Pentecost + 14--September 9, 2007
Bill Long 8/28/07
Psalm 139:1-7, 13-18 (II); Searched and Known (II)
III. You Are There, O God
It dawns on the psalmist that God's presence with him now is a permanent presence, and that there is no way that he can fall outside of the loving care of God. He asks two questions in v.7.
"Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?"
He asks these questions not because he wants to escape God, but because his amazement is growing at God's searching and omnipresent love. These two rhetorical questions are meant to answer the four seemingly rhetorical questions of Ps. 88:10-12. That is, in Ps. 88 the author's appeal for God to deliver him from Sheol was based on his knowledge that God's presence was not in Sheol. Is God's love in Sheol? was the question of Ps. 88. "No" is the expected response. In Ps. 139 the author also asks rhetorical questions. "Where can I flee from your presence?" Nowhere. Not even in Sheol? No, for "If I make my bed in the depths (Sheol), you are there." What a powerful answer to the abandonment of Ps. 88.
But there is another, even stronger point in verses 7-12. Since God is even in Sheol, and since the darkness is as light to God, the psalmist now cannot imagine how he could ever be separated from God. If God wants us badly enough to bring us out of the pit, then God will never let us go. We can hear the faint beginnings of a thought fully expressed by Paul in a great celebration of the resurrection. Paul declares:
"Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (I Cor 15: 54,55).
The psalmist is confident now that God will never let him go and that the final word in his life will not belong to the darkness but to the God who makes light appear even amid death.
IV. Known Thoroughly
The psalmist cannot get away from the thought of how intimately God knows him. He looks at his body and notices its intricate shaping and its well-working parts. An intricate body argues for an intricate Creator. He feels that he bears in his body a silent testimony to the loving and intimate care that God gives to every detail on earth. Neither a sparrow falls nor a ligament is tied but God knows it thoroughly.
Once again, the psalmist is overwhelmed. The thought that God knows him so well and yet does not rejet him makes him lose himself in other deep truths about God:
"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."
Like the author of Ps. 40 who, when he began to trust, discovered the breadth of divine truth (v. 5), the author of Ps. 139, as he is comfortable with being known by God, realizes some of the vastness of God's thoughts. The image of verses 17-18 is one of him patiently and eagerly recalling and reciting great truths about God, then growing tired and falling asleep and awaking to find that his mind is still joyfully meditating on God. Sleep has been a peaceful interlude in which the thoughts of God become emblazoned yet deeper in his heart.
So he is fully known, and God still loves him. He revels in God's continual presence with him. He enjoys God's handiwork in his body. He puts himself joyfully in God's hands. He thinks of God, and his thoughts of the divine mercy multiply. He is overwhelmed by them and drifts off into sweet sleep. He wakes up to find that it is all true and that God is still with him. Confident intensity pervades these verses.
V. Conclusion--A Plea for Vindication
Most of wish that the psalm ended with v. 18. Indeed, the lectionary text ends there, but the psalm keeps going. We don't like the spirit of hatred expressed in vv. 19-22. These thoughts interrupt the confident and overflowing wonder of vv. 1-18. They betray a vindictive spirit. We don't defend the psalmist for saying these things, but we surely understand him. Like the attacks on the enemies in Ps. 55 or Ps. 69, these words are a true mirror of the heart that knows that it cannot hide from God. The author is not taking judgment into his own hands; he realizes and yields to the biblical truth that vengeance belongs to God.
Perhaps, however, the psalmist has the feeling, as he closes, that his outburst of verses 19-22 was too srong. In verse 24 he says:
"See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting."
We would like to think that in baring his soul to God in verses 19-22, he recognizes, if even in a limited way, that his hatred for some people is an "offensive way" that must be purged from him. He wants to be led in God's way. As he concludes the psalm we are left with the impression that as he learns to trust God ever more with his life, he will discover God's thought that would be expressed most powerfully by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:43-44):
"You have heard that it was said 'Love your neighbor an hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."
Amen to that.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long