Psalm 139 — A Magnificent Portrait of God
We love to go places and see things. We are amazed by awesome displays in nature. We view Yosemite Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, and the Giant Sequoia Redwoods with wonder. But who made them? As Paul suggested to the Athenians (Acts 17:24ff), let us contemplate the God who made heaven and earth.
This is the theme of Psalm 139. Therein, David reflects on God’s omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and righteous judgement.
The Omniscience of God
“O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it” (1-6).
David begins with a startling admission. “O Lord, you have searched me through and through and you know me completely.”
The word “searched” means to pierce or bore — as one would bore a hole into the ground. David pictures God as having performed an excavation on him. It has been absolutely thorough.
To illustrate the comprehensive nature of God’s knowledge, the psalmist contemplates that God knows his every movement, motive, and moment (vv. 2-3). God’s knowledge, being infinite, means that he knows every word we speak “altogether.” In other words, he not only knows what we say, but he knows what we mean. He knows if words are false, or if they are hypocritical. David realized that he was finite (v. 5), but God is infinite — beyond comprehension (v. 6).
The Omnipresence of God
“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee” (7-12).
Verse seven begins with a question, and David knows the answer. “Where can I go to escape the presence of God?”
To show the amazing nature of God’s omnipresence, the psalmist introduces a series of hypothetical propositions. He suggests that even if he could do the following things — which he could not — God would still be there before him.
- What if one could go to the farthest corner of the physical universe, or what if man could explore the deepest recesses of the spiritual world? God would be there (v. 8).
- What if one could travel at the speed of light, to the remotest region of the globe? God would be there as well (vv. 9-10).
- What if a person could be instantly shrouded in absolute darkness? God would see him as if it were broad daylight (vv. 11-12).
The Omnipotence of God
“For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks unto thee; For I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. My frame was not hidden from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee” (13-18)
One of the most powerful displays of God’s omnipotence happens in “secret” (v. 15). David contemplates his own creation and development as a pre-born child. He acknowledges that God formed his organs; he reflects upon how his Maker knitted him together; how the Lord embroidered him like an ornate rug; how the Creator saw his undeveloped form. How amazing the all-powerful God is!
Modern technology, as amazing as it is, has yet to create a transparent womb. We get a few glimpses through sonograms, but, for the most part, the remarkable development of an unborn child is unseen — except by God.
The Righteous Judgement of God
“Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: Depart from me therefore, ye bloodthirsty men. For they speak against thee wickedly, And thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O Jehovah, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: They are become mine enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (19-24)
From the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God, David then considers man — the moral being made in God’s image. He mentions that there are wicked men. They are enemies of God (v. 20). He knows that God will judge evil men and punish them.
But what does the poet mean when he says, “Do I not hate them, O Jehovah, that hate thee?” (v. 21). Here is where Hebrew parallelism helps us understand David’s question. The next line says, “And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?” The term “grieved” is parallel to the word “hate.”
David is not saying that he has malicious feelings towards others. Here, he is confessing that he is grieved at sin and its consequences. He “hates them” in the sense that he deplores their wickedness. This is not a reflection of personal hatred; it is a matter of principled conviction.
By asking this question, David calls upon God to “verify” that he is morally sensitive to the Lord’s will. He concludes with a request. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23-24).
This is an amazing prayer. The psalmist is confident that God knows everything about him. But he asks God to “dig deeper” to see if he could discover “any wicked way.” What wonderful imagery! David wanted to be right with God. He wanted God’s help to rid himself of any wicked thought, word, or deed. And so he pleads, “Look into my heart; look into my motives; look at my life completely; find the defects — and help me!”
This should be the prayer of every godly man and woman; and may the Lord help us to pray it more often.