A Bible Lesson on Psalm 139

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a Bible lesson on a passage outside the current ISSL schedule, Psalm 139.  This is a truly wonderful expression of one who knows God.  It is beautiful poetry and impeccable theology that deals with the omniscience of God, the omnipresence of God, the omnipotence God, and the two possible human reactions to these truths about God.  But it is not in any sense an abstract treatise, nor a piece of poetry for poetry’s sake.  Instead, it is the testimony and adoration of one who truly knows Him in the Biblical sense of having a relationship with Him, one whose entire being is gripped by the truths that the Psalm sings.

Psalm 139:1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

O LORD, O Yahweh/Jehovah/I AM, O God, the self-existent One, You know everything there is to know about me.  Of course.  You know all.  You are omniscient.   There is no detail of anything that is that is unknown to You.  We inevitably run into that truth when we consider what details of our existences are our private business.  There are none.

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

You know.  The “You”/Thou is emphatic.  You, God, know every detail of my life.  You know the seemingly trivial details of when I rise and when I go to bed.  You know what I’m thinking/what are my intentions at every moment, in fact “from afar” in the sense of “long before.”  And it’s not simply as if there is some grand video recorder that is passively capturing everything that is happening, with no real concern about what is known.  No, God, You know me in an intensely personal way.

3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

You search out/sift/winnow my path.  Every detail of life is open before You and completely known to You, O God.  “my path” and “my ways” You have actively considered and examined.  And it’s even more profound than that.  You know them from before they take shape!  And You know them better than I know them myself.  You know them exhaustively.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

Before I speak, You know exactly, precisely, completely what I will say.  It’s not “just” that I owe my existence to You, O God, as if after that fact I somehow have a life independent of You.  No, at every moment and in every way You know, from before I do, or say, or think.

5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

You, O God, surround me in every dimension of time and space.  You, O God, have me hemmed in.  And again it is not in an impersonal way!  Your very hand is upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

This is the way it is, and neither David nor any of the rest of us can really fathom it!  Paul put it this way in the New Testament:

Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Technically, the Psalm shifts from contemplating the omniscience of God, to wondering at His omnipresence.  But these are only different facets of the same wonderful jewel.  We come up against these “different” aspects of the nature of God as part of the same whole, any time we presume to be independent of Him.  He knows all, and is in all places at all times.  As an hypothetical, David says “If I wanted to get away from You, where would I go?”  Jonah was foolish enough to try that and learned the hard way that there is no hiding from God.  God is no cosmic clock maker, who set this all in motion and then stepped back to let it run its course.  No, He presently sustains all that is.  He is intimately involved in all that is.  He is in all places.

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

There is no place up or down where God is not.  The New Testament tells us that Christ descended into Sheol on our behalf!

9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Here is the picture of the sun rising in the east and its rays racing across Israel to the Mediterranean.  If I could move as fast as light breaking across the eastern sky, I couldn’t outrun You, God.  If I could pull a “super-Jonah” and do it at the speed of light, God, You’d be there when I got there.  In fact,

10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

If I were to head out to sea at the speed of light, I’d find that I didn’t get out to sea on my own, but rather, it was Your leading and direction.  It’s the gracious right hand of God that sustains and protects me in all.  In the times my actions are wise, and in the times they are foolish, God is always there, and His work is protective and benevolent towards me.  This omnipresence of God is a worry to me only if I want to play Adam, and try to hide from Him.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”

There’s no going high or low, east or west to escape God’s presence and rule and grace.  There’s no hiding in the dark.

12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

God made light.  He called it into being at the beginning.  Jesus IS the light and He doesn’t need some other source of light to see or know.  He is both all-knowing and all-present.  And He is all-powerful.  I understand that in relation to my own being.

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

Here, as in verse 2, the “You” is emphatic.  “You” formed.  One’s very existence is testimony to the great power and benevolence of God.  David looks at how a little baby grows in its mother’s womb, how its body comes together, how it is given life.  He knows that incredible work was done to give him life, and his only sensible and right response is to break forth in praise to God.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

All of us carry around in our own persons evidence of and testimony to the wonderful creative power of God.  We have no way to fully fathom how it is that God gives us physical life and spirit.  That we have these amazing bodies and are in His image, these are testimony to His power and grace.  If we are at all observant and honest, we join David and say “my soul knows it very well.”  It’s just obvious.  Exactly how it is, is beyond us, that it is, is cause for praise.

And again, this business of my existence isn’t something God made up as He was going along or that came to be independent of Him.

15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.

From before I was, God knew all about me.  Every detail of my being and my life were known to Him from before I was conceived.  There is nothing about me that is a surprise to Him.  If I want to be independent of Him, that is a problem.  If I fundamentally want to be a rebel and want to hide my sin from Him, that’s a scary fact.  But if I love Him and want to please Him, that is a great comfort.  Despite my shortcomings and sin, His hand is still on me.  The days that were formed for me He wrote.  His providence is at work in every step I take, and He loves me even having complete knowledge of who I am, what I’ve done, and what I will do.  Again

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

These things are both unfathomable/vast and “precious.”  It is a truly good and wonderful thing that I am never outside the gracious care of my Creator, that there is no tiny part of my life that is not or has not been known to Him from before I was.

18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

All this is beyond my reckoning, just as the number of grains of sand in the world is beyond my reckoning.  But because of this, I am sure that from eternity past into eternity future, I am safe in His hand.  I awake, daily, and also on the other side of the grave, and I am still with You.

This is reality.  This is the way things really are.  There are only two basic reactions to this reality.  One is the reaction of David.  The other is denial, rebellion, and wickedness.  David looks at those who hate God and have in all likelihood caused him personal difficulty  and says

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!

There is no place for David, or anyone whose heart is truly captured by the glory of God, to then be indifferent to sin/rebellion against the gracious Sovereign of the universe.  If one loves God, one will hate rebellion against Him.  David wants no part of an uprising against God.  He doesn’t want to be associated with the rebels.  Notice that this isn’t a request for personal vengeance on David’s part.  It is also not necessarily an easy path he’s asking to take.  Those who hate God may very well be influential and powerful.  And it may very well be that part of the reason he wants to be separated from those who hate God is that he doesn’t trust himself around them.  Note also that David appeals to God to set things right.  He doesn’t assume that it’s his job to do so!

20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

This makes post-moderns squirm.  But again, those who love God cannot be indifferent to sin and those who hate Him.  Sin is rebellion against the great and gracious King, who is Himself the very definition of goodness.  There is no sane place of neutrality in the cosmic war between God and those who hate Him, and David chooses friendship with God the all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful One who loves and sustains him in spite of his human frailty, to friendship with the rebels.  But even so

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

David (and we with him) doesn’t really know his own heart and real motivations.  In light of all this, David invites God (who does know his heart) to correct and reprove him.  David realizes that while he can see rebellion in others, seeing his own is not so easy.  And this is not some small matter, but rather life and death, heaven and hell.

24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

In light of who God is, and recognizing the possibility of fooling oneself and being in rebellion against Him while thinking oneself quite pious, David asks for God’s work in himself, to the end of eternal life.  Amen.  May it be also thus with us.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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