Value Every Life!

The All-wise God Owns All

This Psalm, from David, highlights in a strikingly brilliant way the omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience, and omnisapience of God. Also, reflecting a deep understanding of the specific power and purpose manifest in the beginning and development of every human being, David explores the value of human life derived from the immediacy of its relation to God, initially as created in his image and subsequently as superintended by his hovering immanence.

I. David begins by recounting the ways in which his awareness tells him that it is impossible to be removed from the presence and necessary sustaining power of God.. Verses 1-12. These two sections explore the doctrines that we call omniscience, and omnipresence

A. Verses 1-6 – Can any action be taken without God’s thorough knowledge of it? David illustrates in a movingly poetic way that God’s knowledge is absolute and perfect. The images are couched within the framework of experimentation, investigation, examination, contemplation—all of them tools of empirical science—but they are pressed into exhaustive knowledge to show that the knowledge God has is natural and immanent, not acquired.

1. Verse 1 – Like a detective or an officer of the state that must know everything possible about a certain person, God is pictured as one that searches and his search turns up all that can be known. The word carries the power of an intimate examination. “Searched . . . and known.” On the one hand, this should help set parameters around us of godly fear, for nothing we do or think escapes the observation and thorough knowledge of God. It all will be before his mind in the day of judgment. At the same time, this God—infinite, eternal, and unchangeable—applies his perfect knowledge in a way that gives comfort and assurance to his children. He is no god of the Deist that sets the world in motion and then lets things spin out on their own course, but he is invested in all his being with every bit of his creation, and in a peculiarly intimate way with the people of his choice.

2. Verse 2 – From God’s knowledge of all things about us a general way, David now contemplates that God knows both our daily actions and also our thoughts. The most casual actions of life, such as sitting down and standing up, God knows and sustains us as we do these things. The thoughts of deep contemplation and meditation as well as the most rapid and furtive mental observations that go through our minds almost undetected even by us, God knows. Though he is distant from mere creatures in the infinity of his wonderful being, yet even from such distance he discerns, knows with perfection, all these thoughts.

3. Verses 3 and 4 – God’s knowledge of actions and thoughts, David now expands in these two verses. God has cast Himself all around David, and scatters Himself, as it were, everywhere he walks and every where he waits. Every way that he takes and every place he pauses, God is there and fully knows all that has prompted both the run and the rest. If David speaks, none of his words surprise God for he is fully knowledgeable before he speaks of all that David is and how he responds to every situation. Words that rise from the hot-head sinner do not jolt God for he knows that we are corrupt and our lips utter curses and blasphemies toward both God and men. When grace infuses itself into the soul and gives expression to praise and adoration, humble submission expressed in words and confession and supplication, God knows them beforehand and knows how they have come from the soul in such a way in such a time.

4. Verse 5 – In summary, therefore, of God’s knowledge, David recognizes that he is hemmed in. All of his past actions and words are laid out in fullness before God and everything in the future is fully foreknown and established in the counsel of his will. The operations of grace rush along behind him effecting cleansing for sins, chastening him for departures from the pursuit of godliness to bring about repentance and holiness. The provisions for the future are established and the path providentially arranged that David’s life will—in the good and the ill—manifest the glory of God. “You . . .lay your hand upon me.”

5. Verse 6 – Such knowledge brings a sense of wonder, amazement, and worship. Also, since “I cannot attain it,” it brings the one that acknowledges this to a sense of deep and abiding resignation to divine wisdom as expressed in the decrees of God. One rests completely satisfied with how God disposes of him, for the wisdom of God and the purpose of God for his own glory so far transcends our most exalted conceptions of provision and purpose that we must confess, again with David, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1, 2) And with the Apostle Paul, after a survey of the dizzying connections of the perplexities of Providence in the distribution of gospel success, he cries, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) Indeed, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”

B. Verses 7-12 – Can one find any place where God’s presence is not pervasive nor his knowledge perfect?

1. David asks the question twice, for the first received no answer. Indeed, if one is listening for some tip from a secluded quarter of the world as to where one might go to outstrip the presence of God, to be away from the brilliant holiness of his Spirit, then one will only be greeted by a long eternal silence, for no answer can be give to the question. The Psalmist now proposes a number of extremities, in order to affirm in the form of absolute assertions the inescapability of God.

