Back to the Basics: God IS Part 2 (Ps. 139:1-18)
We have been talking about God. Well, just this point from our statement of faith about God:
We believe in the one true and living God, eternally existing in three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That the triune God is the Creator, the Sustainer, and Ruler of all Creation, but it is prior to, and distinct from the Creation.
We dealt with the existence of God and the mystery of the Trinity last week. Today I want to look the second sentence. How does God reveal Himself to us? We’ve been talking the last two weeks about having an accurate view of God. Pastor Joshua Harris in his book Dug Down Deep writes the following observation about why we need to see God clearly for who He is:
I knew a girl who used to think the stars were tiny specks of light just over her head. I'm not kidding. And she wasn't in grade school when she believed this. She was in college. She was a really sweet, kind, redhead who spoke almost perfect Spanish. She was intelligent in many ways. But one day in a conversation she mentioned that she had just learned that stars in the night sky were actually really far away. I asked her what she meant. She said, "You know, they're not just right up there. They're not just tiny dots. They're really far away."
I was incredulous. “What did you think they were before?" I asked. "I thought they were, you know, just right up above us.” If you were to ask me why it matters that we study the doctrine of God, I'd say for the same reason that it's worth knowing that stars are not tiny pinpricks of light just above our heads. When we know the truth about God, it fills us with wonder. If we fail to understand his true character, we'll never be amazed by him. We'll never feel small as we stare up at him. We'll never worship him as we ought. We'll never run to him for refuge or realize the great love he's shown in the measureless distance he bridged to rescue us.
What amazes you? Someone once said, “Life is what makes you come alive.” What makes you come alive? I mean, what really makes you stand in awe? Is it a celebrity? Is it the latest gadget? Is it a person? Is it your sports team? Is it traveling to exotic locations? What really takes your breath away? David in Psalm 139 is blown away. He is amazed at some things he has come to know about God. So I want to go over three truths about God from Psalm 139 that should leave us with what I shall call, “holy wonder.”
Take note of this:
I. God is OMNISCIENT: He knows me (vv.1-6)
The word “omniscient” means all-knowing. God fully knows Himself (1 Cor. 2:10-11). He knows all things that exist and all things that happen. He knows all things past, present and future. He also knows all things that are possible. Wayne Grudem writes, “If God fully knows himself, he knows everything he is able to do, which includes all things that are possible. This fact is indeed amazing. God has made an incredibly complex and varied universe. But there are thousands upon thousands of other variations or kinds of things that God could have created but did not. God’s infinite knowledge includes detailed knowledge of what each of those other possible creations would have been like and what would have happened in each of them!”
Now it is one thing to know this truth, but another for it to wash over us in fresh power. God simply does not want us to analyze Him, but to adore Him. Here David seems to come to the Temple, in front of God to vindicate him. People have charged him with unjust things. He wants God to be God and act justly. First David acknowledges that God knows him. The knowledge of God is relational. Look at how David personalizes this truth in the first six verses. Notice the words “know” or “known” or “knowledge” just in these initial verses.
He says in Ps. 139:1 essentially that “God knows me so well, He knows everything I do.” Notice how personal David is. He doesn’t just say, “LORD you have searched all things and know all things.” Or even, “LORD, you know about me.” He says, “You know me!” So the word “know” here is not a theoretical knowledge, but an intimate, relational knowledge (like Adam “knew” Eve (Gen. 4:1)).
The word “searched” was used for “digging, excavating, spying out and exploring a land.” It can mean to “to examine with pain and care.” Roy Clements says that David’s description of God is like some “master-detective who snoops … into every detail of his existence, armed with x-ray cameras and laser probes. God, like a careful detective, has carefully examined me and knows me inside and out. Now it is not that God is ignorant of us and so has to search us, but as Spurgeon says, “…the Lord knows us as thoroughly as if he had examined us minutely.”
In fact, we get more detail on how well God knows him. David says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up.” In other words, this includes all of life’s activities, including my sitting and my standing. So all activity and inactivity is known by God; whether I am sitting down to relax or standing up to engage in life’s activities. As Sam Storms translates, "My most common and casual acts, my most necessary and trivial movements, are all seen by thee. Nothing escapes thine eye!" God knows everything I do.
