October 24, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart

1  O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2  You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3  You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4  Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5  You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

7  Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9  If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10  even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11  If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12  even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13  For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
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 was none of them.

17  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18  If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

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

23  Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24  And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 139:title–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Psalm 139

A Hymn to the All-Knowing God: Part 1

Safe in God’s Thoughts

O Lord, you have searched me

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you know it completely, O Lord.

You hem me in—behind and before;

you have laid your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

verses 1–12

Somewhere in J. I. Packer’s writings there is a reference to Puritan theology as theology of that “older, better, wiser and more practical sort.” That applies to the Puritans, but it applies even more to Psalm 139. Here is theology that is even older, even better, even wiser, and even more practical. It is theology of the very best sort.

Sometimes we speak of “doing theology” today, and we often talk about the conflict between the head and the heart, saying that either one alone is inadequate. A theology that is all of the head is cold, dry, barren, and of little practical value. A theology that is all heart may be warm, comforting, and practical, but it will lack substance, and because it does it will be subject to every theological fad that comes along and will not hold up in hard times. Psalm 139 has both head and heart. It is strongly theological, dealing with such important doctrines as God’s omniscience (it is probably the weightiest part of the Bible for discussing God’s omniscience), omnipresence, and omnipotence; but it is also wonderfully personal, because it speaks of these attributes of God in ways that impact the psalmist and ourselves.

Theology for Worship

H. C. Leupold, the Lutheran scholar, observes that the thinking of the psalm “is not formulated in theological abstractions but in terms of personal religious experience.” Leslie C. Allen, a contributor to the Word Biblical Commentary, calls it “applied theology.” Alexander Maclaren, one of the best expositors of the nineteenth century, wrote, “Not mere omniscience, but a knowledge which knows him altogether, not mere omnipresence, but a presence which he can nowhere escape, not mere creative power, but a power which shaped him, fill and thrill the psalmist’s soul.”

The personal theology of Psalm 139 is the very essence of worship, the matter we are dealing with especially in our study of these last psalms (Psalms 135–50). Psalm 139 is specifically dedicated to “the director of music,” obviously for worship uses in the temple.

Although Psalm 139 deals with some of the highest and most important of all theological concepts, the omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God, it nevertheless has two practical aims that become clear at its close (vv. 19–24). First, the writer wants to separate himself from all who deliberately practice evil. Second, he wants God to search him out thoroughly and purge him of anything that might be offensive to God so that he might walk in the way everlasting. It is hard to think of any more practical reasons for theology than those.

The psalm’s seven stanzas fall into four easily recognizable parts: praise of God for his omniscience (vv. 1–6); praise to God for his omnipresence (vv. 7–12); praise to God for his omnipotence, especially in the creation of the psalmist himself (vv. 13–18); and a response to what has been said, indicating the two ways a person can relate to the all-knowing God (vv. 19–24). Each of these sections has six verses that fall into two parts each. The first four verses are descriptive; they introduce the main idea of the section. They are followed by two more verses that are reflective. Each stanza of this brilliant composition anticipates and leads into the ideas to be developed in the following verses. We will look at the first two of these sections (vv. 1–12) in this chapter and the last two sections (vv. 13–24) in the following chapter.

Praise to God for His Omniscience

The theme of the first six verses is the omniscience of God, the proper term for the fact that God sees and knows everything. Omniscience is not expressed here as mere doctrine; it is confessed in wonder and adoration, as the other doctrines (omnipresence and omnipotence) will also be. Confession is one way in which we worship God.

The unique quality of the knowledge possessed by God is perfection. God knows all things, and he knows them exhaustively. We also know things, therefore we have some idea of God’s omniscience, but our knowledge is only partial and imperfect. Arthur W. Pink wrote,

Go.… knows everything; everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, of the past, the present, and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth, and in hell.… Nothing escapes his notice, nothing can be hidden from him, nothing is forgotten by him.… He never errs, never changes, never overlooks anything.