2. Verse 8 –  Neither heaven nor hell will provide a place where God in all his glory is not-present. Heaven is that place designated in Scripture where God dwells in the full display of his glory. There all the distinct expressions of his infinitely excellent attributes find full expression both in the unity, or unison, in which they exist in the divine simplicity, as well as in a discernible diversity, or harmony, of their expression in his innumerable acts. All the inhabitants of heaven see and praise and find their completed joy in the observation and happy experience of this display of beauty and energetic satisfaction of all the sense with which we were meant to adore and enjoy God (Revelation 4 and 5). But God also is present in Sheol. Since it is juxtaposed to heaven, I believe the Psalmist has in mind, not just the mysterious shroud of darkness that hinders our perception of the nature of death and the place of the human consciousness subsequent to the cessation of physical life. Here he means hell. God is present there also. One does not escape God in hell, but finds him there with the manifestation of a set of attributes and power precisely exerted in the just punishment of those that have refused to know and love him in spite of the revelation of his eternal power, God-ness, and patience (Romans 1:20, 28; 2:4).

3. Verse 9, 10 – Are the wings of the morning the breeze that presses its way over the land and beyond it into the sea to places unseen by human eyes? Or does the image point to the light which brings about the dawn and rapidly spreads from east to west over the land of Israel finally to the Mediterranean and with indescribable speed making its way to Spain and Portugal, through the Strait of Gibraltar and out over the Atlantic. If a man could be anywhere that the light can be, or anywhere that morning breezes may alight, would he go beyond the presence of God? No. Even there the precise direction of God operates (“Your hand shall lead me”) and the power of God sustains (“Your right hand shall hold me.”)

4.  Verses 11, 12 –  God is everywhere that light is, but also is everywhere that light is not. Darkness does not hinder his presence, his knowledge, or the immediacy of his perceptions of all things. John taught us concerning the coming of Christ, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5) and also, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

5.  From these inspired observations we must conclude that we can be nowhere that God is not. He is there in all his fullness. Not just a part of him inhabits the various places of the world but all of him is everywhere. The truth, in fact, is this—God does not inhabit this world, but contains the world within him. “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).He surrounds it, sustains it, brings all it effects into being by his purpose—anything that is not under the divine power upheld by his will simply does not exist.

II.  The current immanence of God in his life is based on the initial sovereign purpose God had for him. Verses 13-18

A. Verses 13 – David does not deny the ongoing biological processes in conception, but expresses the reality that nothing occurs apart from the immediate superintending hand of God. Though we are procreated, we are nonetheless created and are justly claimed as God’s project and property. He uses the image of formed (a reference probably to the potter’s wheel and the possession, power, and purpose of the potter over the clay). It comes from a word of extended meanings that can connote create, or own by purchase, that is, to possess all the rights to [as in 2 Peter 2:1]. God superintends the formation of the “inward parts” or the “reins,” by imagery those parts of the inner self wherein dwell all the affections, the determination, the will. He has in mind the marvelous quality of the human person in God’s image as a willing, thinking, feeling being; not the corruption of it through sin. This contrast he deals with in Psalm 51:5, 6.

B. verses 14, 15 – David moves rapidly to the present state of his being, and confesses the mystery of the human body and the human mind.

1. All the mechanisms of the body should cause us to marvel and realize that only massive intelligence could form such individual parts and also put them together with such integrated purpose. The human “frame” is fearfully and wonderfully made as the manner in which the “reins” or inward parts express themselves. This union of soul and body as such an appropriate whole, as an expression of ingenious integration and intricate weaving, of material and non-material reality, serves as an assumption for the necessity of the resurrection and gives rationale as to why Paul can call a body that is physical before death as well as after the resurrection (Luke 24:39-43), natural in this life and spiritual after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). In addition, “My soul knows it very well” is a worshipful way of stating the truth also assumed in Romans 1:28, but manifest in an opposite manner. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, etc”

2. Verse 15a – The process of the intra-uterine development of the child proceeds step by step under the guidance of God. He has established the proper order of the formation of parts and oversees it. For humans to claim the right to interrupt this divine operation is one of the most arrogantly sinful usurpations of the intrinsic and natural right of God imaginable.

