Last week I told you that the sermons over the past month have all really been one, long sermon divided up into more manageable pieces. We started with a quick review of what we’ve talked about so far in the Heidelberg Catechism and how studying theology and doctrine will lead to greater love for God. We then moved onto talking about the attributes of God, beginning with one of the most complicated, that being that God is Triune – that the one true eternal God has revealed himself to be three distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We then moved on to what is called General Revelation where I said that “God wants to be known” and even without the Bible He has shown Himself to humanity in obvious ways.
If you recall, I quoted one commentary which said it concisely:
“From creation we can learn in general, that there is a God, and that He is omnipotent and all-wise; from conscience, that there is a holy and just God, who hates and punishes evil.” (Thelemann, O. An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism. p. 86)
We studied Romans 1:18-20 which said it this way,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”
This led us to talking about the problem of the Virtuous Pagan and why, in the face of what God’s General Revelation has shown us in Creation and Conscience, all humanity stands condemned. General Revelation only has the power to condemn us – to show us that we are sinners and that we have sinned against God. That’s the bad news.
But the good news is that God did not leave humanity condemned. His revelations about Himself are not merely general, but specific, what theologians call “Special Revelation”. He has given us more information about who He is, what He wants, what happened to us, and His plan to fix the problem. He did this in a few different ways. He spoke to people and gave them dreams and visions. He performed miracles and appointed people to be His ambassadors on earth. He inspired people to write laws, prophecies, and teachings in a book we call the Bible. And most importantly, we encounter who God is in the person of Jesus Christ who is the very person of God in human flesh.
Today, what I want to do is go through some more of the specific attributes of God that He tells us about Himself in the Bible. Beyond what we learn in Conscience and Creation, into the Special Revelation we have in scripture that tells us who God is in a much more specific way.
We are going to break these attributes into three sections. First, God’s attributes in relation to the whole world. Second, God’s attributes in relation to mankind. And third God in relation to Himself.
However, it is both boring and unhelpful to simply list them and read the verses from which we learn them, so we are going to divide it into more helpful categories and then seek out not only what God has shown us about Himself, but what that means to us as an admonition (or warning), what it means to us as a comfort, and how we see it in the life of Jesus.
God in Relation to the World: Omnipotence
The first of God’s attributes in relation to the whole world, in fact, the whole universe, is that God is Omnipotent. This is from the Latin words OMNI, meaning “All” and POTENTIS meaning “powerful”. When we talk about a spice or a drug we talk about how potent it is, how powerful. God is Omni-Potent, all-powerful. Another good word is Almighty. Psalm 115:3 says,
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
To be omnipotent means that God has ultimate power, ultimate authority, and can do whatever He wants. He can create anything He wills and do anything He desires.
The story of Gideon from Judges 7 is a great illustration here. God calls a cowardly young man to lead an army against an invading nation. The enemy nation, the Midianites, had 135,000 soldiers and God told Gideon to raise an army to fight them. Gideon made the call and 32,000 people showed up. And here’s what happened,
“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’ ” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained. And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people are still too many…” (Jdg 7:2–4)
And God whittles down Gideon’s army to 300 people to defeat Midian. Why did God do that? Verse 2 gives the answer. Because God wanted everyone to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the situation was so lopsided that the victory had to have been a miracle and therefore the glory belonged to Him.
We see this in the life of Jesus, of course, in His miracles. He turns water into wine, makes those who are blind from birth see, calms storms with a word, multiplies a small lunch to feed thousands, and even raises the dead. Hebrews 1:3 says that it is by the power of Jesus that the whole universe is sustained
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
The admonition here, the warning, is that we should humble ourselves before God Almighty. Our greatest allegiance, our biggest fear, our largest concern should be what God thinks, what God desires, what God has to say. Jesus said it this way, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28). This is why we sing so much about God’s power, might, and authority, because it is one of his chief attributes. When we worship, we are telling God his “worth” to us, meaning we are singing back to Him His own attributes and what they mean to us.
