Part 4 - Study of Psalm 139

Psalm 139: 19 - 24:
"Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting

Verse 19:
"Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O, God:
depart from me therefore, ye bloody men

From the contemplation of the thoughts of God David turns abruptly to the consideration
of the fact that there are enemies of God.
This must not be!
These enemies have no right to exist, for if they triumph,
God is not what David had considered Him to be.
Therefore, David utters his conviction and assurance that God will slay the wicked.

Actually David is uttering a wish, but the form of his language creates some difficulties.
With this form, the words constitute a condition: "If thou wilt slay the wicked".
Then we expect to add a conclusion such as, "then I shall praise thee".

We probably can bring the best out of the thought in English if we translate it as
"Oh! that wouldest slay the wicked!"

This expression reminds us of the book of Job.
For one thing, the verb translated "slay" occurs only in this Psalm
and in the book of Job.
Then again, the word for God, ELOAH, is found more frequently in Job than anywhere else
in the Old Testament.

Why does David give utterance to such an expression?
According to a modern interpretation, David had fallen into persecution.
Evil ones had accused him falsely, and sought after his life.
In his own enemies, he also recognizes the enemies of the Lord.

Therefore, he approaches God to try Him and prove Him, and, according to verse one,
this examination has already taken place.

Chronologically, we are told that verses 19-24 belong long before verses 1-18.
What determines the form of the Psalm, it is said, is not chronology and biography,
but the praise of God which appears at the beginning of the Psalm.

Others have thought that the concluding verses of the Psalm, which are verses 19-24,
are independent and should be divorced from the first 18 verses.
However, the last verse of the Psalm reflects upon the first verse.
There is also a development of thought in the Psalm which shows that it is a unity,
and that it is not to be divided into two parts.

It has also been held that the Psalm belongs to a type of poetry known as Lamentation.
It is also been held that the Psalm belongs to the type known as" hymn",
but that David goes far beyond the ordinary form of such hymns.

The Psalm has been assigned to the category of "Prayers of the Accused",
and was also considered as a preparation for the divine declaration of judgment
which took place in the frame of the religious cult.
It has even been held that the ideal of judgment is rooted in the tradition of the cult.

We can safely turn away from those various explanations.
We're living in a day when a tremendous amount of study has been devoted to the Psalms.
Much of this study centers around the question of what was the situation in life
which gave rise to the Psalms?

Attention is accordingly paid to the classification into which each Psalm is supposed to fit.
Much of this study is really of little profit, although much of it also is worthwhile.
Someone reading modern commentaries on the Psalms must read with caution and discernment.

We may appreciate the good and much of this modern study, but on the whole,
we do not feel that it has led to a profound understanding of the Psalms.

From these modern studies of the Psalms we may turn away, and ask again,
"Why is it that David utters this strong wish for the distraction of his enemies."
The answer to this question is not too difficult to find.

David has just come face-to-face with the reality of God.
He has been spending his time engaged in the contemplation of God's infinite attributes.
The thought of God's omniscience has led him to consider God's omnipresence.
Then he turned to reflection upon the almighty power of God in particular
as that power was manifested in His own creation and formation.

Such a God is the true God and deserves the complete and wholehearted love
and devotion of everyone.
Yet there are those who oppose this God and, were it possible, would seek
to frustrate His purposes.
Such people must not succeed!
Either they must change their ways and turn to God, or they must perish.
There can be no other course for them.
The enemies of God must be destroyed; else they will destroy the work of God.

This is the fact that David realizes, and consequently cries out for the destruction of the wicked.
In his honesty, he says "Lord, it seems to me the easiest way for you to handle this problem
of evil would be to slay the wicked. Why don't you do that

Notice he does not say, "Why don't you let me do it?"
He recognizes that vengeance belongs to God, and that if anybody is going to do it,
and do it right, God alone must do it.

So he is not saying, "Lord, let me handle this."
That is what many are saying today: "Lord, I'll wipe out the wicked; just turn them over to me.
I'll take care of them
But David does not say that; he is saying, "Lord, it's your problem; why don't you do it?"

So, David does not intend to kill the wicked himself, but leaves that to God.
Inasmuch as God is what He is, cannot allow the wicked to continue.

