Bill McFarland

November 14, 2004


The 139th Psalm has been referred to as “the crown of the psalms.”  This psalm focuses on two things.  The first is the wonder of the almighty God.  In verse 6 it says that the “knowledge of God (that is the knowledge God possesses) is too wonderful for me.”  In other words, just the way God thinks and what God knows is so lofty and so high and so far above us that it cannot be comprehended.  And then in verse 14 it refers to the fact that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God’s works are wonderful.  “Wonderful” does not mean just “nice.”  It means that God’s works are so awesome and so great that we lack the capacity to take it all in. 

The second focus of this psalm is that it has as its theme “You/I” relationship.  The psalmist is concerned with examining his own life in view of his relationship with God.  That is the reason for the title “The Wonderful God and Me.”  What do I have to do with this God who knows so much in his wisdom, and is able to do such wonderful things in his power, that it is beyond me?  And yet here I am supposed to consider my whole life in relation to him! 

The reason this psalm is the crown of all the psalms is that the attributes of Deity which it describes are the foundation for any possible relationship that we have with God.  You may say, “Well, the 23rd Psalm is my favorite.”  But you see, that “the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” or “he leads me” or “he guides me” would not be possible if it were not for the characteristics of God set forth in this psalm.  The possibility of Jesus saying to his disciples, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the world” would not exist aside from the characteristics of Deity that are discussed here in Psalm 139.  In order for us to believe that God will never leave us nor forsake us, as Hebrews 13:5-6 says, we have to be first convinced that God possesses the attributes that are ascribed to him in Psalm 139.  That is the importance of our study this morning.

God Knows Me

This great psalm consists of four paragraphs of six verses each.  The first section, verses 1-6, is concerned with God’s knowledge of me.  Now notice carefully as I read that.  It is not just what God knows in general or what God knows about the world that is the point.  Instead it is what God knows of me.  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.” 

Notice the different terms that are used here to try to draw our attention to the knowledge of our God – searched, known, discerned, search, acquainted with.  Two of those words, the ones that are translated “searched,” have two different meanings.  The first one has the idea of “digging” or “excavating” something, and the thought is that God has done that kind of an exploration of my inmost being.  He knows my heart completely.  And then the word that is translated “searched” or “compasses” in verse 3 means to “sift,” the way people might sift sand to see if there are any rocks in it, or the way farmers in these days might have sifted wheat to make sure there were no foreign substances in that which was about to be turned into their bread.  God knows us to that degree.

And then notice the kinds of things it says he knows about us.  He knows our activities, our rising up in the morning and our lying down in the evening.  God knows all about us.  He knows our thoughts from afar.  Most of us have thought things that we would be ashamed even for other people to know anything about.  There are thoughts of greed or immorality or hatred and envy that we may let pass through our minds, or even harbor there from time to time.  The idea is that God is so well acquainted with us that he even knows our thoughts.

Then it says in verse 3 he knows about our choices and our habits.  He knows my path and my lying down and is acquainted with all of my ways, it says.  And then God knows our words, verse 4 says.  Even while we are originating these words in our hearts, God knows them before they are on our tongues or before they escape our lips.  That kind of knowledge of God is an awesome thing to contemplate!  And yet this is the consistent witness of the scriptures.  In II Chronicles 16:9, God was actually warning one of his enemies, but it says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless before him.”  In Psalm 33:13, the psalmist calls attention to this fact again.  He says, “The Lord looks down from heaven and sees all the children of men.”  In Psalm 44:20-21, the psalmist says, “If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign God, would not God discover this, for he knows the secrets of the heart?”  The idea embodied in this theme is not just a threatening thing: “You had better not do this because God knows you, he sees you.”  It is a personal thing: “God is so well acquainted with me and so familiar with who I am as a person that he knows my activities, my choices, my habits, my thoughts, my words, everything about me.”

And I could continue calling your attention to these kinds of statements throughout the Bible.  At Proverbs 5:21, it shows that “God sees all the ways of man and he ponders our ways.”  At Proverbs 15:3, “the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the righteous” that passage says.  Jesus had the ability to see what people were thinking before those thoughts ever took actions, too. 

