Psalm 139 – “Known by God”
Have you ever boasted about a claim to fame?
Why do we do that? Quest for significance – and we think we have significance by a connection – however loose and insignificant it may be – we think we gain significance by a connection to someone else who has significance.
But, in all of those, I only had some loose connection to those people; and so it is much less meaningful than if I actually knew those people, and they actually knew me.
But, what if I knew and was known by – in a real way – a way of personal and intimate connection and relationship – someone of true significance; someone of unparalleled significance; someone of eternal significance.
The one person who really counts – that our desire to be known; and our desire for significance – are both met abundantly in God’s knowledge of us and our personal knowledge of him – knowledge that isn’t merely knowing about someone, but having a relationship with them.
And, that’s what Psalm 139 is about: knowing God and being known by him.
Knowing God – of course, includes knowing things about God – it can’t exclude that, but neither can it be reduced to that.
Can’t exclude: You can’t say you have a personal knowledge of God, if that’s absent of actual content of who God is because if it is, you’ve filled in that gap, and so you don’t have a relationship with the real God but only a god of your imagination – a god of your creating.
can’t be reduced: because you can know a lot about a person, without actually knowing them – and still being a stranger to them. Because the knowledge of God is a relational knowledge. It’s a personal knowledge.
It’s not just knowing about someone, but it’s knowing someone – being their friend.
EX (JI Packer): political science professor’s knowledge of president, vs gardener’s knowledge
Some of us need to work harder at knowing accurate truths about God so that we can have a relationship with the real God. But others of us, maybe, need to be discontent with merely knowing things about God, and knowing him in relationship – after all, remember: God is not an it, God is a he; God is not merely propositions, he is a person (of course, he isn’t a human person but he is personality – his essence is not impersonal but personal). And the way we relate to him must reflect that reality.
That’s why prayer is such a key part of our faith – because prayer is talking to God – and you don’t talk to impersonal objects – or at least you probably shouldn’t – no, you talk to persons.
And, this relationship that the psalmist describes is not just personal, but intensely personal, & inescapably personal.
God doesn’t just know his people generally; he doesn’t just relate to his people corporately: he knows people individually. God knows individuals.
There is a oft-repeated criticism of contemporary worship music, that it is too individualistic vs corporate. the criticism is that too many contemporary worship songs, use the 1st person singular pronouns (“I”, “me”).
But: Read the psalms! Certainly they use both singular and plural; talk about both individual and corporate realities of the people of God. But look at vv1-7: me, me, I, I, my, my, my, my, my, me, me, me, me.
We are part of the corporate entity of God’s people; but, we aren’t absorbed into the generic corporate such that we cease to relate to God personally. We aren’t part of God’s people like a drop of water is part of the pool of water – that we cease to be distinguishable from that entity.
God doesn’t just love the church in a general generic sense; God doesn’t just know the church in a general generic sense; God loves you. God knows you. And, so, you can’t know or love God in a general, generic way – your love for and knowledge of him must be personal. You can’t relate to God through someone else; and while you need the church, the extent of your relationship to God can’t be what happens in the context of the church.
You must know God; You must love God and serve him – he must be your God. You need to pray to God; You need to actively trust God; You need to make him be your delight; You need to make him to be the rock upon which you live and hope; You need to make him to be the one you worship – him alone, with no other false gods competing.
You can’t live out your relationship with God through someone else; or hiding in the crowd; God knows and loves you – he wants a relationship with you.
God’s knowledge of us is personal! and, it’s intensely personal.
Knows our thoughts, knows our actions, knows our intentions, our ways, our speech even before we speak it. Knows everything about you.
Isn’t that amazing? The Psalmist certainly thinks so – v6!
The God who created, sustains, and rules the universe, knows you – everything about you.
And, how could it be otherwise – he is the LORD. He is all-knowing (omniscience). He doesn’t need to learn anything, he isn’t mistaken about anything, he isn’t ignorant about anything. He knows all – he knows everything about you.
Has numbered the hairs on your head – and if he knows such an impossible fact -0 then you can be sure there’s nothing of importance or necessity that he is missing or not taking into account as your heavenly father.
And, if he knows such an insignificant fact, then we can be sure that he knows the more important things.
There is no knowledge that God lacks of you – and so, he is never misguided or misinformed or ignorant or incapable of doing for you what you need most.
That is one of the reasons why we fail to trust God, is it not? He tells us to walk this way, to say away from this path, to
See, he doesn’t just know us to know end, but uses his knowledge of us to care for us – v5.