A. W. Tozer expands this description by adding negatives.

God has never learned from anyone. God cannot learn. Could God at any time or in any manner receive into his mind knowledge that he did not possess and had not possessed from eternity, he would be imperfect and less than himself. To think of a God who must sit at the feet of a teacher, even though that teacher be an archangel or a seraph, is to think of someone other than the Most High God, maker of heaven and earth.…

God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.…

Because God knows all things perfectly, he knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything, he is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything nor (except when drawing men out for their own good) does he seek information or ask questions.

This knowledge is what the psalmist is writing about in the six opening verses of Psalm 139. Verse 1 states the psalm’s theme, God’s perfect knowledge of the psalmist: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” The next three verses develop three important aspects of that knowledge: the psalmist’s thoughts (“you perceive my thoughts from afar,” v. 2); his ways (“you are familiar with all my ways,” v. 3); and his words (“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord,” v. 4). After this, in verse 5, he begins to anticipate the theme of the psalm’s next section, God’s omnipresence, since the ideas overlap. But he breaks off the pursuit of that idea to wrap up his contemplation of God’s knowledge in verse 6:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

This is the note the apostle Paul struck in his profound doxology concluding the eleventh chapter of Romans:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgments,

and his paths beyond tracing out! (Rom. 11:33).

The Threat of Omniscience

The perfection of God’s knowledge is also disturbing, however, which is one reason why people try so hard not to think about God. As long as we only think about God knowing things or other people, the idea of God’s knowledge is only amusing, like our reaction to the report about schoolchildren who were asked whether they thought God understood computers, and the majority thought he did not. We are amused because we know that God does understand computers. The subject is not so amusing when we consider that God also knows about us. What are we to do with a God “before whom all hearts are open, all desires known”? An all-knowing God is immensely threatening, which is why we try to banish him from our minds.

Arthur W. Pink notes that the thought of divine omniscience “fills us with uneasiness.” A. W. Tozer is even stronger: “In the divine omniscience we see set forth against each other the terror and fascination of the Godhead. That God knows each person through and through can be a cause of shaking fear to the man that has something to hide—some unforsaken sin, some secret crime committed against man or God.”7 Roy Clements says that David’s description of God is like some “master-detective who snoop.… into every detail of his existence, armed with x-ray cameras and laser probes.” He is like the oppressive, all-seeing eye of “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s futuristic anti-utopian novel 1984.

For an unsaved person this powerful, pervasive knowledge seems intrusive and frightening, and with good reason. God is the end-time judge with whom we must reckon. Strikingly, the response of the psalmist is not fear. He is not trembling when he thinks of God’s omniscience. On the contrary, he shelters himself in God’s knowledge and marvels at it. For the psalmist, God’s knowledge is not a threat; it is a refuge.

Praise to God for His Omnipresence

Isn’t it a natural reaction to want to escape God’s all-seeing, all-knowing presence, and actually try to? Yes, and that is probably why David’s thoughts turned in verses 7–12 to God’s omnipresence.

Some commentators see in these verses a desire of David to escape God’s gaze. Although that might be a natural response to reflecting on God’s omniscience, as I suggested, it is not at all what David is saying. In a sense, David is still meditating on God’s omniscience, noting that the reason why God sees everything and knows everything is that he is everywhere to see and know it. In fact, since the psalmist is making these points of theology personal, what impresses him is that God will always be wherever he goes. Try as he might, he would never be able to escape him. But he is not fearing that or dreading it; he is comforted by the thought.

H. C. Leupold denies that the psalmist is actually trying to flee from God, and he is right. David is not wanting to flee from God at all. He is thinking about what would be the case if a person should attempt it. Leupold suggests that the right idea would be conveyed more effectively by translating verse 7 as, “Where could I go” from your presence. The New International Version gets close to this meaning when it asks, “Where can I go?”

Well, where? In verses 8–12 David imagines three areas in which escape from God might be thought to be possible, but he dismisses each one.

