Out of today’s reading, I would like to focus on my favorite of all the Psalms, number 139.
Notice first, that David addresses God with his personal name. In our English translation, it is “Lord,” but in the Hebrew, it is YHWH. David knows God personally and is known by him personally: "you have searched me and known me."
What does YHWH know about David? He knows his movements and even his thoughts. The Lord searches out David’s path and even knows where he will lie down at the end of the day. During the years of David’s hiding out from Saul, the place of his lying down each night was a thing uncertain to David, but not to YHWH. The Lord is, indeed, acquainted with all of David’s ways. He knows the words that David is going to speak before he utters them. The Lord is both ahead of David, and behind him, and he lays his hand on David’s head. David expresses awe at God’s omniscience: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” Such knowledge would be oppressive were it not for the fact that this God who knows David is also the God whose “steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136). Thus, I take it that God lays his hand of blessing on David’s head.
David proceeds to ask: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” The answer of course is: “nowhere”. YHWH is not only omniscient, he is omnipresent. If David ascends to heaven (presumably the sky, or perhaps even outer space), YHWH is there. If David descends to the place of the dead, the Lord is there too. YHWH is at the end of the farthest sea. Even there his hand will guide David, and God’s right hand, the hand of blessing, will hold David secure. Darkness has always been a fearful thing to human beings. Yet, darkness and light are the same to YHWH. Both are equally parts of his creation. (Here I would recommend reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s excellent book Learning to Walk in the Dark.)
Not only is YHWH the creator of light and dark, he is the creator of David. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Here there is nothing about David being conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). There is the sense that God’s creation is entirely good, and not only good, but wonderful, intricate, a work of art.
Furthermore, YHWH is not only David’s creator, but in his providence, he knows all of David’s life before it even happens. It is the Lord’s thoughts that hold David’s life together. YHWH’s thoughts have weight. Their sum is vast, uncountable. The fact that YHWH always holds David in his thoughts means that David is always with him.
In the midst of this psalm that is so filled with goodness, verses 19 through 22 are rather startling….
O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
And that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
Those who speak of you maliciously,
And lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Why suddenly this focus on the wicked, on God’s enemies? I think the answer is that David was surrounded by enemies almost throughout his entire life. Therefore, it is natural for David to always have his enemies in the back of his mind. Perhaps David composed this psalm to get his mind off his enemies and focused on YHWH. However, David has not been completely successful. Those anxious thoughts have crept back in.
Have we not all experienced something like this? We sit down, or kneel down, to pray and suddenly our minds wander. What are we to do? What can we do with wandering thoughts? We can make those very thoughts the subject of our prayer, even when those thoughts are evil. We lay our whole self before God, not the self we would like to be, not the perfect self, but the self that is, with all its hang-ups, quirks, and sins. Then we simply let God deal with us.
David ends this mostly beautiful psalm in that very spirit:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
David asks God to test the very thoughts he has been expressing. The implication of his prayer is that if there is anything wicked in what he is saying that the Lord would cleanse it, and lead him in the way that has a future, the way everlasting.
Of course, this was not simply David’s prayer. If it was a prayer peculiar to him, then it never would have been included in the psalms. Jews and Christians have prayed this prayer over the millennia. When we take this prayer upon our lips, we are personally addressing the God who knows us personally:
The creator who has formed us as a work of art,
The omniscient one who knows everything about us and loves us anyway,
The omnipresent one from whom we can never escape,
The heavenly father who lays his hand of blessing upon our heads,
The protector who guards us from all evil,
The redeemer who forgives our sins and cleanses us from them,
YHWH who leads us in the way everlasting.