But if the warning here is that we ought to fear God above all else, the comfort is that because God is omnipotent, God is trustworthy and capable of helping and protecting us. He is not like humans or the petty ancient gods of old who grasp for power, are limited in their abilities, and are easily manipulated. If God wills it, it happens. Period. This is a comfort to us because that means that regardless of what is happening in our lives, no matter how difficult, God is in control of it, God has ordained it, God has allowed it, God can use it for His glory and our good.
This is one reason we are invited to and ought to pray to Him. He, above everyone else, is capable of helping. And He has promised to. One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is that God invites us to pray and that through our prayers God makes things happen.
God in Relation to the World: Omnipresence
The second of God’s greatest attributes in relation to the world is that He is Omnipresent, meaning He is everywhere at the same time. This doesn’t mean that God is everything – God is not a tree, a mountain, a bug, a tidal wave – it means that God is everywhere. God is present everywhere in His creation at the same time, but is not part of His creation. God is at work in everything and in all places at the same time and there is nothing that can happen in this world that He is not present for. God is not like the ancient gods, restricted to temples or buildings or nations or peoples. There is nothing He does not see.
This also means that God cannot be circumscribed, or gone around. No one can draw a circle around God, or go behind His back. He also cannot be bound or tied down. His power and presence have no limit. He says in Jeremiah 23:23-24,
“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”
We see this most eloquently in Psalm 139:7–12. Turn with me there. Where the writer knows this and says,
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night.’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
In the past I’ve called this the Rorschach psalm because how you read it will depend on your relationship with God. The fact that God is everywhere at once, seeing everything, will either fill you with fear and dread and guilt, or comfort and peace.
Omnipresence is a little strange to talk about when it comes to the life of Jesus. He was and is eternal God, containing all the attributes of God, but added to Himself the attribute of human flesh. Jesus, without losing any of His godhood, added humanity to Himself. These are the dual natures of Christ, both human and divine at the same time. So that means that Jesus didn’t lose his Omnipresence. We’ll get into that more when we hit Question 47. But we see Jesus claim this in His promise to believers in Matthew 28:18-20 when he says to his disciples,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus has the authority of God and says that He will be with His disciples forever. That’s Jesus claiming Omnipotence and Omnipresence. But as I said, we’ll cover this more later.
So the admonition here, the warning, is to remember that we have no secrets before God. Our deeds, our sins are known to Him. We can hide from our friends, our spouse, our boss, we can even hide from ourselves, but we cannot hide from God. We may want to be like Adam and Eve and try to cover ourselves and hide, but it doesn’t work. God was there the whole time and saw everything. The warning is that we ought to live in that knowledge and it should temper our decisions.
But the comfort is that no matter where we are, God is always near. Over and over in the Old Testament and the New, God says to His people, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10, Jeremiah 1:8, Acts 18:10) God cannot be far off, ignoring you, turning His back on you, not understanding what you’re going through because it is contrary to His nature. He is Omnipresent and the knowledge of the presence of God, the nearness of God, the closeness of God is a comfort to the people who trust Him.
God in Relation to the World: Omniscience
The third of God’s attributes in relation to the world is that God is Omniscient. God is Omnipotent. God is Omnipresent. And God is Omniscient. OMNI, meaning “all” and SCIENTIA meaning “knowledge”. That’s where we get the word “Science”. When we do science, we are seeking to know something, to understand something, to come to conclusions about what it is, what it does, where it came from. God is OMNI SCIENTIA, Omniscient, All-Knowing. God knows everything that is past, present and future, in all places, that which is seen and which is unseen, even the most hidden thoughts in our heart before we even think them.
Look back to verse 1 in Psalm 139 where the psalmist says,
“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…. [Skip to verse 13]
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. 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.”
Again, this is a little complicated in the life of Jesus, because there were times when it says He didn’t know things (Matthew 24:36), but we also see that He had supernatural knowledge. Multiple times He demonstrates that He knows the thoughts and motivations of the people around him (Matthew 9:4, John 6:64, John 1:48.) John 2:24-25 says summarizes it like this, “… he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” In Revelation 2:23 Jesus gives a warning to one of the churches saying, “…all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”
The admonition here is that we should be mindful at all times that God not only sees our deeds, but knows our thoughts and motivations. Proverbs 16:2 says, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” Psalm 14:2 says, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”
There is no point on putting on a show for God or anyone else. There’s no reason to pretend to be better or worse than you are. There’s no point in convincing everyone that you’ve got it all together. There’s no point in going through a bunch of religious rituals if you’re secretly in unrepentant sin. God knows your heart and has rejected your worship. There’s no point in doing a bunch of good deeds and saying prayers and giving to charity if it’s done to impress others, no matter how great people think you are. God knows you’re just an arrogant show-off and you get no reward from Him for it (Matthew 6).
