Psalm 139 - a post by Richard Neufeld
“Let the modern wits, after this, look upon the honest shepherds of Palestine as a company of rude and unpolished clowns; let them, if they can, produce from profane authors thoughts that are more sublime, more delicate, or better turned; not to mention the sound divinity and solid piety which are apparent under these expressions.” – Claude Fleury
Psalm 139 is, in my experience, one of the most-quoted Psalms in the Bible. This is for good reason, as I’m sure all of us, at one point or another, have turned to or been pointed to this particular Psalm when we need God’s caring words and comforting assurances. In it we find soaring praise of, and promise from, the Great and Living God, such as:
Unlike the pagan gods of David’s time, who were often hostile or indifferent to their mortal underlings, David knew that Yahweh so deeply cared about His creation that He sought and knew each man and woman ever to walk this earth. David understood that God doesn’t just know everything, He knows me. He doesn’t just exist everywhere, but is everywhere with me. He didn’t just create everything, but He created me!
“Any small thoughts that we may have of God are magnificently transcended by this psalm; yet for all its height and depth it remains intensely personal from first to last.” (Kidner)
David used the proverbial phrase “You know my sitting down and my rising up,” to say that God knew everything about him, even the most everyday things. As Jesus would later say, God knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). David also knew the sovereignty of his God who saw all things and controlled all things, as seen in verse 5: “The normal sense of a hedge in the Bible is of a protective barrier. God hedged David on every side, so that nothing could come to David unless it first passed through God’s permission. What was true for David is true for all who trust in the LORD.”
He goes on to write of God’s omnipresence, a comforting and powerful character trait of his mighty Lord, “The psalmist is not trying to evade God, but he further amplifies that God’s knowledge is beyond the ability of humans to grasp. The knowledge or discernment of God can never be limited to any particular place, because God’s sovereignty extends to the whole created universe.” (VanGemeren)
Indeed, heaven is not high enough nor is hell low enough to escape the loving presence of God. The Apostle Paul would write in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The very essence of us as human beings, made in the image of God, is under His watchful eye even while in the womb! The Psalmist takes time to show the care with which we all were made, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” From the very beginning, you were known by God.
David turns abruptly from wonder to a prayer against the wicked, so filled with love for his Lord and that which the Lord loves to a deep desire to do away with doers of evil and lovers of unrighteousness. “David went against a spirit also evident in our day – against the idea that we can love God without hating evil. It is entirely possible for a person to be too loving, and it corrupts his claimed love for God … We are neither to hate the men, on account of the vices they practice; nor to love the vices, for the sake of the men who practice them.” (Horne)
Finally, there is a fervent prayer for God to know and reveal each and every anxiety and wicked tendency within the author. When prayed sincerely, this is something of a dangerous prayer – worthy, yet dangerous. “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.” (Boice)
Normally I’d have an equally-long paragraph on application of the subject written above, but since this is the Psalm 139, I’d simply ask that you take the time today, right now, to read this Psalm aloud nice and slowly, verse by verse. Take time to notice the depths of David’s words. Think about what is being said and what is not being said. Read and absorb these words with the overarching knowledge that your life exists at the behest of God; we are meant to serve and please Him above all else. We are called to lay ourselves aside and know Him deeply. We are meant to hold nothing back – no secrets, no sins, no shame, no pride, nothing – when we come to Him in prayer. Remember these things as you read and allow the Lord to make more room in your heart!
Father God, we thank you that we cannot escape you or be taken from you. Thank you for being a personal God, a God who loves and understands and blesses far beyond all measure. Thank you for thinking of us, for we are unworthy of the means by which you lavish us with love. Be with us this day, and for evermore. Amen!
Song: Psalm 139 (Shane & Shane)
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.