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Psalm 139

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Psalm 139
"O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me"
Hymn psalm
A 1983 stained-glass window by Ted Felen titled Psalm 139
Other name
  • Psalm 138 (Vulgate)
  • "Domine probasti me et cognovisti me"
LanguageHebrew (original)

Psalm 139 is the 139th psalm of the Book of Psalms, beginning in English in the King James Version: "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me". In Latin, it is known as "Domine probasti me et cognovisti me".[1] The psalm is a hymn psalm. Attributed to David, it is known for its affirmation of God's omnipresence. Alexander Kirkpatrick states that "the consciousness of the intimate personal relation between God and man which is characteristic of the whole Psalter reaches its climax here".[2]

In the slightly different numbering system used in the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and in the Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 138.

The psalm forms a regular part of Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and other Protestant liturgies. It has often been set to music.

Background and themes[edit]

According to the Midrash Shocher Tov, Psalm 139 was written by Adam. Verses 5 and 16, for example, allude to the formation of the First Man.[3] Abramowitz explains that the themes of the psalm relate to Adam, while David wrote the actual words.[4] Psalm 139 is part of the final Davidic collection of psalms, comprising Psalms 138 through 145, which are attributed to David in the first verse.[5][6]

Verse 16 is the only place in the Tanakh where the word גָּלְמִ֚י, galmi, from the same root as the term golem, appears.[7][8] In describing the creation of Adam hour by hour, the Talmud states that in the second hour the dust from the earth was gathered into a golem ('unformed mass') (Sanhedrin 38b).[9] A Midrash on Genesis 5:1[10] also describes Adam's creation as a golem of immense size, stretching from one end of the earth to the other. This is reflected in verse 16, in which Adam says to God, "Your eyes saw my golem".[11]

The psalm addresses God, or, in Jewish tradition, YHWH, and the speaker calls out and establishes a salutation and an understanding of what they know God to be. The psalmist goes on to marvel at the omnipresence of God even in the most secret of places, and praise God for his vast knowledge of the future. Finally, the psalmist concludes by asking God to "slay the wicked" and stands against them, assuring God of their fervor, asking to be tested and led in the correct path. The psalmist praises God; terms of supreme authority, and being able to witness everything on heaven, earth and in the underworld.[12] Through this psalm, the psalmist insists on God being the only true God and challenges anyone to question their faith.



The following table shows the Hebrew text[13][14] of the Psalm with vowels alongside an English translation based upon the JPS 1917 translation (now in the public domain).