God knows where your heart is at when you walk into this building for worship. He knows the conversation you had in the car, the thoughts in your mind while you sit here and all the ways that you are comparing yourself to and judging others. He knows, so there is no point in pretending to worship, pretending to pray, pretending to listen, pretending to believe, pretending to be happy, pretending to be a Christian because it gains you nothing. It is the truth that sets you free.
In Hebrews, it says that we should be persevering in our faith because God knows what we’re all about and we see that every time we open up the word of God. Turn to Hebrews 4. It says in Hebrews 4:11–13,
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 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.”
So stop pretending.
But the comfort of this knowledge is this: God knows everything we need and want, everything we feel, knows exactly what to do about it, and is willing to help. There’s no need to pretend with God, so that means we can be honest with Him about what we want, what we need, what we’re afraid of and what we hope for. He cares about all of that and is willing to do everything possible to help us to become who we were created to be. Jesus says that God already knows everything we need (Matthew 6:32), and the Bible says that Jesus knows how we feel.
Continuing to read in Hebrews 4:14 we see that not only does God know everything about us and therefore can judge us perfectly, but that His knowledge motivates Him to help us! Hebrews 4:14–16,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
What allows us to pray, to come close to God when we are in need? The fact that Jesus not only perfectly knows everything we are going through, but has experienced it for Himself, and stands before God as our high priest, advocating on our behalf. This means that whatever is happening in our life, no matter how difficult or perplexing, is something God is doing to draw us closer to Him and teach us something – that along the way and in the end, God is not wasting anything and nothing is out of control. Or as Philippians 1:6 says it,
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
I know that’s hard to understand sometimes. Especially when things are very difficult and there seems to be no reason. But at that moment when we are feeling hopeless, it helps for us to remind ourselves about who God is, what He is like, and what that means for us. We say to ourselves and to God – bow your head with me… maybe this can be your prayer too…:
“Lord, things feel bad right now. Darkness and confusion about. But God, you are Omnipotent. You are all-powerful, meaning that nothing is beyond Your ability and nothing can happen to me without Your permission. God, you are Omnipresent, meaning that you are with me no matter what and you see everything that is happening to me. And You are Omniscient, meaning You knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen as a result. I’m limited in my understanding, limited in my knowledge, but God, You are not. I recognize that because of your perfection You have no reason to harm me because You gain nothing from it. So instead, at this moment I will look to Jesus, my High Priest, the one who knows me, loves me, and has been where I am – the God who prays for me and advocates for me. Jesus, it doesn’t feel very good right now. I’m scared, alone, afraid, anxious, worried, lost – I feel guilty, shameful, and dirty – I am at my wit’s end and don’t know what to do. But I trust you. You are bigger than my fear and my need and my sin. I trust your power, your knowledge, your wisdom and your love to do what is best for me. Please help me not only know you are here but to trust you through this.”
“For Christmas one year we bought our children what was called, ‘Ant City.’ This consisted of clear plastic plates on either side, filled with sand and ants. From our vantage point outside and above, we could see what these busy little creatures were doing underground. We watched as they tunneled their way underground, leaving a maze of trails. In a similar fashion, God scrutinizes our paths. From where we are, tunneling along, all we see is the sand immediately ahead, behind and beside us. But from His vantage point, He can see exactly where we’ve been and precisely where we’re going.” (“The Mystery of God’s Will” by Chuck Swindoll)
New Years is usually the time when we stop to take a look at the paths and tunnels we have been digging over the previous year and look forward to what we’ll be doing in the next. We examine our lives, looking back on our journey, and see places we wished we could have gone to and some that we know we shouldn’t have. And maybe you’re feeling like it’s time to make some adjustments. Maybe even throw out the Biblical phrase “back on ‘the straight and narrow”.
