Providence Church (CREC)
Second Sunday After the Epiphany
January, 18, 2009
Prayer: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the 18th century, the English Philosopher John Locke wrote an interesting essay entitled “Concerning Human Understanding.” The problem with Locke was that he denied the Augustinian view that humans are originally sinful, so his perspective on understanding is by nature flawed. Nevertheless, Locke understood the limits of understanding. He wrote that we are to “sit down in a quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our capacities.”
As we approach the 139th Psalm this morning, we are called to sit down in silence, because God’s wisdom, God’s power and God’s presence are beyond the reach of our capacities.
Psalm 139 will re-shape our understanding of the God we worship. Our passage is going to invade our privacy and leave us spiritually naked in the eyes of God. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Every secret of the heart, every thought and intent, and every word you have ever uttered is subject to the eyes of God.
This Psalm of David is a prayer; a deeply sincere and transparent prayer. David has nowhere to go; nowhere to hide. David has seen the brutalities of his enemies. His enemies are men of blood, according to verse 19. David has every human reason to be angry at the violence before him, but rather, He prays to His God.
David is very personal in this prayer. He has profound questions, but they are beyond his finding out. And as you read the entire chapter, you will see that he ends as he begins: with the deep conviction that God knows Him. He does not just know David as one in a billion people, but God knows David intimately. God has poured His mercy on David.
This is a covenant relationship between God and David. This relationship gives David freedom to speak to His God in the most intimate terms.
Application: This is why throughout the Bible God is a “Heavenly Father.” This is so that we may enter boldly into His presence through Jesus Christ and commune with our Father. David’s prayer gives us justification to cast our cares upon God; all our cares from the greatest to the least. There is no concern that we have that is insignificant to God our Father.
In verse 1 we read: O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
In other words, you have inspected the depths of my soul. And then in verse 2, from the time I sit, that is rest, unto the time I rise, that is work, you discern my thoughts from afar. Whereas every one that I know sees only my actions, you O Lord know the motivation and intention of my actions, No thought or desire is hidden from You! Verse 3 echoes again the same idea: There is nothing that I do in this life, wherever I may be, that you are not aware. God is the One who ultimately has the prerogative to invade your privacy at any time. There are no civil liberties when it comes to God’s ability to search you out.
Verse 4 gives us also a unique description of the knowledge of God: Even before a word is on my tongue…you know it altogether. As Calvin remarks “God, who knows the heart, is independent of words.” The idea here is that whereas men depend on words to communicate, God does not. He knows you completely, even if you never uttered a word.
Notice how profoundly moved David is with the knowledge of God in verse 6: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
It is a humbling thought for David. It is convicting and comforting. Nothing happens in this sin-inflicted world that God does not know. As Job tells us: “For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps.”
You will notice in the beginning of Psalm 139 that David has been exceptionally individualistic in his prayer:
a) You have searched me and known me
b) You know when I sit down and when I rise up.
c) You search out my path and my lying down.
These are all written in the first person; but before you think this is an apologetic for individualism, remember that this prayer is not meant only for David. He writes this prayer to the choirmaster. It is a covenantal and corporate prayer. It is meant to be sung by the people of Israel. As we read Psalm 139 we are amazed at its beauty. It is a poetic psalm. In fact, this is a glorious hymn divided into four stanzas. In verses 1-6, we have seen the comprehensive nature of God’s knowledge. The second stanza is found in verses 7-12 where we see that God is everywhere; He is omnipresent. Whether the writer is in heaven or hell, in the air or in the depths of the sea, even there, God is present. Verse 12 reads: “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” The hymn writer says it this way: “Darkness and light in this agree, great God, they’re both alike to thee.”
In the third stanza, from verses 13-18, we see that God is all powerful; he is omnipotent. It is an exposition of human life. God knows you before you were even born; when you were in your mother’s womb. Listen to the careful description of verses 13-16:
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 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.
In these few verses we see that God’s work is both creational and covenantal:
a) It is creational: These verses are echoes of the creation narrative. In the nine months of pregnancy, the new man is moving from relative formlessness to form. And throughout the entire process, there is a maturation taking place. He is maturing physically. Life has been there from conception, but life is maturing, developing, preparing itself for a new environment, a new creation. Notice how the picture comes together: in the womb there is preparation, then out of the womb there is maturation. In the womb there is darkness and out of the womb there is light. We note throughout the entire process that a fetus is a real life, because God is knitting that life together. If a fetus were not a real life, then there would be no need for God to concern Himself so deeply with life in the womb.
b) It is covenantal: Verse 14 says: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139 is a covenantal passage. Remember that the Psalter is the hymnbook of God’s covenant people. David does not write this Psalm for the pagan Gentile nations. When the text says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, the word “made” is the same Hebrew word that God uses to describe those who He has distinguished; who He has set apart. We can also translate this passage as “I am fearfully and wonderfully distinguished.” Distinguished from what? Distinguished from the pagans. I am created and distinguished to love the God of Israel and to be loved by the God of Israel. So the Psalmist not only praises God for being wonderfully created, but also for being distinguished; set apart. As Paul puts it in I Corinthians 7, “the children of believers are set apart, distinguished, holy before God.
Our final stanza in this great hymn is found in verses 19-24. These verses are far from being politically correct. Look at verse 19: “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!” These are imprecatory verses. They are controversial because we are praying that God would destroy the wicked. And some believe that this form of prayer ought not to be used by New Testament believers. I strongly disagree. The imprecatory Psalms are to be sung and prayed by the people of God in all ages. But it must be balanced and coupled with the imperatives of the Lord Jesus who taught us to love our enemies. It sounds paradoxical, but it is the Scriptural teaching that on the one hand, we are to pray for the destruction of those who take part in the destruction of the born and the unborn and on the other hand we are to pray that God would bring repentance to these individuals.
So, how shall we then live in light of this marvelous Psalm, which Spurgeon called: “…one of the sublimest of all the compositions in the Scriptures.”
We are almost in the end of this hymn. The hymn ends with two reactions from David, which will serve well as application for us today.
a) The first reaction of David is one of righteous anger. David is angry at death. He is angry at the murder of the innocent. However, he does not take matters into his own hands, he cries out to God. David’s view of life is one rooted in the unchanging character of God. He does not defend life because babies are cute, or because natural law teaches to respect the innocent. No, David defends life because God is the author of life. He is the One who gives and takes away. This is why the Psalmist expresses anger. So, it is legitimate for us to express anger, not uncontrolled anger, but an anger that is zealous to defend God’s authority over life.
b) Finally, the hymn ends the way it began: Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts…and lead me in the way everlasting.
1. David does not become fearful that God is going to look at his every sin; rather David becomes an open vessel. He knows that if anyone is to judge him righteously, it is the God of all creation. Psalm 139 begins with David cleansing his heart and it ends with David desiring his heart to be cleansed again by His Redeemer.
2. Our hearts cannot be cleansed apart from the gospel. Brothers and sisters, Christ is the greater David. He is the One who leads us to the way everlasting. Let him take away the aroma of death and cleanse you so that you might be an acceptable sacrifice in the eyes of God.
Let us pray: Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
 Locke, John. Great Books, vol. 33. pg. 94. Encyclopedia Britannica.
 Hebrews 4:13
 Calvin, pg. 209.
 Job 34:21
 These thoughts come from George Grant’s excellent sermon on Psalm 139 at the Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA).
 Some see five stanzas in this ancient hymn.
 Thoughts inspired by James Jordan, see his book: Through New Eyes.
 I owe some of these thoughts to Rich Lusk’s sermon on Psalm 139 on October, 2006.