Verse Hebrew English translation (JPS 1917)
1 לַ֭מְנַצֵּחַ לְדָוִ֣ד מִזְמ֑וֹר יְהֹוָ֥ה חֲ֝קַרְתַּ֗נִי וַתֵּדָֽע׃ For the Leader. A Psalm of David. O LORD, Thou hast searched me, and known me. .
2 אַתָּ֣ה יָ֭דַעְתָּ שִׁבְתִּ֣י וְקוּמִ֑י בַּ֥נְתָּה לְ֝רֵעִ֗י מֵרָחֽוֹק׃ Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 אׇרְחִ֣י וְרִבְעִ֣י זֵרִ֑יתָ וְֽכׇל־דְּרָכַ֥י הִסְכַּֽנְתָּה׃ Thou measurest my going about and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways.
4 כִּ֤י אֵ֣ין מִ֭לָּה בִּלְשׁוֹנִ֑י הֵ֥ן יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה יָדַ֥עְתָּ כֻלָּֽהּ׃ For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether.
5 אָח֣וֹר וָקֶ֣דֶם צַרְתָּ֑נִי וַתָּ֖שֶׁת עָלַ֣י כַּפֶּֽכָה׃ Thou hast hemmed me in behind and before, And laid Thy hand upon me.
6 (פלאיה) [פְּלִ֣יאָֽה] דַ֣עַת מִמֶּ֑נִּי נִ֝שְׂגְּבָ֗ה לֹא־א֥וּכַֽל לָֽהּ׃ Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; Too high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 אָ֭נָֽה אֵלֵ֣ךְ מֵרוּחֶ֑ךָ וְ֝אָ֗נָה מִפָּנֶ֥יךָ אֶבְרָֽח׃ Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
8 אִם־אֶסַּ֣ק שָׁ֭מַיִם שָׁ֣ם אָ֑תָּה וְאַצִּ֖יעָה שְּׁא֣וֹל הִנֶּֽךָּ׃ If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in the nether-world, behold, Thou art there.
9 אֶשָּׂ֥א כַנְפֵי־שָׁ֑חַר אֶ֝שְׁכְּנָ֗ה בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית יָֽם׃ If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 גַּם־שָׁ֭ם יָדְךָ֣ תַנְחֵ֑נִי וְֽתֹאחֲזֵ֥נִי יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ Even there would Thy hand lead me, And Thy right hand would hold me.
11 וָ֭אֹמַר אַךְ־חֹ֣שֶׁךְ יְשׁוּפֵ֑נִי וְ֝לַ֗יְלָה א֣וֹר בַּעֲדֵֽנִי׃ And if I say: ‘Surely the darkness shall envelop me, And the light about me shall be night';
12 גַּם־חֹשֶׁךְ֮ לֹא־יַחְשִׁ֢יךְ מִ֫מֶּ֥ךָּ וְ֭לַיְלָה כַּיּ֣וֹם יָאִ֑יר כַּ֝חֲשֵׁיכָ֗ה כָּאוֹרָֽה׃ Even the darkness is not too dark for Thee, But the night shineth as the day; The darkness is even as the light.
13 כִּֽי־אַ֭תָּה קָנִ֣יתָ כִלְיֹתָ֑י תְּ֝סֻכֵּ֗נִי בְּבֶ֣טֶן אִמִּֽי׃ For Thou hast made my reins; Thou hast knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 אוֹדְךָ֗ עַ֤ל כִּ֥י נֽוֹרָא֗וֹת נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי נִפְלָאִ֥ים מַעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ וְ֝נַפְשִׁ֗י יֹדַ֥עַת מְאֹֽד׃ I will give thanks unto Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 לֹֽא־נִכְחַ֥ד עׇצְמִ֗י מִ֫מֶּ֥ךָּ אֲשֶׁר־עֻשֵּׂ֥יתִי בַסֵּ֑תֶר רֻ֝קַּ֗מְתִּי בְּֽתַחְתִּיּ֥וֹת אָֽרֶץ׃ My frame was not hidden from Thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 גׇּלְמִ֤י ׀ רָ֘א֤וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וְעַֽל־סִפְרְךָ֮ כֻּלָּ֢ם יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ יָמִ֥ים יֻצָּ֑רוּ (ולא) [וְל֖וֹ] אֶחָ֣ד בָּהֶֽם׃ Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance, And in Thy book they were all written— Even the days that were fashioned, When as yet there was none of them.
17 וְלִ֗י מַה־יָּקְר֣וּ רֵעֶ֣יךָ אֵ֑ל מֶ֥ה עָ֝צְמ֗וּ רָאשֵׁיהֶֽם׃ How weighty also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!
18 אֶ֭סְפְּרֵם מֵח֣וֹל יִרְבּ֑וּן הֱ֝קִיצֹ֗תִי וְעוֹדִ֥י עִמָּֽךְ׃ If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand; Were I to come to the end of them, I would still be with Thee.
19 אִם־תִּקְטֹ֖ל אֱל֥וֹהַּ ׀ רָשָׁ֑ע וְאַנְשֵׁ֥י דָ֝מִ֗ים ס֣וּרוּ מֶֽנִּי׃ If Thou but wouldest slay the wicked, O God— Depart from me therefore, ye men of blood;
20 אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֹ֭מְרוּךָ לִמְזִמָּ֑ה נָשׂ֖וּא לַשָּׁ֣וְא עָרֶֽיךָ׃ Who utter Thy name with wicked thought, They take it for falsehood, even Thine enemies— .
21 הֲלֽוֹא־מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ אֶשְׂנָ֑א וּ֝בִתְקוֹמְמֶ֗יךָ אֶתְקוֹטָֽט׃ Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate Thee? And do not I strive with those that rise up against Thee?
22 תַּכְלִ֣ית שִׂנְאָ֣ה שְׂנֵאתִ֑ים לְ֝אוֹיְבִ֗ים הָ֣יוּ לִֽי׃ I hate them with utmost hatred; I count them mine enemies.
23 חׇקְרֵ֣נִי אֵ֭ל וְדַ֣ע לְבָבִ֑י בְּ֝חָנֵ֗נִי וְדַ֣ע שַׂרְעַפָּֽי׃ Search me, O God, and know my heart, Try me, and know my thoughts;
24 וּרְאֵ֗ה אִם־דֶּֽרֶךְ־עֹ֥צֶב בִּ֑י וּ֝נְחֵ֗נִי בְּדֶ֣רֶךְ עוֹלָֽם׃ And see if there be any way in me that is grievous, And lead me in the way everlasting.

King James Version[edit]

  1. O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
  2. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
  3. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
  4. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
  5. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
  6. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
  7. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
  8. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
  9. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
  10. Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
  11. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
  12. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
  13. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
  14. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
  15. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
  16. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
  17. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
  18. If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
  19. Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
  20. For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
  21. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
  22. I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
  23. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
  24. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.