  1. Up or down. The first thought that might come to us is to climb higher than God so God can’t reach us, or descend so low that we will lie beneath his grasp; but the highest point to which we can rise is heaven and God is obviously there, and the lowest point to which we can descend is hell (the Hebrew word is sheol) and God is there too. He is there in his judicial aspect. In fact, the thing that makes hell so terrible is that it is run by God. It is not ruled by the devil in spite of such popular descriptions of hell as John Milton’s in Paradise Lost.

Amos uses this same language to describe the folly of people who think they can escape God’s judgments.

Though they dig down to the depths of the grave,

from there my hand will take them.

Though they climb up to the heavens,

from there I will bring them down (Amos 9:2).

  1. East or west. Well, if it is impossible to escape God by going up or down, perhaps we can do it by going east or west. This is what David considers next, in verses 9 and 10. Dawn rises in the east, and from David’s perspective in Israel the far side of the sea was west. To “rise on the wings of the dawn” probably means to flash from east to west as fast as the dawn’s early light streaks from horizon to horizon. Would that help? Even if it were possible, it would not enable us to escape God, for when we get to that far distant horizon, we find that God is already there before us.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

Jonah tried to do it, fleeing from Joppa in the direction of Tarshish on the coast of Spain, but God was present even on the expansive Mediterranean Sea. God pursued him in the storm and brought him back, inside the great fish.

  1. The darkness. People pursue evil in the dark, thinking, “Surely the darkness will hide me” (v. 11), but even the darkness is light to God. Light is God’s own creation (Gen. 1:3), and he does not need it to know what is going on in the secret places of the earth. These verses, which describe the darkness, lead into the next stanza, which speaks of the formation of man in the womb.

These are the best-known verses of the psalm, and rightly so. They are magnificent verses. “Never has the pen of man more effectively described the omnipresence of God.” These verses are worth the most careful study. Indeed, we should memorize them and thereby hide them in our hearts.

No Escape from God

In the next chapter we will see how David responded to his meditation on God’s omniscience and omnipresence. It is the response of one who learned what it is to be known by God and loved by him anyway, to be always with God and not fear his presence. What about those who are still trying to get away from him? What about you if you have not yet come face-to-face with God in Jesus Christ and surrendered to him? Do you really think you can escape from the omnipresent God or hide from the Omniscient?

Verses 7–12 prompted Francis Thompson’s classic poem “The Hound of Heaven,” a poem in which the poet describes how he tried unsuccessfully to hide from God.

I fled Him, down the nights, and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind, and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up visaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

Thompson fled from God, but he could not escape the omnipresent One, because God always followed after him, “followed, followed after.”

If you are not yet a Christian, let me remind you that you will have to stand before God one day. How do you suppose you will be able to escape his just judgment on you for your sins? The Bible says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). What will you do on the day when all your sins will be read out? On that day you will be abased, confounded, speechless, and overwhelmed as God unfolds the records of your sinful past life paragraph after paragraph and page after page. “Stop!” you will cry. But God will not stop until every sinful thought, every evil deed, every curse, every theft, every lie, every neglect of what you should have done is read out and justly punished.

Do not wait for that day. Jesus died so that sinners like you and me might be saved from judgment. He is pursuing you so you might be saved.

Psalm 139

A Hymn to the All-Knowing God: Part 2

Safe in God’s Hands

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me

were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand.

When I awake,

I am still with you.

If only you would slay the wicked, O God!

Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

They speak of you with evil intent;

your adversaries misuse your name.

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord,

and abhor those who rise up against you?

I have nothing but hatred for them;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

verses 13–24

When I introduced Psalm 139 in the last chapter, one of the things I said about it is that it is made up of four matched parts in which three of God’s greatest attributes are discussed: omniscience (God knows all things), omnipresence (God is everywhere at all times), and omnipotence (God is supremely powerful). The fourth part of the psalm is a response to these attributes.

