These notes are based on the NASB text.
What is the background of Psalm 139?
Psalm 139 celebrates the omniscience and omnipresence of God. It is ascribed to David. There is, perhaps, no other place in Scripture where the bigness of God is as strikingly set forth as it is in Psalm 139. One scholar wrote, “Both in loftiness of thought and in expressive beauty of language, Psalm 139 stands preeminent, and it is not surprising that it has been called ‘the crown of the Psalms.'” The superscription addresses the Psalm to the choir director. This is an indication that the Psalm was to be set to music for use in public worship. The entire congregation was to use the Psalm. Its utterances were to be adopted by every member of the congregation.
139:1 O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me.
139:2 Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up;
Thou dost understand my thought from afar.
139:3 Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And art intimately acquainted with all my ways.
139:4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all.
139:5 Thou hast enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Thy hand upon me,
139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
These verses speak of the omniscience of God. David marveled at the intimate way in which God was acquainted with him. Notice that God knows when we are at rest and work. He knows our motives. He knows our thoughts before we clothe them with words. He knows everything about our public and private life. There is absolutely nothing about us that God does not know. Such knowledge boggled David’s mind.
Practical Consideration: The fact of God’s omniscience should keep evil in check.
Knowing that God is omniscient should motivate us to live holy lives. Knowing that God sees our actions should motivate us to act in a manner in line with His Word. Knowing that God knows our words before they are spoken should cause us to exercise caution and discretion before we speak (see Psalm 141:3). Knowing that God knows everything about us should have an impact on our attitude toward sin. The athletes of Greece and Rome were inspired to run and wrestle by the knowledge that a vast assembly of spectators surrounded them. We too, should be inspired to run with confidence the course set before us by the knowledge that God is watching us.
139:7 Where can I go from Thy Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Thy presence?
139:8 If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.
139:9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
139:10 Even there Thy hand will lead me,
And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.
139:11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
139:12 Even the darkness is not dark to Thee,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to Thee.
These verses speak of the omnipresence of God. It is impossible to escape the presence of God. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, but found they could not do so. Achan tried to hide stolen goods from God, but found he could not do so. Jonah tried to run from God, but found he could not do so. It is impossible to escape God’s presence by going up or down, east or west, or by trying to hide in the cover of the deepest darkness. We cannot escape His presence by death, distance, or darkness. We cannot escape God by death. He is on both sides of the grave. No man can run fast enough to leave God behind. Darkness may hide men from men, but it cannot hide men from God. No matter where man may go, God is already there!
Practical Consideration: It is impossible to escape the presence of God.
Someone stated that “God is a sphere or circle whose center is everywhere, and circumference nowhere.” Isaiah stated that God inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). There is absolutely no place where men can go to escape the presence of God. He inhabits yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Mary Crowley, founder of “Home Interiors and Gifts, Inc.,” said that we should not be afraid of tomorrow because God is already there! While sinners try to escape God’s presence, believers take comfort in His presence. God’s omnipresence should also motivate us to live holy lives. Everything that men do, good and evil alike, is done in the presence of God.
139:13 For Thou didst form my inward parts;
Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.
139:14 I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul knows it very well.
139:15 My frame was not hidden from Thee,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.
139:16 Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Thy book they were all written,
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
God’s omniscience and omnipresence extends even to the womb. God sees and knows everything that occurs in the conception and development of human life as it is carefully and skillfully embroidered in the darkness of the womb. David acknowledged the fact that only God has the power to create a human life: “Thou didst weave. . .”
Verse 16 is understood in two ways. Older Hebrew scholars interpreted it to mean that God, like an architect, was acquainted with the blueprint for our physical makeup before we were formed. Others interpret it to mean that God knows the length of our life before it begins.
Practical Consideration: God is pro-life!
According to Psalm 139, God is pro-life. Every life is important to God, including the unborn. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the conception of a child, God sees and knows everything that occurs within the womb as that life begins to develop. And that life is important, valuable, and significant to God.
Note: The day my wife announced that she was pregnant with our first child we rejoiced and gave thanks to God for the new life He was fashioning in her womb. We purchased a book that explained the various stages of development in the life of a pre-born child. As we turned the pages of that book we marveled at the amazing photographs taken of a child inside the womb. Each photograph testified to the remarkable intricacy and beauty of human life in the womb. Throughout my wife’s pregnancy, the photographs in the book helped us to visualize what was happening inside her body.