And, so, if he cares for us, in perfect knowledge of not just us but of all things – then what reason do we have not to trust him, follow where he leads, in fact, entrust our whole lives to his care; live all our lives by his word?
God’s knowledge of us is intensely personal (he knows everything about us), & inescapably personal.
The psalmist has previously described God’s omniscience – that he is all-knowing. Now, he describes his omnipresence – that he is everywhere. Now, this does not mean that God is everything or is in everything, but he is present everywhere.
Now, the psalmist isn’t trying to get away from God – he loves God; but, he’s describing sort of a hypothetical game of hide-and-seek with God; and he what he is saying is that there is no place where he could hide, there is no place where he could run; there is no place where life’s circumstances could lead him, where God would not be there and so there is no place where God would not know where he was, and so there is no place where God would not be with him.
His spirit will be with him, his presence will be there, whether he goes up to the heavens, God is there; if he goes down to the depths, God is there.
God’s presence is inescapable, and so this knowledge of God is uninterrupted no matter where life takes us – when life takes unexpected turns; or, even when we take wrong turns in life, God is there – he hasn’t lost sight of us. He is still with us, and he still knows us, and so can still guide us – v10 – and hold on to us and protect us.
Contrast to pagan gods of surrounding peoples – who’s authority was confined to certain places; God’s authority extends over all – he is Lord everywhere; there are many places and people of course who don’t recognize his reign, but there is no place in all creation that he is not King.
Even when darkness surrounds us – v11 – even when we think life has gotten so dark that surely God can’t see where are – surely he has lost sight of us – even then, when we feel in utter darkness, even then God is with us, God sees us; and v12 – the light which God brings can illuminate our darkness and bring the hope of his presence and the joy of knowing God, which is a light in darkness.
Do you live life in God’s presence? You do – we all do – but what I mean is, do you life your life before God – do you live life as though God is there and as though that matters; or as though he isn’t there and doesn’t matter?
Do you look to him in the darkness and find the kind of light that illuminates? or, do you look to other things and try to find comfort, hope, life, in them?
It’s interesting – many of us read Psalm 139 – the psalmist describing that God knows everything about him, that he can’t escape God’s knowledge of him; and think it’s a psalm of terror – but the psalmist, in reflecting on these truths, isn’t terrified – he’s comforted. He’s lifted up – he has hope and joy and comfort.
In the hardest times of life, the psalmist knows that God is there with him, that God knows exactly what is going on; and that God knows him.
Would think it leads to fear… But, for the psalmist it leads to comfort. Remember, knowledge is relationship. God knows everything about everyone; but God knows some people as his beloved children – those who are recipients of his grace through faith in him.
Those whom God “knows” – are not just those whom God knows things about, but those he by his grace has befriended, brought graciously into his favor, and works all things for the good of and pours his loving kindness upon.
And, so, you see, how God knowing us is the source of deepest comfort for the psalmist. Nothing can come between him and his God. Nothing can separate him from his God. No turn in life’s circumstances – no matter how volatile – can lead him away from the presence of God – from God being with him through all things – in every place, anywhere – God is with him.
And, of course God knows him in this intensely and inescapably personal way, because God is his maker. v13 – you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (by you).
God knit him together – and so even when he was in the place where he was most hidden from human eyes – his mother’s womb – God knew him even then – v15.
When you come to a text like psalm 139, it seems impossible to not comment on a current and important ethical issue, which like many issues has been highly politicized but despite that it remains first and foremost an ethical issue; and first and foremost our role as Christians is not to tow a party line (good luck finding one to tow); but it is to consider God’s word and it’s bearing on our lives.
2 things which clearly address this issue: 1) even when he was in his mother’s womb, he was a special creation of God – and, no matter what the human circumstances of his existence coming about, he was a purposeful, intentional, and wonderful creation of God.
But, not only was he a creation of God; he was a human creation of God – and so – made in the image of God with all the dignity which that status entails, and worthy of all the protection and rights that any other person sharing that status is worthy of.
2) Even when he was in his mother’s womb, he was himself. He didn’t start to be himself at some other point; while in his mother’s womb he wasn’t something other than himself – he wasn’t his mother; he wasn’t a clump of cells; he wasn’t something other than himself; he was himself. He didn’t emerge out of an embryo, he didn’t emerge out of that fetus, he was an ebmryo; he was a fetus. In the womb, he was himself – a person – the most innocent of persons; created by God in the image of God.
Christians often get criticized for being “anti-science”; maybe in some cases that’s true; but in this issue, Christians are not the anti-science ones, because Psalm 139 tells us exactly what science tells us – that what is in the womb is a living person – a member of the human family.
