by Rosie Moore.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me… (Ps 139:1)
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!” (Ps 139:23-24)
This is the first part in a two-part series on Psalm 139.
The Psalms exemplify the kind of personal relationship that the true and living God wants his people to have with him. God doesn’t listen to us through a speaker system or watch us perform on a screen. It’s as if God listens to us via a stethoscope and uses a CT scan to explore the deepest crevices of our hearts. As the Lord said to Samuel the prophet, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
The Lord was referring to the unassuming shepherd boy, David, who later became Israel’s greatest king and the writer of Psalm 139.
Lord you have known me.
The Lord searches our hearts and exposes what’s really there. He wants his image-bearers to enjoy an intimate, authentic relationship with Him by faith in Jesus Christ. No secrets, no duplicity, no hiding our sins behind flimsy fig leaves. No matter where a believer goes, we can never be far from God’s comforting and convicting presence– His Holy Spirit.
Psalm 139 is one of my favourites, because it reminds me that the greatest privilege and purpose of life is knowing and being known by God, warts and all. This Psalm also gives us a framework for how to respond to crucial cultural issues like, “What does it mean to be human” and “What makes a human life valuable?” David’s Psalm offers believers assurance but also accountability for how we live our lives.
Let’s ask the Lord to search our own hearts as we read Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 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 was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
God searches me (Ps 139:1-6).
David knows that the Creator God is everywhere and inescapable (Ps 139:7-12). No human can hide from His searching gaze. He is infinite and personal, which is both comforting and frightening.
The writer to the Hebrews says something similar: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).
No one likes to be naked and exposed, literally or figuratively. Some of us don’t like people to know us completely because we are afraid that they will discover something unpleasant, even wicked about us. We’ve been shocked at what we’ve seen lurking in our thought life and the filth that gushes out of our mouth in an unguarded moment.
Sometimes we don’t let people see who we really are, lest they judge or reject us. We feel unseen and unheard by those closest to us, so we pretend that all is well. Often, we disguise the hidden sins that are enslaving us, which we know we have no power to overcome.
But David describes a personal, infinite God who is present everywhere at the same time, a God who knows everything about us, even our anxious thoughts (Ps 139:23-24), darkest fantasies and habits of life (Ps 139:2-3; 11-12), even the motives behind our words (Ps 139:4). God is familiar with of all our ways (Ps 139:3). He knows everything about us, including the bits we’d prefer to keep hidden.
But it’s precisely this reality that ultimately leads David to invite the Lord to test and expose his heart—the seedbed of all sinful thoughts, words and deeds (Ps 139:23-24). Why would David want exposure?
Search me, O God!
Instead of avoiding a divine biopsy, David wants to be known by God, even if it exposes a malignant tumour that must be removed before it proves fatal (Ps 139:23-24). God’s thoughts and opinions are precious to him (Ps 139:17-18). He treasures the intimate relationship he has with the Lord, no matter what sin and frailty is exposed by His searchlight (Ps 139: 13-18).
No doubt King David had learned a painful lesson from his own ‘secret’ adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. He had thought he would get away with his love affair, but God saw what he had done. The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to confront him in his duplicity, saying, “You are that man!” (2 Sam 12:7).
It cut David to the heart to realise that he had done evil in God’s sight (Ps 51:4) and his subsequent plea for mercy and forgiveness is recorded for us in Psalm 51:
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
David’s restoration was what drove him to seek a life of candour and integrity. He didn’t want to run or hide from God anymore. He actually wanted the Lord to find him out and arrest him before his sin could cause even greater damage. He wanted to know and be known by God, thoroughly and completely.
Likewise, for Christ followers, Psalm 139:23-24 reminds us that exposure is the only path to repentance and forgiveness. And it’s how we are freed from the destructive power of sin in our lives, to continue on God’s ‘everlasting way’.
We must not fool ourselves—Sin will always entangle us in its deceptive web. It will weigh us down and spoil our relationship with God (Heb 12:1). David knew the danger of sin that the writer of Hebrews later confirmed:
“Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
Hatred of God’s enemies.
That’s why David’s imprecatory prayers (Ps 139:19-22) are not embarrassing verses that we should be tempted to skip when we read this Psalm. Even Christ and Paul quoted some of the imprecatory Psalms, which call down divine curses and express hatred for God’s enemies (John 15:25= Ps 69:4; John 2:17=Ps 69:9; Ps 69:22-23=Rom 11:9-10).
These imprecatory prayers of David assume the truth taught throughout Scripture that evil people can reach a point of such extreme, persistent hard-heartedness and contempt towards God, that the time of redemption is past and their judgment is inevitable.
Moreover, in these Psalms, David spoke as God’s inspired and anointed king. David foreshadowed Christ the Messiah, who has authority to pronounce final judgment on all God’s enemies, and will do so in the end (Rev 19:1; 11-21). Since the Lord is perfectly holy and all-knowing, his justice will always be proportionate and appropriate. There will be no leakage or collateral damage, as is the case when we take revenge.
David is not being self-righteous in these verses. He has seen how truly evil sin is, including his own, and is expressing moral repugnance, not personal vengeance against God’s enemies. Moreover, he is acutely aware of his own blind spots and need for repentance, as we also should be (Ps 139:23-24). After all, we are all God’s enemies until reconciled to God by Christ (Rom 5:10)
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
When I forget that God is the omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (all present) and omnipotent (all powerful) Creator of the universe, I tend to make Him small in my mind. I try to do things in my own strength. I don’t consult with Him when I have an important decision to make. It is always because I have forgotten his eternal attributes and exaggerated my own.
Likewise, when I forget the Holy Spirit—the Helper who is with us forever (John 14:16) and who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26-27), I start seeing God as aloof from my struggles. I am left feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by challenges too big for me to handle. I feel no peace, just turmoil.
But even though David never saw Jesus in the flesh or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he prayed, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps 139:7)
It is remarkable how David knew and trusted the personal God who was active in his past, present and future, the God beyond time and space (Ps 139:13-16). And this understanding of God both as Creator and providential ruler gave David great consolation, confidence and courage. He was utterly convinced of God’s protective hand and leading light in his life (Ps 139:10-12).
How much more should we cherish the Lord’s presence, power and purpose as we look back on the cross and look forward to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our world and in future generations? Three thousand years since David died, Christ has not left us alone as orphans. Wherever we find ourselves, the risen Lord has made his home with us by His Spirit (John 14:23).
And so, let’s ask ourselves, “Where can I go from his Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Of course the answer to these rhetorical questions is the same– Nowhere!! The Lord knows us warts and all, and yet he still loves and accepts us. He is there to help us when we’re struggling in ways that we have not even dared to admit to anyone else.
The Prince of Peace is beside us wherever we are, settling our troubled hearts (John 15:27; 16:33). Each new day, the Helper is directing us to Christ and reminding us of all that He has taught us in His Word (John 15:26). The Spirit of truth is always stirring our hearts, convicting us of sin and giving us the power to overcome (John 16:8; 13).
Instead of fear and slavery to sin, Christ has given us the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”. And the Holy Spirit will hold us fast until we see Christ face to face.
Psalm 139 reminds us that God accepts and loves his children despite knowing everything about us. Is it not the greatest privilege in the world to know and be known by God? Imagine living each day as if it were true.
Join us next week as we focus on Psalm 139:14-16 in “Fearfully and wonderfully made.”