It was going so well! Here is one of the most beautiful and personal of all the psalms. ‘Lord, you are amazing. You know me through and through. You are with me everywhere I go. You formed me in my mother’s womb. And isn’t it about time you started smiting some enemies?’
At first, I considered leaving that bit out.
1. God knows me – completely, 1-6
V1 – ‘O Lord, you have searched me and you know me’ – though others may misunderstand and misrepresent me, you, O God, know me as I really am. Though you might have been fully occupied with keeping the galaxies in their orbits, you are aware of my every thought, word and action. You know me better than I know myself.
V5 – You hem me in – I am beset, besieged, surrounded, by God! At every turn, I come face to face with him!
How does that feel? Spend a day in London, and you are caught on camera over 300 times. How does it feel to be constantly under the scrutiny of God’s all-seeing eye?
2. God is with me – inescapably, 7-12
V7 – ‘Where can I go from your Spirit?’ Lord, you are not shut up in, or shut out of, any place. No door can block your way; no lock can hold you back; no fence can keep you out.
V8 – no height, no depth.
V9 – I might travel to the far east, or to the distant west. But even if I wanted to escape (as Jonah did) it would be impossible.
V12 – No hiding place: you see me as clearly in the blackest night as you do in the brightest day.
How does it feel to know that you are never alone, that you cannot escape God? Claustrophobic? TLGB?
3. God made me – awesomely, 13-16
V13 – Before my mother first became aware of my existence in her womb, you were weaving together my tendons, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins. When my body was smaller than my little finger, you saw its potential, mapped out its future, and gave it a purpose.
Again: how do you feel about that?
As I contemplate God’s complete knowledge of me, his inescapable presence with me, and his awesome handicraft in making me, I feel wonder and amazement. ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!’
But I also feel some discomfort. How can I withstand such divine scrutiny? What dark secrets will he expose? What selfish motives will he bring to light? What blemishes will he show up? No medical examination, no OFSTED inspection, no enquiry into abuse could be more thorough. It is with some trepidation that we pray with David: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me.’ Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jn 21:17).
Which brings us to vv19-24. David is trying to convince himself, and God, that he is on the right side. “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love what you love, and I hate what you hate.”
We might wish that he had stressed the first of these. But instead he flips the coin: “You know that I hate what you hate.” He knows that to stand with God is to stand against his enemies. To love God is to hate evil.
But: hating God’s enemies? Wishing they were dead? This is not about personal vengeance. David understood Deut 32:35 – ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay’, and Romans 12:19 echoes this.
Another thing: this is poetry – Hebrew poetry. It is expressed in black and white terms (righteous/wicked). It uses concrete language (‘wicked people’), rather than abstract language (‘wickedness’).
Let’s just say that David wanted God to know that he was outraged by the evil he felt surrounded by. Let’s ask: is there a place for this kind of outrage?
Is there a place for anger when we go to do God’s work of healing and find that critics are only interested fault-finding? Mk 3:5 – ‘He looked round at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.’
Is there a place for red-hot passion when God’s good gifts are used for evil and selfish purposes? Jn 2:17/Psa 69:9 – ‘Zeal for your house consumes me’.
Is there a place for crying out to God to vindicate those who have been persecuted and killed for the sake of the gospel? Rev 6:10 – “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Too often, we are satisfied with mere disapproval. Sometimes, a good dose of outrage works wonders for the kingdom of God.
But (returning to Psa 139) this is OT, not NT. Both testaments know that God will deal decisively with the wicked. But the OT has only a shadowy view of when this will happen. In the NT it becomes crystal clear. This: it will come at the end of the age. For the moment, God has pressed the ‘pause’ button on final judgement. 2 Pet 3 – ‘By God’s word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men.’ Why? – ‘The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’
The good news is that the God who knows you completely – knows the worst about you as well as the best – also knows the remedy for your soul. The God who is with you, wherever you go, knows how guide you into eternal life. The God who made you – who fashioned you in your mother’s womb – has became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.
And so it is that, day by day, thousands who were formerly enemies of God are becoming his friends. 1 Cor 6:11 – ‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were set apart, you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’