God’s Perfect Knowledge – Psalm 139

Read the Passage: Psalm 139

God’s Omniscience (139:1–6)

In Ps. 139:1–4, by way of retrospective thought, David states God’s comprehensive, perfect, and complete knowledge of him. In this passage David speaks of the Lord’s knowledge of his inner being as he refers to being “searched . . . and known” (Ps. 139:1), as well as God knowing the thoughts of his mind and words on his tongue, even before they are spoken (cf. Ps. 139:2, 4). David also cites God’s thorough knowledge of all of his external ways. David writes of his “sitting down and . . . rising up” (Ps. 139:2), as well as noting “my path and my lying down . . . [You] are acquainted with all my ways” (Ps. 139:3). Of course, God had comprehensive knowledge of David because He is God, not because he had somehow gained such knowledge by searching for it. Moreover, God’s knowledge of man is not academic or intellectual, as if He learned it from a book; rather, it is both intimate and personal.

Shifting emphasis from passive knowledge to active guidance, in Ps. 139:5–6 David writes, “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.” Note that the term “hedged” refers to being surrounded or enclosed. Here David is recognizing and declaring his trust in God’s providential care and direction over his entire life. Interestingly, David admits that the Lord’s sovereign omniscience is beyond his comprehension. In other words, God knew David better than David knew David. Indeed, almost unbelievably, God’s knowledge of David was even beyond David’s ability to understand himself! As God reveals elsewhere, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8; cf. Deut. 29:29; Job 9:10; 26:14; Rom. 11:33–36; 1 Cor. 2:14–16).

God’s Omnipotence (139:7–16)

In Ps. 139:7–12 David moves his discussion from focusing upon God’s comprehensive knowledge of him to the Lord’s pervasive presence in the created order. David begins this section with two rhetorical questions, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7). In the following verses David reviews the inadequate answers to his inquiry, including: “heaven” (Ps. 139:8), “hell” (Ps. 139:8), “the wings of the morning” (Ps. 139:9), “the uttermost parts of the earth” (Ps. 139:9), and even the “darkness” (Ps. 139:10–12). Finally, David concludes that no matter where he goes, God is present for “the darkness and the light are both alike to you” (Ps. 139:12). Note that the term rendered “hell” (Ps. 139:8) may be better translated as “the grave.” For a related New Testament teaching—that is, Christ’s so-called descent into hell or hades—see: Rom. 10:7; Eph. 4:9–10; Col. 2:14–15; 1 Pet. 3:19.

In one of the more well-known passages in Scripture, at Ps. 139:13–16 David extols the power of God in creating and ordaining the life of man. The psalmist begins by praising the Lord for his fashioning of the human body in the womb. David continues on to write, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were no of them” (Ps. 139:16). Note the similar teaching in Job 10:8–12, “Your hands have made me and fashioned me, an intricate unity. . . Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. . . Did You not . . . clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews? You have granted me life and favor, and Your care has preserved my spirit.” Of course, David is not teaching that man is a robot or an unthinking being; rather, he is affirming God’s omnipotence over all things.

David’s Petition (139:17–24)

Interestingly, David’s soaring discussion about the Lord’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence is a prelude to what is arguably the purpose of this psalm—that is, David’s petition regarding the destruction of his enemies. David lays out his petition in Ps. 139:19, “Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.” Somewhat surprisingly, in Ps. 139:21–22 David declares his personal hatred of God’s enemies as he rhetorically asks, “Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.” In the final two verses of the psalm, David returns to his earlier themes from Ps. 139:1–16 as he asks God to search out his own heart and to make sure that his motivation for seeing his enemies destroyed was pure (cf. Ps. 5:5; Matt. 7:23).

Application Questions:

  1. Do you think much, if at all, about God’s attributes? Which of God’s attributes most comforts you? Which of God’s attributes most concerns you?
  2. Does God ever seem distant, impersonal, or uncaring to you? What causes such thoughts and feelings? What can we do when we feel separated from God?
  3. How could David be so sure of God’s total knowledge of him? What benefit is there in considering God’s providential care of man?
  4. If God created and sustains man, and all of our days are written in His book (cf. Ps. 139:16), are we just robots destined to whatever end God has decreed?
  5. Can Christians legitimately pray for the destruction of God’s enemies? Like David, can believers declare that they hate God’s enemies (cf. Ps. 139:21–22)?