This psalm might be considered a hymn to the omniscience (vv. 1-6) and omnipresence of God (vv. 7-12), as well as a hymn to His creative artistry (vv. 13-18), along with a thoughtful meditation on the ethical ramifications of God’s holy nature (vv. 19-24).
“O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it . . . And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:1-24).
Summary of the Text
Yahweh knows the psalmist fully, having searched him out (v. 1). God knows when he sits and when he rises (v. 2), and reads his thoughts at a distance (v. 2). God understands his paths, his lying down, and all his ways (v. 3). Before he speaks, God knows all about it (v. 4). Jehovah goes before him, and comes behind him (v. 5), and rests His hand on him. Such doctrine overwhelms David (v. 6); it is too high.
Where can this God be avoided? Nowhere (v. 7). If David ascends to Heaven, God is there (v. 8). Of course, ascending to Heaven to get away from God is like going to the sun’s center to get away from the heat. But if he makes his bed in the lowest places, God is there also (v. 8). If he takes the rays of the sunrise and uses them as wings to fly off to the most distant seas, Yahweh is there to lead and to hold (vv. 9-10). If David tried to hide in the dark, he realizes that darkness and light are all the same to Jehovah (vv. 11-12).
But Yahweh is not just the God of all the omni-immensities—He is a meticulous craftsman as well. God owned David’s reins (kidneys), which the Hebrews considered the seat of desire and longing—even as those reins were being shaped (v. 13). The human body is an astounding bit of work—stupefying, in fact. It summons nothing but praise, as our soul knows right well (v. 14). We are woven in the womb. God knew everything about what He was doing, as He was doing it in the darkness of the womb (v. 15). God saw what He was going to do in the sketch book of His own sovereign determinations (v. 16)—all of it was planned. David exults in the immense sum of God’s thoughts, and counts them both infinite and precious (vv. 17-18).
But this great Jehovah is also holy. And as the Holy One, He is the eye of the world. God will certainly slay the wicked (v. 19), and so David banishes them from his presence. They speak in godless ways, taking God’s name in vain (v. 20), and so David hates those who hate Yahweh. He is grieved with them (v. 21). He hates them perfectly, and counts them as his own enemies (v. 22). He follows this with an astonishing invitation—search me, O God (v. 23). Probe and test me, to see if there is any wickedness to be found in me. And lead me in the everlasting way (v. 24).
How capable of such a searching was the God just described in the earlier portion of the psalm? What kind of invitation is this? It either demonstrates an astounding level of obtuseness, or it is a prayer of sincere faith.
Immediate and Exhaustive Knowledge
God knows all things immediately, without any middleman. Although it says here that God “searches out,” it also says He knows from “afar off.” He knows what David is going to say before David does. His knowledge is unmediated. Not only is His knowledge not mediated to Him, His knowledge is not divided. He is never distracted. When you cry out to Him, you have His undivided attention. He knows your going out and your coming in, and that means He knows when you have a parking spot and when you don’t. If it is big enough to be a trouble to you, then it is not too small to bring to Him.
This kind of knowledge causes us to blow fuses (v. 6). We cannot attain to it. We cannot comprehend it.
All the Way Present
The omnipresence of Jehovah is not like pie dough—where the farther you spread it, the thinner it gets. God is everywhere, and everywhere He is, He is entirely there. But this is Christian orthodoxy, not pantheism. God is everywhere, but it cannot be said that He is everything. He created the material universe, which means that it is distinct from Him. God spoke, and there were two realities: God and not God. But all contingent created reality is contained (somehow) within Him. He encompasses us all, without being identified with the created order. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28). He goes ahead of us, and He comes behind.
The Profound Miniaturist
The psalmist confesses that he “is wonderfully made.” The Vulgate rendering of this is exquisite—acu pictus sum, “I am painted as with a needle.” Not only so, but God does this work in the darkness of the womb. But no matter, because darkness and light are all the same to Him (v. 12). The formation of each human being, which He has done billions of times, is an astonishing marvel. We take it all for granted, because we are besotted with our intellectual sin, with our fables about evolution, materialism, and natural laws.
Holy, Holy, Holy
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13; Amos 5:15). We see in Scripture how David was magnanimous with his personal enemy Saul (1 Sam. 24:5). What we are dealing with here is David’s indignation over these evildoers unwillingness to repent of their bloody and blasphemous wickedness (vv. 19-20). And so think of it this way. The sovereign and eternal God, the one who has witnessed every grubby thought you ever had, and has witnessed them parade right in front of Him, hands over their eyes, in the firm conviction that if they can’t see Him, then He must not be able to see them, is the same God who knit the Lord Jesus together in the womb of Mary the Virgin.
And He did this so that He would have a body that could be nailed to a cross on behalf of all those impudent scamps.