God’s Knowledge, Location and Activity, Psalm 139

Let’s turn in our Bibles this morning to Psalm 139. While you’re turning there, I’d thought we’d do a little brain warm up. We probably need one this morning because we’re going to try to wrap our minds around some of God’s awesomeness that is talked about in this Psalm. Just a little quiz. Just 10 questions. You should be able to answer each one in less than a second.

  1. Which country makes Panama hats?… Ecuador.
  2. In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?… November. The Russian calendar used to be 13 days behind ours.
  3. How long did the Hundred Years War last?… 116 years, from 1337 to 1453
  4. From which animal do we get catgut?… From sheep and horses
  5. What is a camel’s-hair brush made of?… Squirrel fur or poney, ox or goat fur
  6. The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?… Canines, Dogs
  7. What was King George VI’s first name?… Albert as in Albert Frederick Arthur George
  8. What color is a purple finch?… Red
  9. Where are Chinese gooseberries from?… New Zealand
  10. How long did the Thirty Years War last?… Duh, thirty years. From 1618 to 1648.
    Anybody get one right?

Our knowledge is very limited isn’t it? Even when we think we know something we’re often wrong. But in Psalm 139 that we’re going to look at this morning we find that such is not at all the case with God. This is a Psalm written by David about God’s relationship with him. We’re going look at this whole Psalm this morning, but we’re first just going to read and talk about the first 18 verses… (Read)

So David tells us some things here about God that are really crucial for every human being to understand about God.

It tells us first of all about….

I. God’s knowledge

He doesn’t just know history, calculus, astronomy, quantum physics, microbiology, every answer to every test question ever. He doesn’t just know what’s happening with the nations, with the masses and what’s happening with churches. David says, He knows me personally. This little spec among billions of other specs on this spec of a planet in this spec of a galaxy in His incomprehensibly vast universe. The Creator and sustainer of it all knows me, David says. And not just my name and where I live. He knows every minute detail about me. Every time I sit down, God knows I did that. Every time I stand up, God knows I did that. He knows every bit of my up and active part of my life, and every bit of the lying down relaxing part of my life. He hears every word that I speak. And even every thought that just arises in my mind that nobody else knows, He knows. My life and my mind and my heart are an open book before God and a book that He’s constantly reading. David explains in v11 and 12 I can’t even escape God’s sight and knowledge of what I’m doing in the dark. He says, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,’ 12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” He sees me, He knows me even in the dark. And not only does God know everything about me past and present, but He knows everything about me yet to come. v4, “Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.” v16, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.” God knows what I will do every day of the rest of my life.

And what David says of God’s knowledge of him, the rest of Scripture tells us is also true of God’s knowledge of each individual that lives on His earth. You remember Jesus taught His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” His point was if God knows what’s happening with every sparrow worth only 1/2 a cent, He most certainly knows what’s happening with every single human being on His earth. And then Jesus told them even “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” I Chronicles 28:9, David told his son Solomon, “The LORD searches all hearts and understands every intent of the thoughts.”

The fancy word for it is omniscience. Omni means all. Then attached to it is the word science which comes from a Latin word that means knowledge. So omni-science, omniscience means all knowing.

When I traveled to the Philippines a couple months ago via Denver, Colorado and Tokyo Japan, I kept finding myself thinking “There are a lot of people in the world.” In the enormous busy Denver airport I was saying that. Then in the Tokyo airport I was saying that. Then in the Philippines… That group of islands is smaller in land mass than Montana. It’s just a little piece of this earth. And there are a 100 million people there. In Manila, Philippines where we were everywhere you look are crowds of people, in every nook and cranny, under every bridge, down every alleyway, on every sidewalk, everywhere there are people. We would drive for 3 or 4 hours to go see another church and for 3 or 4 hours we would be passing crowds of people, never not seeing people. How does God know every thought that’s going on in every heart in the Philippines and in Tokyo and in Denver and everywhere else in the world at the same time? How does He know what each of us are going to do, if we have free will like the Bible teaches that we do, if we’re not like animals just controlled by the instincts God put in us, if we have the ability to make our own choices for which we are responsible, how does God know all the choices that we will make? As David says here, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it…. How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” God is so far beyond what we can wrap our minds around.

