Read 2 Chronicles 8 and Psalms 136-139. This devotional is about Psalm 139.
This song is a very personal meditation by David. It is personal in the sense that David considers how deeply personal God’s knowledge of him is. Plenty of people in the world believe in God but the “god” they believe in is impersonal, detached, abstract. They believe in a free-floating spirit, or a concept like karma, or a deistic deity who may have started the world but is more or less uninterested in humanity. And, to the extent that their god is interested in humanity, it is the powerful or the abundantly evil, they think, that he cares about.
There is also in our day a differing view of God, one that is hyper-personal. This view believes that God exists to serve me; he is the divine butler that brings about my every wish, my every intention, if I just reach out and ask him for stuff.
Both of these visions of God are completely distorted. Yes, God is transcendent, powerful, spiritual but he is also personal. David sang about God’s personal traits when he described in verses 1-6 that God has “searched… and known” him (v. 1). Verses 2-4 detailed this knowledge that God has of David. It includes David’s physical movements (v. 2a), his thoughts (v. 2b), his habits (v. 3), and his word (v. 4). Not only does God know all of this but his presence is always as close as a person who can touch you is (v. 5).
In verse 6, David was overwhelmed emotionally with how perfectly God knew him and kept tabs on him. In verses 7-12 David detailed how impossible it was to escape God, even if he wanted to do so. Not even the darkest night or the blackest cave could veil David’s being from being known perfectly and personally by God. That’s because, according to verses 13-16, God created him and thus knew him when he was invisible to everyone in his mother’s womb. Again David was submerged in wonder as he considered how carefully God watches and thinks about him.
Although David was a key figure in the history of God’s people, there is nothing that is sung in this Psalm that is unique to him. There are over 7 billion people on earth right now and billions more who lived and died before now, yet God knows them all as intimately as he knew David. God is close enough to all of us to be touched if it were possible for a human to touch the living God (Acts 17:27-28).
This song ends with David asking God to act on what he knows about all people. First, he wished that God would rid the earth of the wicked (vv. 19-20), affirming that he personally hated the Lord’s enemies (v. 21). And yet he understands that he himself is not perfect before God, so he asks God to search his heart, test his faith, purge the wickedness from within him, and continue to lead him in righteousness by faith (vv. 23-24).
This is a fitting prayer for everyone who understands the holiness of God, his personal knowledge of us, and our own depravity. We don’t even understand the depth of our desire for wickedness, so it takes tremendous courage and faith to ask God to root the evil ways out of us.
God’s methods for making us holy are not delicate and delightful. Becoming like God is painful; it requires being honest with God and ourselves, seeking and finding true repentance, and pleading for the grace of God in our lives. But, when God has completed his work, we will be satisfied with the transformation he has accomplished in us and he will be glorified.