13 - Omniscience of God
Title: Living in Light of God’s Omniscience
Text: Psalm 139:1-6
Preached by Pastor Phil Layton at Gold Country Baptist Church on April 29, 2007
1 For the choir director. A Psalm of David. O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.
3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
5 You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Psalm 139 has been called “applied theology.” James Boice called it “theology of the very best sort … Psalm 139 has both head and heart. It is strongly theological, dealing with such important doctrines as God’s omniscience (it is probably the weightiest part of the Bible for discussing God’s omniscience) … but it is also wonderfully personal, because it speaks of these attributes of God in ways that impact the psalmist and ourselves” (Psalms, 3:1201).
Last week we ended on the note of the immensely big and vast universe and the heavens that declare the glory of God who is even bigger and grater. Since then I learned that the Hubble Space Telescope sends back infrared images of faint galaxies that are billions of light years away. A light year is six trillion miles - per second that’s over 186,000 miles a second, fast enough to go around the earth 7 or 8 times every second. I read somewhere that the rays from the sun traveling at that speed take several minutes just to arrive at earth, that’s how far the distance is from that star to one of its closer planets. To get an idea of how big our solar system is, I read it takes several hours just to send signals at this speed within our solar system.
It’s hard for our minds to even fathom that sort of thing, but we certainly get the point that compared to God and His glory and creation, we are all relatively tiny and insignificant and essentially nothing in comparison to the God of wonders beyond our galaxy.
But what’s amazing is that Isaiah 40:26 says that every single one of the billions of stars, trillions, sextillions of stars, God knows them all by name. And God knows and does care about every single sparrow every time it lands on the ground. And He knows and cares about you – astounding and surprising as that may seem in the bigger scheme of things – God knows and loves you more deeply than anyone, He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows the exact number of hairs on your head, Jesus says. God knows everything – He is omniscient – that means all knowing. And the first 6 verses of this psalm are one of the most powerful summaries of this truth in the Bible. Our Big God is also an intimate God who is personally concerned with little things.
1. God Knows Everything I Do, v. 1-2
2. God Knows Everything I Think, v. 2b
3. God Knows Everywhere I Go, v. 3
4. God Knows Everything I Say, v. 4
5. God Knows Believers Intimately and Relationally, v. 5-6
1. God Knows Everything I Do, v. 1-2
Verse 1 begins “O LORD” – Notice that this prayer begins with God and ends with God and it is thoroughly permeated with God in every line.
Searched - In the Old Testament, this word was used for digging, excavating, spying out and exploring a land. It was a word used to thoroughly examine a case or situation, like a judge or detective.
‘This word was used for mining operations … Here the term implies the ransacking of our entire life, a moral inquisition into guilt, and nothing escapes God’s all-seeing eye.’ (Lockyer, 719-20)
Known me - This Hebrew root for “know” (yada) occurs throughout this section: “you know me … you know when … you know it completely … Such knowledge.”
Here David does not begin by saying “Lord you know all things” or even just “you know about me” but He says you know me. This is profoundly personal, not theoretical.
Note the words “search” and “know” are repeated in verse 23, this is called an envelope figure when bookending beginning and end, showing this is what this psalm is primarily about
God ‘alone could detect the secret source of any spiritual disease, and cure it. What His search reveals, His grace can remove.’ (Lockyer, 719)
We don’t even fully know our own heart, but God does.
Jer 17:9 “the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind”
To Sit Down and Rise Up is a phrase that covers both activity and inactivity, coming and going, it’s used for all the ordinary acts of life which come between them. This is a figure of speech (merism) that expresses completeness by listing two ends of the spectrum and therefore God knows everything in-between.
*Good cross-ref: Deut 6:5ff “talk of them when you sit at home, when you walk along the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (point: and everything in-between, all of life)
Question: WHAT DOES OMNISCIENCE MEAN?
