The Omniscience of God
Psalm 139 is a prayer of David in which he exalts the majesty of God.
In this psalm, we see that God is all-knowing and God is present everywhere.
We also see that God knows David, and David cannot flee from His presence.
David must submit himself entirely to such a God.
Today our generation needs the emphasis that Psalm 139 gives, for we have lost
the sense of God's majesty.
Therefore, there is no fear of God before our eyes, but there is irreverence
and even superstitions that occupy our thoughts.
A thorough study of this Psalm should convince us of our wickedness
and call us once again to bow in adoration before the one eternal and only God.
Today we often hear of people having an identity crisis.,
That is a fancy way of saying what people have been asking for a long time, "Who am I?"
Most of us will ask this question occasionally but perhaps it is asked more frequently today
because of the prevailing scientific view of the universe.
That view tells us that our earth is but a tiny speck in a vast universe,
and we are struggling mortals on an obscure planet located in a second rate galaxy
among billions of other galaxies in a great universe.
This kind of outlook tends to make us feel insignificant.
It contrasts sharply with the biblical view of man and especially the view which
deals with man in relationship to God.
This 139th Psalm describes a man who is thinking about himself and his relationship to God.
If you are struggling with an identity crisis, and you are not sure just who you are;
then I suggest you read carefully as we look at this marvelous psalm.
This is an expository study of Psalm 139
Psalm 139 is divided into four paragraphs of six verses each.
So, that is how we will do our study.
1 - Study of Psalm 139
"To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it."
This outline is easy to follow for it is already structured for us in the RSV.
In the four sections, the psalmist faces a question about himself in relationship to God.
Verse 1: "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me." (Verse 1)
We find the greatness of this Psalm in the very first word, "Lord".
At the very beginning, our attention is not directed to David or to the situation in which he is in,
but to God.
It is of God that he is speaking.
This psalm is a prayer.
This prayer is addressed to God.
The word, "Lord", introduces the theme.
David speaks of God throughout the Psalm.
Three times he mentions God as the Lord as seen in verses 1, 4 and verse 21.
He mentions Him twice as God (verse 17); and once as "Oh! God." (verse 19)
It is good for us to recognize that there are two different words used for God.
It is interesting to notice that in the entire Psalm the common word for God (elohim) is not found.
There is a reason why David uses different divine designations, and we will mention them
as we come to them.
David addresses God directly taking us immediately to the subject of his thoughts.
The word, "Lord," is the key to all that follows.
It remains and overshadows all that David has to say later.
Throughout the Psalm we cannot forget the Lord, for He is the great central subject of this Psalm.
Everything else is secondary.
It is God, and God alone, who stands supreme, and who should fill all our thoughts.
The expression, "Lord," is particularly interesting.
When David uttered it, he spoke as being conscious of the sacredness
and preciousness of the word.
This is the name which God revealed to Moses at the burning bush.
It was an answer to a question that Moses had asked.
When God appeared in the burning bush, He makes it clear to Moses
that He was the God of the father of Moses, and that He had heard the cry of His people
who were then in Egyptian bondage.
However, Moses hesitated, and had told God that the people would want
to have some mark or sign of identification.
They would ask, "What is his name?" (Exodus 3:13), and Moses did not know
how he should answer them.
God answered this question, and then revealed His Name.
Speaking from the midst of the burning bush, He declared, "I am that I am",
asserting His eternity.
Although times might change, and the purposes of God might seem to be forgotten,
God is always the same.
What He has promised will, in His own time, most assuredly find fulfillment.
He is the eternal God, and He can carry out and bring to pass all of His purposes and plans.
He who spoke to Moses was "I Am", infinitely exalted above the gods of Egypt
and the purposes and plans of man.
Against this background, he gave to us His Name, the "Lord".
This is a word which in the Hebrew reflects upon the statement, "I am that I am".
Although this word, "Lord", does reflect upon the name, "I Am", nevertheless,
it also points to God as one who is a covenant God, and who manifested that fact
by acts of redemption and deliverance.
In these words, the essence of the matter is clearly set forth.
A covenant is simply a dispensation of sovereign grace imposed upon people by God Himself.
The Name which reminds us that God is a covenant God is this word
which is translated, "the Lord".
Although the patriarchs knew God as powerful and Almighty they did not know Him
as a covenant God nor as a Redeemer God.
Yet God chose them to be His people, and the essence of the covenant
which He made with them was that they were to be God's people, and He would be their God.
He showed David this relationship in that He did something for His people immediately
by delivering them from their bondage in Egypt.
A revelation was granted to Moses and the Israelites which the patriarchs
had not been permitted to receive.