If He does permit them to continue with their wicked opposition and enmity to Him,
He is showing that He truly does not hate sin.
He must act in order that His omnipotence and righteousness may be seen by all,
and that they may triumph.

Before we proceed to criticize David for this prayer, we must note that we ourselves pray
for the same thing, whenever we pray the words of the Lord's Prayer,
"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done".

When we pray that the kingdom of God should come, we are at the same time praying
that the kingdom of Satan should be destroyed.
And when we pray that the kingdom of Satan be destroyed, we are asking
for the destruction of all those who make up that kingdom.

If God's kingdom is to come, then all that stands in the way of that kingdom
must be taken out of the way.
In other words, those who oppose the work of God are doing a heinous thing.
They must be put out of the way.
They would destroy God, if that were possible.

This great God whose knowledge has caused to exclaim in wonder,
is a God whom they hate.
It would seem inconceivable that men should hate God, but they do.
They are God's enemies, and they are violent in their hatred towards God.
Surely, God will not permit them to continue their evil work.
He will slay them.

David proceeds to characterize the wicked as men of blood, and by this expression
is identifying them as violent men.
They are men who have slain innocent blood, murderers or murderous men.
In taking a life they have destroyed the image of God, for man is created in God's image.

This God whom David adores is a God whom the wicked despise.
Inasmuch as they are what they are, David will have no part with them.
Therefore he addresses them with a command, "Turn aside from me."
God's enemies have also become enemies of David.

Verse 20: "For they speak against the wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain."

It is possible to translate the introductory words of this verse," who speak against thee wickedly".
At any rate the statement is made here that the wicked, the men of blood,
speak wickedly against God.
They speak of God or in some sense use His Name for the accomplishment of wicked purposes.
To these wicked men, God means nothing, and they are willing to use even His holy name
in order that they may attain their own evil ends.

As though in conscious disobedience of the Ten Commandments,
these wicked ones also take God's Name in vain.
The reflection of the language upon the Ten Commandments is clear,
but it is striking that no object of the verb is present.

So, it could be translated, "They take for vain", and those who do this are the enemies of God.
Perhaps, this latter phrase is intended as an explanation of the former one.
The simple action of the wicked is a violation of the third commandment.

David has just contemplated the greatness of God.
God is not a creation of man, but the Creator who in all of His attributes is infinite,
eternal and unchangeable.
David has been filled with awe.

How great and infinite is the Name of God!
Yet wicked men treat God with disdain.
It is this that David cannot abide.
Such men are his enemies, for they are God's enemies also.

Verse 21: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?
and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee

This is a strange and often misunderstood verse.
Men have often turned against the utterances that are expressed here,
and has condemned them as signs of a low morality.

How "righteous" men have become, asserting vigorously that they themselves
do not want to hate anyone, and that they will not sink to the level of feeling
that is expressed in this verse.
They say that the ideal of hating one's enemies is barbarous and wholly contrary
to the doctrine of love talk by Jesus Christ.

Some assert that what we have in this Psalm is ethics of a sub-Christian level.
They assert that we have advanced beyond this, and want nothing to do with it.
Apparently the Hebrews knew no better, but we now have the teaching of Jesus,
and their view is that we have learned not to hate our enemies.
Their view is that they have Jesus, and they do not need the psalm.

These expressions are heard all too often.
Before we comment upon them, there is one point that needs to be stressed.
Modern man is in no position to condemn the teaching of this psalm.

Modern man has not attained a level of ethics from which he may look down with disdain
upon the teaching of Psalm 139.
It is simply not true that modern man has learned not to hate his enemies.
Some may pay lip service to the doctrine of loving one's enemies, but the actual fact is that,
despite the so-called progress of civilization, modern men hate their enemies
and even those who are not their enemies just as people did in former days.

Today, the human heart is all too often filled with envy, jealousy and bitterness,
even when there is no excuse for such things.
Men do not love one another.
They know what they ought to do, but they do not do it.

And often it seems that those who proclaim most strongly that they are above
the "low ethics" of this psalm are the ones who speak with bitterness
and hatred of other people.
The "do-gooders" of this world, as they are sometimes called,
are not at all above misrepresentation and mental persecution.