All knowledge. God knows and has always known all things:
- actual and factual
- material and spiritual (inside and outside, visible and invisible)
- contingent possibilities (ex: Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they saw signs done in Chorazin and Bethsaida, 1 Sam 23:12 he says to David if you remain these people will deliver you to Saul)
- past, present, and future (ex: prophecy).
2. God Knows Everything I Think, v. 2b
The expression God knows our thoughts “from afar” may mean that even when they are far off, and not yet developed in our mind, God knows them at that point.
As one writer said this phrase ‘implies that God anticipates our thoughts and purposes before they are matured in mind, even the most intimate thoughts, wishes, and inclinations … Thou knowest. “Thou,” in the original, is emphatic and means, Thou—Thou alone knowest’ (Lockyer, 720)
Maybe you’ve heard the expression “your life is an open book.” Well verse 16 of this psalm says every detail and day of your life is in an open book in heaven recorded and written down.
Who of you would like to have all your sinful thoughts put up on the overhead projector here for all to see?
That may not happen here on earth, but it is how God sees it all the time, in living color, He knows all our thoughts all the time.
Read Hebrews 4:12-13. Point: God and His Word goes deeper into the inner person than any psychologist or surgeon can ever go
“the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare [“naked” in NKJV] to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do [give account]
Maybe sometimes you’re tempted to cherish sinful thoughts in your heart or mind as long as you don’t act them out or say the mean or evil things you’re thinking (“I’m not gonna say it, but I sure am gonna think it”). It is good to stop saying sinful things, but remember that God sees even those thoughts in broad daylight, and if you harbor sinful thoughts in your heart, Jesus says you’re guilty.
The Bible declares that God will one day judge the secrets of every heart (Rom. 2:16). He “will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14).
Not only that, secret sins will not remain secret. “The Lord [will] bring to light the things hidden in the darkness” (1 Cor. 4:5). Jesus said, “There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).
I think it was J. Vernon McGee who said “your secret sins on earth are a scandal in heaven.”
Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”
Our Lord Jesus knows experientially and sympathetically the weaknesses and temptations of this planet, so we can pray to Him in this confidence and find comfort, mercy and the grace we need.
Back here in Psalm 139:2, David says God knows the thoughts in our hearts, echoing the Lord’s words through Samuel before he anointed David as the next king of Israel “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
3. God Knows Everywhere I Go, v. 3
Again the phrase in verse 3 for going out and lying down representing a whole day’s activities, and everything in-between. “the path he followed when he rose in the morning and the resting place to which he returned for the night,” while “all my ways” indicates everything that happened between morning and night.
Matthew Poole says the metaphor is either from hunters watching the motions and movements of the animals they seek, or from soldiers setting watches around their enemies, like a “stakeout.”
In a society where walking was the primary means of transportation, the language of walking and a path are the most ready illustration of everyday living, step-by-step, all of life.
Scrutinize [“comprehend” in NKJV] – means to discern, that is “to sift through something, to winnow as grain, to sort out the good from the bad.”
Jesus did this, of those who believed on some level, Jesus is able to sift through and discern the paths to know who is a true disciple.
John 8:30-32 (NASB95) 30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 2:23-25 (NASB95) 23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.
24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,
25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
Have you ever wanted to read someone’s mind? Our Lord doesn’t even need to, because He already exhaustively knows all things. One of the amazing things we learn is that God never learns. Does it ever strike you that nothing ever strikes God? Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to God? There is never any news to God. God is the only true “Know it all.”
A.W. Tozer writes: ‘God has never learned from anyone. God cannot learn … God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind … all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell … He never discovers anything, he is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything nor (except when drawing men out for their own good) does he seek information or ask questions.’ (cited by Boice, 3:1203)
David says God is “Intimately acquainted with all my ways” – it seems there is no more thorough way David could express how thoroughly God knows everything about him. But he’s not done …
4. God Knows Everything I Say, v. 4
Someone has well said, ‘Because the Lord knows every word on your tongue, every word we speak is being broadcast to heaven. See if knowing that doesn’t change the way you talk to and about people!’ (Courson, 2:162)
Illustration: wedding rehearsal where pastor accidentally left his microphone on when he was in the bathroom talking to a buddy.
