(7) Where shall I go from your Spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence? (8) If I ascend into the heavens, you (are) there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold you (are there). (9) If I take the wings of the dawn, and settle down in the remotest part of the sea, (10) even there your hand will guide me, and your right hand will take hold of me. (11) If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light about me will be night,” (12) even the darkness will not be dark to you, and the night will be light as day, for darkness (is) like the light (to you).
In this segment several repetitions focus on God’s attribute of omnipresence, his being everywhere at the same time. “Where” occurs twice (vs. 7), and “there” is also found twice (vss. 8 & 10). Two synonyms for “hand” and “right hand” speak of God’s guidance and protection (vs. 10). The psalmist uses “darkness” three times along with two instances of “light” to describe the impossibility of hiding from Yahweh (vss. 11 & 12).
I. Question: Where can I go to flee from you? (7)
II. Answer: I cannot hide from your presence. (8-12)
- neither in the heights nor in the depths (vertically) (8)
- nor in the remotest places on earth (horizontally) (9 & 10)
- neither in the darkness nor in the light (personally) (11 & 12)
There is nowhere we can go to escape from the presence of Yahweh.
The Old Testament narrative which most memorably embodies the message of this segment is the story of Jonah and the great fish. Yahweh’s command to the prophet had been clear and unambiguous: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jon. 1:2). Instead, Jonah rebelliously fled in the opposite direction from Nineveh in a vain attempt to avoid obeying Yahweh’s command. The question posed in the opening verse could have been taken right out of Jonah’s mouth: “Where shall I flee from your presence” (vs. 7)?
Jonah’s desperate prayer to Yahweh offered from the belly of the fish that had been prepared by God to swallow the prophet is recounted for us in Jonah 2. His near death experience taught him the truth which David so eloquently expresses in this segment. Even in the remotest part of the sea, trapped in the belly of a huge fish, Yahweh remained with Jonah and could see all that was happening to him.
Yahweh’s attribute of omnipresence means that there is no escaping him. It is important to differentiate this truth from Pantheism, the belief that God is identical to his creation so that God is in everything and everything is God. Our uncreated God must never be confused with what he has created. The truth that there is no place where God cannot be found can overwhelm us with an oppressive sense that he never leaves us alone. However, it can be a great comfort to realize that when Jesus promised his disciples, “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20), he was not exaggerating nor speaking figuratively.