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Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

What is the significance of being fearfully made?

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  • 14I praise You, for I am awesomely, wondrously made; Your work is wonderful; I know it very well. Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Ps 139:14). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. – Perry Webb Aug 22 '20 at 15:47
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This verse is a challenge to read in the original and more so to translate. The MT for Psalm 139:14 is:

אוֹדְךָ֗ עַ֤ל כִּ֥י נֽוֹרָא֗וֹת נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי

נִפְלָאִ֥ים מַעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ

וְ֝נַפְשִׁ֗י יֹדַ֥עַת מְאֹֽד

The verse is built around alliterations on two pairs of closely related consonants, א ("o" or "a", closed glottal with not vocalization) and ע ("aa", open glottal with vocalization), מ ("m") and נ ("n"). In transliteration,

Odekha aal ki noraot nifleti

niflaiim m aasekha

wanafshi yodaat meod

The word נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי, nifleti means "separated" or "taken out" or "set aside". It is the closest Hebrew word to "born" or "created" that begins with the letter נ, "n", which the author needs to maintain the alliteration. The English translations use "was made", reflecting the intent, although the translation of "was made" into OT Hebrew is not נפליתי but נעשתי. This is the best that you can do in English to translate the poetic license of נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי.

The word נֽוֹרָא֗וֹת, noraot, a plural noun form is the same root as נורא "nora", an adjective form meaning "awesome" as is Genesis 28:17:

וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם

where it is usually translated as "awesome". The word does also have a connotation of "fear" though, coming from the same root יר"א, as the word "was afraid" ("wayira") the first word in Genesis 28:17. The same word also has the meaning of "respect" (in a serious way) as in Leviticus 19:3 (NIV):

Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God

אִישׁ אִמּוֹ וְאָבִיו תִּירָאוּ, וְאֶת שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ: אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

So the meaning of the statement נֽוֹרָא֗וֹת נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי in Psalm 139:14 is "how awe inspiring to the point of fear and great respect was the (miracle) of my creation" - all that packed into just two words in Hebrew!

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  • Is there any hint of a relation to amen? – David Aug 23 '20 at 1:52
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    @David Hmm, that's a stretch. I don't get that feeling when reciting with the taamim. Interesting suggestion though. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Aug 23 '20 at 2:03

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