No longer is God only dealing with His people as with individuals;
now He is ready to form them into a nation, the people of God, and therefore,
the covenant name, "Lord", is revealed to them.
They speak of God as "the Lord" and this is to speak of Him as Israel's God.
This is the Name through which there is access to God.
This is the Name which publicly made know the fact that God has chosen Israel.
Israel is His people in a sense that is not true of any other nation.
Therefore, David begins this Psalm with an appeal to the One who is his own God.
He can address God as the Lord.
In this address there is tenderness and intimacy, and there is reverence.
The privilege of addressing God as Lord is one which no man of himself
can rightly express.
No one is entitled so to speak to the holy God but those to whom God has granted this privilege.
And to David, He had granted it, and to those with whom He had entered into covenant.
However, only those who are members of the covenant may address God in this way
and they can be assured that God will hear them.
Therefore, Psalm 139 is spoken by one with whom God had entered into covenant.
He is one to whom God had sovereignly chosen to be His own.
He is one with whom He had been pleased to establish close relationship.
And all of those can follow David in addressing God in this way, who like David,
are the objects of God's choice.
Only God's people can call Him, "Lord", and no man can call Him Lord
except through Jesus Christ His Son.
David had placed the word, "Lord," first in the Psalm, and has emphasized it.
Now he proceeds to make a statement about the "Lord".
His great theme is the "Lord", but having stated the theme, he goes on to say,
as he is still addressing the Lord, "Thou hast searched me and thou hast known." (Verse 1)
It is possible to translate that as "thou dost search me and thou knowest",
but probably as we consider the whole context of the Psalm it is better to translate it by the past.
David is referring to something that has already occurred.
God knows David at the time when he speaks to Him.
The first verb implies that God has engaged in an exhaustive search in order to learn
all there is to know about David.
Basically, the word means "to dig".
This is as Job says of God, "He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out
all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death." (Job 28:3)
In this case, the original sense of "dig" is not apparent, and all the word means is
that there has been a minute and thorough examination and investigation on the part of God.
"Then did he see it," we read again in the same chapter of Job, "and declare it; he prepared it,
and searched it out." (Job 28:27)
Then in Job, he asks, "Is it good that he should search you out?" (Job 13:9)
David himself had been the object of this exhaustive examination.
"Thou hast searched me", he says, and then, as a result of this searching, "Thou knowest".
The Psalmist makes a general statement.
He does not declare, "Thou knowest me," but merely, "Thou knowest".
This is stronger and more forceful than if he had included the personal pronoun
as an object, "Thou knowest me".
Whatever there is to know, God knows.
This is the truth which he will even enunciate concerning God, for it is not his purpose
to speak to God as some abstract being who has no relationship with man,
but rather to show that God knows him as an individual.
The two simple utterances sum up or present as a heading the thought
which David wishes to enlarge.
It is his purpose to proceed with a discussion of the particulars,
and to show that God knows every detail of his life.
Before he can turn to these details, he must state the theme with which he wishes to deal.
He wishes to show that God is omniscient, and this is true concerning himself.
Omniscient means "all knowing".
So, what is meant by the declaration, "Thou hast searched me and thou knowest"?
Does the Psalmist mean to assert that God was ignorant of David,
and could only come to know David after a long and exhausting examination?
That would be true of us -- we are like that.
We do not know anyone when we first meet them.
It is only after many contacts with someone that we come to know that person,
if we know them at all.
What little we may learn of a person doesn't come to us right away.
This comes only after a long period of experience with them.
Is this true of God?
Must God also engage in a particular study of someone so that He may know that person.
Fortunately for us that is not the case.
If it were, God would not be omniscient.
If God were ignorant, He would not be the God of the Bible.
Then we could not speak of Him as the all-knowing God nor could we really
have confidence in Him.
However, this is not what David means.
The language of the Psalm does not mean that God, being ignorant,
must remove His ignorance by investigation.
Rather, it means that God possesses a full knowledge of David.
What the Psalm presents is only a vivid way of saying that God knows all
that can be known of David.
Here in this Psalm we have the response of a devout heart to God.
Here David is declaring the devotion and consecration of his own heart.
The utterances of the Psalms and of this particular Psalm must be understood
as God-breathed Scripture, and not merely the utterances of some devout
and pious soul of the Old Testament.
If these profound statements were merely the best that man could produce,
then we could never be sure whether the Scriptures were really trustworthy.
If "Thou hast searched me and thou hast known" is nothing more than
the sincere conviction of David, then, as much as we admire David,
we could never be sure that what was said here was the absolute truth.
We could never have a certainty that God has also searched us, and knows us.
