Verse of the Day 11.19.17: Psalm 139:14
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.1
14 אֽוֹדְךָ֗ עַ֤ל כִּ֥י נוֹרָא֗וֹת נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי נִפְלָאִ֥ים מַעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ וְ֝נַפְשִׁ֗י יֹדַ֥עַת מְאֹֽד׃2
I praise you because awesomely I am made wonderful,
wonderful are your works,
and my soul knows it full well.
Awesomely (יָרֵא | yārēʾ)
Most translations read “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NIV, NRSV, ESV, NARSB, KJV). However it appears that word translated “awesomely” is actually a passive participle (Niphal verbal stem) that is used adverbially — describing manner the in which the psalmist has been made wonderful. Thus, grammarians believe this verse should be understood as: I am made “in a fearful manner”3 or “I am made wonderful fearfully.”4
I prefer the word “awesome” since the fear that yārēʾconnotes in this case is that of “awe.” The Niphal participle form of this word is often used when describing the awesome acts of the LORD.5
In the Hebrew text, there are two words translated “wonderful” that are at the focal point of the verse — a verb and a participle from the same root (פָּלָה | pālâ; “to be wondrous”6). And, this kind of wonder is “outside of the power of human comprehension.” 7By keeping the two instances of “wonderful” next to each other, I tried to maintain what I believe to be a purposeful poetic device. For, in Hebrew, the middle of a line (especially in a chiastic structure) is often the most important.
Full Well (מְאֹד | mĕ’ōd)
The word mĕʾōd occurs over three hundred times in the Old Testament, usually as an adverb.8 As an adverb it means “very, so, greatly, utterly, i.e., pertaining to a high point on a scale of extent.”9 For example, in Genesis, God saw that His creation was very good (Gen 1:31; emphasis added). In Joshua, Moses’ successor is told to “Be strong and very courageous” (Jos 1:7, NIV with emphasis added).
Less commonly, mĕʾōd appears as a substantive noun meaning “power, might,”10“muchness”11 or strength. The most famous example can be found in Dt 6:5 — “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.“12
I like the NIV’s idiomatic rendering: “full well.” It conveys the idea with an alliterative flourish (wonderful, wonderful, works, well).
Context & Commentary
For more information about the context of the Book(s) of Psalms, please see the previous post on Psalm 130:1-2.
In Psalm 139, the psalmist sings of the all-seeing (Psalm 139:1-6), all-present (Psalm 139:7-12), all-creative (Psalm 139:13-18), and all-holy (Psalm 139:19-24) God.14
The God with such wonderful qualities is the One who made the psalmist — and the One who made each one of us — wonderfully. Each one of us was created in His image (Gen 1:26). Being made in the image of God is how one ought to ground one’s worth, one’s morality, one’s worldview.
Dear friends, no need to ground one’s self-esteem in self-affirmation. The all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-holy Creator has made you with incomprehensible wonder! To him belongs eternal praise!
Memorize Psalm 139:14 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 139:14.
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 139:14.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 375.
- Bruce K. Waltke and Michael Patrick O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 173. “The accusative of manner describes the way in which an action is performed; it, too, is anarthrous.” — anarthrous meaning without the article “the.” Ibid, 172.
- “…more frequently…this term is applied to the great redemptive acts of God (Deut 10:21; Ps 65:5 ; 66:3, 5; 139:14; 145:6; Zeph 2:11…” Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 532.
- “פלא plʾ ni[phal]. to be wondrous” Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 981.
- Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner, “The Songs of the Ascents: Psalms,” in The Book of Psalms, ed. E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 965.
- Walter C. Kaiser, “1134 מאד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 487.
- James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 824.
- Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 547.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Dt 6:5; emphasis added.
- Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 500-504. The abstract concepts of the LORD’s omniscience, omnipresence, creatorship, and holiness are made more concrete via vivid imagery.13J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 578.