In this passage notice carefully in verse 5 the psalmist concludes from this realization, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”  The idea is just like a besieging army.  They surround a town or a city just like the United States Marines may have surrounded Fallujah in Iraq.  God encompasses me.  He hems me in, behind and before, my past and my future, and lays his hand on my life providentially right now because of his knowledge.  The psalmist says that kind of knowledge is wonderful, too wonderful for me!

God Is Present With Me

The second quality of God in this great psalm is the presence of God.  How can God know every person like that?  How can he know Kay and Andy and me in Springfield this morning and also Rob and Anita in Montgomery or Justin and Kari in Richmond?  How is that possible?  Because God is present everywhere!  Listen in verses 7 and following: “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.” 

The psalmist here is not just dreaming up an idea from his own conceptions about God.  He is saying something that God reveals about himself.  The prophet Jeremiah, for example, in Jeremiah 23:23-24 said, “Am I a god at hand declares the Lord and not a god for all?”  In other words, is he only a god here and not in some other place?  “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him, declares the Lord.  Do not I fill heaven and earth, declares the Lord.”  That is what Paul had in mind on Mars Hill in Acts 17 when he said, “In him we live and move and have our very being.”  In this psalm, David says that “if I were to flee from your Spirit or from your presence, where could I go?”  The word for presence means “face.”  If I should try to escape God’s attention, where could I go?  I don’t think he is regarding himself as a fugitive here who feels so guilty he would like to get somewhere where God wouldn’t know him or wouldn’t pay attention to him, because in verse 10 he shows that he is interested in God’s right hand “holding his hand” as we have sung about this morning. 

He uses then three illustrations to show that God is everywhere.  What about the highest place or the lowest place?  Heaven or Sheol (the place of the dead, the unseen world).  He says if I rise here or if I lay down there, God still is present.  What about the “wings of the morning” or “the fartherest part of the sea?”  What does that phrase mean?  It is a beautiful statement.  The phrase of the morning has also been translated “the wings of the dawn.”  It means that when the very first glimpse of the sun comes up over the eastern ridge and a ray of light heads out across toward the west, if you were faster than the speed of light, if you could outrun that first ray of the morning all the way to the Mediterranean, which for this writer was the sea off to the west, God would still be there.  He would still be present.  You could not escape where God is.  What about if you could get out of the light of the day into the darkness of the night?  Think of the darkest place you have ever been.  Would God not be able to notice you then?  No.  He says the darkness is as light with God. 

The point the psalmist makes is that “even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.”  It is interesting how that is phrased.  Sometimes we sing a different song about how we ought to “hold to the hand of our Savior and our Lord.”  But this psalm says his right hand, the hand of his power, holds us.  Think of the time, you parents, when you were leading your little toddler.  If it was just some minor thing, you would say to the little child, “Hold my hand.”  If there were some threat or some danger present, you would reach out and grab and hold that child’s hand so that it wouldn’t get lost in the crowd or wouldn’t step out in the street in front of a car.  This says the God who is present everywhere holds our hand with his right hand. 

God Has Power Over Me

God is everywhere with me so he knows everything about me.  And how is either of those things possible?  Because he made me and he sustains me.  Here in verses 13 and following is the way the psalmist puts it: “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 were 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.” 

Now the theme in this passage is the writer’s own person.  He says, “God has been intimately involved in my life from before when I was even born.”  He says here that God knew him.  “He formed my inward parts” (that would be my emotions, my conscience, my will, my awareness).  “Even while I was in my mother’s womb, he knitted me together.”  “My frame” (my bone structure and my frame that holds the rest of me together) “was not hidden from God” even when it was being intricately woven together.  That “intricately woven” is a word that could be translated “embroidered.”  Have you seen your mother or your grandmother make some beautiful embroidery?  This says God was involved in intricately weaving my life together.  He “saw my unformed substance,” verse 16 says, “and he even knew my days before the first one of them began.”  Such is the power and the knowledge of God! 

