Psalm 139 is a psalm about God’s pervasive presence in our lives. In an article published on November 6, 2020, titled, “5 Powerful Lessons from Psalm 139 about God’s Wonderfulness,” by Meg Bucher, freelance writer, author, and blogger at Sunny&80, she writes:
Psalm 139 reflects David’s prayerful meditation of God’s omnipresence and omniscience, and the effect those characteristics of God have on the human heart. Omnipresence means God is everywhere, simultaneously. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing, His knowledge is not limited. Knowing God creates gratitude and praise for who He is and what He does for us. We were made to glorify God. Knowledge of God directly affects our reactions, especially in times of hardship, injustice, and pain.
David’s heartfelt journey with God, through the good, bad, challenging, and unbelievable, remains alive and relatable throughout Psalm 139. “It sings the omniscience and omnipresence of God, inferring from these the overflow of the powers of wickedness,” Charles H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David explains, “since he who sees and hears the abominable deeds and words of the rebellions will surely deal with them according to his justice.” Who God is, allows us to understand who and Whose, we are. Life within the love of Christ Jesus, Immanuel (God with us), changes our hearts forever and continually until we arrive home in heaven. The journey of each human heart is unique, purposed, and intimately known by the One True God. (Click here for the quote source, along with the rest of the article including the list of the 5 powerful lessons.)
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
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.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
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 none of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them,
they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.
Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
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.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
As I read through this powerful psalm, when I arrive at verses 19-22 (in the brown font above that starts with “Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God,” I find myself wondering what to think about them as they speak about hating our enemies. This section of Psalm 139 (vv. 19-22) is part of what is known as imprecatory psalms. Most of Psalm 139 does not fall into that category; however, these three verses (vv. 19-22) do. They seem to be in stark contrast to what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount regarding our enemies–that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48):
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So how do we handle verses that fall under the category of “imprecatory psalms”? GotQuestions.org provides the following information regarding imprecatory psalms:
The book of Psalms is rich with poetry, praise, joy, sorrow, and more. It was written by several authors, including King David. There are seven major types of psalms found in this book: lament psalms, thanksgiving psalms, enthronement psalms, pilgrimage psalms, royal psalms, wisdom psalms, and imprecatory psalms.
An imprecation is a curse that invokes misfortune upon someone. Imprecatory psalms are those in which the author imprecates; that is, he calls down calamity, destruction, and God’s anger and judgment on his enemies. This type of psalm is found throughout the book. The major imprecatory psalms are Psalms 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140. The following are a few examples of the imprecatory language gleaned from these psalms:
“Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you” (Psalm 5:10).
“Rise up, LORD, confront them, bring them down; with your sword rescue me from the wicked” (Psalm 17:13).
“Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his homeland” (Psalm 79:6–7).
When studying the imprecatory psalms, it is important to note that these psalms were not written out of vindictiveness or a need for personal vengeance. Instead, they are prayers that keep God’s justice, sovereignty, and protection in mind. God’s people had suffered much at the hands of those who opposed them, including the Hittites, Amorites, Philistines, and Babylonians (the subject of Psalm 137). These groups were not only enemies of Israel, but they were also enemies of God; they were degenerate and ruthless conquerors who had repeatedly tried and failed to destroy the Lord’s chosen people. In writing the imprecatory psalms, the authors sought vindication on God’s behalf as much as they sought their own.
While Jesus Himself quoted some imprecatory psalms (John 2:17; 15:25), He also instructed us to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44–48; Luke 6:27–38). The New Testament makes it clear that our enemy is spiritual, not physical (Ephesians 6:12). It is not sinful to pray the imprecatory psalms against our spiritual enemies, but we should also pray with compassion and love and even thanksgiving for people who are under the devil’s influence (1 Timothy 2:1). We should desire their salvation. After all, God “is patient . . . not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Above all things, we should seek the will of God in everything we do and, when we are wronged, leave the ultimate outcome to the Lord (Romans 12:19).
The bottom line is that the imprecatory psalms communicate a deep yearning for justice, written from the point of view of those who had been mightily oppressed. God’s people have the promise of divine vengeance: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7–8; cf. Revelation 19:2). (Quote source here.)
Also regarding these verses in Psalm 139, in an article published on October 6, 2018, titled, “His Intimate Knowledge of Us: Psalm 139,” by Timothy C. Tennent, Ph.D., President of Asbury Theological Seminary and Professor of Global Christianity, he states:
Before we leave this remarkable psalm [read his entire article at this link], we should clarify two rather disturbing verses that appear just before this final prayer. David says, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies” (vv. 21–22). These verses are not about any personal vendetta that David has against his enemies. Rather, he is zealous for the preservation of the glory of God and this is expressed by the word “hatred”—which, as we have noted earlier, means his “standing against” all those who plot and scheme against the rule and reign of God in the world. The New Testament will, of course, redirect this zeal by showing the even greater power of love. In the end, God’s foes are defeated, not through an exercise of power and righteous vehemence, but through kindness, love, and prayer. Jesus’ admonition for us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44) is, remarkably, not the cancellation or erasure of David’s prayer. Rather, it is the fulfillment of it. It was through Jesus’ own sacrifice, bearing the curses that were deservedly cast upon the wicked, that a “new and living way” is opened up (Heb. 10:20). The way of love is an even more powerful way of standing against evil. The zeal of David in these closing verses is not cancelled by the New Testament, but we are shown a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31 ESV) in how that zeal interfaces with those who defy God’s rule. (Click here for the quote source, along with the rest of the article.)
Psalm 139 begins by expressing the infinite knowledge of God. This attribute is also referred to as omniscience. This extends to everything a person does, thinks, and says, even before those actions occur. As stated elsewhere in the Bible, God’s mind is inexpressibly beyond that of any person (Isaiah 55:8–9). This is both a source of comfort for those who honor God and a dire warning to those who defy Him (Psalm 139:1–6).
David then declares God’s omnipresence: His existence and influence in all places and at all times. To describe this, David describes various far-off or remote locations. In any of these, no matter what a person does, they cannot escape God. Those who try to run from God, as Jonah did (Jonah 1:1–4), will find it an impossible task. In David’s case, this is reassuring knowledge. He is confident that God will be with him, no matter where he goes or where life leads (Psalm 139:7–12).
Next, the psalm celebrates God’s incredible power and creativity: His omnipotence. David specifically focuses on the intricate design of the human body. Even before the moment of conception, God is at work in forming a person. In the womb, each person is already an image-bearer of God, and an example of His masterful creative work (Psalm 139:13–16).
Finally, David explores God’s justice. While David trusts God and celebrates His blessings, he is also affected by the sins of those who hate God. David sees God’s enemies as his enemies. As such, David prays for God to destroy those who are evil. David neither takes this responsibility on himself, nor asks for it. Rather, he pleads with God to deal with the wicked. At the same time, David recognizes that he is vulnerable to sin, and asks God to search his heart and mind, leading him in the right way (Psalm 139:17–24). (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the prayer of David found in Psalm 139:23-24: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me…
And lead me . . .
In the way . . .
Everlasting . . . .
YouTube Video: “Psalm 139–Far Too Wonderful” by Shane & Shane: