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Psalm 139 (Another Sermon Excerpt…I got nothin’ else.)

October 20, 2006

The subject of David’s meditation and prayer is not just God’s omniscience.  It’s much more personal than that.  He knows me, He knows you.  He knows everywhere we go, he knows everything we do.  He knows when we sit and when we rise.  He knows when we sleep, and when we get up.  He knows why we don’t sleep when we should sleep and why we don’t rise when we should rise.  He is familiar with all our ways.  I have seen his ways, he says in Isaiah 57, but I will heal him.  He knows what’s wrong with you and he knows how to fix it.   He discerns your thoughts from afar, says verse 2, which doesn’t mean he is a long way off, it means that even when your thoughts are still along way off, still not fully formed, he gets where you’re coming from.   He knows your thoughts before they arise to your conscious mind.   It’s the same sort of thing he says about our words in verse 4.  Before a word is on your tongue, he knows it completely.  You don’t understand why you said half the things you said yesterday, but he knows it altogether.   He knows what you said.  He knows why you said it.  He knows what you wanted to say, and why you wanted to say it.  He knows what you should have said, and why you were afraid to say it.   He knows you. 


And not only does he know all these things about us, but he even constrains and restrains us.  He hems us in behind and before says verse 5.  He not only beholds us, he besets us.   If he blocks our path before us, we cannot turn back to escape him for he is behind us as well.  And this is no mere guidance by impersonal circumstantial providences, his very hand is upon us. 


Perhaps you are beginning to feel terrified.  Perhaps you feel something dreadful in this.  It is disturbing to think that if God is nearer to us than our very thoughts, then when we sin we are sinning right in his face.  And yet David doesn’t call this knowledge dreadful, he calls it in verse 6 wonderful.  Why, what has he learned about God that we need to learn? 


David says in verse 7 “Where shall I flee from your presence…if I ascend to heaven, there you are, if I make my bed in the grave…behold! You!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will….


Now stop there a minute.  What might you have expected David to say here if you hadn’t read this psalm so many times?  If I flee from you, your hand will catch me?  Arrest me?  Smack me down in my rebellion?   Many read this psalm as though David is simply saying don’t run from God because He’ll get you and then you’ll be sorry.  But David is saying something even more wonderfully gracious.   He says “Even there your hand will guide me.”  Guide.  The same word he uses in Psalm 23 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  Or in Psalm 73 “You guide me with your counsel and afterward will take me into glory.”   

What David has learned about God that enables him to think upon God’s all-searching knowledge as wonderful is that God’s hand is upon him with good purpose.  Last week we read him say in the last verse of Psalm 138, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”  Is this not the same thing as the last verse of Psalm 139 “lead me in the way everlasting”?   And he also declared at the end of Psalm 138 that the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.  So we learn in Psalm 139 that God’s love is even more steadfast than we are stubborn. 


We’ve all tried to flee from God.  We’ve all tried many times to hide from God in the darkness.  But praise God he does not let us go, he does not give us over to our sins, but he hems us in behind and before.  He holds onto us, He illumines the darkness, He grants us repentance and turns us around and brings us back.  You cannot escape being known and lovingly led by God.   God’s love is more steadfast than we are stubborn.


“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!”  In verse 1 he affirmed that God already has searched him and knows him.  But he still prays for it in verse 23.   We see this again and again in the Scriptures.  We pray for what we already know to be certain.  We know Jesus is coming again, but we pray for it.   We know that he will keep us persevering in the faith to the end, but we pray for it.  We know that he knows and forgives all our sins, but we confess them anyway.  God wants you to pray his promises back to him because he is thereby glorified through your thanksgiving, and you are blessed as you come to trust his promises more by meditating upon them in the awareness of the presence of God.   

In verse 2 David said “you discern my thoughts”.  In verse 17 he said “how precious to me are your thoughts, O God!.   Same Hebrew word.  But now in verse 23 when he says “test me and know my thoughts” this is a different word.  Other versions translate it anxious thoughts, or anxieties.  The word occurs only one other time in the Bible. Psalm 94:19.  I love this verse.  This is a verse that I remember Kris B. stood up and read in our sharing time years ago and it hit me and stayed with me.  Don’t underestimate the power of your simple sharing of the word of God with one another.  So now I read this verse to you in the hopes that it might be the word one of you needs to hear today and that it might dwell in your hearts for years to come.  Psalm 94:19 “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.”  That’s one to memorize and use over and over again. 

Finally in verse 24 David speaks of two ways.  The grievous way and the everlasting way.  This word for grievous is a word that is used in Genesis in story of the fall of mankind and the curse.   And it is used in Genesis 6:6 where God before the flood looks upon the wickedness of mankind and is grieved that he made us.  And it is used most recently in Psalm 127:2 “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil”  This is a word that connotes our cursed fallenness.   David is praying for God to lead him out of his fallen ways and into the everlasting way of salvation.   This is the leading of God that we need.  Most people speak of God’s leading and they mean a still small voice telling them which job offer to take  But the leading of the Spirit in the Scripture is this leading.  He inclines your heart away from paths of grievous futility and twistedness and into the everlasting way of righteousness.  He is your good shepherd, he leads you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake, and his love for you is more steadfast than you are stubborn and so even when you try to flee from God and live in darkness, his hand will hold you fast, weigh heavily upon you, cause your bones to burn within you until you can’t stand it anymore and turn back to him in repentance and pray this prayer again, “Lead me in the way everlasting.”  So don’t bother running from him, don’t needlessly increase your griefs.  The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.  Turn to him now and ask him to search your heart and lead you out of your fallen ways and into his everlasting way. 

15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2006 11:01 am

    God wants you to pray his promises back to him because he is thereby glorified through your thanksgiving, and you are blessed as you come to trust his promises more by meditating upon them in the awareness of the presence of God. Oh, so calvinists pray.

    Isn’t this the same point you made in Psalm 2? Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession, Jesus asks, but he already has. It glorifies God.

    Thank you for sharing the beauty of God in the Psalms. What a rich encouragement to know God, or rather, be known by God.

  2. October 20, 2006 12:18 pm

    This is a very inspiring sermon. It’s reassuring to know that God understands my stupidity, stubborness, and often arbitrary decisions. Another fascinating idea about omniscience is that God has the power to not know everything, as in the case of Jesus Christ willingly not knowing when the end days will come.

  3. October 20, 2006 2:11 pm

    Hmm. I think the case of Jesus not knowing the day or the hour is to be explained in terms of the mystery of incarnation and hypostatic union. In his human nature he did not know, and even though he remained fully divine, he lived on the earth in the power of his Spirit-filled human nature.

    But I don’t believe that God has the power to not know everything. I believe this would be like saying God has the power to not be God.

    Isaiah 41:22-23, 26-27 “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. …26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. 27 I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings.

    Isaiah 44:6-7 “This is what the LORD says– Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. 7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come– yes, let him foretell what will come.

    Isaiah 46:9-10 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.

  4. egana permalink
    October 21, 2006 3:52 pm

    ” I will do all that I please”

    If God were like us, this would not be a comforting thing, this would be a scary thing. The Dear Leader in North Korea comes to mind… I don’t want a God like that. That would not be good news.

    but if God is who he says He is (good, righteous, merciful, gracious, just, holy, generous, etc…) then knowing that he will do ALL that He pleases becomes a delight, a expectant hope, and joy to submit to, a life goving word of comfort…

    Thanks for this reminder…

  5. October 22, 2006 2:14 pm

    “I think the case of Jesus not knowing the day or the hour is to be explained in terms of the mystery of incarnation and hypostatic union. In his human nature he did not know, and even though he remained fully divine, he lived on the earth in the power of his Spirit-filled human nature.”

    If I was more articulate, that’s probably what I would have said.

    “But I don’t believe that God has the power to not know everything. I believe this would be like saying God has the power to not be God.”

    I don’t totally agree. I don’t think it’s necessary that God be omni*. Omniscience is a quality God has because this is what he has chosen for this universe. But his Godliness isn’t dependent on him being omni*. In other words, God is God because he is God, and not because he is omni*. You’re probably thinking that God can’t help but being omni* because he is infinitely powerful, which I would agree with.

  6. October 24, 2006 2:26 pm

    I suppose you must be right that God can’t be omni*. He’s not, for example, omnimalevolent.

    But I do think that omniscience is an essential attribute of God without which he would be less glorious and less than God. God is “perfect in knowledge” (Job 37.16). God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

    God has chosen to be omniscient in this universe. But God also perfectly knows himself, which means He knows everything that he is able to do, which means he knows every possible universe that he could have made. But it is impossible that there could be a universe in which this wasn’t true of Him. The universe in which God is less than omniscient is an impossible universe.

  7. October 24, 2006 8:58 pm

    By *, I mean the common root words associated with God such as potent, benevolent, and scient.

    So, as I understand it, you’re saying that Jesus as man didn’t know, but Jesus as God did know and the hypostatic union (I googled it) of the two natures explains why Jesus as Man didn’t know. With the point about Christ’s God nature still being omniscient, which I always agreed with, I guess we’re just arguing over semantics. Although, I never understood the hypostatic union, and I’ve only learned a little bit by what I’ve read on the internet (a very credible and reliable source of information).

  8. October 24, 2006 9:27 pm

    IMO, the incarnation/hypostatic union is by far the most head asploding mystery of Christianity. Even the Trinity is easy to grasp by comparison.

  9. October 25, 2006 8:08 am

    I love that you just said head asploding. That made my morning…

  10. October 25, 2006 10:35 am

    I chuckled as well. You’ve been looking at ytmnd?

  11. October 25, 2006 12:50 pm

    Don’t know anything about ytmnd, I was alluding to Strong Bad.

  12. October 25, 2006 7:42 pm

    Yes to both.

    And now, for some distracting fun (a flash piece with sound), I present:

  13. October 25, 2006 7:43 pm

    P.S. I thought it was totally awesome when I asked my Sunday School kids last year who their favorite cartoon character was and your son totally said “Strongbad.” That was totally sweet.

  14. egana permalink
    October 25, 2006 10:04 pm

    huh? lemme in on it, will ya?

  15. eva permalink
    October 26, 2006 9:40 am

    Ok, I changed my name to protect the not-so-innocent…
    God knows me and still is committed to complete His purposes. That’s why when I’m focused on praying about problems, He is focused on me and even hemming me in to complete His work. Praise puts the foucs where it should be. His work, His kingdom.

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