I also observed that there is a sense in which the only attribute actually being talked about is omniscience, for the only reason David adds a reflection on God’s omnipresence to the psalm is to explain why it is that God knows everything: God sees and knows everything because God is everywhere. Now we will see that the psalmist’s discussion of omnipotence is also linked to omniscience because, according to David, a further reason God knows everything is that he has also made everything and controls it.

John Stott expressed this connection when he wrote, “God’s omniscience, which in the previous section has been attributed to his omnipresence, is now attributed to his omnipotence. God can search man out not only because he sees him, but because he made him.” Derek Kidner says, “The third stanza brings together and carries forward the thought of the first two: God not only sees the invisible and penetrates the inaccessible, but is operative there, the author of every detail of my being.”2 Or as H. C. Leupold says, “What is being demonstrated is the fact that in his very being man [establishes] both the omniscience and the omnipresence of God.”

Praise to God for His Omnipotence

Since Psalm 139 is a worship psalm, we are not going to find abstract reflections on God’s power, though they occur in other places and are proper in their place. These words are personal.

If we do not understand that God is all-powerful, we do not have a right understanding of God at all; we are thinking of some other being. If God is not all-powerful, there must be some power or powers greater than God. If that is the case, God’s power must be thwarted and his proper sovereignty restricted by circumstances, human beings, or Satan. What kind of a God would that be? Arthur W. Pink wrote, “A ‘god’ whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits nought but contempt.” If we want to know God, we need to think in the clearest possible way about God’s might and what it means.

We have already seen that David is writing with his heart as well as with his head in this psalm, and this means that he is not thinking of God’s omnipotence abstractly, but as it applies to him. More particularly, he is thinking of the power of God in forming him while he was still in the womb of his mother. No wonder God knows me, he says. God made me. He formed me from my very first moments, from my beginning.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me

were written in your book

before one of them came to be (vv. 13–16).

A Person Even in the Womb

These verses plainly teach the individuality of a child while it is still in its mother’s womb. David is not writing about abortion, of course. Nothing could be farther from his mind. But no one can read these verses thoughtfully today without considering their obvious bearing on this important contemporary problem.

The chief issue in discussions about abortion concerns the identity of the fetus. People who argue for the right of a woman to have an abortion—“It’s my own body; I can do with it as I please”—usually argue that the fetus is not yet a person, but is only a part of the woman’s body, like a gallbladder or appendix that she can elect to have removed. That is why language describing the unborn child has changed so radically. A generation ago everyone referred to the unborn child as a baby, and pregnant women knew they were carrying a baby. It is hard for anyone to think calmly about killing a baby. So today people talk about the fetus or the embryo or even mere “tissue” instead. To get rid of tissue doesn’t seem so bad. But this is not the way the Bible speaks of the unborn child.

What is more, growing medical knowledge of unborn children undermines that comfortable delusion. The Greek philosopher Aristotle speculated that the fetus becomes human when it quickens in the womb, that is, when the mother feels it move. We know today that the movement of the fetus is only a matter of degree; the baby is moving all the time. Others have argued that the fetus becomes human only when it is old enough to survive outside the womb, but advances in the care of premature babies make it possible for even extremely small infants to survive, certainly infants that are younger and smaller than many being aborted. It is increasingly common today to identify life with brain activity, but we know there is brain activity in the unborn child even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant. For that matter, there is a beating heart and the circulation of the baby’s own blood as well.

The problem with trying to determine a point before which the developing child is fully human is that there isn’t one. There is an uninterrupted development of the child from the very moment in which the sperm of the father joins the ovum of the mother and the cell begins to divide. The father’s seed cannot multiply by itself, nor can the mother’s egg, but as soon as the two sets of chromosomes combine, not only does the development of life continue steadily unless interrupted, either accidentally or deliberately, but the life that is developing is a unique life. There is no other combination of chromosomes exactly like these new ones. The fetus is already a uniquely determined individual.

