Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 139:18’

The phrase at the end of  v. 18 – “I awake and am still with you” has often been interpreted as a reference to the resurrection in Jewish and Christian tradition. The imagery of awakening is a common one for the resurrection. This is the interpretation of the LXX (Septuagint). [See N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 150.]. And it is the interpretation of the Aramaic Targums – “if I should count them in this world, they would be more than sand; I shall awake in the world to come, and I shall still be with you.”

It is, however, not fashionable to read v. 18 in this way today. In fact, the word is often repointed to mean, “come to an end,” that is, the writer comes to the end of trying to count God’s thoughts and is still with God. Or the sense is given that the writer has fallen asleep, thinking about the sum of God’s thoughts, and he awakens to find himself still in God’s presence.

Often the reason given for a non-resurrection reading is that there is no context in the Psalm that leads to this. Let’s look at this. The place of the dead is referenced several times prior to v. 18. The writer speaks of Sheol in v. 8, and takes the position that “you (God) are there.” This is a more positive view of Sheol. Whereas in other places it seems that God is absent from Sheol, here God’s presence would be with the writer if he dies (“make my bed in Sheol”) [Or is he is simply making a visit to Sheol? In either case God is with him.].

vs. 11-12 is also, most likely, referring to Sheol with the phrase “the darkness.” Again there is a more positive view of Sheol. The darkness is not dark to God. The writer can be seen and known by God is Sheol.

Then in v. 15 we have another reference to Sheol in the phrase “the depths of the earth.” Here the writer makes a poetic connection between the womb and Sheol (they are in parallel with each other). Both are places of darkness. But perhaps there is more. If the womb is the place of waiting while being formed for life on earth, perhaps the comparison turns on seeing Sheol as the place of waiting for resurrection life. Sheol is then like a womb – from which will come those who are resurrected.

This then leads into the writer’s marveling over the sum of God’s thoughts/intentions – God’s forming of him in the womb, God’s forming of the days for him while in the womb. And at the end of this we have v. 18. All of God’s thoughts would include God’s purpose to raise him from the dead, so that he is still with God, beyond Sheol.

Also, if v. 18 is a reference to resurrection, it fits contextually with v. 19. The prayer for God to act against the wicked would have an eschatological force. “God bring forth the final day of judgment – the resurrection of the  righteous and the judgment of the wicked.”

Finally, this emphasis would fit well with v. 24, translated as “the way everlasting.”

William Higgins

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