Dale Appleby

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Bible Resources

Psalm 139

Thoughts on Psalm 139

Psalm 139

1O 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 far away.

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, O LORD, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can 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 settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,"

12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know 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 beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them-they are more than the sand; I come to the end -I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me-

20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil!

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 perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Is it a good thing to be known by God? “O Lord you have searched me and known me.”, said David.  Lots of us think it is a good thing that God knows who we are, recognises us, knows our name as it were.  But some are less sure about God knowing everything about us. Most of us prefer to keep some parts of our life (or our past) secret.

It is a foolish idea, as David recognises. Where can one go where God isn’t? What thoughts do we have that God does not know before we can put them into words?  It is possible to read this Psalm from the point of view of one’s guilt and embarrassment, and so feel a bit apprehensive about what God knows.

But I think David has a different angle. He begins the psalm by reminding God that he has already searched and known David – from as long ago as the time he was in the womb. And he ends the psalm by asking God once again to search him and test his thoughts. Presumably David thinks God’s knowledge of him is a good thing, helpful even. Helpful at least to being led in the everlasting way. Helpful to get rid of wickedness.

But what is so important to David that he takes so long reminding God (or himself) of how wonderful God’s knowledge of him is?  Perhaps David’s concern is the part of the psalm that we think is out of place. David appears to be surrounded by bloodthirsty people. People who are not just after David’s blood but who more importantly are really against God himself. Wicked people who hate God.

David has put himself in God’s place and sees these people for what they are really doing – speaking against, and opposing God. So he wants to be rid of them. Well, he wants God to get rid of them. He hates them from God’s point of view.

Many western Christians give a high cringe rating to this part of the psalm. In fact many feel the psalm would be much better without it. But only as a piece of pietist poetry. As it stands it is a piece of realist poetry.  When you read it, do you think David is comfortable with his pure zeal against the wicked? Or is he unsure? When we feel like skipping this bit of the psalm, are we also comfortable with the deletion? Or if we affirm it, are we comfortable with our own attitude to those who wickedly oppose God?

I think that is why David calls on the person who knows him best to help him know what is really in his heart - is he thinking in the right way, or not? Who can he ask who can see into his heart and know both what he thinks and whether it is right?