Then he says, “God knows me so well, He knows everything I think.” Storms adds, “Indeed, God knows every mental impulse that governs and regulates such outward behavior…Every emotion, feeling, idea, thought, conception, resolve, aim, doubt, motive, perplexity, and anxious moment is exposed before God like an open book.” When he says God discerns my thoughts from afar, it doesn’t mean God, though He is high above in Heaven, can still see my thoughts. Rather, as Ray Ortlund says, “Long before any impulse wells up from within David's psyche, long before David himself knows what his next mood or feeling will be, long before he knows where his train of thought will eventually lead, God perceives it all.”
Sometimes we might cherish sinful thoughts, which we never end up saying. But even if we never end up saying it, God has heard it already. God knows everything I think. God knows everything I do. Next he says, “God knows me so well, He knows everywhere I go.” Again David says here that the path that he takes from the moment he gets up to the moment he lies down at night and everything in between, God knows “all my ways.” Matthew Henry adds, “He knows what rule we walk by, what end we walk towards, what company we walk with.”
Not only does God know everything I do, every though I thin and every place I go, David says in Ps. 139:4, “God knows me so well, He knows everything I say.” Actually the text says, even before I say it! Notice the word “altogether.” This means God has “exhaustive and comprehensive knowledge of our words.”
As we hear this about God’s omniscience, we might be uneasy. No human knows us like this. In fact, we try hard to make sure people do not know everything about us by creating an image of us that people can know and love. Asians are really good at this. We try hard to make sure people don’t know us as we truly are. But we cannot fool God. And again our view of God affects the way we view ourselves. So if we hear this about God’s omniscience, does it frighten you or liberate you?
How does David react to God’s omniscience? Notice Ps. 139:5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand on me.” The word “hem” or “enclosed” (NASB, NIV) means “to guard a valuable object.” David sees God surrounding him on every side knowing everything he does, thinks, goes, and says. In essence he’s saying, “God, you know me so well, everything I do, everything I think, everywhere I go and everything I say and about to say, but you still love me because You still come around me and fold you arms to cover and protect me.” Spurgeon notes, “We cannot turn back and so escape him, for he is behind; we cannot go forward and outmarch him, for he is before. He not only beholds us, but he besets us; and lest there should seem any chance of escape, or lest we should imagine that the surrounding presence is yet a distant one, it is added,—“And laid thine hand upon me.” The placement of the divine hand signifies protection and blessing (cf. Gen 48:14, 17; Exod 33:22).
This is why he can conclude in Ps. 139:6: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Tom Constable explains, “’Wonderful’ is at the beginning of the sentence in the Hebrew text, which is the emphatic position. This word means extraordinary or surpassing.” David doesn’t have the words to describe how he feels or even how to comprehend this about God. What’s interesting about these verses is that echoes Deut. 6:4-9. God tells Israel that His Word needs to be their constant preoccupation. Be consumed with it, be constantly thinking about it, let it be impressed in your hearts. But here David says that God has constant preoccupation of him!
What does this mean for us? Well, first of all, it should bring conviction. Our secret sins are an open scandal in Heaven. Really there are no such things as secret sins. If you don’t know Christ today as the One who paid your debts, know that every action, reaction, thought, motivation and impulse, every word you said or was going to say and every place you have gone will be exposed at the day of judgment. 1 Cor. 4:5: “The Lord will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness.” You will have no excuse. How well do you know the God who knows you so well? Secondly, freedom. I love what writer Madeline L’Engle says: “We have a point of view. God has view.” Since God knows all about me and still loves me, I don’t have to please people by my fakeness and artificiality. We so desperately want someone to know us and still love us. God does and if we believe that is all that matters, I can be authentic with people. Authenticity means bridging the gap between who I appear to be and who I am. This happens as I deepen my understanding of God’s omniscience and love for me. Thirdly, service. What a joy to know that God sees every kind word I said, every attempt to share the gospel, every decision to turn away from temptation, every tear shed, and every work done for Him which went unnoticed and unappreciated. Yes, the same can be said of the negative things as well, but so often we dwell on those negative things that do hurt God so much, but forget the joy we bring to Him for the positive things. Let’s serve Him who sees all of our work done in private and public (Heb. 6:10).