When David wrote Psalm 139, he did not have the advantage of the technology that allows us to see what actually occurs inside the womb. Yet, David clearly understood that God Himself was at work in the privacy and solitude of the womb. What was secret to his eyes was fully known to God. While modern technology can give us glimpses into the developing life in the womb, God alone sees and knows absolutely everything that occurs in the conception and development of human life.
The word “created” reminds us that God continues His creative work through human conception. The words “inmost being” and “knit” emphasize that God has created individuals as spiritual and physical beings respectively. The word “knit” actually means “to weave” or “to embroider.” David used this word to emphasize that God had skillfully knit or put him together in his mother’s womb, like one who weaves cloth or makes a basket.
David could not remain silent as he contemplated the wonder of a human life developing in the solitude of the womb. His contemplation of God’s creative activity gave way to praise, which is the appropriate response of the creature to the Creator. The expression “fearfully and wonderfully made” emphasizes the mystery of a developing human life. All of God’s works are wonderful. But, David knew full well or without a doubt that human beings, more than any other part of God’s creation, are awesomely wonderful in the sight of God.
If David’s response was to praise God in spite of his limited understanding, how much more should we praise God in light of the prenatal knowledge afforded to us through science. As we come to understand more fully the wonder of God’s creation, like David we too should praise Him and celebrate what He has done.
Although “hidden” from human view while in his mother’s womb, David’s body and identity were no mystery to God. David poetically described his prenatal development by saying that God had “woven” or embroidered him with great skill. Working in the privacy of the womb, God rolled up His divine sleeves and wove a human tapestry with veins, sinews, muscles, nerves, and every other aspect of physical life.
God saw David as a person from the moment of conception. He had a purpose for the unformed body or undeveloped embryo that would become Israel’s king. God has a purpose for all human life before birth. Isaiah acknowledged that God had formed him in the womb “to be his servant” (Isa. 49:5). Jeremiah said that God had set him apart “as a prophet to the nations” while still unformed in his mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5).
God, like an architect, was acquainted with the blueprint of our physical makeup even before we were formed. His knowledge about us extends beyond the womb to the grave. He knows the exact moment we drew our first breath and knows the exact moment we will draw our last breath.
God desires that we live purposeful lives. Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). We should ask God to help us to live the few days we have on this earth in a way that pleases and honors Him (see Ps. 90:12).
139:17 How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
139:18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with Thee.
These are very comforting verses to the believer. They remind us that God is always thinking of us. In fact, God thinks about us so much that it would be impossible to count all of His thoughts. His thoughts toward us would easily outnumber the sand. We can go to bed at night with the assurance that God is thinking about us. We can wake up in the morning with the same assurance. God never stops thinking about us or being concerned about us.
We too, should think about God. We should fill our minds with godly thoughts. We should think about God when we go to bed at night and when we get up in the morning.
Practical Consideration: We should fill our minds with thoughts of God.
Men who fill their minds with thoughts about God do not have room for lesser or petty thoughts. Paul wrote, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). We should set aside time to be alone with God in quiet meditation or in the study of His Word.
139:19 O that Thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
139:20 For they speak against Thee wickedly,
And Thine enemies take Thy name in vain.
139:21 Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee?
139:22 I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
Since David was zealous for God and the things of God, he was opposed to any who were in rebellion against God. The word “loathe” means “to abhor” or “be grieved with.” He was opposed to any who were opposed to God. David had the same interests, the same friends, and the same enemies as God. He did not want to be associated with any who were in rebellion against God. 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.'” Psalm 1:1 states, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!”
Practical Consideration: We should love the things God loves. . .and hate the things God hates.
We should love the things that God loves. We should, however, also hate the things God hates. When we love things that God hates, we will have problems in our lives. When we hate things that God loves, we will also have problems in our lives. James wrote, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
139:24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
David was concerned about his relationship with God. He did not want to tolerate or harbor anything in his life that might become a barrier between him and God. He gave God permission to make a careful search of his life and remove anything that might keep him from living a life pleasing to God. (Refer to notes on Psalm 19:12-13 on pages 15-16).
Practical Consideration: We should not harbor anything that hinders our walk with God.
We should not tolerate or harbor anything in our lives that hinders or impairs our walk with God. Tolerating many “little” things that are displeasing to God can easily destroy men. Harboring attitudes and grievances and sins that are displeasing to God can easily destroy men. Men who allow such things in their lives will be destroyed from the inside out. We must give God permission to search us daily and be willing to remove anything that can impede our walk with Him.