In this exultant psalm, David marvels at the Character and abilities of Yahweh and He celebrates Yahweh’s intimate involvement in his life.
O Yahweh, You have searched me and You know me. (Ps. 139:1)
The searching here is like a thorough examination which explores every aspect of something. Yahweh knows each one of us inside and out. David is marveling at how amazing this is.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thoughts from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down; You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (Ps. 139:2-3)
God always knows what we’re doing, where we are, and what we’re thinking. You are a unique human being with your own complex combination of traits, thoughts, habits, and interests. Other humans don’t come close to totally understanding you, but God does. He knows all of your ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Yahweh, You know it completely. (Ps. 139:4)
Yahweh knows what we’re thinking and what we’re about to think. He knows what we’re going to say to Him even before we say it. His complete knowledge of us is mind-blowing.
Both in front and behind, You completely surround me, and You lay Your hand upon me. (Ps. 139:5)
As a military leader, David is well acquainted with the concept of being hemmed in on all sides. Here he ponders how Yahweh’s Presence is surrounding him at all times, and he imagines himself being protected in the grip of God’s hand.
Your knowledge is so astounding to me; it is far more than I can understand. (Ps. 139:6)
Our tiny minds blow a fuse trying to grasp how huge our Creators are. All that They knows, all that They understand, all that They can do—it blows us away.
Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Or how can I flee from Your Presence? (Ps. 139:7)
David is living under the Old Covenant centuries before the revelation of multiple Gods. Yahweh is the only true God that he knows and he uses the term Holy Spirit as an alternate title for Yahweh. Here in Verse 7, David is marveling at Yahweh’s ability to be everywhere at once. It’s both comforting and astounding, and David will now ponder this concept in more detail.
If I go up to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. (Ps. 139:8)
David and his fellow Jews believed in a shadowy underworld named Sheol which was located beneath the earth. It was supposed to be accessible through gates that were located on the ocean floor. A terrified Jonah once imagined himself to be experiencing what Sheol was like as he lay trapped in the inky darkness of a fish’s gut for three days. Later on in a grateful prayer to Yahweh he says: “I cried for help from the depth of Sheol and You heard my voice” (Jon. 2:2). Here in Psalm 139, David is using the geographical location of Sheol for contrast purposes. Sheol represents burrowing deep down into the earth as opposed to flying high up to the stars. But no matter how high or low he goes, David knows that Yahweh will still be there.
If I fly far to the east where the sun rises, or if I go far to the west and dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will still be holding me fast. (Ps. 139:9-10)
If going up or down doesn’t work, what about side to side? Israel was (and still is) located on a western coast. When the Jews looked to the far west, they saw the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. This is why David talks about fleeing to the remotest part of the sea—he’s talking about going as far west as possible, and the west looks like water to him. Or he could run in the farthest direction to the east, which seems to be where the sun rises in the sky each day. But no matter which direction he goes in: up, down, east or west, Yahweh is still going to be with him. Not just with him, but guiding him and holding him. The same is true for us today—there is nowhere we can go to escape God’s intimate involvement in our lives.
I could say, “The darkness will hide me. Let the light around me turn into night.” But even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to You. (Ps. 139:11-12)
What if we turn the lights out? Because we humans aren’t equipped with natural night vision, we feel like we can turn invisible in the dark. And because we’re so egocentric, we figure everything else around us has to share our own limitations. Out of sight, out of mind: this is the principle a child is counting on when he closes his eyes to block out the sight of a monster. There’s no need to hide—if the child can’t see the monster, clearly the monster can’t see him. This is how we think when we are young, and we often carry these silly conclusions into our walks with God as well. If we can’t see in the dark, then God can’t see either. This is why we feel more comfortable doing evil when the lights are out—we feel like we can use the covering of darkness to escape moral accountability because God won’t be able to see what we’re up to. But of course this is ridiculous. Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all-knowing, omnipresent Beings. As Yahweh says in Isaiah 29:15, “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from Yahweh, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’” And then again in Jeremiah 23:24: “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? Do not I fill heaven and earth?” Darkness isn’t dark to a true God, as David realizes here in Psalm 139. Nothing can limit Yahweh’s understanding of what His own creatures are doing.