Lastly, worship. Why do you pay so much attention to me Lord? You know me God, and still love me. This is why David worships. He is in awe of God. Look at Isaiah 49:16: “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” I love that verse. How often do we look at the palms of our hands? They are always before us. And God says I am not just a smudge on His hand that He wipes away, but I am engraved, permanently tattooed on His palms, being His constant preoccupation. David didn’t know this completely, but we know how far God’s love goes. We know the cross shows us that we are so bad He had to die for us, but so loved that He wanted to die. The God of the Universe who knows us so well, still decided to die for us. On the cross, He knew everything we have done, said, thought, felt and with every motive of our heart, yet He still chose to love us and die for us. I want to walk moment-by-moment aware of this. I love the Tim Keller quote: “Walking with God is a moment-by-moment awareness of God’s awareness of you.” How aware are you that God is aware of you? So God is omniscient. He knows me! Secondly,
II. God is OMNIPRESENT: He is with me (vv.7-12)
While omniscience means, “all knowing,” omnipresence means “all present.” God is present everywhere. Listen to Jeremiah 23:24: “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.” God does not have spatial dimensions. He exists without size or dimensions in space. But we must be careful here. A pantheist believes that everything is God, or that God is everything that exists. The biblical perspective is that God is present everywhere in his creation, but that He is also distinct from his creation (see statement of faith). This is what we mean when we sing, “Holy, Holy Holy!” God is totally other, totally different from us and all of creation. So the pantheist will say God minus the world equals nothing. But we would say, God minus the world equals God.
We are not sure if David is talking about a time he tried to run away from God or if he is speaking hypothetically. Most likely it is the latter. But he basically concludes God is inescapable. We talked about this in detail with Jonah. In Ps. 139:7 he postulates, Is there any place I can possibly go where I can flee from God? Again he mentions the extremes. If David chose his avenue of escape upward to Heaven, God is there. No matter how high he goes, God is there. But even if he reversed course and descended into the depths of the grave (notice Sheol), God is waiting patiently for him there. Sam Storms remarks, “To seek to flee God's presence in any and every direction is to fly into the center of the fire to escape the heat.”
So no matter how high he goes, God is there. No matter how low he goes, God is there. How about east to west? Look at Ps. 139:9. The “wings of the morning” refer to the rays of the sun or light. If David could make light his chariot and go 186,000 miles per second, traveling with “lightning like rapidity with which the rays of the sun dart from east to west as they first break out over the horizon at dawn,” he cannot outrun God. So no matter how high, low, east or west, God is there.
He thinks of another place. What if he was thrown into the deepest of the ocean where no light can penetrate, no human has ventured and animals swim, in the darkest of places, God will not only be there, but God will gently lead him like he says in another psalm, as his shepherd (Ps. 23). Isn’t it amazing that I can be in the darkest places in the world and experience God’s presence?
So no height, no depth, no speed, no distance can separate us from God’s presence. This sounds like Paul in Rom. 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” David also adds darkness to the list.
What if we could make darkness all around us? What if we could flee from Him in the darkness of our own soul? What if we could turn so inward into our own hearts and live in darkness there? No, there is One who is more inward than ourselves. He can go there too. Darkness and light are all the same thing to Him. What about darkness in trials? God can see in that darkness too. He will guide you and lead you just as though you were on the mountaintop of joy. Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you, when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.”
What does omnipresence mean for us practically? Again, it means conviction. Would I be watching what I am watching if I knew God was watching? Would I be saying things I shouldn’t say if I knew God was the silent listener to every conversation? Secondly, it means you can worship God anywhere. Do not call this building the “house of God.” If you are a believer in Christ, you are the house of God (1 Cor. 3:16). Paul and Silas turned their prisons into praise! (Acts 16:16ff). Thirdly, we can experience His presence. His nearness is our good (Ps. 73:28). That verse says, “But for me it is good to be near God” but it literally reads, “His nearness is my good.” Pray for His manifested presence; where you experience His nearness. This banishes all sense of loneliness. Remember Jacob was alone at night, had a dream and then said, “Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16). What a comfort for us to be able to say that!
