Studying the Psalms Part 3 – Psalm 139
Over the next couple posts, lets take Psalm 139 apart.
Everywhere today one hears of those who are passing through an identity crisis. That is a fancy way of saying “Who am I?” We all ask this question occasionally but perhaps it is asked more frequently today because of the prevailing scientific view of the universe. That view tells us that our earth is but a tiny speck in a vast universe, and we are struggling mortals on an obscure planet located in a second rate galaxy among billions of other galaxies in a great universe. Such an outlook tends to make us feel most insignificant. It contrasts sharply with the biblical view of man and especially the view, which deals with man in relationship to God. This 139th Psalm describes a man who is thinking about himself and his relationship to God. If you are struggling with an identity crisis and you are not sure just who you are then this is a good Psalm to read.
In this Sunday School lesson I shared the following article called Who Am I, Lord, by Ray C. Stedman:
This Psalm is divided into four paragraphs of six verses each. In each paragraph the psalmist faces a question about himself in relationship to God.
In the first paragraph he asks, “How well does God know me?” The first sentence gives us his answer”
O Lord, thou has searched me and knows me! (Psalms 139:1 RSV)
The Hebrew word for “searched” is the word, “to dig”. Literally what this man is saying is, “O Lord, you dig me!” Now that is how up-to-date the Bible is! The word means, “You dig into me and therefore you know me.” It is not surprising that the word dig has come to mean in English, “to know or to understand.” This is the way the psalmist begins, “Lord, you dig me!” In what way does God understand?
Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar: (Psalms 139:2 RSV)
That is, “Lord, you understand and know me in my conscious life. You know when I sit down (my passive life) and when I rise up (my active life). When I am resting or when I am acting, you know me. And you know me also in my subconscious life – that level of life from which my thoughts arise. You understand my thoughts even before they get to the surface. You know how I think and what I think about. You even understand the thoughts which come unbidden, in a constant flow to my mind.”
Then there follows the awareness of God’s knowledge of habits and choices:
Thou searchest out my path and my lying down. And art acquainted with all my ways: (Psalms 139:3 RSV)
You know the way I choose to go, and you know the habits of my life. “You know me, Lord,” says the man, “intimately, inside and out.” Then in verse 4 he contemplates the fact that God is concerned about him.
Even before a word is on my tongue; lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. (Psalms 139:4 RSV)
That is, “You understand my language. Every word that I utter, you know and understand.”
Then God is active, the psalmist discovers, in his past, his future and his present.
Thou dust beset me behind (the past) and before (the future) and layest thy hand upon me (now, the present). Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. (Psalms 139:5-6 RSV)
He is simply overwhelmed by the fact that God knows him better than he knows himself, better than anyone else knows him. That is amazing, isn't it? God knows me better than I know anyone else and better even than I know myself. For God knows me in the subconscious, the unexplorable part of my life, as well as in the conscious. What a wonderful revelation this is of God's understanding of each individual human being. How desperately we need, in this day of depersonalization, to remember that though science tells us how vast the universe is and thus how great the power of God, it takes God's self-revelation to tell us how important we are to Him and how well He knows us.