Saturday, March 30, 2013

musings on psalm 139


O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Psalm 139:1-6

This is a pretty familiar psalm, and if you’re not familiar with this section you probably at least know of verses 13-16 (the “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” passage). The problem with really familiar passages like this is that I find that I read them without paying attention; I know what they say, so I assume that I know what they’re saying. But somehow, since my sprained ankle mishap, I’ve been driven back to this passage again and again—to the point where simply skimming it is impossible—and I have come to love it.

Verse 1: “O LORD, You have searched me and known me.”

Who is the “LORD”? This is God’s given name—יהוה—the “Existing One,” the great “I AM.” He who has existed infinitely has actually made it a point to examine and understand and know me intimately. The Existing One knows me. He knows me. He knows me!

This can be frightening—if He knows me, that means He knows my hidden sin (Luke 12). But there is even more to it than that. He knows who I am. He knows what brings me immense joy. He knows what breaks my heart. He knows not only the specific battles of selfishness that I fight, but also why I’m so vulnerable to them. Isn’t this one of the deep longings of the human soul? Isn’t this why we watch movies filled with unrealistic Hollywood romances? Because we want to be known and understood. We want to believe it’s possible that someone could care that much about us.

Someone does, and He just so happens to be the God of the universe.


Verses 2a & 3: “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; . . . You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.”

The word “scrutinize” here is also the word for “to winnow” or “to sift.” God sifts our thoughts and actions, separating the worthy from the worthless. His knowledge is not limited to my personality or my spirituality; He also knows every small, seemingly-insignificant detail about my day-to-day life and habits. He’s running the universe, yet my petty errands to Walmart and my random conversations with my roommate are closely watched by Him—and He incorporates them all into His bigger plan.


Verses 2b & 4: “You understand my thought from afar… Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all.”

I love these verses. The word thought in verse 2b can be translated purpose or aim; that is, God weighs out and discerns our underlying motives even when our actions are still in the distant future! Even when we don’t realize what we’re going to do, He already knows both what and why. Think about that… I can say that I exercise like a fanatic because “I want to treat my body like a temple of the Holy Spirit,” but God is fully aware that my real motive probably sounds more like, “I want to try in my human power to exchange this body for one that God didn’t give me, because I think my judgment is better than His.” (That’s not an attitude taken lightly by God in Scripture! [Job 38-40, Isaiah 64:8, Romans 9:20])


Verses 5-6: “You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”

This portion is a source of both comfort and frustration to me. I first thought that “You have enclosed me” sounded like a promise that God will wrap me in cotton wool and keep all adversaries at bay, but I find that it means something slightly different. Enclosed actually means “to confine” or “to besiege”—the kind of term used to describe a city that is completely surrounded. And who has besieged me? God. I am surrounded by Him; He is on my every side. No matter where I turn, as a surrendered believer I am stuck where He puts me—He alone is in control of my situation. I find such comfort in knowing that I am safe in His will—but at the same time, I fight it constantly. I fight the idea that Someone knows what’s good for me more than I do. I fight the fact that God’s purposes are better than mine. Like the psalmist, I must come to a place where I can freely admit that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” There are good reasons that God is God and I’m not, and this is one of them: His purposes surpass all of my understanding (John 9:1-3, the book of Ruth, Genesis 45:5, Esther 4:13-14). I’ve spent four weeks without the use of my left leg for a reason that I don’t understand, but He does. And that is good enough.


The bottom line: When I am surrendered to God, there is no evil, difficult, or painful situation I go into alone. Every situation has His prior knowledge and consent. Everything, good or bad, happens with a purpose that is known to and planned by God Himself. And what better proof do we have than the Savior whose death and LIFE we celebrate tomorrow?!

Happy Resurrection weekend!

1 comment:

  1. May the love that caught my heart to set it free be the love that others see in me. And may this hope that reaches to the depths of human need be the song that I sing in joy and suffering.

    For You are the love that never leaves, the Friend that won't deceive: You're the one true thing!

    Faithful God! Every promise kept--every need You've met--faithful God! And all I am, and all I'll ever be, is all because You loved faithfully! Faithful God.

    How deep, how wide, the love that pierced His side. The love! Redemption's mine, O Love that will not let me go.

    Faithful God! Every promise kept, every need You've met, faithful God! And all I am, and all I'll ever be, is all because You've loved faithfully! Faithful God.


    It's impossible not to see how much you've grown in Jesus this year. You are an inspiration.



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