Verse 8. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. Filling the loftiest region with his yet loftier presence, Jehovah is in the heavenly place, at home, upon his throne. The ascent, if it were possible, would be unavailing for purposes of escape; it would, in fact, be a flying into the centre of the fire to avoid the heat. There would he be immediately confronted by the terrible personality of God. Note the abrupt words -- "THOU, THERE."
If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. Descending into the lowest imaginable depths among the dead, there should we find the Lord. THOU! says the Psalmist, as if he felt that God was the one great Existence in all places. Whatever Hades may be, or whoever may be there, one thing is certain, Thou, O Jehovah, art there. Two regions, the one of glory and the other of darkness, are set in contrast, and this one fact is asserted of both -- "thou art there." Whether we rise up or lie down, take our wing or make our bed, we shall find God near us. A "behold" is added to the second clause, since it seems more a wonder to meet with God in hell than in heaven, in Hades than in Paradise. Of course the presence of God produces very different effects in these places, but it is unquestionably in each; the bliss of one, the terror of the other. What an awful thought, that some men seem resolved to take up their night's abode in hell, a night which shall know no morning.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 8. If I make my bed. Properly, "If I strew or spread my couch." If I should seek that as a place to lie down. --Albert Barnes.
Verse 8. Hell in some places in Scripture signifies the lower parts of the earth, without relation to punishment: If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. By "heaven" he means the upper region of the world, without any respect to the state of blessedness; and "hell" is the most opposite and remote in distance, without respect to misery. As if he had said, Let me go whither I will, thy presence finds me out. --Joseph Caryl.
Verse 8. Thou art there. Or, more emphatically and impressively in the original, "Thou!" That is, the Psalmist imagines himself in the highest heaven, or in the deepest abodes of the dead, -- and lo! God is there also; he has not gone from him! he is still in the presence of the same God! --Albert Barnes.
Verse 8. Thou art there. This is not meant of his knowledge, for that the Psalmist had spoken of before: Psalms 139:2-3 , "Thou understandest my thought afar off: thou art acquainted with all my ways." Besides, "thou art there"; not thy wisdom or knowledge, but thou, thy essence, not only thy virtue. For having before spoken of his omniscience, he proves that such knowledge could not be in God unless he were present in his essence in all places, so as to be excluded from none. He fills the depths of hell, the extension of the earth, and the heights of the heavens. When the Scripture mentions the power of God only, it expresses it by hand or arm; but when it mentions the spirit of God, and doth not intend the third person of the Trinity, it signifies the nature and essence of God; and so here, when he saith, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit?" he adds exegetically, "whither shall I flee from thy presence?" or Hebrew, "face"; and the face of God in Scripture signifies the essence of God: Ex 33:20,23, "Thou canst not see my face", and "my face shall not be seen"; the effects of his power, wisdom, providence, are seen, which are his back parts, but not his face. The effects of his power and wisdom are seen in the world, but his essence is invisible, and this the Psalmist elegantly expresses. --Stephen Charnook.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 8. The glory of heaven and the terror of hell: "Thou."