Psalm 139

How Do We Know God's Power?

Have you ever reflected on the power of God? What insights did you have about the Almighty?

There are many different kinds of power: physical strength, wealth, popularity, political influence. But, the ultimate power is knowledge. What I know affects the way I move in the world, spend my money, and determines how I will spend my time cultivating friends and associates. The most important type of knowledge is self-knowledge, for it allows me to clearly judge my activities, my values, my beliefs. When I know myself, I am secure in who I am, and what I can do in the world.

There is a knowledge that trumps even self-knowledge: knowing God. When I know God, I know the source of my being, for he is all-powerful; his power dwarfs my abilities. The paradox of belief in the Almighty is that, as I know him as all-powerful, he knows me better than I can possibly know myself. God's knowledge of me is just another reason to trust him with my life. I am reassured with the thought that, as I know God, God knows me to a degree exponentially more. I believe he will care for me with that knowledge.

Psalm 139 is a hymn to God's knowledge about the believer. It is also a prayer of trust in divine providence. The author acknowledged God's knowledge was universal and intimate. With that power, he would guide the author through the travails of life.

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David.

1 YHWH, you have searched me,
and you know me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up.
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.

World English Bible

The author began and ended Psalm 139 by acknowledging God's all-seeing vision (139:1-3, 23-24). YHWH knew every small detail of one's life. Every thought, intention, activity, and history were known to the divine. The Almighty saw all the possibilities of life, both at work and in leisure.

4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
but, behold, YHWH, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in behind and before.
You laid your hand on me.
6 This knowledge is beyond me.
It's lofty.
I can't attain it.

139:4-6 continued on the theme of omniscience, but made in much more personal. YHWH not only knew about the words (and intent) of the speaker, his knowledge both dwarfed and limited the psalmist. Through his intimate knowledge, God called the writer to himself.

7 Where could I go from your Spirit?
Or where could I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the dawn,
and settle in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there your hand will lead me,
and your right hand will hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me;
the light around me will be night";
12 even the darkness doesn't hide from you,
but the night shines as the day.
The darkness is like light to you.

The next five verses shifted the focus from God's knowledge to his presence. The author made two statements about the divine presence. First, it is pervasive and inescapable. Second, and more important, that pervasive presence guided the psalmist even in times of darkness. Even the dark and evil places cannot escape from the presence (hence, power) of God.

13 For you formed my inmost being.
You knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I will give thanks to you,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful.
My soul knows that very well.
15 My frame wasn't hidden from you,
when I was made in secret,
woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my body.
In your book they were all written,
the days that were ordained for me,
when as yet there were none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is their sum!
18 If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand.
When I wake up, I am still with you.

Now, the theme shifted from the presence of God to his power, especially his most intimately creative act. God saw the author fully formed even from the point of conception. The will of YHWH had already measured the length of days. In other words, God knew the man in a complete sense, even before he was born. That is an insight about an overwhelming, awesome divinity. God's thoughts, God's will were precious to the psalmist. Considering them was prayer itself.

19 If only you, God, would kill the wicked.
Get away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 For they speak against you wickedly.
Your enemies take your name in vain.
21 YHWH, don't I hate those who hate you?
Am I not grieved with those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred.
They have become my enemies.

After a consideration of God's knowledge, power and presence, the author now turned to his foes, who he assumed were the enemies of YHWH. The author prayed for purity from evil (destruction of and escape from the evil). The author aligned himself with God against those who blasphemed, and declared these evil men enemies.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart.
Try me, and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the everlasting way.

139:23-24 returned to the initial theme of the psalm. God's power lay in intimate knowledge and movement of all things, especially those who were faithful.

Like the psalmist, we should equate the knowledge of God with his power (and his presence). In other words, to know that God knows us is to hold that his knowledge makes our knowledge of him possible. He reaches out to us, so we should, in turn reach out to him in faith.

Reflect on how God knows you. How challenging or reassuring is that knowledge?