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Psalm 139:5

Psalm 139:5 – “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

I thought this was referring to God forming us in our mother’s womb. The word “hem” sounded like the act of knitting or stitching together. Admittedly, I struggled to understand what this verse was saying. So, I did what any other scholar would do, and I googled it.


The word “hem” means, in this context, to protect. After reading into this, I found “hem” is translated from the Hebrew word “tsuwr” which means to bind, confine, or, secure and is usually implied to be guarding something valuable in a militaristic sense. Once I understood the specific meaning of this word, I started to understand what this verse was actually saying.


Psalm 139:1-6 describes the LORD’S infinite knowledge and omnipotence. It states the LORD searches us and knows us and that he is acquainted with all our ways. This would then imply that the writer is stating he is fully aware that the LORD knows how deeply flawed we all are. The LORD knows how selfish and evil our hearts are, and how profoundly reliant we are on Him and His grace. He knows how frequently and, at times, blatantly we offend him and grieve His Spirit.


Still, after acknowledging that the LORD knows deeply all these things about us, the writer then states that God “hem(s)” him in and “lay(s)” His hand upon him, and further implying God does this for us as well. The meaning of the word “hem” then implies that God is protecting something valuable to Him, something precious to him. “Tsuwr” is also generally militaristic in use, like an army protecting their precious home from the enemy. I then found that this verse is saying that God is not only keeping us near to him as a precious possession, but he is also defending us from the enemy! He knows how flawed and weak we are without Him, yet He still chooses to bring us near when we call upon him.


I found this both comforting and fascinating. God knows intimately how flawed we are and calls us beloved. When we go to Him in Jesus’s name, he brings us near and guards us. This is overwhelmingly comforting and humbling. It is also fascinating, as I think it acknowledges the spiritual war that is raging even now until Jesus’s return to judge creation and how we need His protection and strength to endure this war.


It really is amazing how there are always so many layers to even the shortest of verses in God’s word.

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