Today I want to look at Psalm 139 which is all about the God who knows everything; the God who carved the “straight and narrow path”. The God who shows it to us, writes it in our hearts, and then gives us the freedom of choice to walk it or not.
Some, will be encouraged by this psalm, while others are going to be angered by it. Some people are drawn to worship, while others are disturbed. Some find peace, protection and comfort in it, while others feel a sense of foreboding paranoia in which they find no comfort, but feel exposed, spied on, intruded upon by a malevolent force, which they reject.
This psalm is divided into six different sections. Each section has a different emphasis, supporting and expanding the rest of the whole, culminating in the final passage at the end of the journey.
God Only Knows
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:1-6)
Verses 1 to 6 begin, first and foremost, with a declaration of truth. There is nothing in this first part that speaks to why God is watching, only that He does. Words like, “know, search, perceive, discern, familiar with, know completely, hem me in”, and even verse six where the knowledge is called, “too wonderful” and “unattainable”, describe the depth of the knowledge God has about us, not the reason or motive for having that knowledge. The whole concept at the beginning of this psalm is about how absolutely and ultimately God knows us.
God, sees much more than we do. Sure, we have a sense of intuition that goes a little beyond the physical, but anyone who has been lied to knows how limited our powers of perception are.
God’s knowledge is absolute. The Hebrew word for “KNOW” used in this section is a common word that is found in the Bible about 1000 times, it’s the Hebrew word YADA.
YADA and is the word that is used for many different types of “knowledge” in many different contexts. It’s used for merely seeing something, but also for having an intimate knowledge of something or someone – Adam yada’d Eve. It is used to describe when someone knows something well enough to take care of it, who has examined it very closely, like scientific research. It is used when someone understands something or even experiences something. It’s used of people who have experienced the presence of God.
When used of God, YADA encompasses all of these, speaking of a special kind of knowledge that we could call complete, divine discernment. God knows us intimately, scientifically, experientially, completely.
Take a look at verse 2-3. He knows when we sit and rise (where we go and what we do), our thoughts (our motives), the path we are living on (our past and future) and where we will lie down (when or where we will die). That’s a lot of knowledge!
Two Reactions: Peace or Paranoia
Now, here’s my point for this section: the depth of this knowledge, as I said before, will give you one of two reactions. It will either give you comfort, or make you paranoid.
Consider for a moment the concept the psalmist uses when he says he is “hemmed in” in verse 5. Some people find comfort in this. They are safe, taken care of, given boundaries, protected – to them, God’s knowledge feels like the guardrail keeping them from falling into the Grand Canyon.
Others will read this exact same phrase and feel great discomfort. They feel trapped, walled in, as though their freedom has been taken away. How dare God want to “hem me in”! How dare He “lay His hand upon me”! It’s like almost like a psychological test.
So, the first question I have for you, and the answer to this question will help you understand your relationship with God: What is happening inside you when you read verses 1-6 – that God knows you so intimately, has set up walls for your life, and is scrutinizing every step you take along your path? You reaction will really affect how you read the next section.
Nowhere to Hide
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12)
There are two very different ways to read and understand this part. It’s like when a psychiatrists hold up the inkblots and asks to see what you perceive in them. It is supposed to tell them about what is going on in your subconscious mind. So, the question is, what is going on in your mind when you read this?
Is the author trying to flee and hide himself from God? When you read “Where can I go from your Spirit?”, or “no matter how high I go or how deep I go, You are there!” Verse 9 is a poetic way of saying, “no matter how far East I go” (“the wings of the dawn” where the sun rises), or how far West I go (“the far side of the sea”, which is the Mediterranean that bordered the land to the West), even there I will find Your hand holding me.” Verse 11 gives another extreme. “If I find the darkest place in the world, and crawl inside, I will be found there too.”
How does it strike you? Is the psalmist trying to hide from the God who knows him too well? Is he seeking some place where he can ‘be himself’ and do what he wants away from the prying eyes of the Almighty?
OR, is he marvelling at how closely God is involved in his life? Is he thankful for how well he is known; that no matter how high, low, near, far, light or dark his life gets, God will always be with him, fully aware of his situation? Is this a dangerous, embarrassing exposure that he must escape from, or the assurance of a safe refuge from anything this life may bring? The answer to this question will tell you a lot about how you see God, the Church, the Bible, and even yourself.