We might admire this as great profound thought, but we could never possess
an absolute assurance that it was actually the truth.
And as great as David was, we might very well wonder and question
how he could have attained to such knowledge of God unless God Himself had revealed
that knowledge to him.
So it is well that the Scripture itself speaks out against such an unbiblical view of the Psalms.
The teaching that the Bible gives is much more comforting.
The 139th Psalm is Scripture.
It is God-breathed.
What we are considering in this study is remarkable.
"Thou hast searched me and thou has known" is not an utterance that has its origin
in the heart of man, not even a devout man like David, but rather a blessed truth
in which God the Holy Spirit made known to His servant David.
Therefore we may read and believe and be comforted.
What David has stated here concerning himself is true also of us.
God is our God and He knows us.
This infallible knowledge has always existed"Thou hast searched me"; and it continues
unto this day, since God cannot forget that which He has once known.
There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there never will be a moment
in which we shall be beyond His observation.
Notice how the Psalmist makes his doctrine personal:
he saith not, "O God, thou knowest all things"; but, "thou hast known me."
It is always our wisdom to have this truth for ourselves.
How wonderful the contrast between the observer and the observed!
Jehovah God and me!
Yet this most intimate connection exists, and therein lies our hope.
Let us just sit still a while and try to realize this two prong statement
the Lord and poor puny man and we will see much to admire and wonder at.
Verse 2: "Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,
thou understandest my thought afar off."
The psalmist has stated that the Lord is omniscient, and now he proceeds
to indicate in just how it is that God knows him.
First, he reverts to his principal subject, namely, the "Lord", and again begins
with an emphatic word, "Thou."
The psalmist wants us to contemplate the One of whom he is speaking.
His prayer is God centered.
He prefers that attention would rest upon God and not upon him.
It is enough that he can say, "Thou," for in this one word is the essence of true prayer.
Not everyone can say, "Thou," to God because everyone doesn't know God.
Only those who know God can address Him as such for the word indicates the fact
that the one who prays is in an intimate relationship with the God to whom he prays.
To utter the word, "Thou," is to acknowledge that God is a Person to whom
one may speak and who will hear one's words.
In effect, it is to say that there is but one God, and that this God is capable
of hearing prayer and of fulfilling the desires of the one who prays.
The word sums up within itself the entirety of theology, for the one who utters it
must pray as a supplicant, and in its very utterance give expression to the truth
that the God addressed is Almighty whereas the one who prays is a weak creature.
If we can say, "Thou," to God, we have rejected any belief in idols,
and we know that the God to whom we speak is God and God alone.
We can rest in this great truth that the Psalmist is magnifying the greatness of God
who he is reverently addressing.
So, he reverts to the thought with which he had concluded the preceding verse.
"Thou knowest," he had declared, and this thought brings to mind the similar expression
which Hannah had included in her prayer, "For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed." (1 Samuel 2:3)
The God whom the psalmist addresses with confidence as "Lord" and "Thou"
is not some being far away from the affairs of man's earthly life.
This God possesses a complete knowledge of man.
This is a comforting thought, for man in himself does not possess such knowledge.
Man gropes about as though he is walking in darkness.
His way is beset on all sides with problems that press in upon him and clamor for a solution.
To these problems, man can often turn a weary glance at them
for he has no knowledge as having a solution for them.
Professing to know and also to be wise, nevertheless he does not know,
and therefore his decisions and judgments are not those of wisdom and knowledge.
However with God, knowledge is to be found, as well as the ability to apply this knowledge.
God is all-knowing and God is all-wise.
To be able to address such a God is a tremendous blessing.
Happy are those who can say "Thou" to the God of all knowledge.
They possess a treasure that cannot be matched upon this earth where darkness
and ignorance reign.
So, what is it that God knows?
He knows the sitting down and rising up of the psalmist.
Sitting down may refer either to the act of sitting or to the posture of David in reclining or resting,
and rising up may designate either the act of standing -- arising from a sitting position,
or the condition of standing.
It is difficult to tell precisely what is intended.
But it is clear that this sharp contrast refers to the entire life of David.
The contrast seems to be made for the purpose of setting rest and motion
over against one another.
In other words, the reference is to all the postures and attitudes of man when he is awake.
During the course of our daily life we may easily forget God.
Our lives are varied.
At times we are active, standing up, walking, and even running.
At other times we are quiet, sitting down or relaxing.
We engage in thought and meditation.
Different activities give variety to life.
One thing after another occupies our thoughts and attention, and we may live engrossed
in the things of the moment and forget that God is with us.
Yet God knows all of our life, every moment, every posture, and every activity.
Our ways are never hidden from God.
