The Knowledge of God

The Knowledge of God

I want to begin our consideration of this morning’s passage by asking you a question: What if there was a person who knew everything—and I mean everything—about you?

Not only the time you went to sleep at night but also the time you got up each morning;

Your daily and weekly patterns and routines;

What you did not in a general way but every hour—every minute—every second.

But what if this person knew not simply everything you did but also everything you had ever said and everything you would say. What is more, what if this person’s knowledge of you wasn’t limited to your acts and speech but included even those things you’ve thought about saying? In other words, what if there was someone who existed who knew you even better than you know yourself? Would the thought of being so completely and utterly known, so completely exposed before another person be comforting to you—or a terrifying?

If you lean towards viewing such knowledge as a comfort, it may due to a desire we all have to be known and understood by others; to be judged rightly by others. Isn’t a source of intimacy when others “get” us—when they understand and appreciate our humor, our values, our priorities?

If you lean towards viewing such knowledge as a terror, it may be due to a fear we also have of others knowing too much about us. I don’t know about you, but the thought of someone knowing everything I do—everything I say—everything I even think isn’t necessarily comforting because, to put it bluntly, I don’t always have nice thoughts about myself or others. I feel ashamed at times about how I feel or think about myself and others. I don’t always make the best choices or use of my time. I can be lazy. So I’m far more comfortable being able to choose what I share about myself with others. Though I’m not on Facebook, I’m familiar enough with it to know that what people post is usually their best selves. Or, to use another example, in Christmas newsletters we tend to share the best of the past year rather than the fullness of who we are.

But in this morning’s psalm, such choice in self-disclosure is completely taken off the table. Psalm 139 reminds us that God— the LORD (all caps), Yahweh—is a Person who knows everything, and I mean everything, about us. And what is interesting is that David, the author of this psalm, is clearly pleased, even delighted, at the thought of being known so thoroughly and intimately by his LORD. Beginning in verse 1, David states, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” David has been examined by God; he’s been investigated by him; he is known by him. And as the psalm progresses it’s clear that God knows David in both senses that the word “to know” can carry; God not only knows everything about David but he also knows David personally. He has a relationship with him. The very fact that the LORD has searched David points to the personal interest he has in him.

In verse 2 we’re told, “You know when I sit and when I rise”—this is a knowing about. Though mundane, ordinary activities, David’s sitting and rising are nonetheless known by God. And in the second half of verse 2, David states, “you perceive my thoughts from afar”—this is a knowing in a personal sense. God is aware of what David thinks even before his thoughts are fully formed. It isn’t the case that God is going about his business, oblivious to the world he’s created. No, he is actively involved with his creation. He pays careful attention to those who are is.

Verse 3 speaks of more knowing “about” activities: “You discern my going out and my lying down.” Whether David is actively “going out” or inactively “lying down,” God knows it. In sum, he is “familiar with all [David’s] ways.” David’s ways are well known to God. Nothing is hidden from him, not even David’s thoughts. Verse 4 states, “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” This is what happens when you know someone; this is what familiarity implies. If even we can anticipate what someone we know well might say in a given situation—Have you ever said to someone, “I knew you were going to say that!”—how much more is this the case with the God who made us, who knows every cell in our body, and every hair on our head.

But God isn’t a distant observer. Though he is omnipotent—all- powerful—he is also actively and personally involved in David’s life. Verse 5 states, “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” To hem in is to surround and restrict one’s space or movement. Though we may feel as though our lives are ours to do with as we please, Scripturally it’s clear that God is ever and always involved with us. It would be more accurate to say that we are free to act within the boundaries, often generous, that God permits or has set up. But this “hemming in” shouldn’t be viewed negatively but as an expression of his love for us. As David notes, the LORD doesn’t simply hem him in behind and before, but he also lays his hand upon him, an expression of God’s gentle care and guidance.

And, again, what is interesting is David’s response to God’s intimate knowledge of and involvement with his life. Whereas I began by suggesting that for someone to know everything about us—every activity, every word, every thought—might be terrifying, for David God’s 24/7 involvement with him is not only comforting but creates in him a joyous feeling of awe. In verse 6 he states, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” God’s knowing him so completely brings David pleasure and delight even as he struggles to wrap his mind around it all. And this response makes sense. When you consider the vastness of the world, we should be awed by the thought that God not only would notice us but that he would be so intimately and intricately involved with every thought, word, and deed we have ever had and that he guides and cares for us at all times.

