PSALM 139 – GOD KNOWS EVERYTHING
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
I’ll admit I don’t read that much poetry, although I understand that, well-written, poetry expresses well the broad spectrum of the human experience. I’m more into prose – articles, adventure stories, the theological and Christian experience, and biographies. However, biblical scholars have entitled the Psalms as some of the most beautiful poetry, particularly in the Hebrew language. And, I have to agree as I read Psalm 139, one of my wife’s favorite Scripture passages and mine as well. Derek Kidner (1913-2008), a British Old Testament scholar, has called Psalm 139 “one of the summits of Old Testament poetry.”
No doubt, this Psalm is well-loved by many, not only for its literary quality but also for its very personal expression of God’s relationship to each one of us. Appropriately, various versions of the Bible have inserted headings such as: The Inescapable God (RSV); God’s Omnipresence and Omniscience (NASB); Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart (ESV); and the International Children’s Version, which puts it simply – God Knows Everything!
Because of space for this devotional, I won’t include the entire text of the Psalm here, but invite you to turn to it in your Bible. We’ll only interject some key words and phrases, and borrow the essence of Michael Wilcock’s outline: God knows me; God surrounds me; God made me; God tests me. The four headings correspond well with how the verses of the Psalm are grouped.
God Knows Me (vv. 1-6) – Did you pick up on all the verbs that David used in these verses? Search, know, discern, acquaint, hem (me in), and lay (your hand). If you’ve ever felt that nobody really knows you, what you think, how you feel, what your asperations are, what your struggles are, there is One who uses His perfect spotlight to shine into your inner most being. God knows you and me through and through.
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (v. 4)
Verse 5 may be a little disconcerting with the phrase: “you hem me in.” It usually has a negative undertone for us but perhaps is fitting. God sees the dark places of our hearts and that should cause us to make things right, to make a 180 degree turn, to repent. However, the phrase also has the positive aspect of protection and comfort. God is always pursuing us with His love and mercy. It brings to mind the title of another lengthy poem: The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson. Written in the 19th Century, its 182 lines chronicle his resistance to God’s loving pursuit, fearing Him as a vicious dog, but finally turning to face Him, in his words: “the shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly”. The Psalmist exclaims,
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (v. 6)
God Surrounds Me (vv. 7-12) – We can never escape from God’s presence. This section begins with the rhetorical questions. The obvious answer is “no where”!
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (v.7)
Perhaps Francis Thompson also had the verses here in mind. “I fled Him down the nights and down the days; I fled Him down the arches of the years.” Maybe that has been your experience. Just like the prophet Jonah resisting the call of God, you have left church, stopped reading the Bible, filled your days with work and pleasure, perhaps literally shopped or traveled, all to deny the “still small voice” that keeps calling you. To paraphrase the Psalm, you can’t escape to heaven or to the place of the dead, you can’t take a flight to some exotic vacation spot, you can’t slip into the darkness of bar, or slide into the darkness of your depression, because God is always there.
These verses are also words of comfort. Wherever we go, whatever we experience, whatever our fears, God’s presence is always with us. How appropriate during these unsettling times of health risks and social unrest. He surround us.
God Made Me (vv. 13-18) This grouping of verses are probably the most well known of this Psalm.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (vv.13-14a)
Someone has said that God knew me even before my mother knew I became an embryo; actually, He knew you and me from eternity. Isn’t it encouraging that you and I are different, each of us uniquely created in the image of God, with all the intricacies of human life working in harmony. God knows our beginning and our end; He knows our personalities and our bent to resist His rule. Yet He values us as His creation. These verses, of course, provide some of the strongest logic for the intrinsic value of life, opposing those who advocate for abortion and euthanasia. It is, after all, Almighty God who made each one of us!
“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 was none of them.” (v. 16)
God Tests Me (vv. 19-24) – These verses may alarm us “with the sudden switch from the noble to the venomous”. (M. Wilcock) Why would David make such hate-filled statements?
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. (vv.19a, 22)
First, it is worthwhile to note that throughout the Scriptures honest emotions are recorded. The “good, bad and the ugly” are part of God’s Word. God can take our, at times, visceral reactions to evil. Actually, David is defending God here from those who oppose God and His righteous ways. And, note that He leaves vengeance to God.
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain. (v. 20)
The Psalm finishes with some searching words, as if David has just wondered if his last outburst might have gone too far.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vv.23-24)
Shouldn’t this be a prayer for each one of us? As the rest of the Psalm has so wonderfully stated: God knows all about us anyway. However, He welcomes our vulnerability and will make clear to us those areas that continue to mar His purposes in our lives. Which takes us back to verse 6.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”