When we relax, our minds are filled with quiet thought, and God knows.
When we are busy with the cares of this life and our minds may forget God, He knows.
It is not possible to escape from God.
God knows all about our lives.
It is not only the outward course of our life that is known to God,
but He also knows the thoughts of our hearts.
The word which is translated "thought" probably refers to the purpose or aim of a person's heart.
Perhaps we may best express the original by translating it by the English word, "intention".
The purposes and intentions that arise in our hearts are known to God.
This is striking, for we ourselves often do not know, much less understand, the intentions
which come from our hearts.
God not merely knows of these intentions; He understands them.
The word is strong, and suggests that God knows all about our intentions.
He knows their origin, and why they are in our hearts, and how they affect us
-- all this is perfectly understood by God.
God understands, so we may bring out the thought that this understanding makes
itself known with respect to our thoughts.
Although we cannot be sure, but there is a series of stages in the uses of the verbs.
Not only does God know, but He also understands.
At least, whether there are stages of thought or not, the two verbs taken together suggest
the most penetrating kind of knowledge.
It is not a mere knowledge about David, but an intimate, thorough knowing and understanding
all that there is to know about him.
Such attributes can belong only to God.
No man can know as God knows.
No man can possess the understanding of God.
We know in part, and at best, our knowledge is but a glimmer of the truth.
God's knowledge is perfect and total.
Only of God can it be said that He knows and He understands.
All too often the intentions that arise in our hearts are not fully
or even partially understood by ourselves.
Socrates advised, "Know thyself."
This is something that we should like to know, but how can we know ourselves.
At best, we only have a general idea of our purposes and intentions.
Exhaustive and complete knowledge belongs only to God.
Only God knows and understands us.
Our ways may be hidden from ourselves, but they are not hidden from God.
What is meant when the psalmist declares that God knows or understands
his intentions from afar?
We may receive a clue to the meaning by considering a verse in the previous Psalm.
That Psalm has many points of contact with this one.
In Psalm 138:6 we read, "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly:
but the proud he knoweth afar off."
Eliphaz the Temanite spoke in a similar vein about God when he said,
"Is not God in the height of heaven?
And behold the the height of the stars, how high they are!
And thou sayest, How doth God know?
Can he judge through the dark cloud?
The clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not; and he walketh
in the circuit of heaven." (Job 22:12-14)
Jeremiah brings out the same thought in Jeremiah 23:23, where he says,
"Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off?"
From these passages, it would seem clear that by the term "afar off"
David has in mind the thought that God is far removed from man in heaven.
It is God's transcendence which is viewed here.
Although God is in heaven and not upon earth, nevertheless, from this far-off place,
He has a perfect and complete knowledge and understanding of David's life,
both external and internal.
The phrase, "afar off," in other words, emphasizes the wonder and marvel
of the knowledge of God.
A God who is at hand could see with His own eyes and would be expected to know David,
but the knowledge of God is all the more wonderful when God is a far off.
Man is upon earth.
God is in heaven.
And yet, God has a fuller knowledge of man man than man does of himself.
"The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven:
his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men." (Psalm 11:4)
The God of glory, the sovereign Lord, seated upon the heavenly throne,
possesses a perfect knowledge of man.
Such a God is truly wondrous.
We must take note that every word in the verse is designed to point to the majesty
and greatness of the God of whom David speaks.
There is a problem that we may completely misunderstand the language of the Psalmist.
The words, "afar off," are striking and they are true.
God is indeed afar off.
This truth must never be minimized nor denied.
In theological language we speak of God's transcendence.
God is in heaven.
He is not to be brought down and identified with His creation,
but He reigns above His creation in supreme Majesty.
This does not mean that God has nothing to do with His creation.
Although he has brought all things into existence by the Word of His power,
and although He exists in absolute independence of all that He has created,
nevertheless He governs and preserves all His creatures and all their actions.
We cannot escape from the presence of God.
At this particular point, the psalmist is emphasizing the transcendence of God.
God, who is in heaven, knows me more intimately than I know myself.
His knowledge is infinite, eternal and unchangeable.
I am the object of that infinite divine knowledge.
This is the matchless truth that David is expressing.
In what way does God understand?
Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;
thou discernest my thoughts from afar. (Psalms 139:2 RSV)
That is, "Lord, you understand and know me in my conscious life.
You know when I sit down (my passive life) and when I rise up (my active life).
When I am resting or when I am acting, you know me.
And you know me also in my subconscious life -- that level of life from which my thoughts arise.
You understand them even before they get to the surface.
You know how I think and what I think about.
You even understand the thoughts which come unbidden, in a constant flow to my mind."