Verse 7 begins a section demonstrating how well David understands not only God’s omniscience, his ability to know everything, but also his omnipresence, the fact that, stated positively, he is everywhere and, negatively, that because God is everywhere, there is nowhere we can go to escape him. To make this point, David begins with a pair of rhetorical questions: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” And by way of answer, David considers places that we might possibly think are beyond God’s reach—but none are. In verse 8, heaven and hell—or Sheol in some translations—are covered, “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” A spatial picture is presented here. There is no height or depth that can be higher or lower than God’s presence and reach. Then verses 9 and 10 cover the rising and setting of the sun, the furthest east and the furthest west. “9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” So as in verse 5 we saw God’s all-knowingness linked with his gentle, guiding hand, so here we see God’s all-presentness similarly linked with his gentle, guiding hand or his power. No matter where David may go, whether he rises on the wings of the dawn or settles on the far side of the side, God’s hand will not only guide him, indicating God’s directing his ways, but will also hold him fast, indicating his powerful protection and care. In his loving involvement, God will never let David go. He is ever with him. He is ever for him. He is ever on David’s side.

Even if—or when—David is unable to see God, God is still there. In verses 11 and 12, David states, “11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,’ 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Though for us the setting of the sun and subsequent darkness that follows means that we can no longer see each other—the invention of electricity was still thousands of years away for David—this isn’t true for God. Darkness is no hindrance to seeing for One whose very nature is light. God’s light is able to penetrate the darkest darkness. For God there can be no darkness for he is light itself. Neither daylight—nor the light of dawn—nor darkness are obstacles to God’s ability to see for his light cuts through all barriers. He is the LORD.

Beginning with verse 13, David personalizes what he has said thus far. If God knows every thought and act David ever had, hemming him in and laying his hand upon him—verses 1–6; and if God is present everywhere David might go, again, guiding him and holding him fast—verses 7–12; then it would follow that from David’s conception in his mother’s womb, God was involved in creating him. Commentators suggest that the womb mentioned here is being presented as an example of a place of the darkness mentioned in verses 11 and 12. Verse 13 begins “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” David’s life was no accident. Nor is the life of anyone who has ever been born—not you, not I. We are here on earth by God’s design and decree. All of life is the result of God’s creative activity. In verses 15 and 16, David further reflects upon the wonder of his life as it relates to God’s involvement: “15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” In an instance of Hebrew parallelism, of stating the same thought in two different ways, commentators understand the “depths of the earth” at the end of verse 15 as another way of stating the “secret place” at the beginning of the verse. Both metaphors are understood as poetic ways of referring to the womb. What David is reflecting upon here should give us goose bumps. Even before we ever existed, God knew the days of our lives. He knows the beginning from the end. The days that we live on earth were ordained by God. They were determined by God even before we were ever born. Even while our unformed bodies were still in the womb.

These truths should create in us a sense of awe and gratitude as David expresses in verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” David feels wonder over his life, over his existence and over God’s involvement in bringing his life into being. His life wasn’t due to chance or fate but to God creating—and knitting—and weaving. And as God was involved at the inception of David’s life, so he remains involved all of the days he’ll live. And again, David’s response to all of this is wonder and gratitude. In verses 17 and 18 he states: “17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.” The theme of knowing continues to be prominent. God’s thoughts—what he is able to know, consider, pay attention to—exceed our ability to understand. If God knows all about David’s life from before he was born until the day he dies, then to multiply that knowledge to all people—and all animals—and all insects—and all trees and plants—and the moon, sun, and stars—how can this be? How can anyone possibly know or even begin to comprehend the vastness that God—who brought into being all that exists—knows? God’s thoughts are precious, indeed! We’re to treasure him. David suggests that if he were to number God’s thoughts they would outnumber the grains of sand—and he made those, too, by the way! And when he says “when I awake, I am still with you” at the end of verse 18, the sense may be either that he could spend the day counting God’s thoughts and not even make a dent in them by the time he falls asleep and awakens the next day or some have suggested the “awakening” here may be a reference to David’s awareness that even death, sometimes referred to as sleeping in Scripture, won’t be able to separate him from God.

The psalm ends with David expressing a desire to God that he would do away with those who are evil, with those who actively speak evil against the one, true LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yahweh, Immanuel, God who is with us. Beginning in verse 19 David states, “19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! 20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? 22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.” These verses are an expression that believers in God, followers of God ought not to align themselves with those who do evil and their evil deeds. On the contrary, we’re to love the things God loves as these are revealed to us in his Word and to hate the things God hates, again, as these are disclosed to us in Scripture.