Now, the omniscience of God can be either a very scary thing to you, or it can be a very comforting thing. Scary, because it means God knows all the evil about you. He knows what you do when you’re not around people that you want to impress. He knows what you do when you’re away on a business trip. He knows you in the privacy of your home and at work when the boss is not around. He knows you in the dark. He hears every lie. He hears every angry word. He knows every lustful thought and every selfish motive. He knows all your evil.

But it can also be very comforting because it means He knows all the good things about you too. God knows that you really want to do what is right, if that’s what’s in your heart. God knows the efforts that you are making to be honest when it’s difficult to be honest. He knows when you’ve talked in your own mind about improving different areas of your life. He knows when you have compassion on somebody and nobody else sees it. He hears every little kind word that you speak to somebody to lift their spirits. He knows when you’re sorry, when you feel ashamed over something you’ve done. He knows when you have good intentions. God knows all that stuff too.

What our response to that should be is a no-brainer. If the cop is sitting there with his radar gun on you and you know it, you don’t speed. If the boss at the office is looking over your shoulder and you know he is, you don’t play solitaire on your computer.

God’s omniscience is also comforting because it means God knows your needs and your trials and your struggles and your anxieties. He knows what you’ve been through in life. He knows how hard things are for you. He knows how much you can handle and how much you can’t.

It’s comforting because it means He hears your prayers, even the one’s you don’t vocalize. When you’re just like Hannah when she came before the tabernacle and got down on her knees and prayed for a son and only her lips were moving, but no sound was coming out. God heard her prayer. When at work you just say in your mind, “O God help me in this meeting that I have” or before you go to talk to someone “Please bless my interaction with this person. Help me to reflect Christ to this person,” He hears your silent prayers.

And the omniscience of God can be comforting or scary depending on you because it means on the last day, when we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to be recompensed for our deeds in the body, according to what we have done, whether good or bad (II Cor 5:10), our judgment will be right. God won’t mix up those who were following Christ, honestly trying to do His will, with those who were not and vice versa, because He knows each individual completely. Judgment will be without error. Nobody will go to the wrong place.

Secondly this Psalm tells about…

II. God’s location

You’ve probably heard the Bette Midler song, “From a Distance.” Beautiful song, but unfortunately it’s basic assumption is that God is watching us from a distance. He is watching us, but not from distance.

He is not just up in heaven. And He’s not just in church buildings. David says, wherever I am God is right here in front of me and He’s right behind me and He’s right above me. v5, “You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.” And he says there is no place that I can go and get away from God. v7, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” He presents some hypothetical propositions. If I could ascend to heaven, if I could go to the farthest corner of the universe, God would be there. If I make my bed in Sheol, in the realm of the dead, God would be there too. If I take the wings of the dawn, that is if I could shoot across to from the east to the west like the light of dawn, if I could dwell in the remotest part of the sea (the sea was in the west from the land of Israel), if I could shoot as far west as possible at the speed of light, God would be there too. And he says even when I fall asleep, God doesn’t leave me. End of v18 “When I awake, I am still with You, God.”

And the rest of Scripture tells us that it’s not just that God went with David everywhere David went. Jeremiahs 23:24 says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord. Acts 17:27 Paul preached to the men of Athens about the God who made the world and all things it, “He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being“. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere at the same time all the time… and completely aware of everything at the same time all the time. Try to wrap your mind around that.

The omnipresence of God implies that our lives are in His hands so to speak. We are always everywhere we go within His reach to bless us or curse us, to help or harm, to protect or oppose, to give or take away. We are always within His reach. Our circumstances, our welfare, the condition of our existence now and forever is totally up to Him.

Again, can be a very scary thing or a very comforting thing.

