Caring in an Expendable Culture
Lesson Focus: God values life and so should we.
God Values Us: Psalm 139:1-6.
 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
[1-2] This Psalm is a prayer addressed to God and the word LORD (Yahweh) introduces the theme. The LORD is the great central subject of which the Psalm is to speak. All else is secondary; here it is God and God alone who stands out supreme, and who is also to fill all our thoughts. The expression LORD is of particular interest, and when David uttered it he spoke as one conscious of the sacredness and preciousness of the word. This is the name which God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Speaking from the midst of the burning bush, God declared, “I am that I am,” thus asserting His eternity. Although times might change, and the purposes of God might seem to be forgotten, yet God abides the same. What He has promised will in His own time most certainly find fulfillment. He is the eternal God, and He can carry out and bring to fruition all His purposes and plans. The name LORD points to God as one who is a covenant God and who manifests that fact by acts of redemption and deliverance. A covenant is simply a dispensation of sovereign grace imposed upon a people by God Himself. The essence of the covenant which God made with Israel was that they were to be God’s people and in turn He would be their God. David can thus begin the Psalm with an appeal to the One who is his own God. In this address there is tenderness and intimacy, but there is no irreverence. This Psalm therefore is spoken by one with whom God had entered into covenant; one whom God had sovereignly chosen to be His own; one with whom He had been pleased to establish close relationship. David has placed the word LORD first in the Psalm and thus has emphasized it. He now proceeds to make a statement about the LORD. The first verb (searched) implies that God has engaged in an exhaustive search in order to learn all that there is to know about David. There has been a minute and thorough examination and investigation on God’s part. David himself has been the object of this exhaustive examination. Whatever there is to know, God knows. This is the truth which David will enunciate concerning God, for it is not his purpose to speak to God as some abstract being who has no relationship with man, but rather to show that God knows him as an individual. What does David mean by the declaration, you have searched me and known me? Does he mean to assert that God was ignorant of David and could only come to know David after a long and exhausting examination? That would be true of us but this is not the case with God because He is omniscient, the all-knowing God of the Bible. Thus the language of the Psalm does not mean that God, being ignorant, must remove His ignorance by investigation. It means, rather, that God possesses full knowledge of David. Indeed, what the Psalm presents is only a vivid way of saying that God knows all that can be known of David. To utter the word You is to acknowledge that God is a Person to whom one may speak and who will hear one’s words. It is to say in effect that there is but one God, and that this God is capable of hearing prayer and of fulfilling the desires of the suppliant. The one whom the Psalmist so confidently addresses as LORD and You is not some being far removed from the affairs of man’s earthly life, but one who possesses knowledge of man. God is all-knowing and God is all-wise. To be able to address such a God is a blessing indeed. What however is it that God knows? He knows David’s sitting down and rising up. This sharp contrast refers to the entirety of David’s life. God knows all of our life, every moment, every posture, every activity. At no time are our ways hidden from Him. It is not possible to escape from Him. Not only is the outward course of life known to Him, but also the thoughts of our hearts. The word which is translated thoughts probably refers to the purpose or aim of a man’s heart. Thus all the purposes and intentions which arise in our hearts are known to God. This is striking, for we ourselves often do not know, much less understand, the intentions which come from our hearts. God not merely knows of these intentions; He understands them. What their origin is, why they have arisen in our hearts, how they affect us: all this is perfectly understood by God. It is not a mere knowledge about David, but an intimate, thorough knowing and understanding all that there is to know about him. Such attributes can belong to God alone. No man can know as God knows; no man can possess the understanding of God. God’s knowledge is perfect and all-embracing. What is meant when David declares that God knows or understands his thoughts from afar? By the term afar the Psalmist has in mind the thought that God, in heaven, is far removed from man. It is God’s transcendence which is in view here. Although God is in heaven and not upon earth, nevertheless, from this far-off place, He has a perfect and complete knowledge and understanding of David’s life, both external and internal. The God of glory, the sovereign LORD, seated upon the heavenly throne, possesses perfect knowledge of man. How wondrous is such a God!