They have the same faults and failures as all mankind do.
So it is well to remember that today, just as much as any past day,
people hate their enemies and, all too often, even hate their friends.

Whatever else may be said about the modern age in which we live,
it is not advanced to such a point that it can look down upon the teaching of Psalm 139.

However, there is a more profound consideration.
Have those who condemn what they believe to be the teaching of this psalm
really understood the Psalm?

Is David sinking to a sub-Christian standard of ethics?
Is he giving in to hatred toward those whom he personally dislikes?
Is he speaking from motives that are impure and unworthy?

It would have been well if those who so readily condemn the psalm would take the trouble
to find out what the psalm actually teaches before they pour out the vials of their scorn upon it.

There is a lesson here for all those who study the Bible.
When we hear criticisms raised against this or that point in the Bible,
the best thing to do is to turn to the Bible and to discover what it actually says.
It is not always easy to do this, but it is always profitable.

When we have learned what the Bible says upon the particular matter,
the objection that we have will often disappear.
Much criticism of the Bible is based upon ignorance of its contents,
and when this ignorance is dispelled, and the Bible is allowed to say
what it actually does say, the difficulty vanishes.
And that is true in the present case.

Before we look more closely at the verse, we can assert at the outset that David is not giving vent
to personal feelings of hatred against those who may be his personal enemies.
David was a magnanimous man, and despite his great sinfulness and his many shortcomings,
David was a man willing to forgive.

He did not hold grudges.
What we read in this verse is not an expression of personal vindictiveness.

In the first place, we may notice that David appeals to God to corroborate his assertion
that he hates those who hate God.
If there was anything unworthy in David's hatred, he could not, and would not,
appeal to God for corroboration.

When a person engages in simple action or entertain sinful thoughts,
he does not go to God to support him, unless he himself is so deceived
that he thinks that even in sinning he is doing the will of God.
It is true that some people may be so deceived that in doing wrong that they think
they are pleasing God.

Can that be true of David?

The answer to that question is not difficult to determine.
David's entire soul is overcome with a loathing against wickedness.
David has just been contemplating the attributes of the great God whom he serves
and his soul has been bowed down in deepest awe and reverence.

When a man is like this in the presence of God, it is difficult for him to look with favor upon sin.
It is this very fact of the majesty of God which causes David to realize
that he must oppose those who are God's enemies.
If we say that David's utterances in this verse betray a low ethical standard,
what we are really saying is that the contemplation of the majesty of God leads one
to actions that are ethically low.

There is no escape from this conclusion, for it is out of the contemplation of God Himself
that the expressions of this verse flow.

We cannot say that David was deceived into thinking that he was doing right
when he actually was doing wrong.
Everything in this Psalm speaks against such a thought.
It is an impossible interpretation.

And its impossibility is further shown in that David appeals to God to search his heart
and to know even his inmost thoughts.
If there is any wicked way in David, he wants it removed.
He desires for God to lead him in the way everlasting.

People who are sinning are not concerned that God should search their inmost thoughts
and try their hearts.
We cannot be satisfied with such an interpretation of this verse.

However, is there another possibility?
May it not be after all that the appeal to God is without meaning?
Was not the God of David a tribal God, the God of the Hebrews?

At this stage in their religious development, would the Israelites have had
an exalted conception of God?
Had they learned that He was Himself of an ethical nature?
Was God not bound up with the fortunes of Israel?

In answer to this argument, we would say that the whole Psalm speaks against it.

The God to whom David prays here is no local tribal deity.
He is the almighty Creator of heaven and earth.
No higher conceptions of God have appeared anywhere than those which are found in this psalm.
Therefore, it is that very fact that has led some to think that this psalm was
too "advanced" for David's time.

The God to whom David prays here is the same God that appears in the latter chapters
of the prophecy of Isaiah, and also in the pages of the New Testament.

If David had been left to his own devices and had not been the recipient of special revelation,
we have no way of knowing what kind of an ideal of God he might have had.
David was a sinful man.
He was, to say the least, guilty of theft, of adultery, and responsible for murder and for deception.

