Psalms of Comfort, Part 4 - Psalm 139
April 9, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Throughout the centuries, followers of God and Christ have looked to the Psalms for comfort and guidance in the midst of trials. Some Psalms have come to be dearly loved and memorized. These Psalms direct our attention to the rock-solid character of God and his promises. Each week we’ll reflect on one of these Psalms, training our hearts to trust in the Lord more and more.
1 O 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 afar.
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,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139 is a very personal and intimate psalm. There is great comfort in the intimacy with which God knows us and watches over every moment of our lives. Yet, there is a fearfulness of having no privacy before an all-knowing God. I had a Bible teacher in college say that Psalm 139 reads like a lament, a complaint that there is nowhere in all of creation where we can hide from God. There is more than a complaint in this psalm, however. There are praise and delight and comfort in God’s omniscience (all-knowing). Let’s consider the four movements of Psalm 139.
Part One: The Lord Knows Me Inside and Out, verses 1-6
The psalmist acknowledges that God knows everything and sees everything about him and his life. God even knows the words he will speak before he speaks them. This means that God knows our hearts, our desires, our fears, our anxieties, our sinful thoughts, our attitudes… everything! We may hide our sinful and shameful attitudes and thoughts from loved ones and friends and coworkers, but God sees it all.
Is that scary? It absolutely would be if God wasn’t God. The Lord, his personal name used in this psalm, “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps. 86:15). That is the core of God’s character and the well-spring of all his activity for you and me. So, God knows us inside and out as a merciful-and-gracious-slow-to-anger-and-abounding-in-steadfast-love-and-faithfulness God. That’s comforting.
Part Two: The Lord Leads Me and Holds Me at All Times and In All Circumstances, verses 7-12
In this section, the psalmist considers where he could hide from God. Heaven? Nope, God is there. Sheol, the place of the dead? No, not out of the reach of God. Across the seas? Not far enough. Darkness? Wrong again. There is no place in all of creation that can separate us from God (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).
Is the psalmist complaining in these verses, “I can’t get away from God!”? I don’t think so. Consider verse 10: “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” The psalmist, using hyperbole, extols God’s providential care of his people. God’s covenantal faithfulness, rooted in his character, comes out in his “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
Part Three: The Lord Has Formed Me and All My Days, verses 13-18
These verses have been cherished by many and they extol the sanctity of human life. How can God know everything about me and providentially sustain me in all circumstances? He has made me and formed all the days of my life. God is not an absent Creator, letting natural process proceed however it wills. God continues to intimately be involved with every aspect of creation, including my life.
In verses 17-18, the psalmist breaks out in praise. God is greater than our ability to comprehend him. Therefore, whatever circumstances in which we find ourselves are never beyond God. We may be overwhelmed, but God never is overwhelmed. He’s never surprised. He never is wringing his hands, wondering what to do next. That’s is very comforting when we face uncertain days ahead.
Part Four: The Lord’s Justice Will be Upheld, verses 19-24
This last section is a prayer of imprecation. It feels out of place with a psalm of hope and comfort (another reason my Bible professor thought the psalm reads like a lament instead). What is the role of imprecation in the life of faith? Imprecation is a prayer for God’s justice to be meted out. For those of faith, imprecation is the acknowledgement that this world is not as God desires it to be. There are sin and evil and ugliness. Imprecation is the prayer that God would right every wrong, bring an end to evil, and restore the world to justice and equity.
After affirming the omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God, the psalmist appeals for justice from the one and only who can accomplish it. These verses remind us that we have only one Savior and Deliverer from evil. God judges sin on the cross and promises to return to restore all of creation to perfection. In the midst of trying days, we need to cling to the one and only Hope we have for a better future.