The mere fact that God could here every word of over 6 billion people simultaneously is amazing – but even more amazing is that He knows everything we say before we say it.
Application: Since this is true, how essential is it to set a watch upon our lips
Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips”
God knows everything I say, EVEN BEFORE I SAY IT!
I would guess that every Sunday School kid in this church knows that God knows everything, including the future, but sadly many grown-ups who are scholars in very conservative evangelical schools and organizations are calling omniscience into question. They don’t seem to care that every orthodox Christian group even the neoorthodox and most weird groups in church history all believed in God’s omniscience, including his knowledge of future things that haven’t happened yet. Even Catholics and Muslims don’t deny God’s certain knowledge of the future.
Open theism, also known as the openness of God or free will theism, lifts up man’s supposedly libertarian free will to be the pre-eminent doctrine above the historic doctrine of God and man’s choice must be decisive cause of all things. While lifting up man, they demote God from sovereign to spectator, from omnipotent and omnisicient to just observer, from Lord of all to a learner of all, just like us. It’s bad enough to say God is not completely in control over all that happens, but they say God doesn’t even fully know all that’s going to happen!
Dr. John Sanders, explains his Open Theist view this way: ‘We believe that God could have known every event of the future had God decided to create a fully determined universe. However, in our view, God decided to create beings with interdeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God.’ [as cited by Wikipedia]
Other proponents include Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, William Hasker, and Richard Rice, and even the titles of some of their books say that God takes risks and that He can be surprised and can change, and He is a reactor rather than a ruler governing all things. The argument is that if God knows the future, then in some sense things are predetermined or fixed, and therefore they think things are not absolutely free, and since man’s free will must trump everything else (even though it’s not a biblical phrase in the way they use it) they throw out the traditional ideas about God in exchange for this free will theism, open theism.
There was a group in church history called the Socinians who also denied God’s omniscience as well as other core doctrines like the deity of Christ, which makes it mind-boggling to me that groups like ETS and some Christian schools allow open theists to remain in their organization.
They say “we’re not Socinians, we don’t deny the deity of Christ.”
I like what John MacArthur said in response to that: “You’re even worse, you deny the deity of God!”
God is not God if He is not all-knowing and all-powerful. God by definition has these attributes, and doesn’t change or learn or evolve. The God who David speaks of in this psalm knows everything, every nook and cranny, not just our actions but also our attitudes, He knows us inside and out, backwards and forwards, He knows us better than we know ourselves, not only everything we do and think but why we do and think each time, and He knows before we do or think or speak or anything.
So when some critic or open theist says that because God asked Adam “where are you” in the garden and “what have you done” He doesn’t know all things, that’s a silly argument. God asks questions He already knows the answer to just like any teacher does. He wants to teach us through the process, and in some cases He wants to give opportunity for us to repent or respond rightly as the questions search our hearts and reveal our true feelings and motives.
A good book that deals with this subject more thoroughly and refutes the error of open theism is appropriately titled “Their God is Too Small” by Bruce Ware, or “God’s Lesser Glory.”
A good Bible verse answer to these guys is Psalm 50:21 “You thought I was just like you. But I will reprove you … I will tear you to pieces”
5. God Knows Believers Intimately and Relationally, v. 5-6
Verse 5 says God’s knowledge of us is all-sided, it is inescapable.
It is before and behind, inside and out, through and through.
‘Our friends see the outside but God sees the heart, and we cannot deceive Him. Adam and Eve tried it (Gen. 3:7–24), Cain tried it (Gen. 4:1–15), and even David tried it (2 Sam. 11–12), and all of them discovered that God knew all about them.’ (Wiersbe, 196)
In the beginning of verse 5 in my Bible, David says God has “enclosed him” [or “hedged” in NKJV] – this Hebrew means to “surround,” here it is probably a secure, benevolent sense. “Behind and before” means all around me, David feels surrounded by God’s hedge of protection and care.
