Psalm 139 “How to understand Psalms correctly”
Basic ideas in Hebrew poetry.
a. Hebrew poetry “rhymes” ideas… expansion, compare, contrast, etc…
b. Hebrew poetry must be understood in structure.
c. Hebrew poetry is meant to reach the heart in ways didactic (information) doesn’t
1. Notice the structure:
a. Psalm 139 has four stanzas (separate unit of thought with a poem) of six verses each.
b. The four stanzas of Psalm 139 follow an ABAB pattern.
c. “A” is a “positive” thought process while “B” is a negative thought process.
***** This pattern is the key to understanding Psalm 139 BECAUSE the last stanza is NOT an orphan. If fact, the last stanza is a strong response to the theological truths found in the first four. *****
2. Notice the key thought(s):
a. Often it is found in the first verse: “You have searched me.”
***** Hint: often the key thought if found in reoccurring words or phrases/ideas. *****
b. Notice the key idea of each stanza:
[vv 1 – 6] God KNOWS me.
[vv 7 – 12] God SEES me.
[vv 13 – 18] God MADE me.
[vv 19 – 24] God TESTS me.
c. Note theological themes:
[vv 1 – 6] God is All-knowing (Omniscience)
[vv 7 – 12] God is present everywhere (Omnipresence)
[vv 13 – 18) God is all-powerful (Omnipotent)
[vv 19 – 24] God is the final judge.
3. Expand the thoughts of each stanza:
I. God knows me. [1 – 6]
A. This is a personal Psalm… it’s about a personal relationship with a personal God.
1. God tracks our actions (“when I sit and when I rise”) [v 2]
2. God inspects our thoughts (“perceive my thoughts from afar”) [v 2]
3. God hears every word, even before we say it (“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely”) [v 4]
4. God knows our tendencies (“familiar with all my ways”) [v 3]
B. Privacy issues?
1. It’s fearful and staggering to know our government and commercial interests track us and profile us…. (MI has a predictive program that is supposed to predict the possibility of an individual committing a future crime… for the purpose of preventing it.)
2. Yet, God knows this BECAUSE that’s who God is… (“you hem me in” = surrounds me) [v 5]
***** Notice the positive thought process. It is of awe. This leads to the negative tone of the next stanza… it’s a natural one, “where can I go…” to escape this all-knowing God?*****
[Linnaeus] “Live innocently; God is present.”
II. God SEES me. [7 – 12]
A. Can I flee? [v 7]
1. Heaven or the grave? [v 8] “you are there”
2. Flying or on the other side of the sea [v 9] “your hand will guide me… hold me fast”[v 10]
3. “Surely darkness will hide me” [v 11] “darkness is as light to you” [v 12]
B. “Night” is often a metaphor for sin.
1. We’d like to hide… we’d like to think God is not there when we deliberately sin.
2. Natural desire to be “alone” to do whatever we want to do… but we are not. Jesus said that “men love darkness instead of light BECAUSE their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
III. God MADE me. [13 – 18]
A. This is an all inclusive special act of creation:
1. [v 13] “inmost being” who we are as a person… (mind) soul/spirit
2. [v 15] “my frame” (skeleton/bones), “woven together” (joint and muscles)
3. [v 16] “all the days” (skills, abilities… everything that I would become)
B. Fact: we are moral and accountable beings.
1. We are made for this life and eternity.
2. Made in His image and redeemed with Jesus blood.
3. PROBLEM: we are troubled with outward defects but not troubled by the greatest deformity of the spirit… our separation from God due to sin.
***** God designed everyone on purpose, with a purpose. Everyone reflects the image of God somehow… that’s why God takes the ending of life personally. *****
IV. God TESTS me. [19 – 24]
A. A dark twist… David seems to join God and express his frustration at “sinners.”
1. Makes sense… if God KNOWS everything and God SEES everything and God can DO anything, then it is best to be on God’s side…. Right?
2. Outcry: “slay the wicked” [v 19]
3. Outrage: “away from me you bloodthirsty” [v 19]
4. Offended: “misuse your name” [v 20]
5. Opposition: “I had those who hate you” [v 21] “nothing but hate” [v 22]
B. Remember the ABAB pattern (positive, negative, positive, negative]?
1. At this point David seems to have an “oh poop” moment.
2. What is David guilty of?
Is David wicked: think what he did with Bathsheba.
Is David bloodthirsty: think what he did with his friend and Bathsheba’s husband.
(David was denied the honor of building the temple because he was “a man of blood.”)
***** At this point, David is crying out to God against people just like him. ****
C. Reality: if you are going to throw rocks at your neighbor’s glass house you are going to be breaking your own in the process. That speck in the other person’s eye vs the plank in your eye.
1. “Search me” (v 23) The spotlight is now turned back on himself…
2. “Know my heart” (v 23) David stops running. David stops finger-pointing.
3. “Test me” (v 23) David is willing to put himself in the line of fire of God’s justice and wrath.
4. “Know my anxious thoughts” (v 23) True is that we are more interested in joining our cherished sins in dreading God than joining a reconciling God against hated our sins. (William Arnot)
5. “See if there is any offensive way in me” (v 24)
***** Fact: sin hides from us, prevents us from understanding our true condition, makes us think we are more virtuous and righteous than we are. *****
4. Draw a conclusion
a. Prayerful examination is difficult, unsatisfactory, almost impossible (James Vaughan) but absolutely necessary.
b. Don’t mock God by asking then make no effort to act on the result of the scrutiny. (Henry Melville)
c. The reason you are brave enough to pray this prayer (morning and evening) is that you want God to LEAD you.