Thirdly, the Psalm talks about

III. God’s work, God’s activity

In v13 he speaks of God’s work on him before He was born. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”

Aren’t these bodies of ours amazing. I was marveling the other day at all the stuff that our bodies do automatically without us having to tell them to do it. Right now your heart is thumping away pumping blood throughout your body with the oxygen and nutrients and everything that your body needs. You don’t have to constantly be telling your heart, “Now thump, now thump, now thump, now thump.” And you don’t have to tell your lungs “Now inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.” They just do that. And the heart and lungs speed up or slow down automatically as your body needs for whatever you’re doing. And you don’t have to tell your glands to sweat so you don’t burn up. They just do it. You just eat food, and the digestive system breaks it down and distributes the useful stuff throughout the body and gets rid of the waste. You cut or damage these bodies and they heal themselves. Your eyes automatically adjust focus to whatever you’re looking at. Your eye automatically senses variations of light and adjusts the iris appropriately for the lighting. Your eyes are self-cleaning. They form their own tears to flush away dust and crud, and have their own windshield wipers. What an incredible machine God gave us to live in?

There’s a man named Whittaker Chambers who wrote a book in the 1950s called “Witness” in which he tells how he went from an atheist and communist to be a Christian and a conservative. And what began his investigation into the Christian faith was one day he was watching his little two-year old daughter eating breakfast in her high chair. And her little ear caught his eye and his attention. He was struck by the design of that ear. How beautiful, how shell-like it was, and how perfectly designed to catch every sound wave in the air to be translated to the brain. Knowing something of the mechanics of the ear he began to think about it. He was struck by how impossible it is that anything so intricate, so complex, so beautifully designed could ever occur by chance, as just an accident that eventually resulted from the explosion of a little dense ball of matter in space for some unknown reason. Surely we are made by a very very intelligent designer.

And in the context of Psalm 139 David mentions this fact that God formed and wove him in his mother’s womb as either an evidence or an illustration of the fact that God is everywhere and can see even in complete darkness. Notice that v13 begins with the conjunction word “For” connecting this with what he just said. He just said you can’t get away from God’s presence and sight, not even in the dark. As an illustration or evidence of that David points out that God puts babies together in mommies’ tummies all over the world, and it’s dark in those tummies. He must be everywhere and able to see and work in the dark.

And do you know what that means that He made you, that He formed you and wove you in your mother’s womb? It has great implications. It means that you are not a cosmic accident. You are significant. You have a purpose on this earth. You were wanted on this earth for a reason. It means that we owe all that we are and all that we have to God. It means that it’s reasonable to believe that death is not the end for us. If He gave us life and a body once, surely He can do it again.

But making us is not the only work of God that David mentions in this Psalm. He also mentions that God has continued to work in his life since he was born. Look at v9-10 again, “If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” God didn’t just wind David up like a windup toy and then sit back and watch him go. God had been leading David in the way he should go, and taking hold of David sometimes like to pull him back on the right path or to protect him or lift him up when he’s down. I think of what David said in Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” He wasn’t just watching David. He was at work in his life like a shepherd for his sheep, making sure that he had what he needed, leading him in the right path, restoring him when he’d fallen or wandered, protecting him.

Was that just a special privilege that David enjoyed? Not at all. That’s God’s work in the lives every person who wants to know Him and do His will. Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” If you hunger and thirst, have this compelling desire to do what is right in the sight of God, to be pleasing in His sight, God will so work in your life to satisfy that desire. Hebrew 11:6, God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. You seek to know God and His will for your life, a relationship with Him, God is going to reward you, He’s going help you find Him. I think of some of the stories in the book of Acts when God knew there were good and honest hearted people in various places and He so worked in the world to bring them the gospel. I think of that Ethiopian Eunuch riding home in his chariot from worship in Jerusalem reading the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. God knew that man genuinely wanted a relationship with Him, and so God sent Philip to him to ask him if he understood what he was reading and that lead to sharing the gospel with him. And I think of God bringing Peter with the gospel to Cornelius because He knew Cornelius genuinely wanted to do God’s will in his life. I think of Christ telling Paul in a vision, “I want you to stay here in Corinth, because I have many people in this city.” Christ knew the hearts of people in Corinth and he knew if Paul stayed and kept on preaching there many people would accept and obey the truth, and so He kept Paul there. God is at work in this world on behalf of people with good and honest hearts. And He continues to work in our lives once we’ve come into a right relationship with Him. Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” He won’t let us be tempted beyond what we’re able to handle, says I Corinthians 10:13. He disciplines us that we might share His holiness, says Hebrews 12:10. He will prune you like a vinedresser prunes the branches that they might bear more fruit says John 15. He is at work in you to get you willing and working for His good pleasure says Philippians 2:13.