And David looks at himself.  He could have looked at all of nature and said “I know there must have been a maker.”  But he looks at himself and he realizes, my heart is beating and I am not sitting here saying “thump, thump, thump.”  He realized the blood was coursing through his veins, maybe, and he was not willing that to be.  He was not telling his diaphragm to breathe.  Something outside of him was running all those things. 

Have you ever thought about just the way in which our bodies function?  One of my teachers in college had a chart he handed out.  It is a chart of the body with all of the systems that make that body function.  Here is his description.  He said, “You have a self-restoring, self-repairing healing system; a sensitive stereophonic auditory system (that means I have ears); a tireless muscular connecting tissue system; a rugged, yet sophisticated, digestive system; an analytical sensitive taste/smell system; well engineered skeletal framework; extensive blood circulatory system; a computerized memory bank brain; an ultra sensitive nerve network; a programmed glandular hormone system; filtered, warm respiratory system; ventilation insulation skin envelope; a waste recycle and disposal system; unfathomable reproductive system; voice and language mechanisms; elaborate danger warning system; a living lens/living color optical system.” And, all of those things depend on each other!  One of them cannot function in isolation of the other.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made!  I have read that in one square inch of skin, there would be 20 blood vessels, 65 muscles, 78 nerves, 78 sensors for heat, and 13 for cold, 160 sensors for pressure, 650 sweat glands, 1300 nerve endings and 19,500,000 cells.  Isn’t that something? 

I read of a man who was at one time a Communist.  His name was Whitaker Chambers.  You have heard of him from the “Alger Hiss Affair” in history when Richard Nixon became prominent.  Chambers, later on in his life, is said to have become a believer in Christ.  And the way it happened was that one day he was holding someone’s little baby.  He noticed that little baby’s ear.  He started studying that ear and thinking about how it was made, how it was fashioned, and how it worked.  The more he thought about it, the more it dawned on him that this is a magnificent thing that could not have just happened.  This is a person fearfully and wonderfully made.  Our God knows us.  He is present everywhere, and he is powerful enough to have made us in this way.  No wonder the psalmist says, “Your thoughts are precious to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!” 

I Am Accountable To God

And then the psalmist applies this with some surprising statements about himself.  Verses 19 and following: “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.  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!” 

There are three great qualities in that reading that all come from having thought about who God is.  The first one is identity.  There is a “me,” an “I” - a person who is a person because God made me; a person who has days that God gave me; a person written in a book whose pages I fill in by the way I live my life.  There is an identity that comes from God who has power and is present and who knows.

Secondly, not only does a sense of identity come from this but also a sense of morality.  Don’t be alarmed at what David says here about his enemies.  He is not just talking about his own personal dealings with people.  He is talking about here being wicked people in the world who not only destroy the blood of men but who also speak against God and take his name in vain as if he were nothing.  And David has a sense of morality in him which cries out, “This is not right.  It must be judged.  It must be dealt with.”  And then instead of taking vengeance in his own hands, he asks God to do it and leaves it in God’s hands.  And then says, “In the meantime, search my heart; try me to make sure there is no grievous way in my own life.”  That is the sense of moral concern a person has when he understands that he is in God’s presence.  Living in the presence of God means evaluating choices and actions in view of how they look to God and not to how they may seem in the world. 

A sense of identity, a sense of morality, and then third, having realized who God is, there is a sense of destiny that is possible.  It says “lead me in the way that is everlasting.”  Deliver me from the way where there is pain and grief but lead me in the way that is everlasting.  What he is doing here is submitting himself to God’s wise examination and committing himself to God’s leadership and to God’s authority.  “Lead me.  Let your way be done in my life.  Be the ruler of my life.”  This cry requires the forgiveness of anything that has been amiss, the cleansing of God’s love, and the help of God in living right.  You and I recognize each one of those things as what God has accomplished in Jesus and what he offers to us through the gospel.  He wants us to be led in the way that is everlasting and to walk with him from day to day in our lives.  Maybe there is one here this morning that needs to make that beginning.  How are you doing with the wonderful God who knows, who is present, and who is able?  We want you to walk with him.