The Awe-Inspiring Thought Of God

a brief study of Psalm 139, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 17 Feb 2012


Psalm 139 is quite famous to many of us because of its concluding verses:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Very few conscientious Christians would fail to use these words in their prayers once they know them.

But the main theme of this Psalm is not so much about secret sin. It is rather about the saint’s delight in the presence of the Lord. It is a Psalm that Christ our King has given to us to sing with Him in celebration of who God is to us.

Andrew Bonar begins his commentary on this psalm beautifully in the words:

[This is] “a Psalm of David,” and no doubt often sung by the “Son of David.” For, rightly understood, there is not in it any thought of desiring an escape from the Lord’s happy presence in verses 7, 8; far from this, it is meant to express delight in the remembrance of Jehovah’s omnipresence and omniscience. It is not the utterance of the First Adam, slinking from sight behind the trees of Eden; but it is the utterance of the Second Adam, dwelling in the blissful fellowship with God, which fellowship he would not for all the worlds ever lose. Think of it as sung by David, and by Christ, and by all the family of Christ.

We may entitle this psalm, “The Awe-Inspiring Thought of God.” It may be divided into four parts of six verses each. In the first part, verses 1-6, we have the thought of God’s Omniscience. In the second part, verses 7-12, we have the thought of God’s Omnipresence. In the third part, verses 12-18, we have the thought of God’s Omnipotence. And finally from verses 19 to the end, we have some reflections on the thought of God.

1. The Thought of God’s Omniscience

God’s omniscience is not just an academic notion. It is rather a profound reality that should affect us deeply. This is conveyed in the opening words of this Psalm:

1 O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.  4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

The word ‘omniscience’ is not even mentioned. But this is clearly the thought behind these words. God knows everything about me. It is as if He has searched or investigated me thoroughly (v. 1). Not only does He know when I sit down and when I rise up, He even knows what I am thinking (v. 2).

He sees and He knows where I am going. He knows where I lie down. He is familiar with every aspect of my life (v. 3). In fact, even before I say a word, the LORD knows altogether what I am going to say (v. 4). This is amazing isn’t it?

Though I feel free to do what I choose to do, the reality is that my life is in the hands of God. “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me” (v. 5). I am like a little bird enclosed in the hollow of God’s loving hands cupped together. I cannot escape His loving interest in every aspect of my life.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

This truth is just too wonderful. It is beyond our comprehension. It is not something for us to speculate and debate about, but for us to receive and to adore our God for.

And so too is…

2. The Thought of God’s Omnipresence

7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

Again notice how the doctrine of the omnipresence of God should not be a subject of academic speculation, but a matter of personal reflection.

Now, the words in verse 7 sound at first sight to be the words of one who wants to flee from the presence of God, and is exasperated that he can’t. But really this is the wrong way of thinking. Read the verse in context and you will see that it is a word of faith and confidence of a child of God who rejoices that God is everywhere.

It is like the occasion when the Lord Jesus asked His disciples “Will ye also go away?” (Jn 6:67). Simon Peter had answered Him, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (v. 68). Simon Peter and the apostle had no thought about leaving. They had no desire to leave.

The same thought is expressed here in our text. We sing these words not because we want to flee or hide from God, but because there is neither any possibility nor need to flee.

God is everywhere. There is no place where God is not! He is of course present in heaven (v. 8). What about hell? He is there too, for hell is hell due to the angry presence of God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).

Can we outrun God? Well, even if we take the wings of the morning and travel at the speed of light to the uttermost part of the sea (v. 9), we will find Him there in His loving presence.  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (v. 10).

Can we hide in darkness? Can darkness hide us from the presence of God? No, not at all, for God is everywhere and He is with us even in the darkest night. It makes no difference to the LORD whether it is day or night (v. 11-12).

Indeed, regardless of where we are, God is sovereignly and powerfully moulding us. This is the third part of this psalm where we reflect on…

3. The Thought of God’s Omnipotence

13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all [my members] were written, [which] in continuance were fashioned, when [as yet there was] none of them.  

God is my Creator. He brought me into existence. He crafted me fearfully and wonderfully in the secret of my mother’s womb. The phrase “lowest parts of the earth” is a Hebrew proverbial expression to express complete secrecy.

Even with modern ultrasound technology, we do not know the half of what is going on in the womb. But God sees everything (v. 16), and He is, in fact, moulding us moment by moment—even now.

Notice how the words “my members” in verse 16 are not in the original. It appears that David intended to say that everything in his life,—and not just his body parts,—are ordained by the LORD, and written in His book.

God is omnipotent. He is our Creator; and He is our Governor. No part of our life can be lived independently of God. In Him we live and move and have our being.

This thought should lead us to a reflection on the thought of God, which is the last part of this Psalm.

4. Reflections on the Thought of God

17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! 18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

And God is bringing to pass all things in my life with a loving consideration on every aspect of my being. God is taking care of me. Often, in my life, I have to make decisions. But the considerations I put into making my decisions are always limited. This is why I often make wrong decisions. But God’s thoughts about me are comprehensive. It is impossible to enumerate. He is thinking good thoughts about me all the time, even when I am asleep. “When I awake, I am still with thee” says David (v. 18).

Now, if God is thinking goodly thoughts about me, then let me seek the mind of Christ and think as God would think. This is especially as many things in our observations and knowledge are not neutral, but should provoke strong emotions. Only let our emotions be godly and founded on right thinking. So verse 19—

 19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. 20 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. 21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.

Let me love what the Lord loves and hate what the Lord hates. The wicked, the bloodthirsty men (v. 19), those who blaspheme God’s name (v. 20), these are hated by the Lord.

Let me hate them likewise. I will not hate them with malevolence, for God is a benevolent God, sending the rain and the sunshine on the just and unjust. But I will hate them with displacency, for their wicked character and for their evil works. As God is angry against them, so let me be.

But Oh Lord, how can I, a mere mortal man who is limited in knowledge and understanding, who cannot be everywhere present, have any confidence that my heart is attuned to the heart of my God? I can have confidence because the Lord will surely hear my cry, verse 23—

 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The apostle Paul reminds us that we should have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5; cf. 1Cor 2:16). But the remnant of corruption clouds our thoughts, blinds us to our sin, and makes us prejudicial in our judgement. How then can we have any confidence to live in this world of sin as the sons and daughters of God, and as the representatives of Christ?

Well, thank God that not only are we covered by the righteousness of Christ, but we are given the promise that the Spirit of God indwells us and leads us. Romans 8:14—“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” And God promises to hear our prayers, not the least when we come unto Him to ask Him to search our heart, to see if there be any wicked way in us and to lead us in the way everlasting.


This is Psalm 139. It is a beautiful Psalm isn’t it? It brings theology to life doesn’t it? Oh may the Lord grant us that we may both be awe-strucked by the greatness of God in His perfections; as well as humbled by our limitations. Let us be confident that our God is not unaware of our trouble, will never leave us, and will never lose control of the situation, however bad it may appear to us.

Indeed, Psalm 139 was probably written at a time when David was undergoing great perplexity, as the fourth part of this psalm makes clear. So we are reminded by the Holy Spirit that the best thoughts to fill our hearts and to lips in times of great perplexity and exasperation are thoughts of God—of His greatness, His omniscience, His omnipresence, and His omnipotence. This Psalm provides us with good matter to fill our thoughts in this regard. Let us avail ourselves to it not only by reading but singing it.

But as we meditate on God, let us also humble ourselves under His mighty hand to ask Him to mould us and lead us that we may walk with Him, love as He loves and hate as He hates so that we may, as God’s children, enjoy Him as our Abba Father. Amen. W