Verse 3: "Thou compassest my path, and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways."
Just like there is not meet a monotonous sameness in the world in which we live,
it is also true with the Bible.
In the Bible we encounter a variety of expressions that always fills us with wonder.
Of course the most important characteristic of the Bible is not its literary quality
although that is superb.
The most important characteristic is the fact that the Bible is the Word of God.
However, God did not give to man and an uninteresting revelation.
He has given us a revelation that is rich in variety and which confronts us with the truth
in diverse ways.
In this present verse, David does not merely repeat the form which he had previously used.
He has already focused our attention upon God and turned the attention away from himself.
Now he may vary his manner of statement, without turning our thoughts away from God.
In place of beginning this verse with a repeated "Thou," he varies his method,
and simply states, "My path and my lying down thou hast sifted."
This is an interesting variation.
In the preceding verse David put his stress upon "Thou," and casually added
the references to himself.
In this verse, he simply continues with those references, and leads us naturally
to a consideration of "my path and my lying down".
The path is the way in which a person must travel during his active life.
Life in the Bible is often conceived as a journey.
For all practical purposes the word is an equivalent of the expression,
"my rising up," which David used in the preceding verse.
So to indicate the passage life, he speaks of "my lair" or "my place of lying down".
The two expressions are not mere synonyms of the phrases in the second verse.
In that verse, David had mentioned his lying down and his rising up.
Now he is designating the entirety of his life as he speaks of his path
and the place of his repose.
He uses different figures to express the fullest of life, as though to stress the fact
that God knows totally and completely the life of David.
It doesn't matter what aspect is considered, God knows him completely.
A strength of expression may also be seen in that David uses his language
in a writing style that enhances portions of the text.
This meeting will be clear if we remember that in verse two he considered
first, the passage life, and then the active life.
In verse three, he first mentions the active and then the passive life.
That arrangement which is used frequently in the Old Testament lends strength
and one of that is worthy of honor and respect..
The use of this simple device provides so much of the power of expression
of the Old Testament.
In saying, this we must also be cautious.
Without a doubt the literary devices which are used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament
go a long way to giving a majesty and might to its expressions.
The real majesty of the Old Testament which gives it its grandeur, is found
primarily not in its literary nature, as wondrous as that is,
but is found in the message which the Old Testament presents.
As great and mighty as is the literary aspect of the Word of God,
it is the Word of God itself which is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Yet we must be grateful to God that in revealing to us His matchless Word,
He also gave a Word of supreme, literary beauty.
To state the truth that God has thoroughly searched out and examined his path
and David's resting place -- his secret or private place.
This is called picture language.
The verb he uses means to winnow (removing the chaff from the grain),
and David takes that from everyday life in Palestine.
This is a picture which would be rich in meaning for his hearers or readers.
To the people in Palestine, winnowing would have been thoroughly familiar to them.
The worker throws the grain high into the air, and the wind blows or carries away the chaff,
leaving the true grain to fall to the ground.
This shows that the wind separated the chaff from the grain.
This is a beautiful picture which David uses of God.
God has winnowed his path and his lying down, so that that path and lying down
have been thoroughly examined and searched out by God.
God has tested them.
So by the use of another picture, we are brought again face-to-face with the truth
that God knows the life of David.
So that there may be no misunderstanding of his thought, David inserts the phrase,
"and all my ways".
The language is self-explanatory.
All that David does, all that David suffers, all of David's actions and all that affects him
is known to God.
God intimately knows all the ways of David.
This is more than the Psalmist can say of himself.
It is more than any man can say of himself.
At best man is just a bundle of contradictions.
He does not know himself as he should.
He is not always sure of himself.
He cannot tell why he acts as he does in every instance.
He is unaware of the thousands of influences that for good or evil that affect his actions.
On the other hand, God possesses and intimate knowledge and understanding of man
which extends to every detail of his life.
The Lord God judges our active life and our quiet life.
He discriminates our action and our repose, and marks that in them which is good
and also that which is evil.
There is chaff in all our wheat, and the Lord divides them with unerring precision.
"And art acquainted with all my ways."
God is familiar with all that we do.
Nothing is concealed from God, and nothing surprises Him.
And nothing is misunderstood by God.
Our paths may be habitual or accidental, open or secret, but with all of them,
God is well acquainted.
This should fill us with an overwhelming feeling of reverence, fear and wonder, so that we sin not.
This should fill us with courage, so that we fear not.
This should fill us with delight, so that we mourn not
Verse 4: "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether."
Now David is going to illustrate the truth that he has been declaring.
This is done by means of the introductory "for".