In the perceptive wording of this psalm David is speaking of his unique individuality from the first moments of his existence in the womb. From that very first moment, God knew him and had ordained what his life was to be.

All the days ordained for me

were written in your book

before one of them came to be (v. 16).

If that is how God views the unborn child, dare we call it only tissue and destroy the unborn, as we are doing in this country at the rate of more than a million-and-a-half babies each year?

No Separation from God

In the next two verses David reflects on the abundance of God’s thoughts toward him, ending with, “When I awake, I am still with you.” These words are a bit puzzling and have been understood in various ways. Some people suppose the writer to have been drowsing, even when he was composing the psalm. They imagine that he woke up at this point. Others suggest that he may be referring to death followed by resurrection. If that is the case, then verses 13–18 would move nicely from the earliest moments of his existence, before his birth, to his continuous conscious existence after death. Womb to tomb, and beyond! Of course, it is more likely that David is only observing that waking or sleeping he is always with God, since God is everywhere. However we interpret the verse, its point is that nothing will be able to separate the child of God from God, the exact point made in the apostle Paul’s powerful ending to Romans 8.

Reflections on All the Above

We can rebel against God’s knowledge and pursue evil instead—David notes this response in verses 19–22 and repudiates it—or we can ask God to search us with the goal of being directed in his way. The writer describes this response as his own in verses 23–24. By repudiating the first and embracing the second option the psalmist articulates a personal twofold response to this teaching.

  1. He wants nothing to do with evil or evil persons. This is another of those passages that seems imprecatory, the psalmist calling down judgment on the wicked, but judgment is not the actual thrust of these verses, though it is of similar passages elsewhere. In keeping with the personal tone of the psalm so far, what David is actually saying is that he wants no part of the evil that evil men devise. We say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner!” It is nice advice, but it is also hard to do since love of the sinner, if we are not extremely careful, leads first to a love of the sinner’s sinful ways and then to a participation in them. David was not at all sure that he could successfully love one and hate the other. So his decision was to separate from evil persons entirely. This separation does not mean that David never had anything to do with sinful people; he himself was one. It only means that he did not want to be with those who were openly marked by evil or were hatching evil actions. So taken was he with the greatness of God that he wanted nothing to endanger his relationship to God.
  2. He wants to continue walking and growing in God’s way. The last two verses of this psalm are extremely beautiful and are often memorized and quoted.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting (vv. 23–24).

The problem David perceives is that although he wants to keep clear of evil people and their ways, he nevertheless has evil in himself. In fact, his avoidance of evil people is not because he is too good for such people, but because he cannot trust himself in evil company. He is too sinful; he is prone to the very same sins. So here he appeals to God to search him out in order to be led in a righteous way, a way everlasting. Actually, he prays for four things: for God to know him and expose his thoughts; for God to try, or perfect, his thoughts; for God to purge away whatever evil remains in him; and for God to lead him in the way everlasting.

Isn’t it interesting that a psalm beginning with an unparalleled declaration that God knows all things should end with the request for God to search and know the psalmist? This is a practical psalm, embracing practical theology, and David is asking that God use this great, perfect, and pervasive knowledge to benefit David personally. He wants God to use the knowledge God has of him to lead him in the right way.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!” It is a serious thing to pray, because it invites painful exposures and surgery, if we truly mean it. Still it is what every wise believer should desire. Arno Gaebelein wrote,

Happy the Christian who prays thus every day! Who puts himself into the presence of the all-seeing God, who stands in his light, and is willing to have anything and everything which is not right brought to light and judged. This is the true walk “in the light.” Even the thoughts must be so dealt with. In the New Testament it is expressed in this wise, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Then there is the willingness to put away anything which is grievous to God and to his Spirit and to be led in the way everlasting.

A Practical Summing Up

In the course of this study we have been looking at God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence—that God knows everything, is everywhere, and is all-powerful. We have also seen that the overriding theme, the one for which the others are mentioned, is omniscience. Here is what appreciation of the omniscience of God should do for every Christian.