Had he not heard the voice of the living God, we do not know what his ideas
of God would have been.
They probably would have been upon the level with those of the men of his time.

However, what we have in this psalm are not simply David's ideals of God.
What we have here are the heartfelt expressions of a man who knew
the one living and true God, and who had been the recipient of Divine revelation.
So, we cannot seriously consider the objection that the God of David's day was a local deity.

This Psalm stands before us, and we must ask in all seriousness what it means.
That attempt to deprive the language of its meaning have not proved to be satisfactory.

Therefore, let us examine more closely the expressions of this verse.
The verse is a question addressed to God.
Therefore it could be translated into word for word as follows,
"Is it not that thy haters, O Lord! I hate, and against those who rise up
against thee do I feel loathing

The question is almost equivalent to saying, "Behold!"
It certifies the truthfulness of what David is saying.
David wants men to know that he does actually hate God's enemies.

These enemies are mentioned first, and therefore placed in a position of emphasis.
They are the objects of David's hatred.
They are described by the words, "those who hate thee".

What shall be said about this hatred of the enemies of God?
Is it, like David's hatred, a thing to be commended?

Obviously it is not.

It springs from a heart that is deprive and fallen into an estate of sin, a heart from which evil flows.
This hatred is cloaked in evil and has a desire to banish God from one's thoughts.
It is the God of the Bible that stands in the way of the the designs of fallen man.
Without God, man thinks he can solve the problems of this life.
Without God, man thinks he can do all that he wills to do, but God keeps getting in the way.

Therefore, he would suppress the knowledge of God, and keep God from all his thoughts.
With religion as such, he can afford to be quite tolerant.
He's willing for every person to go to the church of his own choice,
as long as God does not come into the picture.

The wicked hate God, and they would destroy Him if that were possible.
Those who hate God, no matter how moral their lives may appear, are wicked people.
They have set themselves against God, and their hatred of God is an emotion
in which the evil is love and the good is hated.

In speaking to God, David reverts to the word which he had begun the psalm.
He addresses God again as "Lord", and thereby shows his own
close dependence upon his God.
This Lord is the God who brought the Israelites out of the bondage of Egypt,
and who had chosen them to be His people.
God's great electing love had brought the nation into being.
Indeed it was God's electing love that had called David himself from the darkness of sin
into the light of salvation.

It is to God, the covenant God, that David appeals.
This is David's own God whom wicked men hate.

Then comes the verb, and this verb possesses different connotations.
We may render, "do I not hate", or "should I not hate" or "must I not hate".
David knows that there can be but one reaction to such men.
He must hate them.

However, it is clear from the context itself that when David expresses himself like this,
he has employed the word "hate" in a different sense from that
which applied to wicked man.
Wicked men hated God, and their hatred was an evil emotion.

David hated, but his hatred was like God's hatred.
His hatred did not proceed from an evil emotion, but rather from the earnest and thoroughly
sincere desire that the purposes of God must stand and that wickedness must perish.
It David had not hated, he would have desired the success of evil
and the downfall of God Himself.
It is well to keep this thought in mind when we consider the nature of the hatred of David.

This point needs to be stressed.
Before we assume that there was something unworthy in David's attitude,
we must see precisely what that attitude was.
His attitude is that anything less than your hatred of the enemies of God is acknowledging
that God is not what He should be.
It is an agreement with the position that God and His purposes need not tolerate.
If those purposes are fulfilled in part, but not entirely, then one need not hate God's enemies.

God and the enemies of God are arrayed in earnest combat.
God's purposes of salvation must be carried through.
Indeed, all of God's holy counsel must come to pass.
Should it fail of accomplishment even in the least detail, then God will seem to be something less
than the God that He claims to be.

Therefore, if one desires that God's purposes are to be fulfilled, and to see
God's holy name exalted, he will turn wholeheartedly and absolutely against all
who stand in the way of God and would, if it were that possible to tear God from His throne.

One must either hate the enemies of God and count them as his own enemies
or else he must acknowledge that he does not desire the purposes of God to come to pass
and that he does not wish God to receive the glory that God is due.
One cannot be wholly devoted to God unless he hates the enemies of God.

