By Meg Bucher, Crosswalk.com
Psalm 139 is a psalm of prayer, meant to be sung in praise at worship services. When we seek to learn, when we look for help or healing, when we express gratitude or anxiety, and when we celebrate blessings … we pray. Prayer is conversation with God, layered with all of these intricate levels which contribute to our relationship with God our Father. The NIV Study Bible shares, “Nowhere (outside of Job) does one find expressed such profound awareness of how awesome it is to ask God to examine not only one’s life but also one’s soul.” Life within the love of Christ further amplifies what the psalmist poured from his heart. We have been created by God, purposefully. He knows us, intimately better than we know ourselves! He is mighty to save and always good. He is all-knowing and everywhere. Because of who He is, we are always loved and never alone.
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Let's Read the Psalm Together
For the Director of music. Of David. A psalm.
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light will become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand-when I awake, I am still with you. If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
What Is the Purpose of Psalm 139?
Psalm 139 reflects David’s prayerful meditation of God’s omnipresence and omniscience, and the effect those characteristics of God have on the human heart. Omnipresence means God is everywhere, simultaneously. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing, His knowledge is not limited. Knowing God creates gratitude and praise for who He is and what He does for us. We were made to glorify God. Knowledge of God directly affects our reactions, especially in times of hardship, injustice, and pain.
David’s heartfelt journey with God, through the good, bad, challenging, and unbelievable, remains alive and relatable throughout Psalm 139. “It sings the omniscience and omnipresence of God, inferring from these the overflow of the powers of wickedness,” Charles H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David explains, “since he who sees and hears the abominable deeds and words of the rebellions will surely deal with them according to his justice.” Who God is, allows us to understand who and Whose, we are. Life within the love of Christ Jesus, Immanuel (God with us), changes our hearts forever and continually until we arrive home in heaven. The journey of each human heart is unique, purposed, and intimately known by the One True God.
Here Are 5 Lessons from Psalm 139 to Strengthen Your Heart:
Lesson 1 — We Are Intimately Known
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” - Psalm 139:13
Before we were known to our mothers, God was forming every intricate detail and fabric of who we are. We often default to a critical view of ourselves and others. Psalm 139 helps us to see ourselves and others through God’s perspective. Color, ethnicity, disability …every trait and characteristic were crafted by our purposeful God. We are crafted personally and purposefully, to bring glory to God. Nothing about us is accidental. God doesn’t simply allow us to be a certain way or carry a certain trait - every cell of our being is intentional. When I became a mother, I experienced love on another level. Yet, I only carried my babies into this world. God gave them life and cares for them infinitely more. We are all loved by God this way.
“God has perfect knowledge of us,” Matthew Henry wrote, “and all our thoughts and actions are open before him.” We cannot control the thoughts popping into our minds all day long, every day. But we do have some say over what happens to them once they arrive. Scripture advises to take our thoughts captive. Some of the rogue thoughts that enter our minds are absolutely crazy! God sees every one of them. He knows our words before we let them exit our mouths. He knows what we will do. He’s numbered our days. We are intimately known by God, not just outwardly, but inwardly. When the heart is mentioned in Scripture, it often refers to the seat of our souls, and the place from which we make decisions and harbor our beliefs. God is there. He is not surprised by our physical or mental struggles!
Being intimately known by our sovereign God means we are not hidden, nor should we feel compelled or convinced by guilt or shame to hide from Him in any way. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross negated the shame which compelled Adam and Eve to hide from God in the garden. Though the curse of sin we live under compels us to do the same—run and hide when we sin—God made a way for us, through Jesus, to bring our sin to His feet and confess and repent of it. God’s forgiveness, His mercies, and the grace available to us through Christ Jesus, are new each day.
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Lesson 2 — We Are Purposefully Made
We were made with purpose, to bring glory to God. Each talent, gift, and occupation have a place in the workforce of the Kingdom of God. Who we are is meant to bring reverence to God. Not a fear to be afraid of, but a respectful, reverence for God. When people look at the lives of those who follow Christ, they should witness the blood He shed dripping from our daily lives. According to Biblestudytools.com, wonderfully means “to be distinct, marked out, be separated, be distinguished.” We aren’t made wonderful in the eyes of world, but from the heart of God, to bring glory to His name. We have each been intentionally set apart, different from the world. “In the midst of daily life, Christians do well to remind themselves of the Good Shepherd’s knowledge and provision,” wrote Jason Helopoulos for Ligonier, “most of the doubts, anxieties, and fears that occupy the Christian soul can be attributed to a lack of trust in Christ as the Good Shepherd.”
Even though David penned this psalm before Jesus walked the earth, everything in Scripture points to God’s greatest expression of love for us in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Living in the New Covenant, we can read this psalm knowing Jesus has defeated death and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Those who follow Christ will be welcomed into heaven for eternity upon death on this earth. God moves through our earthly lives to spread the gospel. His desire is not to leave behind even one!
