Psalm 139 (138) is one of the great treasures of the Psalter, exploring as it does the mystery of who we are and of our relationship to God. Here is expressed our conviction that God knows all about us, and has done so from the moment of our conception. But there is nothing to suggest that God is controlling or manipulating us. We are free agents, always responsible for our actions.
The making of metrical hymns from the prose psalms of our translations of the Bible was the beginning of English hymnody, and it continues. Something of the fullness and subtlety of the psalm is always lost, and excellent though this version is it drives us back to the original. Understandably it leaves out entirely the prayer in verses 19–22 that God will slay the wicked, and the declaration that the psalmist stands alongside God in his hatred of them. This is part of the Hebrew way of thinking, but it is genuinely difficult for the Christian.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2004