God’s hand upon him may indicate a blessing (Gen. 48:14, 17) or offering protection (Ex 33:22) or God’s control. Based on David’s reference to his enemies later in the psalm, it makes sense to me to understand that this verse is speaking of God’s protective hand keeping him safe
One commentator summed up this verse well: ‘there is no escaping from Thee. Behind – that none may attack from the rear. Before – He searches out the path and meets our foes. Hand upon me, as if a child were to put one hand over the hollow of another to keep some frail insect from its pursuer, John 10:28, 29.’ (Lockyer, 720)
We are in God’s hand and nothing or no one can ever snatch us out of his saving hand.
In fact when the Bible speaks of God knowing individuals, it means relational intimate knowing – this is salvation.
So when David begins and ends the Psalm saying God “knows me” this is relational knowledge. God knows His own, the righteous, in a deep relational way as opposed to the wicked who He does not know in this sense.
Psalm 1:6 “The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish”
It’s one thing to believe that God knows all things, or even that God knows about us, but the great comfort for the believer is that God knows me. The truth of John 3:16 that “God so loved the world” is great, but how much more amazing when as a believer you know that in a personal and relational way as His own child, “God loves me.”
This Hebrew word for “know” was used of the most intimate LOVE relationship, for example, “Adam knew his wife Eve, and they conceived and bore a son.”
Similarly, when the Bible speaks of knowing a person, it is in this deep and intimate loving relationship. To know the Lord is not to know facts about him, it is to know Him in a personal relationship.
In Amos 3:2 God says to Israel “You only have I known of all the nations on the earth.” Now of course God knows about all people groups on the planet, but it was only the nation Israel that God knew in the sense of the biblical word for personal relational redemptive love.
J. I. Packer writes: The word know, when used of God in this way, is a sovereign–grace word, pointing to God’s initiative in loving, choosing, redeeming, calling and preserving … “Before I formed you [Jeremiah] in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer 1:5). “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . My sheep listen to my voice; I know them. . . . They shall never perish” (Jn 10:14–15, 27–28) … It is a knowledge that implies personal affection, redeeming action, covenant faithfulness and providential watchfulness toward those whom God knows. It implies, in other words, salvation (Knowing God, 36-37)
Romans 8:28 talks about how God sovereignly works in all things for those who love God. And the rest of the chapter is one of the greatest expositions of God’s love, His sovereign and saving and secure love that nothing can separate us from. So when Romans 8:29 says “God foreknew” people, it’s not just knowing facts about us, or information, to know a person in the Bible is intimate love, like this same Greek word when it’s used of the virgin Mary not “knowing” Joseph before Christ was born, obviously speaking of intimacy
So Romans 8:29 speaks of God’s prior and particular love and determination beforehand to enter into an intimate love relationship, this knowledge is personal and saving. The rest of the verse makes very clear that these recipients of God’s loving knowledge were predestined, those who were called, those who were justified (saved) and those who were glorified (in heaven).
The word “foreknew” does not mean mere foresight, that God is like a passive spectator who merely knows what’s going to happen because he’s watched the end of the tape. This word does not mean that God saves us because He foresaw in us something better than others, or because of some good or merit or some foreseen faith or decision of our own will or our own works, He decides on that basis whom He wants to choose. It’s not that God simply reacts to what man does, as Open Theists and some Arminians teach, that man is truly sovereign over human destiny. No, those whom God “foreknew” are those whom Christ first set His love upon and chose to be in an intimate relationship as His bride.
If “foreknew” in v. 29 only means whoever God knew about, then it would also mean that everyone will be saved, because whoever he foreknows in v. 29 is called, justified, glorified in v. 30.