  1. It should humble us. I think here of Job. God allowed Satan to attack Job to demonstrate that a believer is able to love God solely for who he is and not merely for the many blessings he gives. Job didn’t know what God was doing. When his friends came to see him they argued that since God is a just God and this is a moral universe, bad things do not happen without good reasons. Therefore, Job must have sinned in some way and have brought his troubles on himself. Job did not consider himself to be innocent of sin, but he knew that he had done nothing to deserve what was happening to him. Who can explain it?

For thirty-seven chapters God is silent. At last, toward the very end of the book, he speaks. We might expect God to explain things to Job, to tell him about Satan’s accusations and reveal how Job had been singled out as a righteous man who would trust God even in misery, but this is not what we find. Instead, we find God rebuking Job for presuming to think that he could understand God’s ways, even if they were explained to him. This is in the form of a lengthy interrogation having to do with God’s perfect knowledge contrasted with Job’s ignorance. It goes on for four chapters—a total of 129 verses, less five verses that introduce and then sustain the narrative—and at the end Job is completely humbled. He replies to God,

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me to know.…

Therefore I despise myself

and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:3, 6).

If we ever begin to appreciate the perfect knowledge of God and by contrast our own pathetic understanding, the first effect this will have on us will be humility, as in Job’s case. We will be embarrassed to think that we ever supposed we could contend with God intellectually.

  1. It should comfort us. God knows the worst about us and loves us anyway. He knows the best about us even when other people do not and blame us for things that are not our fault. Job expressed his comfort in God’s knowledge, saying, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
  2. It should encourage us to live for God. In Psalm 139 David has been reflecting on the omniscience of God, and it has led him to ask God to help him lead an upright life. He knows that God will do it precisely because God knows him so well.

We know very little. We do not even know ourselves, but God knows us. He knows our weaknesses and our strengths. He knows our sins but also our aspirations toward a godly life. He knows when isolation will help us grow strong but also when we need companionship to stand in righteousness. He knows when we need rebuking and correcting but also when we need teaching and encouragement. If anyone can “lead me in the way everlasting,” it is God. Moreover, since I know he knows me and wants to help me, I can be encouraged to get on with upright living.

  1. It should help us to pray. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus encouraged his followers to pray to God confidently, expecting answers. “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7–8). This is then followed by what we call the Lord’s Prayer, a model prayer consisting of just fifty-two words.

God’s knowledge of what we need is so perfect that he often answers even before we pray to him. “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear,” wrote Isaiah (Isa. 65:24). Who can be terrified by a God who knows and answers us like that?[1]

13 Confidence in the Lord’s ability to discern and perceive the nature and needs of his people comes from a belief in God’s purpose. He is the Creator, and his creative concerns include individuals.

In a sense this section continues the emphasis on divine involvement by an emphatic use of “you” (ʾattâ, vv. 2, 13: “you know … you created”) and by the use of the pronominal prefixes and suffixes to the verbs and nouns in Hebrew (translated by “you” and “your”). The Lord has formed the individual as a spiritual (“you created [qānâ, GK 7865; Ge 14:22; Pr 8:22] my inmost being [‘kidneys’],” v. 13) and a physical being (“you knit me together”; cf. Job 8–11; Jer 1:5). All beings owe their existence to the Creator-God. How much more the individual who walks with God, who knows that the Lord has formed him or her for a purpose.[2]

139:13–16 / These verses, with their introductory for you created my inmost being, explain and substantiate the reason for this divine loyalty. God is portrayed as a skilled weaver and the speaker as his handiwork. God’s interest in the speaker from his life’s beginning evidences God’s personal and long-term investment in him. As in the first section, this one also draws attention to the extent of God’s knowledge, spatially (v. 15) and temporally (v. 16). In addition, this section substantiates that God can see equally in light and darkness (as claimed in vv. 11–12). The evidence is that your eyes saw my unformed body, which was in my mother’s womb, in the secret place, in the depths of the earth. Verse 16 does not point to a notion of divine predestination but foreknowledge. In verses 1–12, the speaker reflects a sense of freedom (e.g., “when I sit” and “when I rise,” and “if I go up,” vv. 2, 8). What is divinely determined is God’s inevitable presence and knowledge.[3]