[3-4] The path is the way in which one must travel during his active life, since life in the Bible is often conceived as a journey. For all practical purposes the word is an equivalent of the expression when I rise up which David had just employed in verse 2. To indicate the passive life the Psalmist speaks of my lying down. To designate the entirety of his life, David speaks of his path and the place of his repose. Different figures thus serve to express the fullness of life, as though to stress the fact that God knows wholly and completely the life of David, no matter from what aspect it be considered. To state the truth that God has thoroughly searched out and examined his path and his lair David employs what may be called picture language. The verb (search out) means to winnow, and thus David takes from everyday life in Palestine a figure which would be rich in meaning for his hearers or readers. To the dwellers in Palestine winnowing would have been thoroughly familiar. The worker throws the grain high into the air, and the wind blows or carries away the chaff, leaving the true grain to fall to the ground. Thus, the wind separated between the chaff and the grain. It is this beautiful figure which David employs of God. God has winnowed his path and his lying down, so that that path and lying down have been thoroughly examined and searched out by God. God has tested them. Thus, by means of another figure we are brought again face to face with the truth that God knows the life of David. That there may be no misunderstanding of his thought, the Psalmist inserts the phrase, with all my ways. The language is self-explanatory. All that David does, all that he suffers, all of his actions and all that affects him, is known to God. The word acquainted suggests an acquaintance which results from familiarity and habit. God intimately knows all the ways of David. Man at best seems to be a bundle of contradictions; he does not know himself as he should; he is not always sure of himself; he cannot in every instance tell why he acts as he does. He is unaware of the thousands of influences that for good or evil affect his actions. God, on the other hand, possesses an intimate knowledge and understanding of man which extends to every detail of his life. In verse 4 David now proceeds to give an illustration of the truth which he has been declaring. Even before man utters his words, while they are yet upon the tongue, unspoken, the LORD knows them. God actually knows the individual words which the speaker is to use before he speaks them forth. You know it altogether emphasizes that God knows in their fullness and entirety the words which are upon David’s tongue. Certainly God knows every word, but more than that He knows the words in their entirety. The words which come upon our tongues are the expression of the thoughts that have been formed in our hearts. Both the thoughts and words are known to God. How practical is this truth of God’s omniscience. From people we may be able to conceal the thoughts which we have. And it is well that this is so. Thoughts of anger, jealousy, hatred; how good it is that other people need not know them. From God, however, we cannot conceal them.
[5-6] Verse 5 contains an almost imperceptible transition from the consideration of God’s omniscience to that of His omnipresence. In whatever direction David turns he cannot escape from the all-knowing God. But this raises the question, ‘Why should one desire to escape from the presence of God?’ ‘Why should reflection upon God’s omniscience lead one to seek escape from Him?’ When we think of God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, we are at once reminded of the great gulf which separates the Creator from the creature. In our daily lives we do not meditate upon God as we ought. Our lives are so filled with activity that in this modern day we have all but abandoned the practice of meditation. When, however, we turn aside from the cares and demands of daily activity and enter into the quiet of meditation we are brought face to face with the greatness of our God. He is not a man like ourselves, whom we can measure and circumscribe with the measures and limits which we apply to ourselves. Instead, He is so great that we cannot comprehend Him. He is the infinite One. Hence, we are not able to think of Him as He is in Himself. There is nothing in this earth with which we can compare Him, for this earth and its fullness belong to Him as His creation. God, however, in all of His perfections and attributes is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Hence, when we think of His omniscience, we tremble. Before such a God who can stand? From this God there is no escape. Before Him we can only bow in adoration and in genuine reverence. David does not contradict what he had stated before, that God understands his thought from afar. God in heaven is truly afar, yet God is also omnipresent. God is everywhere, and yet God is the mighty Creator, whose dwelling is in the heaven. These are truths which our finite minds cannot comprehend nor reconcile, but we must note that the Bible teaches both God’s omnipresence and also His transcendence. To express the thought of inescapability from God David uses a word that actually means ‘to shut up’ or ‘to enclose’. God has confined man by shutting him up so that whether man go forward or backward he is hemmed in, and unable to flee from God. David uses graphic language to picture the hand of God placed over David so that escape is impossible. When God places His almighty hand upon a person, that person is completely in His power, and it is this truth which David is compelled to recognize. The thoughts which the Psalmist has just expressed lead him to utter an exclamation of wonder at the greatness and incomprehensibility of God’s knowledge. The underlying idea of the word, wonderful, is that of separateness or distinctness. The root is used of the miracles which God performed when He brought the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. These great miracles were acts of God, performed by His supernatural power in the external world. The knowledge which David now wishes to praise is distinct and separate from human knowledge; it is divine. Such knowledge is incomprehensible; it is something that man cannot possess, for man is but a creature and hence finite; the knowledge of which David here speaks belongs to an infinite being. Hence, man cannot possess it. When David thus exalts the knowledge of God, he does not mean to assert that he himself can have no knowledge. He does have knowledge, in so far as he thinks the revealed thoughts of God after Him. But David’s knowledge is only a reflection, as it were, of God’s knowledge. David knows in part, but he does know; his knowledge and ours also are simply that which the creature possesses. The knowledge of God, David continues, is high, and this term signifies that man cannot attain unto it, for it is beyond man’s reach. What David’s language means is that the knowledge of God is such that only God can possess it; hence, it cannot be reached by man. God’s knowledge is incomprehensible. It is knowledge such as no mere man can possibly possess, for it belongs to God alone. Indeed, the purpose of the language is to show that man and God are distinct. David wishes to make it clear not merely that God is above man, but that He is infinitely above man. Such an emphasis is eminently needed in our day, for men tend to bring God down to the human level. They speak of God with familiarity, as though He were simply one of themselves. The sense of awe and wonder in the presence of God has all but disappeared. His Name no longer brings fear to the heart. It is well then that we pause to remember that God is our Creator. We need Him; He does not need us. He made us and He exists independent of us. We are dependent upon Him, and without Him we can do nothing.