Designed with Care
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)
Verse 13 is a wonderful verse, and one of my favourite in the whole Bible. It begins to show the motive that we were lacking in the first sections. It shows a relationship between the knower and the knowee.
Up until this point there has been a kind of detachment in the knowledge… an almost surgical understanding, a distance between God and the human He’s observing. God is there, He knows, He sees, but He has yet to do anything. Now the picture changes completely. Verses 13 to 16 move from detached study to an intimate and personal interaction, from studying to experiencing.
As they say… “it’s one thing to read the book, but it’s another thing to actually get your hands dirty.” Medical school is great, but who would trust a doctor that has only studied the books, but has never seen a patient? Who would acknowledge someone as an expert in art that had never picked up a paintbrush? How can you practice or teach law well if you have never been in a courtroom? Can you call yourself an expert chef if you’ve only memorized all of the recipes, vocabulary and conversion table, have even supervised other chefs, but have never actually cooked anything yourself? Of course not.
The language here conveys that, even in the womb God is designing, knitting, and forming not only our physical features, but our passions as well! The words, “inmost being” are actually the single Hebrew word for KIDNEY. It says, “You formed my kidneys.” I’m sure that helps you understand this passage a great deal.
Hebrew culture saw and spoke of the kidneys in much the same way our western culture speaks of the heart. It is considered to be the center of a person’s emotions, passions and morality. When we say that a person has a “big heart”, we aren’t talking about the internal organ, but that the person seems to have a lot of love to share. I’m guessing that an ancient Hebrew would have said that a loving person had “big kidneys.”
Twins, who are identical in appearance can be remarkably different. One likes music, the other science. One is an adventurer, the other an introvert? That’s because God doesn’t just stir the DNA soup that makes up a person, but designs their personality and interests too!
Verse 16 tells us why God does that. It’s because you and I are made for a purpose. These different characteristics make us so that we can serve God in our own unique way.
The psalm says, “…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” His “book” (as the passage calls it) has all of the schematics for who we are, how we were made, and what our life is designed to be, and will be. In it is written who you are, and what the potential for your future can be.
Consider for a moment what it means that you are known intimately, designed with care and precision, and were called and equipped for your life before you were born! Are you getting a sense for why David, and those in relationship with God, don’t have a foreboding sense of God’s intimate knowledge, but instead it causes them to worship? And when we open the rest of the Bible and it reveals how we are to live, the best way to relate to others, and shows us that God loves us so much that He was willing to save us from ourselves, by the work of Jesus Christ… can you see why we worship here this morning?
Pause to Praise
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17-18)
David, the author of the psalm, is overcome with what God is sharing with Him and in verses 17 and 18 he just breaks out into worship. He’s overwhelmed by the sheer volume, the loftiness, the vastness of the knowledge that God has about him — the care that has been taken in the planning of His life. He is stunned by the God who would take the time to design him to be him! The perfect Creator who designed the most wonderful things in the world, also designed him.
It reminds me of a great song I heard by David Crowder called “Everything Glorious”. In it he looks around at all the beautiful things he’s seen and then says, “From glory to glory, You are glorious, You are glorious, Which leads me to believe, You make everything glorious, And I am Yours… so what does that make me?”
He’s echoing Psalm 139 there. God is glorious. God makes beautiful things. And all that God makes is glorious and beautiful – so what does that make you and me?
God has a vast sum of plans, and designs for each of us, unique and special. The one who designed the sun, moon, planets, stars, oceans and land, took the time to create every part of who you and I are, and watches over you with great care every day!
Consider how different you would be if you knew that you were chosen to be trained and destined for a grand purpose, perfectly suited for you, and whose work would have eternal significance. How would that change how you see yourself? How would that change how you saw God? It feels pretty good to know you are unique, gifted, important, significant, and special –your great deeds have been anticipated by the host of heaven! It’s true!
One reason we praise God is because He is the One who chose and designed us, and watches over us every moment of every day!