God is omniscient. He knows me. God is omnipresent. He is with me. Lastly:
III. God is OMNIPOTENT: He is for me (vv.13-18)
When we say omnipotent, we mean that God is “all-powerful.” But this needs clarification. God can do anything that is consistent with His character and He can do anything He wills to do. So for example, the Scriptures tell us that God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18). That would be inconsistent with His character. When we say God is sovereign, we mean that God can exercise His power over His creation.
Let’s look at how David processes this in Ps. 139:13-18. He has talked about “darkness,” which leads him to think of a mother’s womb. Notice the word “for.” The Psalmist can be in the darkest of places, but God sees him. In fact, he can be so confident of all of this because God, in his all-power, in his omnipotence, has created him. Storms notes, “David's point is simply to assert that no one has a truer, more accurate, or more exhaustive knowledge of a person than the Sovereign God who has made him and fashioned his days in advance of their occurrence.” One commentator adds, “God sees the psalmist at all times, even in the dark, and sees into the depths of his being, into his conscience, where truth lies—and that is no surprise since the divine weaver was responsible for its creation.”
No wonder God knows all about him, He created him! As a result, He has a personal and long-term investment in us. God knows me and sees me because He has made me. And because He has made me, He is for me. Here in Ps. 139: 13, we see God’s power in the marvelous development of a baby in the mother’s womb. It is not only how God can powerfully create a baby out of a speck of watery material (notice “unformed substance”), but He also has skill in programming all of the child’s skin color, eyes, hair, the shape of his facial features, etc. All that the child will be physically and mentally is contained in germ form in that fertilized egg. From it will develop… 60 trillion cells, 100 thousand miles of nerve fiber, 60 thousand miles of vessels carrying blood around the body, 250 bones, to say nothing of joints, ligaments and muscles.
God is all-powerful! God knows him intimately because He has created him intricately. Notice the words “knitted” and in verse 15, “intricately woven,” implying God as a skilled divine embroiderer carefully engineering each cell, muscle, nerve, ligament, blood vessel and bone. He masterfully creates “the brain, for instance, with its capacity for recording facts, sounds, odors, sights, touch, pain; with its ability to recall; with its power to make computations; with its seemingly endless flair for making decisions and solving problems.” But he also means that God not only weaved together just the physical aspects, but also our temperament and personality. Our God is for us. So I can trust Him with my feelings and fears, thoughts and attitudes. He made me! He knows me.
David says his “frame,” in Ps. 139:15, meaning his skeletal structure, was known by God. Tom Constable writes, “The “depths of the earth” is a figure of speech for the womb. When God was forming David in his mother’s womb he was as far from human view as if he were in the depths of the earth.” Even when God was looking at David as an embryo, even way before David was actually born, God already knew all of David’s life including the length of his days from the womb to the tomb, but God also knows all his activities from Ps. 139:1-4. God not only created him, but sustained him and protected him throughout the pregnancy. By the way, Colossians 1:17 tells us Christ is holding the universe together as we speak. He is the atomic super glue of all things. So if He can hold the universe together, how much more can He sustain our lives, even when we feel like we are going to fall apart?! AMEN! God is all-powerful! He is for us.
How does David respond to the fact that God in His all-power did all these things? Look at Ps. 139:14, 17-18. He bursts out in praise. Spurgeon says, “We cannot begin too soon to bless our Maker, who began so soon to bless us.” Interestingly the Hebrew can legitimately be translated, “‘I praise thee, for I am awesomely wonderful.” The Jerusalem Bible says, “For all these mysteries I thank you: for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.” The first may sound like we are all of that “and a bag of chips,” totally in love with ourselves in comparison with others, but David is fully aware that he is not great, but God is great to take so much care, precision and love in creating him. The question is does your soul know well how wonderfully created you are? Or when you look in the mirror, do you see junk? Do you constantly complain about your looks? What does that say about the Designer? When was the last time you praised God for how He has made you?
David ends his praise in Ps. 139:17-18 by saying though God knows all my thoughts (v.2), who can really count all of God’s thoughts about me? Trying to count the sand is not an exaggeration here. Even if we could, God’s thoughts of you are more! From eternity past, God has been thinking about us. On the cross, Jesus thought about us. Even now, as we said, we are the constant preoccupation of God. As David sleeps and puts his head on the pillow, he is amazed and astounded by this. As he wakes, in Ps. 139:18, he is still thinking about it. Can we say this about us? Are we in awe of the fact that God is for us? He who can do all things, created us, sustained us, and then re-created us and is sustaining us day by day?