In understanding these verses we need to keep in mind the polytheistic nature of life at this time. Each nation tended to have its own god and victory in battle was often associated with the victory of one’s god—remember Elijah’s mocking of Baal and Asherah?[1] Too, victorious nations could be ruthless in their treatment of conquered nations. So when David speaks of the “wicked” and “bloodthirsty” (19) and adversaries who speak against the LORD “with evil intent” who “misuse” the LORD’s name (20), he’s not using hyperbole. David’s aligning himself with the LORD is an expression of his trust in and loyalty to him. It brings to mind Joshua’s words to the at times wavering tribes of Israel when he charged them with the following words found at the end of the book of Joshua:[2]

14 Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua states that come what may, he and his household will serve the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one true God from whom all of the twelve tribes should derive their identity.

And so it is with David. He will “hate those who hate” the LORD and “abhor those…in rebellion against” him (21). If, as we saw last week, it’s impossible to serve God and money, how much more impossible is it to serve more than one God? Isn’t David’s standing with God something we automatically do with those whom we love? Woe to the person who attacks Ron in front of me! I would not remain silent were I to hear such an attack. And woe to the person who attacks of any you. And this is the attitude we’re to have towards the God who made us—who came to earth and lived and suffered and died and rose from the dead for us that we might not ever be separated from his love. This is the attitude we’re to have towards Christ who is ruling at the Father’s right hand and has sent and sealed us with his Spirit that we might never be alone.

Though, on the one hand, I am grateful that we live in a country that allows and even protects our freedom to worship as we will, on the other hand, Scripture makes clear that the only true God is the One who has disclosed himself in his Written and Risen Word. All ways do not lead to God. And we should conscientiously, kindly, and lovingly bear witness to the merciful and compassionate God who has revealed himself in his Word. We should be jealous for him. We should correct misperceptions people have of him. We should seek to live according to his will and ways that others might be drawn to him. We should share with the apostle Paul the outlook he so eloquently states in Romans 1: “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

Brothers and sisters, we should love our God—be proud of him—be protective of him—be grateful to and praise him for even when we are faithless, he remains faithful; even when we were his enemies, he sent his Son to die on our behalf. And on this communion Sunday, it’s appropriate that this psalm ends with David asking that God would search him and know his heart; that he would test him and know his anxious thoughts (23); that he would see if there is any offensive way in him and that he would lead him in the way everlasting (24). It’s an interesting way to end the psalm because it highlights how in David’s eyes, being known by God is a good thing. Whereas David began the psalm with the observation that the LORD has searched and known him; he ends the psalm with a petition that God would continue to search and know him. David desires purity before God. He desires to be holy before him because being pure in heart, mind, and deed—being like God—allows us to experience the intimacy with our Holy LORD that he intends for us.

David’s knowledge of God leads to his delight in God’s knowledge of him? How can this be? Isn’t this the same David who, seeing and desiring Bathsheba, had intimate relations with her and then arranged to have her husband, Uriah, killed allegedly in battle?[3] Yes, it is, but even then David knew God’s love. David “gets” God. He knew that by owning his sin and repenting of it, by the mercy of God, his fellowship with God would be fully restored.

Brothers and sisters, God’s knowledge of us—in the fullness of who we are, warts and all, sins and all—would be terrifying if God weren’t on our side. But God is on our side. The reason he hates our sinful thoughts and deeds is because they keep us from knowing him. And his love for us is so great that he chose to send his Son, Jesus Christ, that he might suffer the penalty of death for our sins in our place.

So because God is for us, we should delight in his knowledge of us even as David did for God is for us. As Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, our heavenly Father knows us so well that he knows what we need even before we ask him.[4] He knows the sparrow that falls and the hairs on our head—and we’re worth more than sparrows so we needn’t be afraid![5] This morning let us stop and consider and marvel over the fact that God knows us completely—but he loves us anyway. And no matter what we do, he will not love us less; and no matter what we do, he will not love us more. He already loves us completely. And for that we, along with David, should praise and delight in the knowledge that our Creator and Savior has searched us—and ask that he ever search us even more.

Let us pray.


[1] I Kings 18.

[2] Joshua 24:14–15.

[3] 2 Samuel 12.

[4] Mathew 6:8.

[5] Matthew 10:29–31; Luke 12:6–7.

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