Just some thoughts on good ol’ 139

Psalm 139

1 O LORD, you have searched me
       and you know me.

 2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
       you perceive my thoughts from afar.

 3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
       you are familiar with all my ways.

 4 Before a word is on my tongue
       you know it completely, O LORD.

This first section is all about God’s intimate knowledge of our inner workings, our hearts and minds.  I especially like “You are familiar with all my ways”, because to me that doesn’t speak of vague thoughts/actions, but every detail of our being and everything we touch… our lifestyles, habits, relationship tendencies, insecurities, fears, secrets, sins, hopes, loves, gifts, potential, the past, the present, the future, and even the physical inner workings and processes of the human body (psychologically and physiologically).

One prayer discipline that I’ve been practicing for many years is “Telling God the Whole Ugly Truth”.  Basically, God already knows, and the best thing that you can do is to be honest with him.  So don’t sugar coat prayer, don’t lie to God, don’t make deals or shallow promises, don’t leave out the bad or embarrassing parts, don’t leave out the good parts either, don’t re-word the sin or the situation to make yourself look better, don’t make excuses, don’t only confess sin to God but share your joys with him as well.  And the most important thing is to come before God in confidence, to humbly and reverently speak to him about ugly/scary things in full confidence/faith that he loves you and will always be there for you. 

 5 You hem me in—behind and before;
       you have laid your hand upon me.

 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
       too lofty for me to attain.

 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?

 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
       if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.

 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
       if I settle on the far side of the sea,

 10 even there your hand will guide me,
       your right hand will hold me fast.

 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
       and the light become night around me,”

 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
       the night will shine like the day,
       for darkness is as light to you.

This part is really interesting, because firstly it reminds us that we are always within God’s presence no matter where we go, and it goes further to say that even in death we will not escape God’s presence.  It very specifically states that God is in “The Depths” which in Hebrew is “Sheol”.  What’s interesting about Sheol and the Jewish understanding of the afterlife, was that everyone (good or bad) went to Sheol.  There was no mention or understanding of a dualistic, punishment VS reward afterlife (heaven/hell).  It was actually a rather mystical and tribal view of death, (similar to Native Americans) where it was often been stated that they will simply ‘rest with their fathers’.

The second interesting point in this section is that it shows a person running away from God, and shows God pursuing them and already waiting for them in their escapes and secret places.  The person even tries to shroud themselves in darkness, but God cuts through it like a knife.  I really like “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea”.

 13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.

 15 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,

 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

Now we get into the real meat of this chapter, and it’s in the first verse of this section, “for you created my inmost being”.  There is a very real reason why God knows our inner workings, and it’s because he created them himself, they were his idea.  He uniquely crafted them, and gave them to us.  Who knows our hearts better than the one who shaped them with his own hands, in the image of his own great heart? 

That is why he’s so “Familiar” with our ways, not because sees them fully, but because he made them, and he knows why he made them and whether or not they’ve been distorted, lied to, or have gotten lost.  In fact, he’s the only one who knows what we were created to be.  Only the one who made the heart knows the hearts true potential, and only God can look into our hearts and see how well they bear his image.

 17 How precious to [b] me are your thoughts, O God!
       How vast is the sum of them!

 18 Were I to count them,
       they would outnumber the grains of sand.
       When I awake,
       I am still with you.

 19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
       Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

 20 They speak of you with evil intent;
       your adversaries misuse your name.

 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
       and abhor those who rise up against you?

 22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
       I count them my enemies.

This part seems like a jumble of ideas at first, but each one has a purpose.  First, the author very briefly praises God’s thoughts.  He talks about the vast number of God’s thoughts.    It is interesting that this follows the affirmation of God creating us.  Maybe each of us first began as one of God’s thoughts or ideas, and our purpose/potential was one of God’s hopes for manifesting that thought in creation.

My favorite part of this section is “When I awake, I’m still with you”.  The word “still” is the intriguing part for me, because it suggests that the author fell asleep with God, and then awoke with God.  The idea, although very endearing, almost seems out of place, but perhaps is there to continue the theme of the faithfulness of God’s presence.

Then out of nowhere, in this incredibly creative, poetic, and mystical psalm about riding on the wings of the dawn and being woven together in the depths of the earth…… we suddenly hear about hatred and killing.  It doesn’t seem to really fit with the theme of the chapter, but the idea that the author feels surrounded and attacked is very typical for the Psalms, and for the Jews (who were probably enslaved by someone when they wrote this). 

I do think it’s very important for these references of hatred to be present, whether or not I agree with them, simply as a reminder that these words were written by real people whose most sincere feelings and songs desperately needed to range across the entire spectrum of human emotion, as they do today.  And it shows us how necessary it is to acknowledge all types of feeling to God, and not hide anything from him  (But praise God for teaching us through Jesus that love is freedom, forgiveness is liberation, and hate is a yoke of oppression).

 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
       test me and know my anxious thoughts.

 24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
       and lead me in the way everlasting.

The end of the chapter is very very interesting, the final words of the author suggest that everything that was written in this chapter was just the first half of the discussion which is taking place. 

The author told God the whole ugly truth.  He acknowledged that God already knew everything about him (and that there was no hiding from it or escaping it).  He acknowledged that God created him, and had a purpose for his life.  He praised God, and glorified him for the numbers of his thoughts.  He mentioned that he was in the presence of God at night, and again first thing in the morning.  He mentioned his hates, fears, and conflicts.  He said in full confidence without hesitation what he wanted God to do in the conflict.  He told God what he was honestly feeling, which is always right, whether or not the feeling itself was right or wrong.

And now that he has spoken everything that was on his mind, he’s ready for God’s response.

He says “search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” 

He acknowledges that God knows him better than he knows himself, and he asks God to fill in the gaps of what his present state of being is.  He’s been honest about what he’s aware of, and is now asking God to reveal anything that he’s hiding from himself, any habit/sin/fear that has crept up on him without realizing it.  He specifically asks God to point out his sins, which is a pretty scary thing to do… but again, he does it in full confidence that God is forgiving, and that God reveals our sin to us out of love and the desire for redemption, renewal, and holistic healing, as we’re told in John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

And lastly, after all his hidden sin is revealed to him, he asks God to lead him in ‘the way everlasting’.  To me this can only be what 1st century citizens referred to as “The Way”; that which has always been, and will be revealed in the deep when the shallows of this world evaporate; that which will always be, and by whose light the world will be illuminated when the shadows of this age dissolve; the Kingdom of Heaven, the Word, Christ the Lord, Christ is Lord.

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