Psalm 139:5 #VOTD (+ Memorization Tutorial Video)

Verse of the Day 10.15.17 — Psalm 139:5

5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.1

5 אָח֣וֹר וָקֶ֣דֶם צַרְתָּ֑נִי וַתָּ֖שֶׁת עָלַ֣י כַּפֶּֽכָה׃2

C4C Translation: 

Before and behind you enclosed me, and you set your hand upon me

Psalm 139 is a “Song of Trust,” in which David sings of the LORD’s loving omnipresence and omniscience.3 The LORD knows and sees all. From when David sits and rises (Ps 139:2), to when he goes out and lies down (Psalm 139:3) — God is there. If he were to go the heavens or to the depths (Psalm 139:8), the wings of dawn or the far side of the sea (Psa 139:9) — God would be there. There is no way he can flee from His presence (Psa 139:7).

This great God, who knows David’s very words before they are uttered (Psa 139:4), is said to enclose (צוּר (ṣûr)) him both before and behind. The word I translate enclose,4 is perhaps most frequently used in the OT when describing a military attack. Armies would enclose or encircle walled cities they were preparing attack, essentially forming a blockade. Since people and supplies were unable to enter or exit the town, the price of food inside the city would often skyrocket, as inhabitants were “threatened by both sword and famine.”5 For this reason, some scholars believe that the use of this metaphor, as it does in most other cases, connotes hostility.6

Speaking of hostility, some scholars believe that God “setting his hand” or palm (kap̱) here entails an imposition of control or will. For example, The LORD lays his hand on Egypt with mighty acts of judgment (Ex 7:4), and says He will inflict punishment with his hand on the nations in Ezekiel (Ezek 39:21). Also, Job begs God to take His hand from upon him (Job 13:21). However, having the LORD’s hand upon a person can also confer protection, grace, and favor (cf. Ex 33:22; Ezra 7:6; Neh 2:8).7

All in all, though besieging and encircling often brought about surrender, it seems that, in this Psalm, perhaps David has a different kind of surrender in mind. For ṣûr also means “to make secure a valuable object, such as money.8. For instance, after the LORD, through Elisha, heals the leprosy of Naaman (commander of the king of Aram), and Elisha refuses to accept anything in return, Gehazi (a servant of Elisha) goes behind Elisha’s back and asks Naaman for compensation (2 Ki 5:19-27). Naaman gives Gehazi two talents of silver and two sets of clothing, which Gehazi ties up (ṣûr) in bags. Similarly, in this Psalm, ṣûr plausibly “denotes God’s protective care.”10

As a mother envelops her child in her loving arms, the LORD surrounds His children with loving protection. In light of our loving, all-seeing and all-knowing God, we ought to surrender to His leadership and His will. As David concludes:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.11


Memorize Psalm 139:5 in no time after watching a video illustrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:


  1. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 139:5.
  2. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 139:5.
  3. David S. Dockery et al., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 348.
  4. as does the NASB
  5. John E. Hartley, “1898 צוּר,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 761.
  6. “Had the poet not meant to connote the predominant sense of I. ṣûr, he could have used a neutral term like sbb (“to go around in circles”). [John] Calvin comments: “they [people] cannot move a hair’s breadth without his knowledge.” Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 549.
  7. Ibid.
  8. TWOT, 761
  9. Allan Harman, Psalms: A Mentor Commentary, vol. 1–2, Mentor Commentaries (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2011), 962. And, though their may be some (intended?) ambiguity, I am currently leaning towards this more positive interpretation.9In my view, in either case, the appropriate reaction is loving, humble surrender to the will of God
  10. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 139:23–24.
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Imperfect Servant ✝?⛪ | Husband | Princeton U. Alum | M. Div. | Assistant (to the) Pastor | Sound Doctrine & Apologetics @catchforchrist