For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Ps. 139:13-14)
David isn’t boasting about being handsome when he says he was “wonderfully made.” He doesn’t mean wonderful the way we mean it when we say, “Our vacation was wonderful.” Instead he’s talking about something that fills him with a sense of astonishment. You don’t have to be an expert in anatomy to appreciate the intelligence that went into designing your personal body. All you have to do is look in the mirror. Why do the hairs on your arms stop growing at a certain length while the hairs on your head continue on and on? Imagine if you had no eyelashes or nose hairs or ear hairs to defend sensitive organs from invading particles of dust and debris. Flex your fingers, cross your arms, and observe how many places your joints bend at 90 degrees. What if your fingers were stuck together as one unit instead of four parallel sticks which can each move about independently? Notice how God placed your thumb at a slight angle to the rest of your fingers so you could easily pick up things like pens and plates. Look really close at the swirling pattern of skin on your finger tips—what we call your fingerprints. All those curvy lines are giving you handy little grippers. Stick your hand inside a smooth plastic bag and then see how much harder it is to turn the page of a book by just rubbing your finger against it. The next time you get out of the shower, notice how you dry off much faster than your wet towel does. That’s because God has wrapped you all up in an amazing, self-healing material called skin. What if you were born with one of your ears stuck to your knee cap? What if a foot was attached to your head? Who was it that assembled all of your intricate parts together with such care and attention to detail? God did. Knitting is a precise craft in which the tips of two needles are used to create perfectly uniform loops of yarn and then those loops are strung together in rows of various lengths to create some useful item. David says that God knit him together in his mother’s womb, emphasizing the precision and attention to detail that was involved in his creation. It fills him with awe and makes him want to praise God. We feel the same way today when we really stop to ponder these things.
Wonderful are Your works, my soul knows this very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. (Ps. 139:14-16)
You didn’t happen just by chance. You aren’t here because an egg and sperm randomly bumped into each other. Before you could even be conceived, your Creators first had to decide that They wanted you to exist. You are a product of Their imaginations—an incredibly complex creature who They dreamed up one day and then decided to bring into being. But who exactly should you be? What should you look like? What kind of personality should you have? How long should you live on the earth? These are all things that They decided before you were even conceived. The mere fact that you exist is irrefutable evidence that your Creators want you to be. There is no reality except the reality that They create, and They don’t make things that They don’t want. You are here because They want you to be.
How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You. (Ps. 139:17-18)
Can you imagine trying to count the thoughts of God? Can you imagine trying to make a list of all the decisions They made before bringing you into being? It’s utterly mind-blowing. Our Creators are so huge.
O that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, all men of bloodshed! For they speak against You wickedly, and Your enemies take Your Name in vain. O Yahweh, I hate those who hate You, and I loathe all those who rise up against You. I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies. (Ps. 139:19-22)
After spending so much time contemplating Yahweh’s greatness and intimate care of him, David’s sense of devotion gets all fired up. Now he expresses fierce loyalty to Yahweh as he talks about despising all those who despise Him. While his intentions are good, his execution needs work. The problem with hating those who mock God is that we end up acting like we’re better than they are. Yet the truth is that we all fail to treat God with the respect He deserves, so we’re really not in a position to be condemning anyone else. The kind of loyalty that pleases God is when we refuse to side with other humans against Him while leaving the judgment of other souls in His hands. We need to wait for God to define who His enemies are without trying to make that decision for Him. Once God does say that He has eternally condemned someone, we certainly need to support that decision, and that means it is never appropriate to ask God to have mercy on the souls who have already been taken on to the next life. But we also should not be rushing to assume that souls are condemned when God has not confirmed this to us, and in most cases, God will not inform us of how He judging other souls (see The Enemies of God).
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)
David was truly devoted to God and his praises were sincere, not lip service. When we are devoted to God, we are eager to please Him. David knows he isn’t perfect, but his hope is anchored in God’s faithfulness to him. Here he asks God to search and test him for any issues that need addressing. The testing here is like a probing search. David is not trying to hide anything from Yahweh or put up walls in his heart. He is laying all of his insides out in plain view and asking God to help him with anything that He doesn’t like. God loves it when we approach Him with this kind of open honesty. Does the idea of offering God this kind of invitation scare you? There’s no need for fear. No matter how messed up you are, God is not going to beat you down with a long list of condemning criticisms. God is gentle and kind. He is for you. He will lead you in small, doable steps, not just yell at you and demand instant perfection. Don’t let anyone scare you away from being totally honest with God (see Overcoming Shame & Being Honest with God).
Psalm 139 is a very encouraging worship song and which reminds us of how intimately involved all three of our Gods are in every aspect of our lives today. It was written by a man who had a close personal walk with Yahweh and a good understanding of Yahweh’s Character. Let’s learn from David’s good example and take time to contemplate the reality of God’s Presence being with us at all times. We are never alone.
Psalm 23: Yahweh is a Good Shepherd
Psalm 51: David Pleads for a Clean Heart
Psalm 34: David Praises Yahweh as the Savior Who Always Saves