“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” (Psalm 139:19-22)
The next verses, 19-22 give the other, natural reaction we should have to this knowledge – on one side is praise, but on the other is something understandably unpopular among us polite Canadians. Along with the response of worship, where we see God as the One who knows us intimately and designs us for a purpose, are verses 19-22 which show frustration and anger against all of those people who despise and reject their God-given potential, even insulting the One who created them with such care and precision.
This is anger against the enemies of God who refuse to acknowledge who God is, who they are because of God, and actively work against Him. David finds such comfort and encouragement in his Creator, but sees no purpose for God keeping all these wicked people around. He distances himself from them, loathes them, and even asks God to just kill them off! They are not living out their God given purpose, and are harming those who are. God has given these evil people amazing gifts – life, skills, happiness, resources, time, families, even power and wealth – but they selfishly keep it all for themselves, put their faith in it, and then use it to work against God’s plan! They worship idols and profaning their Creator’s name!
How can God keep these people around?
In verse 19 David is jealous with impatience: “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!” He’s angry at the wicked, but he also seems to be frustrated with God’s patience toward them. He is frustrated with the prideful, selfish, wilful, evil people in the world, but notice that He’s not taking the situation into his own hands. No, He’s leaving the ultimate decision of what should happen with them to God. He is not worthy to deal out punishment, only God is.
It’s God’s choice (and thank God it is) to be patient, to keep knocking on the doors of their hearts, and to continuously pursue them with His amazing grace. To send another prophet, another message, another conviction to their heart, another blessing to show His love for them, another punishment to show the consequence of their sin. God is actively involved in trying to change all of them. Though, most refuse to listen.
David’s words here are actually a traditional Near Eastern pledge that kings would require of their new servants as they came under their authority. King David is pledging himself to be a servant of a higher King. They would come into the presence of the king and say, “With my friend you shall be friend, and with my enemy you shall be enemy.”
“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!” (Psalm 139:23-24)
David’s pledge of loyalty goes even deeper here in the climax of the psalm as he says, “Lord, I have committed myself to you. I trust you, you are my Creator. I have looked at your enemies and made them my own, but I have also looked inside myself. I know my own wandering heart, and I know my allegiance. And so God, I invite you to test the integrity of my devotion. Look deep into my being, find anything that separates me from you, keep me true, and lead me down the path that you choose.”
What is most interesting, and unique about this last part, is that it is an invitation. The first part of this psalm is a declaration of God’s absolute knowledge of Him, this is an invitation to make the examination. Remember I talked about how the knowledge of God is going to give you one of two reactions: Paranoia or Peace? This is the reaction of a Christian.
God knows all this stuff anyway, but it an amazingly humble thing to invite God to scrutinize your soul! David says, “search me, know me, test me, check my thoughts, see if my motivations and actions are pure.”
It is no light thing to ask God to do this. The implication of this invitation is that David is looking to see how he can respond accordingly. “What if I’m NOT pure? What if I’m not on the right path? What if I am grieving the one I’m pledged to? What if my thoughts are a mess? Then God, correct me, teach me and lead me the right direction! Get me off the path of destruction I’ve chosen for myself and send me down the right path.”
This is the right response to God’s complete knowledge, His status as your Creator, and the knowledge that you cannot escape His judgement: to ask forgiveness, submit to His authority, and trust Him with your life. It require the humility of admitting that the path you have chosen is the wrong one, and that His is the right one… in other words… repentance.
This admission is quite difficult for many people. Admit that the tunnel we are digging and the path we are on is wrong, that it ends in destruction is too much for our pride to take. Yet scripture says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
To choose to follow God’s leadership and His “way” instead of our own requires submission of our wills and the admission that His way is the only one that leads to life. The psalmist admits he’s wrong and submits his will to God’s correction and direction.
My hope is that sometime over this New Year’s celebration you will take this journey through Psalm 139 yourself. Find some quiet time and go through these six sections with God. Acknowledge that God already knows you. Discover the God that you cannot escape. Be drawn you into both fear and worship. Learn that He designed you with love and purpose and praise God for it! Start hating what God hates, and let it motivate you to tell the story of Jesus’ salvation to this world. And humble yourself and give your whole being to Jesus to scrutinize and examine, that He may He lead you on the path of salvation.