Lectionary III (Sept-Dec. 2007)
Christmas I (12/30)
Hebrews 2:10-18 (I)
Hebrews 2:10-18 (II)
Advent IV (12/23)
Isaiah 7:10-17 (I)
Isaiah 7:10-17 (II)
Matthew 1:18-25 (I)
Matthew 1:18-25 (II)
Advent III (12/16)
Isaiah 35:1-10 (I)
Isaiah 35:1-10 (II)
Matthew 11:2-11 (I)
Matthew 11:2-11 (II)
Advent II (12/9/07)
Rom. 15:4-13 (I)
Rom. 15:4-13 (II)
Advent I (12/2/07)
Matt. 24:36-44 (I)
Matt. 24: 36-44 (II)
Rom. 13:8-14 (I)
Rom. 13:8-14 (II)
Christ King (11/25)
Luke 23:33-43 (I)
Luke 23:33-43 (II)
Col. 1:11-20 (I)
Col. 1:11-20 (II)
II Thess. 3:6-13
Luke 20:27-38 (I)
Luke 20:27-38 (II)
II Thess. 2:1-17
Hab. 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Luke 19:1-10 (I)
Luke 19:1-10 (II)
II Thess. 1:1-2:2 (I)
II Thess. 1:1-2:2 (II)
Luke 18:9-14 (I)
Luke 18:9-14 (II)
II Tim. 4:6-18 (I)
II Tim. 4:6-18 (II)
Gen. 32:22-31 (I)
Gen. 32:22-31 (II)
Luke 18:1-8 (I)
Luke 18:1-8 (II)
II Tim. 3:14-4:5
II Kings 5:1-13 (I)
II Kings 5:1-13 (II)
Luke 17:11-19 (I)
Luke 17:11-19 (II)
II Tim. 2:8-15 (I)
II Tim. 2:8-15 (II)
Habakk. 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Luke 17:5-10 (I)
Luke 17:5-10 (II)
II Timothy 1:1-14 (I)
II Tim. 1:1-14 (II)
Luke 16:19-31 (I)
Luke 16:19-31 (II)
I Tim. 6:6-19 (I)
I Tim. 6:6-19 (II)
Jer. 8:18-9:1 (I)
Jer. 8:18-9:1 (II)
I Tim. 2:1-8
Exodus 32:7-14 (I)
Exodus 32:7-14 (II)
Luke 15:11-32 (I)
Luke 15:11-32 (II)
I Tim. 1:12-17
Psalm 139 (I)
Psalm 139 (II)
Luke 14:25-33 (I)
Luke 14:25-33 (II)
Philemon 1-21 (I)
Philemon 1-21 (II)
Pentecost + 15--September 9, 2007
Bill Long 8/28/07
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (I); Searched and Known (I)
Here is the Psalm for today, in the NRSV:
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it...
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you."
[The following exposition comes from my book on the Psalms, written with Glandion Carney, Longing for God (InterVarsity, 1993), 119-24.]
"As I studied Psalm 139 over and over, I began to see it as the answer to the desperate aimlessness and darkness of Ps. 88. Recall that Psalm 88 is the loneliest of the psalms. The author felt that he had descended into the deepest pit and the darkest depths, where he was beyond the care and healing of God (v. 6). Forsaken by his companions, his closest friend was the darkness (v. 18). No glimmer of light appeared; the way was all obscure; the gloom and stillness of death settled over him. If anyone is touched by his abject plight or anyone challenged by the psalmist's theological depth and psychological rawness, it is the author of Ps. 139. He might even have based the very marrow of his thought upon it as he formed Ps. 139.
The overriding sentiment of Ps. 88 is that the psalmist is lost in impenetrable darkness, which has enveloped him and is gradually drawing the life out of him. He resides in the darkness of Sheol, where God's steadfast love is not declared (v. 11). The overriding sentiment of Ps. 139 is that the psalmist has been found and that in Sheol God is present and makes the darkness light: "If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there" (v. 8). God is not in the darkness in Ps. 88. In Ps. 139, however, "even thte darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you" (v. 12). Three times in Ps. 88 darkness and darkest is used to stress the distance between the Psalmist and God (vv. 6, 12, 18). Three times in Ps. 139:12 the words dark or darkness are used to show the certainty of God's presence with the psalmist and the transmutation of darkness into light.
Psalm 139 exudes overwhelming confidence and trust in God. Something dramatic has happened to the psalmist, and he now dwwells comfortably and happily in the light of God. God has found him and brought him through something. The psalmist is overwhelmed with gratitude and satisfaction because God knows him and claims him. Fully known and yet fully loved, he exults in the intimacy of being known and cared for. This is a foretaste of heaven, where we will know as we have been known. Ps. 139 breathes the air of confident intimacy. The author is intoxicated by the God who is with him and will not reject him. He can't hide anything now. His longings for guidance and for vindication are likewise known to God. He will tell all. May we listen closely to him, and understand some of the passionate drive of Ps. 139.
II. The Joy of Being Known
In the first six verses the author stands in wonder that the God who knows his every thought, word and deed remains with him and does not reject him. The wonder of the psalmist is real, for a powerful fear of ours is that if people really knew who we are, they would not like us. We conceal our lust and greed and anger under the cover of polite and civil behavior. We are afraid to admit to ourselves, much less to others, who we truly are, lest we be abandoned and have to live our life alone. Yet Ps. 139 breaths a spirit that is different from that. Look at v. 1:
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me."
The psalmist probably was taught since childhood that God knew him thoroughly. He could have read in the sacred history of the people how the Lord looks not at the outward appearance but at the heart (I Sam. 16:7). Yet in Ps. 139 we receive the impression that somehting dramatic has occurred where the personal truth of God's intimate and loving knowledge has come home to him with fresh power. God knows him when he sits and rises, when he goes out and lies down. God knows him in the regular and irregular rhythms of his life. Verses 1-4 are reminiscent of the well-known requirement in Deut. 6:6 for Israelities to impress the Word of God on their hearts. They are to talk about the divine commandments when they sit, when they walk, when they lie down and when they get up (Deut. 6:7). Just as the Word of God is to be the constant preoccupation for Israel, the servant of God is the constant preoccupation of God!
At first glance, such a divine preoccupation with the psalmist may appear burdensome to him. One of Job's complaints against God, for example, was that God was too close to him:
"Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?" (Job 7:19)
Job felt that God's constant, close surveillance of him was a suffocating presence, a whirlpool of torment. Job felt hemmed in, and he needed some breathing space.
Yet the psalmist, faced with the same prospect of God's closeness, exults in Ps. 139:5-6:
"5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.."
Rather than feeling constrained by God's closeness, he is amazed that God desires to lavish so much attention on him. He looks at the closeness of God much like Isaiah looks at the presence of God, when the exiles return to Jerusalem. As they leave Babylon, he says:
"But you will not leave in haste or go in flight;
for the Lord will go before you,
the God of Israel will be your rear guard" (52:12).
God "hemmed in" the returning exiles behind and before, and they were protected as they made their triumphant return to Zion. It is wonderful for the psalmist to know that he is known by the God who delivers him from the pit. He loses himself in wonder, love and praise as he contemplates God's ssearching presence within him.
The next essay completes our my thoughts.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long