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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : Psalm 139:13-16

Commentary On Psalms Volume 5 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 139:13-16

13. For thou hast possessed my reins; thou hast covered me in my mother's womb, 14. I will praise thee; for I have been made wonderful terribly; marvellous are thy works, and my soul shall know them well.15. My strength is not hid from thee, which thou hast made in secret: I was woven together in the lowest parts of the earth.16. Thine eyes did see my shapelessness; all are written in thy book, they were formed by days, and not one of them.

13. For thou hast possessed my reins Apparently he prosecutes the same subject, though he carries it out somewhat farther, declaring that we need not be surprised at God's knowledge of the most secret thoughts of men, since he formed their hearts and their reins. He thus represents God as sitting king in the very reins of man, as the center of his jurisdiction, and shows it ought to be no ground of wonder that all the windings and recesses of our hearts are known to him who, when we were inclosed in our mother's womb, saw us as clearly and perfectly as if we had stood before him in the light of mid-day. This may let us know the design with which David proceeds to speak of man's original formation, tits scope is the same in the verse which follows, where, with some ambiguity in the terms employed, it is sufficiently clear and obvious that David means that he had been fashioned in a manner wonderful, and calculated to excite both fear and admiration, so that he breaks forth into the praises of God. One great reason of the carnal security into which we fall, is our not considering how singularly we were fashioned at first by our Divine Maker. From this particular instance David is led to refer in general to all the works of God, which are just so many wonders fitted to draw our attention to him. The true and proper view to take of the works of God, as I have observed elsewhere, is that which ends in wonder. His declaration to the effect that his soul should well know these wonders, which far transcend human comprehension, means no more than that with humble and sober application he would give his attention and talents to obtaining such an apprehension of the wonderful works of God as might end in adoring the immensity of his glory. The knowledge he means, therefore, is not that which professes to comprehend what, under the name of wonders, he confesses to be incomprehensible, nor of that kind which philosophers presumptuously pretend to, as if they could solve every mystery of God, but simply that religious attention to the works of God which excites to the duty of thanksgiving.

15. My strength was not hid from thee That nothing is hid from God David now begins to prove from the way in which man is at first formed, and points out God's superiority to other artificers in this, that while they must have their work set before their eyes before they can form it, he fashioned us in our mother's womb. It is of little importance whether we read my strength or my bone, though I prefer the latter reading. He next likens the womb of the mother to the lowest caverns or recesses of the earth. Should an artizan intend commencing a work in some dark cave where there was no light to assist him, how would he set his hand to it? in what way would he proceed? and what kind of workmanship would it prove? But God makes the most perfect work of all in the dark, for he fashions man in mother's womb. The verb rqm, rakam, which means weave together, is employed to amplify and enhance what the Psalmist had just said. David no doubt means figuratively to express the inconceivable skill which appears in the formation of the human body. When we examine it, even to the nails on our fingers, there is nothing which could be altered, without felt inconveniency, as at something disjointed or put out of place; and what, then, if we should make the individual parts the subject of enumeration? Where is the embroiderer who -- with all his industry and ingenuity -- could execute the hundredth part of this complicate and diversified structure? We need not then wonder if God, who formed man so perfectly in the womb, should have an exact knowledge of him after he is ushered into the world.

16. Thine eyes beheld my shapelessness, etc. The embryo, when first conceived in the womb, has no form; and David speaks of God's having known him when he was yet a shapeless mass, to kuema, as the Greeks term it; for to embruon is the name given to the foetus from the time of conception to birth inclusive. The argument is from the greater' to the less. If he was known to God before he had grown to certain definite shape, much less could he now elude his observation. He adds, that all things were written in his book; that is, the whole method of his formation was well known to God. The term book is a figure taken from the practice common amongst men of helping their memory by means of books and commentaries. Whatever is an object of God's knowledge he is said to have registered in writing, for he needs no helps to memory. Interpreters are not agreed as to the second clause. Some read ymym, yamim, in the nominative case, when days were made; the sense being, according to them -- All my bones were written in thy book, O God! from the beginning of the world, when days were first formed by thee, and when as yet none of them actually existed. The other is the more natural meaning, That the different parts of the human body are formed in a succession of time; for in the first germ there is no arrangement of parts, or proportion of members, but it is developed, and takes its peculiar form progressively. There is another point on which interpreters differ. As in the particle l', lo, the ', aleph, is often interchangeable with v vau; some read lv, to him, and others l' not. According to the first reading, the sense is, that though the body is formed progressively, it was always one and the same in God's book, who is not dependent upon time for the execution of his work. A sufficiently good meaning, however, can be got by adhering' without change to the negative particle, namely, that though the members were formed in the course of days, or gradually, none of them had existed; no order or distinctness of parts having been there at first, but a formless substance. And thus our admiration is directed to the providence of God in gradually giving' shape and beauty to a confused mass.

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