Lesson 3 — God Is in Control
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” - Psalm 139:16
There is infinitely more happening in the world and our lives than we can plausibly see. But God’s view is limitless, transcending time and space. He has numbered our days, and nothing can change or alter His good plan for our lives. His will trumps what we want.
It’s hard to comprehend God is in control of a world spinning off its rails. So much injustice, unfairness, tragedy and heartbreak surround everyday circumstances world-wide. Even devout Christ-followers gaze up to wonder where God is during tumultuous seasons. “God’s sovereign control is complete, not partial,” John Piper explains on desiringGod, “Whether it’s more or less direct or more or less indirect, more or less by active intrusion or more or less by tactical permission- however it is, God controls it, and the control is complete and pervasive. Nothing in the universe is random without divine design and purpose.”
Lesson 4 — We Are Never Alone
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” - Psalm 139:7
One of the biggest tricks and deceits of our enemy is to isolate and convince us we are alone. Especially in today’s society, as the world endures a global pandemic, isolation has become a reality we experience for long periods of time. Even when we are out in society, masks and plastic barriers isolate us from each other. Quarantine puts us in our rooms alone for half a month’s time! But even when the physical presence of other people is absent from our lives, we are never alone. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are always and forever with us. God is impossible to escape from. And He is mighty to save. David knew these qualities of God well, as he was chased down by a crazed King Saul and exiled to hide in a cave!
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit encompass the One True, Triune God. God is everywhere, all at once. The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains, “Not a part but the whole of God is present in every place. This is true of all three members of the Trinity. They are so closely related that where one is the other can be said to be also.” Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, interceding for us. Through His sacrifice on the cross, the Holy Spirit dwells in every Christ-follower.
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Lesson 5 — Judgment Belongs to God Alone
“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!” - Psalm 139:15
Judgment belongs to God alone. Much of the Psalms teach us to love our enemies and pray to God on their behalf. What does David mean, then, when he wrote verses 15-22? David’s pen was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. God’s Word is Truth, and in its entirety points to Christ Jesus. Sensibly, these verses are followed by: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:24) When we pray this verse, God faithfully answers! We are to pray for our enemies and the enemies of God and beseeching, He searches our souls as well. He knows our enemies, and ourselves, better than we do.
“Paul read the imprecatory Psalms as the words of Christ, spoken prophetically by David… The implication, then, is that David spoke in these Psalms as God’s inspired anointed king, prefiguring the coming King and Messiah, who has the right to pronounce final judgment on his enemies and will do so, as the whole Bible teaches,” explains John Piper for desiringGod. He continues, “This is not personal vindictiveness. It is a prophetic execution of what will happen at the last day when God casts all his enemies into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).”
Psalm 139 is a personal prayer and song of praise to God. Though Author and Creator of the entire universe, and each of us, God is personally in touch with every single one of our lives! He cares deeply and compassionately for us, not only as a whole but individually. The NIV Study Bible relays, “This final Davidic collection contains the Psalter’s two most magnificent expositions of the greatness and goodness of God, one of them (Ps 139) focusing on his relationship with an individual…” (emphasis added). Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead, we are able to come freely to God through Christ. In prayer, praise, and everyday life, He is our constant companion. Jesus calls us friends. What a God we serve! A God who saves! We are known, loved, and never alone.
A Prayer after Reading Psalm 139
Our Lord, Yahweh! Savior, Jesus! Spirit, Advocate! One True Triune God. Glory be to You for all You are and all You have made. From the creation surrounding us to each hair on our heads, Your intentionality is unmatched. Your care and love for us is like nothing else. Thank You, Jesus, for leaving heaven to defeat death on the cross. You sit at the right hand of God and will again return to right all wrongs. Holy Spirit, You are our Advocate and Comforter. Praise and glory and honor to the God who formed us and rescued us. Though the world is hard and dark at times, You can only be light. You can only be good. It’s who You are, and we are Yours. May we remember these truths David divinely penned in Psalm 139. Cover our lives with them like a blanket of comfort on a cold, dark night. You are our strength, God. In You, and You alone, we find peace, love, joy, forgiveness, and mercy. May our lives bring glory to Your name. Bless our enemies and search our hearts.
In Jesus’ name, we pray,
- Biblestudytools.com, ‘Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 139’
- DesiringGod.org, ‘What God Things About You,’ ‘Is God Sovereign Over Human Disability?’ ‘He Loves You Even More Than I Do,’ ‘Do I Not Hate Those Who Hate You, O Lord?’ ‘Lord, Search My Heart’
- Ligonier.org, ‘He Knows Us’
- NIV Study Bible, Copyright 1985, 1995, 2002, 2008, 2011, by Zondervan.
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