Martin Luther was on scriptural ground when he wrote:
"Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.
Curb those who fain my craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He had done

We, too, must hate God's enemies.
And we will do this not by personal vindictiveness, nor by malice and envy.
Rather we will do it to the diligent use of the means of grace and the determined purpose of living
for the glory of God and enjoying Him forever, and we will show the hatred that God requires.

All of my life I have heard that Satan fears when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.
And that is so, if we are to speak of the practical appellation of this truth.
Let us go to Jesus in true devotion, meditate upon and study His word,
and live as those whom He has redeemed with His precious blood.

In the parallel expression, David speaks of those who rise up against and attack God.
It is against these that David has such a loathing.
We must understand these expressions in the same manner as those concerning
the hatred of God's enemies.
These are strong words to indicate that the believer in God must be separate
from those who hate God.

A misunderstanding is likely to arise at this point.
It may be asked how can we win other men to Christ, if we stay away from them,
hating and loathing them?

Those who ask this question, show by the very asking of it that they have not
properly understood the meaning of the Psalm.

David's hatred and loathing are not necessarily directed against particular individuals.
This hatred and loathing must be shown in a positive manner.
It is by serving and loving God and keeping His Commandments that we are manifesting
our hatred of the wicked.

At times this may bring us into conflict with those who oppose God,
but our dealing with them as individuals must always be in love,
even where we are called upon to oppose them.
By opposing them, and loving them, we are showing them that we hate.

Of course, we are in no position to pass an infallible judgment upon what individuals
are God's and what individuals are God's enemies.
All we can do is to oppose evil wherever we find it, and to deal in love with those individuals
who are doing wrong and apparently opposing God.

There is an example that might make the matter clearer.
A modernist probably never will understand why the conservative opposes him.
Does the the modernist desire to do good?
Should he not be commended for what he is doing?

However, he who believes the Bible knows that the modernist, whatever his intentions may be,
is in fact hurting the work of Christ.
Instead of exalting Jesus Christ as the only Redeemer of lost sinners,
the modernist minimizes sin and assures man that he can save himself,
if there is any saving work to be performed.
This is a perversion of the gospel, and it dishonors God.

The conservative must oppose the modernist.
However, he must do it in love.
He may do it forcefully and strongly, and he must do it clearly.
However, he must do it in love.

He has no right to stoop to abuse, or in any other way to do evil in order that good may come.
It is through speaking the truth in love that shows an earnest concern for the truth of God,
and that God uses him to make the truth known.
So, in earnestly contending for the faith, the Christian is hating the enemies of God.
It may sound paradoxical, but the deeper our love to God,
the greater will be our hatred of God's enemies.

In the light of these considerations, it will be seen how far short of the mark is that interpretation
which claims that this psalm has not gone beyond the limits of the Old Testament.
According to this interpretation, it would have been more in keeping with the awe due to God
if David had realized that in the enigma which divine inscrutability supposedly raises,
the wicked were also included.

There are those who believe that David should have stopped at this point,
and simply have remained content with the truth that God's thoughts are not man's thoughts.
Or that he should have realized that the fact that God permits His enemies
to remain alive points to God's forbearance and compassion
and that just as God's greatness transcends all human standards, His goodness does also.

This divine compassion was exhibited by Jesus upon the cross.
However David is not able to follow it, for, we are told, that David is under the influence
of the cultic ideology of his time.

Of course this interpretation is based upon the principles of form-criticism that many have touted.
It is not a satisfactory interpretation which should be obvious to all of us.
It completely misunderstands what David is saying here.

The principal that one must hate the enemies of God, as we have indicated above,
is not incompatible with the love of God manifested toward sinners,
nor with God's sincere and earnest offer of the gospel of redemption to all men everywhere.

Verse 22: "I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies."

David does not change or tone down his statement.
Rather, he seeks to indicate the nature of his hatred.
He says, "With completeness of hatred I hate them."

The first word refers to the end or extremity, so that David is saying in effect that
he hates them as far is it is possible for him to do so.
His hatred is complete.