And, as with any other member of the human family – the unjust taking of an innocent life, is murder.
It’s really not a very complicated issue: if it is a human life in the womb, then no matter what it’s size, no matter it’s level of development; no matter it’s environment; no matter it’s degree of dependency – none of those things take away the fact that it is a human person; and the taking of it’s life without justification is murder.
And, in my opinion it is one of the greatest moral evils and blindnesses in our day.
That being said: if you have had an abortion – there is grace for you. There is enough grace for you in Jesus to wash away your sins and cleanse you as white as snow. There is forgiveness; and all you need to do is to look to Christ in faith and repentance, and he will surely grant you forgiveness.
After reflecting on God’s creation of and knowledge of him in the womb, he says that God didn’t just plan the very beginnings of his life, but he planned all the days of his life.
He has a plan – not just generally for his kingdom, not just generally for the people of God – but specifically, personally, for you – for all the days of your life.
See, here’s the flow-of-thought: That God planned his life from the beginning, but that God doesn’t mean God just planned the beginning – he doesn’t just “set-it-and-forget-it” when it comes to human lives; he doesn’t get you started, send you out he door and wish you luck; no, he knows all our days – he plans all our days – v16 – before any one of them came to be, they were written in God’s book. He is sovereign and controls all things.
God has a plan, is again, a comforting reality for the psalmist. The biblical writers never assume that this means they aren’t responsible for the choices they make; and as we’ll see in a minute, that the fact that the psalmist knows that God pre-ordains his days doesn’t mean his days are free from trouble.
But despite that, he trusts that God’s plan for him is good – that God knows what he is doing, and he finds comfort in the fact of God’s sovereign plan over his life.
What about you? There may be times in your life when God’s plan is confusing, difficult, painful; but, can you trust that his plan is good?
Joseph. sold into slavery; unjustly imprisoned; but God was with him, and God had a plan for him: “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”.
Doesn’t say, you did evil, which God didn’t see coming but he somehow scrambled in reaction to it and found a way to make good out of it. God meant it (the evil that they did) for good.
Jesus. betrayed, denied, scorned by the ones he came to save, wrongly executed and said as he was dying: “Father, Into your hands I commit my Spirit” – he entrusted himself to the one he had been trusting all along – even though his trust of his Father had led him to the cross, he kept trusting, because he knew that God had a good plan for him.
vv19-24 – “Imprecatory” psalm – a spoken curse. These have troubled many people as they seem so out of character with Jesus’ teaching that Christians love even their enemies.
- Both OT and NT include command to love enemies.
- Both OT and NT hold in tension this command to love enemies alongside the recognition of – and hatred of evil.
- Both OT and NT recognize the reality of God’s coming judgment against evil, and consider that reality a source of hope.
- In fact, the recognition of that reality (God’s judgment) is the way that someone can love their enemies and hate evil:
- the hatred of the psalmists enemies is not a hatred of personal vindictiveness or personal animosity or revenge; it is a hatred of allegiance. He hates the enemies not because they are his enemies, but because they are God’s enemies.
- Certainly, the psalmist would be glad to see his enemies to turn to God in repentance, and walk humbly before God alongside the people of God. But until then, they are God’s enemies – they live committed to wickedness which God hates, and they live committed to rebellion against God – and as long as they live with those commitments, they live as God’s enemies – whom the psalmist can share no allegiance with because of his allegiance to God.
- And, the psalmist responds to this not by taking revenge; not by taking matters into his own hands and making his enemies pay; no, the opposite – he entrusts them to God, knowing that God is righteous and will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
he doesn’t need to take revenge, or live vindictively; no, he entrusts his enemies to God – remembering that they are his enemies and he will deal with them.
And, so the prayer is a recognition of the real wickedness of evil; a recognition of the reality and rightness of God’s judgment against evil; and an entrusting of one’s enemies to God, knowing that he lacking no knowledge will judge rightly in the end. He will, in a final, and satisfying way, deal with evil.
And, so, to any reading this – easy to become self-righteous; but it is a call to humility (vv23-24 – humble self-evaluation and reflection, turn to repentance, renewal of his commitment to serving God and trusting God for salvaiton); and a call to repentance. You do not want to remain God’s enemy; but, you can turn to the God who forgives even his enemies, through the cross of Jesus Christ – the cross reminds us that we were all God’s enemies, yet he sent his son to die for us; and we can either remain hardened at that act of gracious love and remain set against God and face his sure certain judgment; or we can let it soften our hearts and turn to a loving God in repentance.