So God knows you completely. God is with you. God made you. And God is working in your personal life for you, if you want to do His will.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the Psalm where David expresses the feelings of His heart in response to how God is toward him. The first part of this might come as a bit of a shock. v19-24… (Read)

IV. David’s response

I suspect many of you get the kind of emails that I get sometimes. There’s an old lady that I grew up with down in Colorado who likes to send me these kind of emails… where you have a portion of a beautiful psalm like this one and it’s written in fancy letters and around the text are butterflies and flowers and bees and bunnies and cute things, or maybe in the background behind the text is a peaceful sunset scene or mountain lake scene or something like that. Do you know the sort of emails I’m talking about? Well, the first 2/3 of this Psalm is the sort of thing you’d find in those kind of fluffy feel-good emails. But you know what part you won’t find is v19-22, that hateful vengeful wishing God to slay certain people part. “O that You would slay the wicked, O God… I hate them, I loathe them, I hate them with the utmost hatred.” I guarantee you go to any Christian book store and you won’t find those verses on a T-shirt or a coffee mug. What is with that? What’s that doing in this beautiful Psalm? Some people see it as like this ugly stain on a beautiful painting.

Was this attitude right and good? Well, sure doesn’t sound very Christlike, who taught us to love our enemies, and who prayed for the wicked men who put him on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And one day when He was passing through a town in Samaria with His disciples and the people of that town refused to give them lodging for the night, and James and John said to Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (That seems like David’s attitude here.) And Jesus did not commend for that hateful vengeful spirit. It says He turned to them and rebuked them for that. And you know, even before Jesus came and taught us more about loving our enemies, even in the OT, in the Proverbs, it said, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” And God preached through the prophets that He loves even the wicked and He doesn’t want anybody to perish; He wants them to repent and be saved. And we’re to be holy like God is holy. We’re to feel the same away about the wicked.

I think we need to recognize that this is David speaking. This is an imperfect man speaking. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the Psalms of David are not God’s word. David was a prophet, spokesman for God. Everything he says about God and His attributes and His will and His works is all absolutely true and reliable. But here God lets David express the feelings of his own heart, even though those feelings were not totally right in His sight.

And to me it makes this Psalm all the more beautiful. v19-22 is not a ugly stain on a otherwise perfect painting. To me it adds great beauty to the whole rest of Psalm. Because it says that this relationship that David speaks of that God has with him, where God watches him and is with him and is helping him and leading him and working in his life, this is not just a relationship that God has perfect people. This is a relationship that God has with flawed people, with ignorant people, with people who have ugliness in them, like I do. God is this way toward people like me. Though we’re flawed, though we’re unworthy and undeserving, God still hangs around, God still loves us, God still works in our lives, God still wants us to be with Him. I think that’s part of why God let David express the feelings of his heart like this, so we can see that He’s this way with imperfect people like us.

But what I think David was really saying in 19-22 is that God is totally deserving of our love and obedience, because of how He is toward us, because He pays such close attention to us and is with us and made us and works in our lives and cares about us. David is expressing how strongly he feels that God deserves our love in return when he says “I hate those who hate you Lord. I just loathe those who repay your goodness with hatred and disrespect.” I don’t think he should have felt like that. I think he should have loved them like God did. But nonetheless he’s saying God deserves our love.

Then look again at his prayer in v23-24. I hope that you will pray this prayer honestly from your heart on a regular basis. This definitely expresses the attitude, the heart that we should have in response to how God is to us. v23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me [any offensive way in me], And lead me in the everlasting way.” That’s the prayer of a man who genuinely honesty wants to be as pleasing to God in his life as he can possibly be. He’s asking God to look at his life, into his heart and into his thoughts and find any defects, any thoughts or attitudes or behaviors in which he’s in the wrong, anything that God would like changed, and to show him those flaws and help him to correct those things, to lead in the path that leads to eternal life. And that attitude, that desire, that hunger and thirst for righteousness is all God requires. Not that we be perfect, but that we want to be, that we want to be as pleasing to God as we can. We want Him to show us where we are in error and to lead us in the right way, and we’re willing to accept that we are in error and change as He wills. God works in those people’s lives and leads them to eternal life.

– James Williams

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