The thought could be paraphrased as: "God possesses and intimate knowledge of all my ways,
as may be seen in the fact that He knows the word upon my tongue."
Or, "God knows me intimately, for, to take an example, He knows the word upon my tongue."
To declare that the word that the tongue is about to say is to recognize the power of the tongue.
The word is now ready to be spoken.
The tongue has taken hold of that word, and is about to declare it.
People do not always know what they are going to say.
Thoughtful utterance is extremely difficult, and often, when a person begins to speak,
he is ignorant of the words that will flow from his mouth.
This is not true with God.
Our speech is known to Him.
Even before a person utters his words, while they are yet to be spoken by the tongue
-- unspoken -- the Lord knows them.
This is not to say that God has merely a general idea of what a person will speak,
but rather that God actually knows the individual words which
the speaker is to going to use even before he speaks them.
The relation between the two halves of the sentence is interesting.
You might translate them, "For there is not a word upon my tongue, which thou dost not know",
or "For there is not a word upon my tongue, (but) thou knowest it utterly".
There are two independent statements in the verse, and the second is equal
in importance to the first.
David begins the second statement with the interjection, "Behold!"
This interjection is designed to call the Lord's attention to what he is about to utter.
It seems there is a tone of dismay in the David's tone as he speaks.
There is no escape from the omniscience of God.
He is saying that there every word my tongue God knows it.
It is as though he is confessing to God that there is nothing that he can hide from God.
God is unlike the gods of the nations which cannot hear nor speak.
God possesses the knowledge of every man, and there is nothing
that we can hide from God.
"Thou knowest it altogether," David says to the Lord.
David is asking "Why should I even try to speak a word without Thee?"
David is saying that whatever word comes upon his tongue -- that word
cannot be hidden from God.
Therefore, David speaks to God, addressing Him as Lord, and declares plainly
and frankly that God knows all his words.
The last word of the verse may be translated "all of it", and it either means
that God knows the words altogether or else God knows every bit of the words
that appear upon the tongue of David.
Whichever meaning you would adopt, you will see that the language does teach
that God knows the words in their entirety that appears on the tongue of David.
God knows every word, but more than that He knows the words in their entirety.
The words which come upon our tongues are the expression of the thoughts
that have been formed in our hearts.
Both the thoughts and words are known to God.
The truth of God's omniscience is so practical.
We may be able to conceal the thoughts that we have from others.
And it is good that we can.
Thoughts of anger, jealousy, and hatred are thoughts that people should not know are there.
The wicked thoughts from time to time find lodging in our hearts,
and we may hide them from others.
For this reason, we must guard the heart for out of the it are the issues of life.
Should thoughts of the evil reign in our hearts so that they could break forth
into expressions as words of evil.
None of this can be hidden from God.
He knows us for what we are.
The deep consideration of this truth will strengthen us so that we will keep our hearts pure
from evil and prevent our lives from speaking guile.
Verse 5: "Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me."
The Hebrew word order differs from the English: "Behind and before thou hast beset me".
The language contains an almost imperceptible transition from a consideration of God's omniscience
to that of God's omnipresence.
It would seem that the former arises from the latter.
If David would go forward God is present.
If David would step backwards as though to flee, God is there.
In whatever direction David turns, he cannot escape from the all-knowing God.
The development of thought is natural and brings this question to our attention.
"Why should a person desire to escape from the presence of God?"
Why should thinking about the omniscience of God cause someone to seek escape from Him?
These are legitimate questions.
When we think of God as He has revealed Himself in His Word, we are reminded of the great gulf
which separates the Creator from the creature.
We do not meditate upon God in our daily lives as we should.
Our lives are so field with activity in these days that we have all but abandoned
the practice of meditation.
We are activists.
We have allowed that fact to crowd God out from our thoughts.
We do not take the time to meditate upon God as we should.
But when we turn aside from the cares and demands of daily activity and enter into
the quietness of meditation, we are brought face-to-face with the greatness of our God.
God is not a man like ourselves, whom we can measure and circumscribe with the measures
and limits which we apply to ourselves.
He is so great that we cannot comprehend Him.
We cannot bring Him down and place Him under the microscope of the human mind.
Whereas we are limited and restricted, we learn from Scripture that God is not limited.
He is infinite.
Therefore, we are not able to think of God as He is in Himself.
There is nothing on this earth to which we can compare Him, for this earth and its fullness
belong to Him as His creation.
God in all of His perfections and attributes is infinite, eternal and unchangeable.
So, when we think of His omniscience, we tremble.
Who can stand before such a God?
From God there is no escape.
Before Him we can only bow in humble adoration and in genuine reverence.
David does not contradict what he had stated before, that God understands
his thoughts from afar.
