Search Me, Know Me, Lead Me
Philippe R. Sterling
Psalm 139 is one of the best-known psalms. One of its statements, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” is inscribed on T-shirts and social media memes.
The typical usage of the psalm can mask its major statements on the nature of God and His relationship to us. We will consider these statements, with special attention to three of the classical attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and their relevance to us. We’ll ascertain that an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God cares for us and we can pray for His righteous rule in the world and in our lives.
Psalm 139 is artistically structured. It has two parts and four stanzas. The first part has three stanzas that address three themes: God’s knowledge of us, God’s presence with us, and God’s making of us. The second part has one stanza that expresses a personal prayer for the removal of wickedness in one’s surrounding and in one’s self. Each of the four stanzas have two sections, one of four verses, and one of two verses. The first section focuses on a revelation about God and the second on a response to that revelation.
Two statements, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me” (v 1) and “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (v 23), enclose the psalm as bookends. They provide a key for understanding and applying the psalm.
GOD KNOWS US FULLY
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
God knows and evaluates every aspect of our lives.
Issue: Should we be concerned about how much is known about us? Social Media and Internet Companies know a great deal about their users. Some governments such as China track their citizens behavior and give them social credit scores which significantly impact their lives.
Verse 1: Summary Statement – Yahweh has searched us and known us.
The psalmist refers to Yahweh, “I AM,” the NAME by which God made Himself known to Moses and Israel (Ex 3:13, 14). It is also the NAME which Jesus implicitly used to describe Himself (John 6:35; 8:12, 58; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1; 18:4-5).
The psalmist states, “You have searched me and known me.” Yahweh has probed everything about him and knows him completely. God knows us thoroughly.
Verses 2-4: Yahweh knows and scrutinizes every aspect of our lives.
Yahweh has full knowledge of our movements. He knows when I sit down and when I rise up.
Yahweh has full knowledge of our thoughts. He understands my thought from afar.
Yahweh has full knowledge of our activity and rest. He scrutinizes my path and my lying down.
Yahweh has full knowledge of all of our ways. He is intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Yahweh has full knowledge of our speech beforehand. Even before there’s a word on my tongue, God knows it.
Verses 5-6: Conclusion – God’s comprehensive knowledge of us can seem overwhelming, restrictive, and incomprehensible.
God’s pervasive knowledge can seem restrictive and overwhelming. The psalmist feels hedged in. God knows all of us thoroughly and comprehensively at all times. Are you distressed in being so completely known?
It’s not simply that God knows everything – God knows me.
God’s pervasive knowledge is incomprehensible. It is too wonderful for me. It is too high for me to attain.
GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, 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 fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
God is present everywhere we go.
Verse 7: Summary Statement – We’re unable to escape God’s presence.
Verse 8-10: God is present everywhere in the universe.
God not only knows us but we cannot go anywhere from His presence. The psalmist shows the comprehensiveness of this in several exploratory paired statements.
God is in the height of heaven. If I ascend there, He is there.
God is in the depth of the netherworld. If I lie down in the realm of the dead, He is there.
God is at the far East. If I fly off to the East, He is there.
God is at the far West. If I travel to the remotest part of the Western Ocean, He is there.
Such a presence of God with us can have a consoling application. God can lead us and hold us wherever we go.
Verses 10-12: Conclusion – Nothing hinders the protective presence of God.
The psalmist fears being overwhelmed by darkness and unaided by light.
The psalmist acknowledges that God is impervious to darkness and His light overwhelms darkness.
It’s not simply that God is everywhere – He is everywhere with me.
GOD LOVINGLY MADE US
13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.
God lovingly oversaw our development and planned out our lives from the womb.
Verse 13: Summary Statement – God formed us in the womb.
Verses 14-16: God oversaw our development in accordance with His plan for us.
God made us. Though David's knowledge of embryology was limited compared to ours today, he is awed by the fact that God fashioned him within his mother's womb (cf. Job 9:10-12). He is also awed by the fact that God has fashioned the days of his life.
The psalmist looks back to the past of his creation and looks forward to the future God has appointed for him. God has counted every day of his life and written them in His book.
Two Issues: This portion of the psalm is relevant to the ethical issues of abortion and euthanasia.
Abortion – “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb (v 13).
Euthanasia – “And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (v 16).
Verses 17-18: Conclusion – God’s loving intention for us are precious and innumerable.
After reflecting on God’s fashioning of his body and his future, the psalmist bursts into a doxology, an expression of confident praise to God. He values God’s thoughts towards him. He is overwhelmed by the vastness of them. He takes comfort in God’s abiding care.
It’s not simply that God created everything – He created me.
WE ARE LOYAL TO GOD
19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20 For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
We will find comfort and security in God when we are loyal to Him.
The final stanza of the psalm seems out of place. It is made up of an outcry (imprecation) against the wicked, an affirmation (commitment) of loyalty to God, and a request (petition) for the recognition and removal of wickedness from within oneself.
The psalmist states that he hates those who hate God. The word translated “hate” means “to reject.” This is opposed to the word for “love” which means “to choose.” The wicked first rejected God and made themselves God’s enemies.
The psalmist rejects those who reject God. If we are loyal to God, we cannot have fellowship or close friendships with God’s avowed enemies (2 Cor 6:14-18).
The words are those of someone who wants to see God honored in every way. Such a concern leads to a desire that all God's enemies are abolished, and that everything within us that is not honoring to God also be abolished. Ask God to deal with the evil of others and your own potential for evil.
The everlasting way is God’s way. It is the righteous way He has set out for His people. God calls believers to walk with Him in faith and righteousness (Gen 17:1; Eph 4:1; Heb 11:6).
Our walk with God is a walk in the light (1 John 1:5–2:2). The light reveals whatever is not right within us. We acknowledge the sins the light reveals. The blood of Jesus cleanses us. We maintain fellowship with God. God leads us in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139 is theological and practical. It speaks of the attributes of God in ways that impacted the psalmist and impacts us.
God’s attributes are beyond our full comprehension. God’s knowledge is too high for us to reach (v 6). God’s thoughts are too many to count (vv 17, 18).
Praise God for His knowledge of all our ways.
Praise God for His presence, wherever we are.
Praise God that He has marvelously made us and planned all of our days.
Pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth.
Pray for God to search you, know you, and lead you in righteousness.
O God, search me, know me, lead me.