Listen to Paul in Eph. 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Paul says we have nothing to boast about in our salvation, when God made us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). When we got saved, we became “his “poem” (poiēma) or, as JB has it, his “work of art.” We are His masterpiece. Here we see that God as Creator is still working on and in us. Just as He made us in the womb so carefully and intricately, He is making us into the image of Christ now to walk with Him and work for Him. And “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). God is all-powerful! He is for us. And if He is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).
And if He is for us, He can do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). I love John Stott’s commentary on this: “He is able to do or to work (poiēsai), for he is neither idle, nor inactive, nor dead. (2) He is able to do what we ask, for he hears and answers prayer. (3) He is able to do what we ask or think, for he reads our thoughts, and sometimes we imagine things for which we dare not and therefore do not ask. (4) He is able to do all that we ask or think, for he knows it all and can perform it all. (5) He is able to do more … than (hyper, ‘beyond’) all that we ask or think, for his expectations are higher than ours. (6) He is able to do much more, or more abundantly (perissōs), than all that we ask or think, for he does not give his grace by calculated measure. (7) He is able to do very much more, far more abundantly, than all that we ask or think, for he is a God of super-abundance.”
Our God is omniscient and knows me better than I know myself. He knows me and still loves me. Our God is omnipresent and is with me always, even if I go up or down, east or west, in light or darkness. Lastly, our God is omnipotent, beautifully creating me and recreating me, knowing me so well even when I am weak, He is strong (2 Cor. 12:9). He is arm is not too short to save (Is. 59:1). There is nothing that is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). O Lord, may these truths take our breath away like it did for David’s, and even more so in Christ!
David’s application for himself is ours as well: “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!” (Ps. 139:23-24). Lord, I don’t know my heart. You do. Are there any grievous ways? Are there any ways I am trusting in my own knowledge and not your omniscience? Any places in my heart not surrendered to you? Do I carry fear that you have abandoned me? Do I think I can run from you? Are there any ways in me that doubts your power? Do I see myself as junk? Let’s close with this video.
Harris, Josh (2010). Dug Down Deep (48-49). Multnomah, Colorado Springs, CO.
Grudem, W. A. (191).
Layton, Phillip G. “Living in Light of God’s Omniscience,” http://sermons.logos.com/submissions/70851#content=/submissions/70851 accessed 18 February 2011.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2004). Be Exultant (1st ed.) (196). Colorado Springs, Colo.: Cook Communications Ministries.
Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms (Pbk. ed.) (1204). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The Treasury of David, Volume 6: Psalms 120-150 (258). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Storms, Sam. “Omniscient!” http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/omniscient-psalm-1391-6/ accessed 18 February 2011.
As quoted by Storms. Ibid.
Henry, M. (1996). Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Ps 139:1–6). Peabody: Hendrickson.
Spurgeon, C. H. Ibid.
Gaebelein, F. E., VanGemern, W., Ross, A. P., Wright, J. S., & Kinlaw, D. F. (1991). The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (836). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Constable, T. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Ps 139:5). Galaxie Software.
As quoted in, “Getting intimate with truth,” http://theink.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html accessed 19 February 2011.
Grudem, W.A. (175).
Storms, Sam. “Omnipresent!” http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/omnipresent-psalm-1397-12/ accessed 18 February 2011.
Grudem, W.A. (217).
Storms, S. “Omnipotent!” http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/omnipotent-psalm-13913-18/ accessed 19 February 2011.
Allen, L. C. (2002). Vol. 21: Word Biblical Commentary : Psalms 101-150 (Revised). Word Biblical Commentary (329). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Ps 139:13–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Storms, S. Ibid.
Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Ps 139:15). Galaxie Software.
Spurgeon, C. H. (262).
Kidner, D. (1975). Vol. 16: Psalms 73-150: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (502). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Gaebelein, F. E., Wood, A. S., Kent Jr., H. A., Vaugn, C., Thomas, R. L., Earle, R., Hiebert, D. E., & Rupprecht, A. A. (1981). The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (36). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God's New society : The Message of Ephesians (139–140). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
“God’s Chisel,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhfUzodLRvk accessed 19 February 2011.