It is true that God is in heaven which is afar, yet God is also omniscient.
We are on good, solid biblical ground when we speak both of the transcendence
and imminence of God.
God is everywhere, and yet, God is the mighty Creator, whose dwelling is in the heavens.
Our finite minds cannot comprehend these truths nor reconcile them,
but we must note that the Bible teaches both the omniscience of God and His transcendence.
However, there is an error which we must avoid.
God is truly everywhere, as this psalm clearly states.
At the same time we must not fall into the error of thinking that He is to be identified
with His creation.
This is the error of pantheism, and we must guard against it.
God and His creation are not one.
They are not to be identified as such.
The summer day, the glorious sunset, the flowers of the field, the love of a mother for a child:
these are not God.
In them the working of God is seen, for He upholds the world by the word of His power,
but He is not Himself the same as His creation.
God's providence is one thing, but that God and His creation are one is something quite different.
The Bible teaches divine providence.
God does uphold and govern all His creatures and their actions.
The Bible does not teach pantheism.
God and His creatures are not one.
To identify God with His creation is an error which can lead only to eternal death.
The fact that God is omnipresent is a blessed truth of the Bible which would lead us
to a deeper love for, and a greater devotion to the mighty God of the Scriptures.
To express the thought of inescapability from God David uses a word that
actually means "to shut up" or "to enclose".
God has confined man by shutting him up so that whether man goes forward or backward,
he is unable to flee from God.
God has placed His hand upon David.
The language is graphic.
Here we have the picture of the outstretched hand of God placed over David,
so that David is held down and cannot escape.
Actually, the figure of the hand suggests being held in someone's power.
For instance in Job, the figure is used in the words,
"Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that may lay his hand upon us both."
And in Job 13:21 we read, "Withdrawal thine hand far from me:
and let not thy dread make me afraid."
And Job 33:7 says, "Behold my terror shall not make thee afraid,
neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee."
When God places His Almighty hand upon the person, that person is completely in God's power,
and it is this truth that David is compelled to recognize.
Here the Psalmist applies that to all men without exception.
There are none that can escape from the presence of God.
He is everywhere.
Verse 6: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it."
The thoughts which David has just expressed lead him to utter an exclamation of wonder
at the greatness and incomprehensibility of the knowledge of God.
So he breaks out with the word, "Wonderful", uttering this word
before anything else in the sentence.
This is a remarkable word that colors all that follows.
There is a similar sentence in Isaiah 9:6, where the prophet mentions the Name of the Messiah.
The first element in the Name is the word, "Wonder",
and that word overshadows all to follow.
It raises that word to the sphere of the incomprehensible and the divine.
The word which Isaiah uses is very closely related to this word that David uses.
It is spelled almost identically, and is based upon the three root letters of the present word.
The underlying idea of the word is that of separateness or distinctness.
The root is used of the miracles which God performed when He brought
the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage.
These great miracles were acts of God.
They were performed by God's supernatural power in the external world, and as they appeared
to man were distinct from the ordinary providential working of the Lord.
The knowledge that David wishes to praise is distinct and separate from human knowledge.
It is divine.
Perhaps, we may best understand the force of the word by comparing it
to a similar usage in Judges 13:18.
In this remarkable passage, the Angel of the Lord had appeared to Manoah and his wife.
Manoah asks for the Name of the Angel.
The reply is not a rebuke, but is designed to show Manoah that the name
of the Angel is an incomprehensible Name.
In this sense, it is wonderful or Divine.
Whereas Manoah not know the mere vocal words by which to address God,
yet the reply of the Angel was intended to show that the actual Name itself was Divine.
It was hidden from man in the sense that it was incomprehensible to him.
So it is with the knowledge of which David is speaking.
Such knowledge is incomprehensible.
It is something that man cannot possess, for man is only a creature and is therefore finite.
The knowledge of which David is speaking belongs to an infinite being.
Therefore, man cannot possess it.
The Hebrew texts could be translated, "Wonderful is knowledge from me",
and this short sentence means, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me to possess".
Of what knowledge is David speaking?
Does David have in mind man's knowledge of God?
It would not seem so, for this man already possesses.
Rather, the knowledge of which David is speaking here is one which David himself cannot have.
It is a knowledge possessed by God.
It is the knowledge of an infinite being.
It is an incomprehensible knowledge not for God but for man.
Therefore David cannot attain it.
If we were to employ a theological term, we would say that the knowledge is transcendent.
And yet, David does not actually say "thy knowledge".
David is content with the simple term, "knowledge", for it is this which fills his thought with awe.
Perhaps the mere term is more forceful than the phrase, "God's knowledge".