3. Verse 15b – “The depths of the earth” – This is a reference to the hiddenness and mysterious nature of this creative process. It also  refers back to the fact that we are originally created from dust. Amazingly, from the earth comes “intricately woven” life.

C. Verse 16 – God knows the beginning from the end. Even when this child is, as it were, an unformed substance, God has the work of the fully-formed and maturing individual established in his sovereign purpose. This disposal of a person’s life is the prerogative of God alone.  He not only gives the child physical existence, but he projects how this particular child will be used in the world for his assigned length of days as God sees fit. No other being has the right to determine the days for this child; none else has the moral prerogative to decide if the child continues to live or has his life taken away.

D. Verses 17, 18 – When we consider, from the standpoint of general revelation, that all that exists is an expression of God’s thoughts then the sheer bulk as well as intricacy of them is oppressively overwhelming. “How vast is the sum of them!” But to the believer they also are indications of the divine beauty and the impossibility that this world and all the solar systems of the universe, all things existent telescopically perceived and beyond as well as microscopically investigated and even more minute, can exhaust the uncontrollable power, creativity, irrepressible intelligence, and endless glory of the Creator. On top of that, add his thoughts of special revelation, particularly of his redemptive purpose in his beloved Son, and to human perception they go beyond in scope even the impossibility of our bringing under our knowledge the finite number of the grains of sand in the cosmos.

E. And yet, all this immensity and magnificence does not militate against his presence with and precise concern for the single individual over whose conception, gestation, birth, and daily life this sovereign God has governed. “I awake, and I am still with you.”

III. David expresses his desire for God to defend his rights of sovereignty by destroying those that do not accept this divine absoluteness. Verses 19-22

A. Verse 19 – David places the disposal of the wicked in the hand of God. As a king, David was responsible for waging war against the enemies of Israel, which often were also the enemies of God. But many even within Israel opposed the plan of God as covenanted through his servant David. These he commits to God. He wanted to be done with  power-hungry men who were seeking their own advantage through murderous treachery and asked God to slay them. Because they were enemies of God and had placed themselves under his judgment, David wanted nothing to do with them.

B. David points to the evidence of their purposeful enmity toward God. They revile his character and his purpose with wickedness. What a wonder that the splendid Being described in this Psalm should be the object of malice, blasphemy, an hateful talk and intent. Paul with clarity and conviction said, “If any man love not the Lord, let him be anathema.” So David says.

C. Verses 21 22 – Their hatred of God is sufficient justification for David to state his hatred of them. He does not hate them because of personal slights but because of their evident hatred of Jehovah and their set opposition to his revealed will. Spurgeon remarked, “To love all men with benevolence is our duty; but to love any wicked man with complacency would be a crime. To hate a man because he is the foe of all goodness and the enemy of all righteousness, is nothing more nor less than an obligation. The more we love God the more indignant shall we grow with those who refuse him their affection.” [Treasury of David] His hatred of them for their hostility to God is pure and not mixed with petty jealousies, or vengefulness of spirit over personal matters. His hatred, like his love, concerns God and God alone. He does mince the matter; God’s enemies are his also.

IV. He asks God to remove any of his own thoughts that may be inconsistent with such a grand view of the divine prerogative and goodness. – verses 23, 24. He began the Psalm by an acknowledgement of the searching activity of God. Now he invites it. If there lurks within him any thing worthy of the hatred to which he has just given such a powerful approval, then he must know it. He will hate such secret treason in himself even as he hates it in others. He wants God to examine him, however, and point it out to him before it manifests itself in a way that would bring dishonor on the name of God. He wants all false and devious ways removed from him, and the path for his feet to be the way of eternal life. The indwelling Spirit will do his work of conviction and sanctification ever pointing David to the “way everlasting.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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