Ahead, Behind, and All Around

Jeff Munroe

Read: Psalm 139

Thou compassest my path . . . (v. 3 KJV)

I’ve mentioned that some of these passages are poems, and you may wonder because sometimes they don’t sound like poems at all. Many of us think of poetry solely in terms of rhyme. The esteemed English poet William Wordsworth called poetry “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,” and that definition serves us well with Psalm 139.

This psalm is beloved because it speaks so clearly of God’s knowledge and awareness of us. As we contemplate God’s intimate knowledge of creation, it’s easy to be moved to a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.

While there are several well-known verses in Psalm 139, I’m particularly drawn to verse 3 and the curious word “compassest” in the King James Version. There is some disagreement about the Hebrew here, and different translations take this in different directions, but the KJV translation presents two profound ways to think of God’s care and attention. One is “encompassing”—completely surrounding and enveloping us. Another is to think of a compass as something that gives direction or charts a course. It’s lovely to think of God both surrounding us with his care and also charting a course for us as we go through our days. These aspects of God’s love are repeated in the psalm: God is “behind and before” (v. 5) and “thy hand lead[s] me” (v. 10). Thanks be to God for both. —Jeff Munroe

As you pray, may you take comfort and find direction in God’s all-encompassing love and care.