God Is Sovereign in Planning Personal Existence (139:13–16)

139:13–16. One aspect of David’s confidence in the Lord is related to his knowledge that he was created by the Lord from conception to birth: You formed my inward parts … wove me in my mother’s womb. David notes that he is wonderfully (or “divinely”) made. Wonderfully is applied in the Bible to what God is and does (cf. comments on 119:121–128). The phrase in the depths of the earth (v. 15) is a poetic reference to the womb, not to geography. David confirms that not only did the Lord plan his life from the womb, but he knows the precise number of days that he would live, when as yet there was not one of them (v. 16). This verse strongly supports that there is actual human life in the womb, which should be protected.[4]

13–18 God the all-creating: from conception to resurrection. How is it that the Lord knows and surrounds me? Because from conception and gestation through the days of life and on to ‘awaking’ in eternity he is my creator-possessor. 13 Created. The verb means ‘to acquire a possession’—e.g. purchase (Gn. 25:10; Ex. 15:16); and, in the case of the Lord and the created order, ‘to enjoy creative possession’ (Gn. 14:19, 22). Inmost being, ‘kidneys’, the seat of emotion, the sentient being. 15 Frame, the bony structure, the physical being. 16 Unformed body, ‘embryo’. Every embryo is a person, a creative possession of God with days planned ahead, a life ordained in heaven to be lived on earth. 17 Preciousvast, i.e. the whole sweep of thought in vs 1–12 and in particular the awesomeness of the human creation (13–16). But that is not all: there is still eternity! Awake, cf. 17:15.[5]

The omnipotence of the Lord (139:13–18)

The thought that darkness cannot conceal anyone from the Lord (vv. 11–12) brought to David’s mind this meditation in verses 13–18: God knew all about him when He created him in his mother’s womb. Verse 13 begins with “For,” indicating that this strophe (vv. 13–18) explains the preceding two strophes (vv. 1–6, 7–12): since God can create a person, He certainly knows him intimately and is with him everywhere.

139:13–14. The theme of verses 13–18 is announced here: the Lord (You is emphatic in Heb.; cf. v. 2) created him in his mother’s womb. The language is figurative in that creating and knitting describe God’s sovereign superintendence over the natural process of reproduction (on knitting; cf. Job 10:11).

This fact prompted the psalmist to break forth in praise over the thought of how marvelously he had been made. Even David’s rudimentary knowledge of the marvels of the human body led him to be in awe and wonder. The words wonderfully and wonderful are mindful of God’s marvelous knowledge (Ps. 139:6).

139:15–16. Then David stressed certain features of God’s superintendence over him. In the womb he was woven together (lit., “embroidered”; cf. “knit,” v. 13, suggesting his veins and arteries). When he was being formed in the womb he was as remote to the human eye as the lower part of the earth (cf. comments on Job 1:21). But God saw every detail. David’s frame means his skeleton and his unformed body is his embryo. Moreover, God prerecorded all the days of the psalmist before he was even born. This statement may mean that God determined how long he would live, but in view of verses 1–4, it more likely refers to everyday details. God marvelously planned out his life.

139:17–18. This thought led David to conclude that the Lord’s plans (thoughts; cf. v. 2) for His people are most precious and in fact are innumerable. They are also most relevant, for each morning when he awakened, God was still with him, extending His thoughts toward him.[6]

139:13, 14 So much then for the omnipresence of God. David now turns to consider His power and skill. And the particular phase of divine omnipotence he chooses is the marvelous development of a baby in his mother’s womb. In a speck of watery material smaller than the dot over this i, all the future characteristics of the child are programmed—the color of his skin, eyes and hair, the shape of his facial features, the natural abilities he will have. All that the child will be physically and mentally is contained in germ form in that fertilized egg. From it will develop:

… 60 trillion cells, 100 thousand miles of nerve fiber, 60 thousand miles of vessels carrying blood around the body, 250 bones, to say nothing of joints, ligaments and muscles.