But the word for “know” in v. 29 is the rich Greek word ginosko, not the word in verse 28 “we know” (oida) which refers to knowledge or understanding we have or to “know about someone” (BAGD, p. 555).
When God is the subject of this word “foreknow” it always means ‘enter into relationship with before” or “choose, or determine before” (Rom. 11:2, 1 Pet. 1:20; Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2). It doesn’t mean just to “know about” or “know what they would do”
In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the false believers who had done great things in his name “I never knew you” (same Greek word – of course Jesus knows about all people and what they were going to do, but there it means he never had an intimate personal relationship of mutual love)
John 10:14-15 “I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (this is clearly a deep relational knowledge)
It’s not that God sees the future and says “Phil of his own doing and will is going to love me and because of that, I’m going to love Him and choose Him”
No – the bible says it the other way: I love Him because He first loved me (1 John 4:19). Verse 10 says “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his son”
In 1 Peter 1:20 it uses the same Greek word to say Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” -> this does not just mean that the Father knew who Jesus was, it means that the Father had a predetermined intimate relationship with Him, and more than that God chose Him to be the lamb and the previous verse says, God planned out redemption in eternity past. The NASB has “foreknown” there, but NIV has the word “chosen” and NKJV it “foreordained”
It’s the idea that God told Jeremiah “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you, I have appointed you” (1:5)
It’s a staggering thought as Ephesians 1 says, which I read at the beginning that God chose us before the foundation of the world
Charles Spurgeon was quoted as saying, “I know he must have chosen me before I was born, because there was nothing in me after I was born that would cause Him to choose me.”
It’s after you’re saved, that you realize that this was not something you did or could ever have done on your own, but the Holy Spirit was first working in you, convicting you of sin, your eyes were opened, and every part of this chain of salvation in Romans 8 was part of God’s incredible and gracious plan before the world began. The reason you came through the narrow door while others stayed on the broad path to destruction is not that you were better or smarter or could make a better choice by your own will, it’s that God called and chose you out of the mass of humanity, not because of who you were or what you were going to do, but in spite of who you were and in spite of what you would have been without his effectual grace and calling. It’s not that God helps those who first help themselves, it’s that God helps those who cannot help themselves and need his help even to believe. What’s amazing to me is that God knew me completely, and still chose to save me!
1. Be Constantly Amazed – see Psalm 139:6
Constable: “Wonderful” is at the beginning of the sentence in the Hebrew text, which is the emphatic position. This word means extraordinary or surpassing (cf. 9:1). Yahweh’s omniscience is too amazing for humans to comprehend.
“Such knowledge” – see a similar strain of acknowledgment at the close of the third strophe, ver. 17, 18 and compare Rom. 11:33 “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable …”
Richard Sibbes wrote: “How shall finite comprehend infinite? We shall apprehend Him, but not comprehend Him.” (cited by Lawson, 332)
2. Be Comforted
God already knew us fully before He chose to save us, not because he knew good things about us or what we would do, but God chose to save us in spite of the sinful rebellion he knew about us.
There is no sin you can do that will surprise Him or make Him change His mind, there’s no skeletons in your closet that He doesn’t already know about,
3. Be Convicted
God knows everything you do, He knows your heart.
Someone has well said: ‘your secret life is the real litmus test of your character: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Do you want to know who you really are? Take a hard look at your private life—especially your innermost thoughts. Gaze into the mirror of God’s Word, and allow it to disclose and correct the real thoughts and motives of your heart.
You need to confess your sins and repent.
Does God know you in a saving relationship way?
Jesus said in Matthew 7 “Many will say unto me, ‘Lord, Lord’ … but I will say to them ‘I never knew you. Depart from me” [to eternal judgment]
4. Be Continually seeking this purifying relationship
See the end of Psalm where he calls on God to continually search and sanctify him
King David lived in light of God’s omniscience to the very end. Listen to his final words to his son Solomon
1 Chronicles 28:9 (NKJV)
9 “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.