The first word is used as an adjective, so that we might translate it as
"with complete hatred have I hated them."
A partial hatred would be no hatred at all.
It would like saying that David did not care for God and God's purposes.
He who only partly hates the enemies of God is one who completely hates God,
and is opposed to God.
This would not be David.
His devotion to God is extreme.

We need to add a word of caution.
We living in a day when people speak of extremism as an evil thing.
Yet, extremism in the service of God is required.
We are to love God, not partially, but with all our heart, soul and mind.
Our entire being must be consecrated to God, and all our energies and efforts
must be devoted to the service of our God.

This is what David possesses.
His hatred toward God's enemies is not lukewarm.
It's not the middle of the road hatred.
It is an complete hatred in which he hates the enemies of God.

"Enemies they have become to me."
Now David injects himself into the picture.
God's enemies are also his enemies.
This is like saying that whatever God loves, David will love,
and whatever God hates, David will hate.

We must be cautious that we do not use a verse such as this as an excuse
for any wrong attitudes on our part.
If we hate, we must be sure that God also hates the same object.
We cannot choose our objects for hatred on our own.
We learn what to hate from God and from God alone.

And this we learn through the constant, deep study of God's revealed Word, the Bible.
Unless we walk with God, depending upon God for all things, our hatred will be
the wrong kind of hatred, and the wrong kind of hatred is sin.

Verse 23: "Search me, O God, and know my heart:
try me, and know my thoughts

Now David reverts to the thought of the first verse.
There he had said that God had searched him.
Now he desires God to search him.
There, the statement led to the consideration of what it was for God
to search David and know him.
Now having contemplated the greatness of the infinite God and the mystery of His attributes,
David bows, as it were, in humble acknowledgment and submission
and beseeches God to search him.

This is an acquiescence in all that is gone before.
God is great in all His works and ways, and David would have it so.
That God knows David in the inmost depths of his being does not lead David
to rebel, but to praise.
David rejoices that things are as they are.
Therefore, his plea to God, "Search me, O God,
and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts

God's search was an exhausted one.
Mere man could not undertake such a search.
And David wants it to be complete.
He desires God to search him and to know him exhaustively,
and then he is sure that God is what God claims to be.
In the hands of his God, David is safe.

Were God to act other than He does and not to possess an exhaustive knowledge of David,
then God would not be God, and there would be no use in having anything to do with Him.
When a man comes to know God as God is revealed in His Word,
he desires that God said searched and try him, for such a desire is evidence
of his need for God and also of his consecration to God.

In the first verse, David had addressed God as Lord, now he speaks to God as "EL".
Perhaps, there is a deliberate choice of the word.
In using it David again brings to the fore the distinction between God and man.

He wants the great God upon whose attributes he has been pondering to search him.
Only this God can exhaustively know him, that for he addresses God as "EL".

In the first verse, David had declared that God had searched him and known.
Now he reverts to that language, and in addition to his words to search him,
he wants God to know his heart.
This time there is an object appended to the verb.
It is not merely knowing as such, but the knowing of David's heart that is mentioned here.

As so often in the Bible, the heart is presented as the seat of the personality.
If God knows David's heart, he will know David, for out of the heart are the issues of life.
If the heart is planning evil, and if its hatred is a wicked hatred;
then God must know so that David may be convicted of his sin.

If the heart of David hates with a perfect hatred, then God must know.
When a man can throw open his heart to God like this, he may be sure
that his intentions are right.
If there be any wickedness within the heart, God will convict him of that.
It is well for us to appeal at all times to God to know our hearts
whether there be integrity there or not.

Parallel to the first half of the verse is the second, "Try me and know my inmost thoughts".
The root from which this last word ("disquieting thoughts") is derived basically
meaning to branch out.
Apparently, the ramifications of branching out of thoughts is intended,
so that the word actually refers to those thoughts which are disturbing or disquieting.
Perhaps into his disturbed thought corruption and sin could most easily find an entrance.

Even thoughts such as these must be tested of God.
God must try them and examine them thoroughly so that they meet the tests that God imposes.
If there be any evil even in these disturbing thoughts, God must convict David of that fact.
Here is the case of a man who has felt the hatred of God against sin,
but not yet the love of God for the sinner.