David describes the formation of the fetus with exquisite delicacy and beauty. “You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.” Yes, God formed our inward parts; each one a marvel of divine engineering. Think of the brain, for instance, with its capacity for recording facts, sounds, odors, sights, touch, pain; with its ability to recall; with its power to make computations; with its seemingly endless flair for making decisions and solving problems.

And God knit us together in our mother’s womb. This aptly describes the marvelous weaving of the muscles, sinews, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and bones of the human frame.

David bursts forth in praise to the Lord. As he thinks of man, the crown of God’s creation, he can only confess that he is fearfully and wonderfully made. The more we think of the marvels of the human body, its orderliness, its complexity, its beauty, its instincts and inherited factors—the more we wonder how anyone trained in natural science can fail to be a believer in an infinite Creator.[7]

139:13–16 You formed my inward parts: David affirms that the work of God in his life extended back to his development in his mother’s womb. You covered me may also be translated as “You wove me together,” a description of the work of God creating the person in the mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made might be rephrased as “I am an awesome wonder” (Ps. 8). skillfully wrought: The development of the fetus was something quite mysterious to the ancients. To them, it was as though the fetus were being developed in the middle of the earth. The Hebrew word my substance indicates the embryo. in Your book: The idea is that the life of a person, and the structure and meaning of that person’s life, are all established from the beginning by God.[8]

What the Bible Says About

God’s Desire to Communicate with Us

Ps. 139:1–24

How many times have we heard someone say, “Why would God want to speak to me? I am not a preacher or in full-time Christian service. Why in the world would he want to communicate with me?”

The truth is, we are all saved by grace (Eph. 2:8); we are all washed and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11); we are all saints (1 Cor. 1:2); and we are all children of the living God (John 1:12). Fathers just naturally want to speak to their children.

Unfortunately, we often see ourselves in an unworthy light—and when we do, we wonder why a great, magnificent God would ever want to speak to us. In that case, God could scream into our ears, but we would not hear Him.

We must see ourselves as God sees us: that is, as children who need Him to speak, who need to listen, who need guidance every day of their lives. If we have a pauper-like image of ourselves, wondering why the God who created the heavens and the earth would engage in meaningful conversation with insignificant us, then communication shuts down to minimal levels at best. It all depends on relationship. We are children of God, and our Father eagerly seeks to speak to us!

Psalm 139 provides us with marvelous insight into the Father’s perfect knowledge of us and His abundant love for us, just the way we are. He knows how we are made. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our sinful desires, and our transgressions are not hidden from Him. He knows our innermost hurts, fears, and frustrations—and yet He longs to gain intimacy with us.

Jesus has chosen to put His unmatched presence into these scarred, earthen vessels. He is at home in these tattered earthly tents. We need not be ill at ease, but instead we can relax and enjoy His fellowship, knowing that He died for us while were yet hopeless sinners (Rom. 5:6–8). He has permanently accepted us into His family, with all our undesirable baggage. We are His—lock, stock, and barrel!

See the Life Principles Index for further study:

13. Listening to God is essential to walking with God.

18. As children of a sovereign God, we are never victims of our circumstances.

Fathers just

naturally want

to speak

to their children.[9]

[1] Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 1200–1213). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 962). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (p. 486). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Rydelnik, M., Vanlaningham, M., Barbieri, L. A., Boyle, M., Coakley, J., Dyer, C. H., … Zuber, K. D. (2014). Psalms. In M. A. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (Eds.), The moody bible commentary (p. 873). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[5] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 578–579). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[6] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 892). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 770). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 738). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ps 139:1–24). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

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