Catholic Church[edit]

Since the Middle Ages, this psalm was recited or sung during the Vespers office on Thursday, according to the Rule of St. Benedict, established in 530. Because of its length, it was divided into two, and from "dixi: Tenebrae Forsitan conculcabunt me" (verse 11) was executed as a division. The Vespers on Thursday thus had only three psalms instead of four.[19][20]

In the current Liturgy of the Hours, Psalm 139 is recited at Vespers, but also on Wednesdays of the fourth week of the main four weekly cycle of liturgical prayers. In the liturgy of the Mass, it is played or sung for the Feast of St. John the Baptist.


Psalm 139:13 has been used by both the pro-life and LGBT movements as a blessing and a source of support for their activities.[21] The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsors the Psalm 139 Project, which aims to place ultrasound machines in crisis pregnancy centers as a means of convincing pregnant women not to abort their unborn child.[22]

Psalm 139 in music[edit]

The hymn "Ob ich sitze oder stehe" ('Whether I sit or stand'), of the genre Neues Geistliches Lied, by Eugen Eckert is based on Psalm 139.

Classical music[edit]

Heinrich Schütz composed a metred paraphrase of Psalm 139 in German, "Herr, du erforschst mein Sinne", SWV 244, for the Becker Psalter, published first in 1628.


  • 139. Psalm for mezzo-soprano, trumpet, trombone and tuba by Franz Koglmann

Contemporary Christian music[edit]

In literature[edit]

Verses 9-10 feature in the short story Ved det yderste Hav (The uttermost parts of the sea) by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen.[27]


  1. ^ Parallel Latin/English Psalter / Psalmus 138 (139) Archived 2017-05-07 at the Wayback Machine medievalist.net
  2. ^ Kirkpatrick, A., Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Psalm 139, accessed 26 June 2022
  3. ^ Katz, Shlomo (June 7, 2002). "Do Torah! Parashas Bereishis". Torah.org. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  4. ^ Abramowitz, Rabbi Jack. "Adam Says". Orthodox Union. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  5. ^ Lama, A. K. (2013). Reading Psalm 145 with the Sages: A Compositional Analysis. Langham Monographs. p. 3. ISBN 9781907713354.
  6. ^ Schaefer, Konrad (2016). Berit Olam: Psalms. Liturgical Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780814682173.
  7. ^ Strauss, Walter A. (1995). "The Golem on the Operatic Stage: Nature's Warning". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. 7 (2): 191–200. JSTOR 43308241.
  8. ^ Strom-Mackey, Robin M. (2017). Anatomy of a Ghost. Cosmic Pantheon Press. p. 114. ISBN 9781387225729.
  9. ^ Sherwin, Byron L. (2000). Jewish Ethics for the Twenty-First Century: Living in the Image of God. Syracuse University Press. p. 62. ISBN 9780815606246.
  10. ^ Genesis 5:1
  11. ^ Pérez-Gómez, Alberto; Parcell, Stephen, eds. (1996), "Legend of the Golem", Chora 2: Intervals in the Philosophy of Architecture, McGill-Queen's Press, p. 229, ISBN 9780773566019
  12. ^ Holman, Jan (1971). "The Structure of Psalm CXXXIX". Vetus Testamentum. 21 (3): 298–310. doi:10.1163/156853371X00425. JSTOR 1517138.
  13. ^ "Psalms – Chapter 139". Mechon Mamre.
  14. ^ "Psalms 139 - JPS 1917". Sefaria.org.
  15. ^ The Artscroll Tehillim, page 329
  16. ^ Brauner, Reuven (2013). "Shimush Pesukim" (PDF). p. 50. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  17. ^ "The Traveler's Prayer (with a Supplement for Airplane Travel)". Open Siddur Project. 2016-02-08. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  18. ^ "T'filat Haderech – The Traveler's Prayer" (PDF). The Jewish Parent Page. Union for Reform Judaism.
  19. ^ Prosper Guéranger, Règle de saint Benoît, (traduction de Prosper Guéranger, réimpression 2007).
  20. ^ Psautier latin-français du bréviaire monastique, 1938/2003,p 519.
  21. ^ Van Biema, David (March 28, 2012). "One psalm, two causes, two meanings". Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  22. ^ "Psalm 139 Project". Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 2018. Retrieved July 26, 2018.
  23. ^ "REVIEW: Leeland – Invisible". The Worship Community. August 12, 2016. Retrieved July 28, 2018.
  24. ^ From the albums: Traces of Rain and The Worship Sessions
  25. ^ Hymnary.org, There is no moment of my life
  26. ^ Farrell, B., Bernadette Farrell - O God, You Search Me Lyrics, accessed 26 June 2022
  27. ^ Andersen, H.C. (1863). Eventyr og Historier. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag. p. 328, vol. 2.

External links[edit]