“You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.”
If you have ever had back pain, you know how difficult it can be to get comfortable. I know this well. And the other night, I found myself alone in bed, but for several pillows, with my typical lower back discomfort. I decided I would try laying on my side, placing one pillow against my back and one in front of me—and of course, there was one pillow for my head. If you’ve ever seen one of those horseshoe-shaped body pillows, this was kind of like a makeshift version of one of those. The pain didn’t completely subside, but I did feel more comfortable and more secure. As I laid there, Psalm 139:5 kept going through my mind—You hem me in behind and before…
In my mind, I thought I recalled hearing a sermon that referenced this as a phrase used by a shepherd. I pictured him carefully protecting and comforting his sheep. But I wanted to learn more, so I looked up the verse, along with a commentary by Albert Barnes (via Godvine.com)…
“Thou hast beset me behind and before – The word rendered “beset” – צור tsûr – means properly to press; to press upon; to compress. It has reference commonly to the siege of a city, or to the pressing on of troops in war; and then it comes to mean to besiege, hem in, closely surround, so that there is no way of escape. “
Hmm. So not about sheep at all. Instead this verse is all about battle, war, and conquest. This is not a phrase that most—in that time or ours—would find comforting. One would be anxious and afraid. And yet, even the Psalmist doesn’t seem to see it that way. We can tell because in verse 6, he states, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” You might be thinking, “#StockholmSyndrome”, but you’d be wrong. You see, God is not our enemy. He is not a captor who forces us against our will. He is a loving Father, a righteous judge, and a merciful savior. Thus, if we submit to Him, we can be assured that He will hold onto us, and will act in our best interest. So when you are surrounded by love, peace, and protection, I guess it’s not the same as being surrounded by an enemy. Indeed, that extra layer of protection against any encroaching enemies might bring the greatest peace of all. So God, please continue to hem us in, behind and before, and may we welcome you there.