O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.
(Psalm 139:1-3, 4-6)
139:1–6. All actions are included in these references to opposites—sitting down and getting up, walking and lying down (vv. 2–3). Behind these actions are thoughts (v. 2), and God knows these even before they become words (v. 4). The psalmist cannot understand God’s actions in his regard (vv. 5–6). He feels the presence of God all around him, and senses that everything that happens to him comes from God, but he cannot fathom its underlying meaning. The passage deals with feelings somewhat similar to those expressed by Job in Job 13:27.
139:1 you have probed me God has examined the psalmist very closely and knows him in detail (see Prov 18:17).
139:2 thoughts The Hebrew word used here, rea’, is one of the most common Hebrew words in the ot for thinking.
139:3 all my ways A common way to refer to someone’s habits.
139:5 You hem me in It is unclear what connotation the psalmist intends when using the Hebrew word tsur here; it can mean “to bind,” “encircle,” or “lay siege to.”
139:6 the psalmist indicates that he accepts close scrutiny from God, but that he does not understand it.
This is the most personal expression in Scripture of the Old Testament’s radical monotheism. It is a doctrinal classic because it portrays human existence in all its dimensions in terms of God’s knowledge, presence, and power. It reflects an understanding of the human as enclosed in divine reality. The psalm is even more a devotional classic, because used as prayer it bestows and nurtures an awareness of the LORD as the total environment of life. It teaches and confesses in the fullest way that “my times are in your hand.”
The psalmist confesses that he is never free of God in his total existence, but the relation is described in such a way that neither is a prisoner of or mere function of the other. The psalmist is free for and to God. God is the limit of his existence, yet he is himself a real person to God—accountable, confronted, known. God is free for and to the psalmist. The motions of God’s relation to the psalmist transcend the psalmist’s understanding. What he knows, he knows he does not know. His knowing is an unknowing; its achievement is wonder, and its only certainty is “I am with you.”
The composer of this psalm seems to have meditated on the vision of the LORD as the righteous judge who knows, searches, and tests the hearts of human beings. The psalm is composed of the implications of that vision for the existence of the psalmist, voiced as praise and prayer. The vision of God to whom every aspect of one’s life from conception is present can be terrifying.
The psalm shows that the vision inspires wisdom and trust for those who want nothing else than to be led in the way everlasting. The apostle Paul once said of himself, “Now I know only in part; then I will fully know even as I have been fully known.” Perhaps this psalm is a knowing only in part, but it is a knowing that knows already that it is fully known by God. It is a prayer that will lead all who make it their own into that knowing.
– James Mays
May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.