Psalm 139 is attributed to king David. It is a wisdom psalm of declarative praise, something that is also found in psalms 145 and 146. This song describes the attributes of the Lord not as abstract qualities, but active qualities by which He related Himself to His people. In this psalm, the psalmist opens up every aspect of his being, character, behavior, and speech to God’s examination. As hard as life is, he wants to ensure his own growth in wisdom so that he does not come under God’s judgement of the wicked. The psalmist also realizes that he cannot escape from the Lord. In other words, you can run but you cannot hide! Any stress he might have disappears when he considers the Lord’s loving care for him, even before his birth. He ends the psalm by inviting the Lord to continue examining him as he walks in the path of wisdom. What we think about God and our relationship to Him, determines how we see the rest of the world. When we have mistaken ideas about God, that can lead us on the wrong path. So, the right knowledge of God is essential for a fulfilled life. David must have spent time contemplating all this and then composed a psalm with a message that can only encourage us to be in a right relationship with the Lord.
The psalm begins with a description of God’s intimate knowledge of His people, and in this case David. It is clear that the Lord knows the psalmist well. God has examined him thoroughly, something that can be mighty painful at times. God knows us intimately and we cannot deceive Him. He knows our motives, desires, and words before they are even expressed. The Hebrew verb ‘search’ means to examine with pain and care. Typically the Jewish people used this word to describe digging deep into a mine, exploring a land, or investigating a legal case. Everyone sees the outside but the Lord is the one who can see inside of us. He sees our hearts and we are powerless to hide from Him. Adam and Eve tried and so did Cain. David did too but all of them discovered that God knew all about them. When the psalmist says God knows when he sits down or stands up it is a reference to our daily activities. The Lord’s omniscience and omnipotence provide comfort to the godly but they imprison the hearts of the wicked.
Verse five makes it clear that the purpose of God’s intimate knowledge of His servants is protective and helpful, not judgmental or condemning. The Lord knows what is best for us and He does all He can to guide us in the right direction. God hems us in behind and before and He puts His hand on us to steady us and direct us. So, God’s knowledge and guidance are for our protection. The psalmist is quick to point out that this wonderful understanding is way beyond his ability to comprehend.
From verses 7-12 the psalmist expresses his awe at the Lord’s omnipresence. The question David asks, ‘where can it go from Your Spirit’ can be understood two ways. One is that David wanted to flee from the Lord but couldn’t. But the second interpretation takes this as a celebration of God’s mercy, that there was no place in all of creation that David, the servant of God, would find himself separated from God’s presence. There is no place where the psalmist, or you and I for that matter, can go that God will not be there as well. From the heavens to the depths, Far East or west, God will find us there. Riding the wings of the morning or the dawn is a reference to the east…where the sun rises. The farthest oceans is a reference to the Mediterranean Sea, or the west. We cannot even hide under the cover of darkness because to the Lord darkness is light. Speaking of darkness, David stretches his imagination to the brink. Darkness often refers to death or the ‘pit’. Some see this as an expansion of verse 8…if I go down to the grave. David suggests that this is the one place in the universe where God would not be present. But even though God is opposed to all darkness, He would turn that darkness into light in order to find His servant David. In other words, the Lord would overturn the structure of the universe to save the person who worships Him. God wants to walk with us and guide us because His plan for us is the very best there is.
Verses 13-16 are a celebration of God’s creation of David from the moment of conception. David affirms that the work of the Lord in his life goes all they way back to his development in his mother’s womb. This is an incredibly intimate picture of how much God loves us and how involved He is in all parts of our lives. This includes our very being. It is interesting that the Hebrew word for intricately wrought is translated as embroidered in the Book of Exodus. In the mother’s womb the Lord weaves, knits and embroiders a human being. And some translate the phrase ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ as I am an awesome wonder. Not only is God intimately involved in our creation but the structure and meaning of a person’s life are all established from the beginning by God. This most likely includes the length of our lives and the tasks He wants us to perform. His plans for us come from a loving heart and His plans for us are the very best, even if we do not understand why things happen as they do sometimes.
God’s precious thoughts about us reveal His loving care. Fellowship with the Lord provides riches way beyond description. So, how can we ignore the Lord when He has done all of these things for us? Our lives are not meant to be a prison. Instead the Lord has equipped us for an exciting pilgrimage. And, He has prepared us for what He has prepared for us. Our call and responsibility is to yield ourselves to Him daily, to live in His will for us and not in our will for us. We walk by faith and not by sight. If in fact we cannot deceive God, escape God, or ignore God, then is it not sensible to obey Him? David called the people who insisted on living outside of God and His will for them wicked. In fact he also called them violent, liars, blasphemers, and rebels. David grieved for them and what they were missing by avoiding the Lord.
David’s prayer against the wicked leads him to also reflect on himself. He does not presume that he is righteous. What David really desires is a world in which there is no more evil, no more distraction , and no more destruction. The enemies of God are David’s own enemies because his life and his thoughts are so closely tied to the Lord. David closed this psalm with a prayer that God would search his heart, know his anxieties and concerns, forgive him, and lead him. And David reminds all of us that the path of wisdom leads to everlasting life. He wants to be purged of sin so that he might enter into everlasting life. These words are still relevant today for each one of us. Even though we don’t t always understand what the Lord has for us, we have to remember that God loves us and wants only the best for us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W