That might be why he concludes with these words:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting
(Psalms 139:23-24 RSV)

It like he is saying, "Lord, I don't understand this problem of evil.
It appears to me the easiest way is for you to eliminate the evil man.

But Lord, I also know that I don't think very clearly, and I don't often have the right answer.
There can easily be in me a way of grief (that is literally what 'wicked' means).
I have often found, Lord, that my thoughts are not right.

So, Lord, in case I don't have the right remedy for this problem, let me add this prayer:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
See if there be any way of grief in me, and lead me in the truth,
the way that leads to everlasting life

What a wonderful prayer.
How often we should pray like this! "Lord, I don't understand what's going on around me,
and my solutions may be quite inferior -- may even be wrong.
But, Lord, I'll trust you to lead me.
Reveal to me the wickedness that may lie undetected in my own heart,
and guide me in the way that leads to fullness of life

Verse 24: "And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

So,what is it that David wishes that the Lord would find?
The answer is clearly stated.

If there is a way that leads to wickedness, it is that which God must find.
So, let us examine more closely the expression which David actually uses.

Some commentators, appealing to a somewhat similar word in Isaiah 48:5,
believe that David is speaking of a way of idolatry, and is appealing to God to see
whether there be any inclinations to idolatry within him.

However, an answer to this it has been rightly pointed out that inclinations toward
or actual practice of idolatry could hardly be regarded as a sin of which David was unaware.
Furthermore, the meaning "idol" is really not justified here.
It is something else of which David speaks.

The way of pain is the way that leads to pain and misery.
It is the way that leads to inward punishments brought on by sin,
and also to outward punishments.
In other words, it is the way that leads from God to the full recompense of sin, everlasting death.
This way separates from God, and leads one to a place where God's blessing is withdrawn.

Some commentators speak of the doctrine of the two ways which they think
they find in the Psalms.
It is true that this Psalm and the first Psalm together with other passages do refer to two ways.
However, these two ways do not have reference to some ordeal or cultic institution.
Neither is the way of pain merely one that brings its own punishment with it,
in distinction from an everlasting punishment.
Rather, this way culminates in pain, from which there is no deliverance.
If there is any such way within David, he desires God to see it.

On the other hand, he prays that God will lead him in the way everlasting.
What is meant by this language?

Some think that the reference is to the way that is everlasting.
In contrast to this it, is said, there is the way of the wicked, which will perish.

On this interpretation, David is praying that God will lead him in a way
that does not punish but is everlasting.
Others think that the reference is to a way that leads to everlasting life.
Either of these is a possibility.

It may be that we cannot be dogmatic, but it is worthy of consideration to note
that there is still another interpretation which has much to commend it.

On this third view, David is praying God to lead him in the old way, the way of former times.
This would be the way that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob walked.
It is the way of the ancients of the people, and therefore the way that has the flavor of God upon it.
Therefore, it is the right way, that which leads unto eternal life.
It David is led in the way of old, then he is in the way which will bring him in to everlasting life.

And so it must be with us.
Oh that we might turn from the superficiality of so much present-day religious life
and, once again to know God in His wondrous majesty!

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all of His glorious attributes.
When we think upon these things, we must bow before Him in adoration and silence.
He is God, and we are only men.

Before such a God the sinner cannot stand.
He has no right.
Yet we know that we are sinners, and that we have offended this holy God.

So my we pray that God will search us know our hearts and see
if there be any wicked way within us.
And if such a wicked way is found, may we lean upon God's own mercy,
provided for us in the gift of His love, even our Lord Jesus Christ,
the only One who can lead us in the way everlasting.

This concludes the study of the Psalm 139.

Links to Psalm 139:

Part 1 - Verses 1 - 6

Part 2 - Verses 7 - 12

Part 3 - Verses 13 - 18

Part 4 - Verses 19 - 24

Much of this study was gleaned from the devotional and expository study
of Psalm 139 by Edward J. Young who was a professor of Old Testament
in Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This was published in a book by the Banner Of Truth Trust in London, and published in 1965.

This study was also adapted from many other sources by Dr. Harold L. White