God Has a Plan for Us: Psalm 139:13-16.
 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. [ESV]
[13-16] With verse 13 we make quite a transition in the thought. Having spoken of the possibility of fleeing from God, David now adopts the opposite course of turning in a personal manner unto God and reflecting upon the fact that God has created him. The verse begins with a For, and this word introduces the reason why God is all-knowing and also omnipresent, and that reason is found in the fact that God is the creator. God knows the entirety of David’s life, both his outward existence and the thoughts of his heart. From this God there is no way of escape, and the reason why God possesses this knowledge and why God is everywhere present is simply that God has created all things and He has created David. Inward parts refers to the seat of man’s emotions and will. Since God has created or formed these inward parts of man, then God’s control reaches to the inmost part of our being. By means of the second part of the verse David wishes to show how God has a control over his whole being. David is speaking of the embryo in the mother’s womb. When as yet he was in the womb of his mother before actual birth, he was in God’s control. We are not the creatures of chance, merely happening in some inexplicable way to appear upon the scene of history. We are here, for God has created us, and from the first instant of our creation, even before our birth, we were wholly in His care. Truly the doctrine of divine providence is a blessed thing. It teaches that God cares for us. David cannot continue the development of his thought; it is too great, too vast, too all-embracing. Before such a God he does what he cannot refrain from doing. He breaks off in the midst of his argument, and bursts forth into thanksgiving and praise to God. Indeed, one cannot think of God and His wondrous works without bursting forth into praise. He who knows God and loves Him cannot speak of Him without feeling. The greatness of His works of creation calls forth the adoration and praise of the human heart. If we are not moved to praise by the contemplation of God’s attributes, we may well examine our hearts whether we possess the true knowledge of God. When the devout heart begins to contemplate the greatness of God, it loses itself in wonder, love and praise. Each word of verse 14 is worthy of particular note. The action of his praising God rests upon the fact that God has made David: for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. By fearfully David is thinking of those things which cause fear and astonishment. They are the circumstances which surround the coming into being of David. The very wonder of the circumstances under which life is conceived and the embryo formed should produce fear within our hearts, for we are then in the presence of the Author of Life. Having considered the wonder of his own creation, David now proceeds to a more general contemplation. Not only is his own being wonderful, but the same may be said of all God’s works. In saying that these works are wonderful, the Psalmist employs a root that is generally used of miracles which the Lord has performed. It designates that which is extraordinary and filled with wonder. Hence, it is a fitting word to employ of the miracles of God to indicate that these events are set apart and distinct from ordinary events and also that they are wondrous. And if all God’s deeds are wondrous, particularly is this true of the creation and formation of man. This is an act that only God can perform; it is an act of wonder. In contemplating the wondrous manner in which he has been formed, David proceeds to assert that from the very beginning he was known to God. Even before his birth God saw clearly the frame of David’s being. The origin of our being is in His hands. Herein is another evidence of His omniscience and mighty power. The second part of verse 15 refers to the mysterious manner in which the bones and sinews of the human body are knit together. What, however, is the meaning of the strange expression, in the depths of the earth. In what sense can it be said that man was intricately woven in the depths of the earth. The phrase obviously stands in parallelism to in secret. If, therefore, the phrase in secret refers to the womb of the mother, it would seem also that the depths of the earth is a figurative expression for the same thing. Here the figure simply serves to emphasize that the womb of the mother is a place of darkness wherein the body of man is formed. David continues his prayer to God in verse 16, declaring that God’s eyes have seen his embryo (unformed substance). To God the body of the mother is no covering, and God’s eyes penetrate through the body, so that from Him nothing can be hidden. All the days of David’s life are written in God’s book. The thought here is that the entirety of David’s being, even including the days of his life, are inscribed in the book that belongs to God. Furthermore, it is stated that these days of the Psalmist’s life have been formed before there were any of them. What actually is the Psalmist saying? He is saying that the days of his life were actually formed before even one of them had come into existence. All his life, the details of each day, had been written down in the book of God, before