Summary: The fear and the respect of the ever-present, all-knowing God.


Psalm 139

What convinced me of the reality of the God of the Bible - “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) - was not intellectual argument, but personal encounter. This occurred in two phases: first in a sense of guilt and dread at the presence of God on account of my very real sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5); then (secondly) in an enormous sigh of relief when I finally yielded to Jesus, recognising all He had done for me. I found that the perceived darkness which had been pursuing me was nothing other than the shadow of the Almighty covering me (Psalm 91:1).

First Stanza (Psalm 139:1-6).

When we read Psalm 139, sometimes it is hard to tell whether we should read it with a sense of dread - the LORD knows me (Psalm 139:1), He knows everything I am doing (Psalm 139:2), He knows where I am going (Psalm 139:3), He knows my every word even before it is spoken (Psalm 139:4) - or whether our sense of the LORD hemming us in (Psalm 139:5) has more to do with gratitude at His protection than with any sense of foreboding. This might depend upon whether we are looking at the LORD from outside a personal relationship, or from within. Either way, the concept of an all-knowing God is quite incomprehensible to the finite mind (Psalm 139:6).

Second Stanza (Psalm 139:7-12).

The second stanza reminds us of Jonah, who tried to run away from the presence of the LORD (Jonah 1:3). Yet the prophet discovered that we cannot hide from the Spirit of the LORD (Psalm 139:7): not in the highest heights of heaven, nor in the deepest depths of hell (Psalm 139:8); neither in the easternmost sky, nor in the westernmost sea (Psalm 139:9). Wherever we care to run, we discover that the LORD got there before us (Psalm 139:10).

Read Psalm 139:10 again. Is there not a hint here of the love of the LORD? Like the father of the prodigal son, He allows us to try out our wings in the far country (if that is what we have set our minds to do) - but He is waiting to embrace us when we ‘come to our senses’ and return (Luke 15:17-20).

This Psalm would also provide comfort to those who were exiled to distant pagan lands, or those who are experiencing the ‘dark night’ of the soul (Psalm 139:11-12). The light shines in the darkness (John 1:5), and the valley of death is reduced to nothing but a shadow (Psalm 23:4). The cry of dereliction (Mark 15:34) becomes a cry of triumph (John 19:30), and Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday.

Third Stanza (Psalm 139:13-18).

God’s knowledge of us far exceeds our knowledge of Him. It was not a bad thing that He hemmed us in when we were in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He was there for us before our beginning (Psalm 139:15).

This should inform our ethics. It is the LORD who creates the embryo, each one individually (Psalm 139:14). It is the LORD who numbers our days (Psalm 139:16).

The LORD has us in mind, for good (Psalm 139:17). Every morning we experience new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23) - even in the midst of tribulations (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Each day when we awake - and ultimately on the day of resurrection - we are still with the LORD (Psalm 139:18).

Fourth Stanza (Psalm 139:19-24).

Sometimes in the Old Testament we find prophets praying against the enemies of the LORD (Psalm 139:19). Certainly such prayers could go no further than the Word of God allows. Elijah prayed for a dearth (James 5:17), but only because the people needed to learn that God’s threats were not idle (Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:23).

Part of the trouble that believers encounter comes from the enemies of our God (Psalm 139:20). The sweet Psalmist of Israel (2 Samuel 23:1) was no paragon, but the LORD owned him as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). Those who persecute the LORD’s people are messing with the ‘apple of His eye’ (Psalm 17:7-8).

Jeremiah also was hated by God’s haters, and uttered similar imprecations (Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 12:3; Jeremiah 20:12). Yet it is the LORD Himself who is the ever-present judge (Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 23:23-24). We, of course, are to “love our enemies” - just as the Father loved us when we were His enemies (Matthew 5:44-45) - but if we take sides with the LORD, there will always be those who we must recognise as “enemies” (Psalm 139:21-22).

The LORD has searched me (Psalm 139:1). He searches me and knows my thoughts (Psalm 139:23). He is my judge: only He is able to lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:24).

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