Psalm 139 is a beautiful meditation on four attributes of God: His knowledge, presence, power, and holiness.From David’s example we can learn how to respond to the character of God—with an attitude of worship and awe, as well as profound intimacy and friendship with the One who knows us completely yet still loves us deeply.
He Is Omniscient (verses 1–6)
In the first six verses of the psalm, David meditates on God’s perfect knowledge—that is, His omniscience. David recognizes that he is completely open before God. God besieges us with His knowledge of us. He knows not only everything we say and do (139:3) but all of our motives and pretenses (139:2, 4). This can be a frightening prospect, as David realizes:
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.
It is too high, I cannot attain to it. (139:6)
We cannot trick God with false motives in prayer or in religious acts. It’s impossible to fool Him!
The One who knows us best also loves us most.
At the same time, God’s knowledge of us can be a great comfort. The One who knows us best also loves us most. He has dealt with all of our sin on the cross; we can never surprise Him with the sinfulness of our hearts. The all-knowing aspect of God, therefore, is a tremendous comfort for all who have repented and believed in him.
He Is Omnipresent (verses 7–12)
Second, David meditates on God’s omnipresence (139:7–12). There is nowhere David can flee from God’s presence (139:7). Even if he travels on the “wings of the dawn” (that is, at the speed of light), or descends to the “remotest part of the sea” (139:9), the Lord will lead him and go with him.
In David’s time the sea was viewed as a dangerous place full of the unknown. Today, too, we continue to discover new things and new creatures in the depths of the sea. “Even there,” David says to the Lord, “Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me” (139:10).
As with God’s omniscience, God’s omnipresence is a terrible thought for those living in rebellion against God. The natural impulse for anyone living in sin, as we saw in the Garden of Eden, is to hide from God (see Genesis 3:10). In fact, the worship of false gods throughout history may be viewed as the attempt of mankind to evade the one true God (see Romans 1:21–23).
But for those who believe the gospel—who are saved by grace through faith in the Son of God— the omnipresence of God is not a terrifying doctrine; it’s one of the greatest promises He makes to us in this life. He is with us, all the time, in the good times and bad; He will never leave us nor forsake us. Although other people may abandon us, the One who is “for us” never will. What a comfort!
He Is Omnipotent (verses 13–18)
In the next stanza of verses, David meditates on God’s omnipotence, specifically focusing on the display of God’s all-powerful nature in the formation of David in his mother’s womb (139:13–18).
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb. (139:13)
Mysteries surround the formation of a person in the womb; the miracle of human conception not only baffled the mind of David centuries ago, but it still baffles the minds of modern-day scientists and doctors—who understand the intricacies of this process better than David ever could. This formation of a human person is God’s magnum opus that demonstrates to all His identity as the all-powerful God. Furthermore, the power of God seen at human conception is a small hint of the greater work that God will do in us to transform us into our heavenly bodies. He alone has the power to raise the dead to life!
The formation of a human person is God’s magnum opus that demonstrates to all His identity as the all-powerful God.
He Is Holy (verses 19–24)
Finally, David reflects on the supreme attribute of God: His holiness (139:19–24). This attribute can be defined as God’s moral perfection and purity; it also refers to His utter uniqueness, the fact that there is none like Him. As R.C. Sproul remarks in his book The Holiness of God, this attribute is the only one raised to the third degree in the Bible: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty …” (Revelation 4:8).
Recognizing God as the standard of perfection, David wants to make sure he is in right relationship with the living God and is walking with Him. He aligns himself with God in Psalm 139:22, saying that God’s enemies “have become [his] enemies.”
David gives us an example of how to confess to a holy God.
David comes full circle, finishing his meditation as he began it. Recall that, at the beginning of the psalm, David acknowledged to the Lord, “You have searched me and known me” (139:1). Now, wanting to make sure of his relationship with the all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God, David prays, “Search me … and know my heart” (139:23).
In this prayer, David gives an example of how to confess to a holy God. We are not able to search our own hearts adequately for sin. There are many hidden sinful motives that we are not even aware of until the Lord makes them known to us. Therefore, we should ask His Spirit to search and know our hearts, repent of any sinful deeds or motives that He reveals to us, and ask Him to remove “any hurtful way” in us and “lead [us] in the way everlasting.”
Apply this Psalm: Make David's Prayer Yours
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.