an article in the Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Vol. 60, 1929, pp. 110-124, entitled “Das religionsgeschichtliche Problem des 139 Psalms.”

Before proceeding to a statement and examination of Hommel’s thesis it will be necessary to utter a few remarks concerni...

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