any of these days had actually occurred. The Psalmist has here reached a peak in his exaltation of the all-knowing and all-powerful God. Not only does God know all things, but God has also foreordained all things. In other words, the Psalmist has brought us head on with the doctrine of predestination. His life he regards not as a chance happening, but as a life already planned by God even before he himself was born. All the days that David would live and all the events of each day had been written down in God’s book before David himself had come into existence. David’s life is not determined by David; he is not the master of his fate nor the captain of his soul, nor, for that matter, is any man. Before David appeared upon this earth, the days of his life had been determined by God Himself. Indeed, all that occurs has been foreordained of God. God has a plan and hence there are no surprises for Him. He knows what the future will bring forth, for He Himself has determined that future. David was to live a life that had been predetermined for him. David does not rebel at this thought and neither should we. The contemplation of this profound doctrine leads him to an utterance of the preciousness of God’s thoughts. David is content that God has determined in advance his life, predestined the course of events for him. As a devout believer in the Lord he knows that whatever God does is right. But this teaching of predestination does not in any sense do violence to our human responsibility. We know that the very fact that God has proclaimed both His sovereignty and also the responsibility of the creature is sufficient warrant for us to believe in both. In God they find their harmony, and that is sufficient for the believer. We can trust God and leave the question of harmonization to him. David, apparently, was willing to do just that. There is something else that we can do. In the light of this profound teaching of the Bible we can bow in devout adoration before our great God. What a wonderful thing it is to know that the very days of our lives have been written down in His book even before these days come into existence. Life is filled with difficulty. About us the world seems to be in turmoil. We see men in desperation and agony, for they know not the meaning of life. But we know better; we know that our days are in God’s hands.
God Is with Us: Psalm 139:17-18.
 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. [ESV]
[17-18] What effect does such divine scrutiny and knowledge of David’s being and ways have upon the Psalmist? David does not exhibit resentment at God’s close scrutiny of himself; instead he marvels at the wonder of the incomprehensible thoughts of his great God. In verse 17 David directs our thought to himself, not in any sense to praise himself, but rather to exhibit how he reacts to the divine scrutiny and knowledge of which he has been speaking. And what is said here concerning David should also apply to all who like David love and reverence the Lord as their God. The Psalm thus exhibits a practical purpose: it is designed to promote godliness among those who are God’s own, and nothing can produce godliness more effectively than the contemplation of the attributes of the majestic God of whom this Psalm speaks. The second half of verse 17 also includes an exclamation: How vast is the sum of them! David reflects on the vast number of God’s thoughts as well as the power and greatness of the thoughts themselves. It would seem that David is uttering his surprise at the power of the thoughts of God. The total impact which they make upon him is that of strength. The thoughts of God are so many that David cannot possibly count them. In the Scriptures sand is an example of what cannot be counted. These thoughts of God which arouse the adoring wonder of David are before him night and day. There is no escape from them. In counting the thoughts of God David was not merely seeking to find out how many thoughts God had, but rather was meditating upon these thoughts. It is not only the number but also the greatness of the thoughts which impresses him. Night does not exclude David from the thoughts which God has of him. When the morning comes he is still with God. It is important to note the word still, for it implies that the night had not separated David from God. To say that when he awakes he is still with God is to imply that he has been with God right along throughout the night. In fact, the purpose of the verse is to show that even the night does not separate from God.
Questions for Discussion:
1. List all the things David says about God in these verses. Now list the ways David responds to his Lord. Spend time thinking about how you respond to the God David describes in these verses.
2. In verse 2 David writes that Yahweh (Lord) discerns (or understands) his thoughts. What is the difference between being known and being understood? Why is it important to you that God not only knows, but understands completely all the thoughts, purposes, intentions, and desires of your heart?
3. How does David respond to the fact that all the days of his life were written in God’s book prior to his birth? How do you respond to this great truth?
Psalms, Volume 3, James Boice, Baker.
Psalms, Volume 3, John Goldingay, Baker.
Psalm 139, Edward Young, Banner of Truth.