David gives out the word, "Wonderful!"
To that first word, David gives all the tremendous emphasis and stress that it is due,
"wonderful is knowledge!"
Yet these words are spoken after the repeated statements concerning the omniscience of God.
There can be no doubt that David is speaking of the knowledge of God.
Man's knowledge of an object must always be the knowledge of a creature.
Man possesses only a finite understanding.
Man cannot have an exhaustive knowledge nor an absolute penetration or understanding
of any given object, for his own mind is finite and therefore limited incapacity
to know and to understand.
God's knowledge is that of an infinite God.
Man's knowledge is that of an finite being.
The two are distinct and cannot be identified any more than the creature and Creator can be identified.
When David exalts the knowledge of God, he does not mean to assert that
he himself can have no knowledge.
He does have knowledge in so far as he thinks the revealed thoughts of God after Him.
But David's knowledge is only a reflection, as it were, of the knowledge of God.
David knows in part, but he does know.
His knowledge and ours are simply that which the creature possesses.
The knowledge of God is high, and this term signifies that man cannot attain to it,
for it is beyond the reach of man.
This word is not to be taken in a mere physical sense, as though the knowledge of God
could be attainable to David if it were merely on the earth with him.
The language means that the knowledge of God is such that only God can possess it.
Therefore, it cannot be attained by man.
Man can no more attain unto the knowledge which God possesses
than he can become God himself.
Now David makes the confession.
"I cannot attain unto it."
When you examined his language carefully, you will note that he omits the word, "attain,"
and actually says only, "I cannot unto it".
God's knowledge is incomprehensible.
"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me."
Compared with our inadequate knowledge, how amazing is the knowledge of God!
As he made all things, he must be intimately acquainted, not only with their properties, b
but with their very essence.
His eye, at the same instant, surveys all the works of his immeasurable creation.
He observes, not only the complicated system of the universe,
but the slightest motion of the most microscopic insect; not only the most
sublime conception of angels, but the most evil, and the most worthless of His creatures.
It is knowledge that no man can possibly possess for it belongs to God alone.
The purpose of the language is to show that man and God are distinct.
David wishes to make it clear not merely that God is above man,
but that God is infinitely above all men.
This kind of emphasis is truly needed in our day, for today man tends
to bring God down to the human level.
They speak of God with familiarity, as though He were simply one of themselves.
The sense of awe and wonder and the presence of God has all but disappeared today.
Men are flippant when they speak of God.
His Name no longer brings fear to their hearts.
So it is important that we stop and remember that God is our Creator.
We need Him.
He does not need us.
He made us, and He exists independent of us.
We are dependent upon God, and without God we can do nothing.
The very breath of our lives belong to God, and God can take it from us anytime that He wishes.
There is no third party to whom we may go.
There is no intermediary who will judge between God and ourselves.
It is to God alone that we belong, and we are subject to God in all our ways.
David stresses these important and much needed truths.
In discussing the omniscience of God David is showing that God and man are utterly distinct.
The line between God the Creator and man the creature must never be broken.
It cannot be broken down,
Although man is constantly trying to break it and to obliterate it.
However, God is not subject to the desires of man.
Man is subject to God.
You might think that David would fall into despair when he realizes that
the knowledge of God is impossible for him to possess.
That might seem to be the case, but it is not so.
For David proceeds to the contemplation of what he has just introduced,
and that is the omniscience of God.
David is simply overwhelmed by the fact that God knows him better than he knows himself,
and better than anyone else knows him.
That is so amazing!
For God knows me in the subconscious, the unexplorable part of my life,
as well as in the conscious.
What a wonderful revelation this is of God's understanding of each individual human being.
How desperately we need, in this day of depersonalization, to remember
that though science tells us how vast the universe is,
and thus how great is the power of God, it takes God's self-revelation to tell us
how important we are to him and how well he knows us.
So, far from falling into despair, David rejoices in the truth concerning God,
and this rejoicing of heart manifests itself in the thoughts that he proceeds to utter.
There is no doubt that David was the recipient of divine revelation from God.
And we must look to that revelation that God gave to David.
The Bible teaches this.
In Acts 4:25: we read, "Who by the mouth of thy servant David has said."
In this prayer of the apostles they declare that God has spoken to the mouth of David His servant.
This is the scriptural explanation.
We must absolutely accept the statements of Scripture.
David acknowledges that he could not attain unto the knowledge of God.
This Concludes Part 1
Links to Psalm 139:
Part 1 - Verses 1 - 6
Part 2 - Verses 7 - 12
Part 3 - Verses 13 - 18
Part 4 - Verses 19 - 24