A Study of Psalm 139
As we get started today, let me tell you about a book I’ve just finished reading, which is published by Tyndale House. When the remains of the Titanic were discovered, ABC sent Dr. Michael Guillen, author of Believing is Seeing, to cover the story. He had been hired as the lead Science correspondent for ABC news after doctoral work at Cornell University and Harvard in the fields of physics, mathematics and astronomy. His extensive study in the sciences had led him to reject his atheism, proclaiming that the “Christian worldview best answers all my questions… (and) best squares with the scientific worldview…it’s easy for me to be both a scientist and a Christian.”
Now, Guillen had never learned to swim and he was terrified by the water. But he had no choice but to squeeze into a tiny Russian-made submarine-like capsule and go to the very bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. He found himself lying flat on his stomach in the tiny sub, peering out the window. Suddenly he saw rivets, and he realized he was face to face with the famous doomed ship. He began to cry when he saw it. During the next hour or so, the pilot of the sub took Guillen on a tour of the remains of the vessel, and then there was a problem.
The sub became caught in a fast-moving, deep-underwater current, which slammed it into the Titanic’s propeller. The submarine got caught. Ten minutes passed, and Guillen fought the panic that was overtaking him. He knew they had limited oxygen and no way to get help from above. As the pilot of the sub fought to free the vessel from the propeller, a heavy, crushing depression and sadness came over Guillen, and he thought of how he would likely perish just like the remains of all the victims of the tragedy on the Titanic just on the other side of the window. He was terrified.
And then he remembered the Lord and he thought of his Savior, and, as he later wrote, “Something happened that’s difficult to describe. The feel of the sub’s interior space abruptly changed somehow. It was as if an invisible presence had entered it. At the same time, an uncanny and unheralded sensation of peace washed over me.”
Within a few minutes, the submarine’s captain managed to free the little capsule, and Dr. Guillen lived to tell the story on the air.
He later said, “A few months later, Laurel and I were reading the Bible when we came across this Psalm: ‘Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to Heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, 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.”
Dr. Guillen said, “For as long as I live, Psalm 139 will never again be merely words in the Bible.”
This story illustrates so much about Psalm 139. It’s not just how this chapter of the Bible spoke to him on this occasion, although that is a remarkable story. It’s how gradually and almost grudgingly a brilliant scientist came to the conclusion that the complexity of Creation cannot be adequately explained outside of a biblical worldview.
The overall subject of Psalm 139 is how God thinks of you and me. The Psalmist reviews four great qualities or attributes of God, and he investigates how these qualities intersect with our lives. The outline is very clear. The twenty-four verses break into four divisions of six verses each.
Verses 1-6 focus on God’s omniscience. The Lord knows everything about us. Verses 7-12 focus on God’s omnipresence. The Lord is everywhere we are or ever can be. Now we’re coming to verses 13-18: God’s omnipotence. God’s power created us and designed our lives for us in advance. Let’s read these verses from The Living Bible.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. 15 You were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion!
16 You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!
17-18 How precious it is, Lord, to realize that you are thinking about me constantly! I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me. And when I awaken in the morning, you are still thinking of me!
There are three emphases here. In verses 13-15, David talks about God’s creation of him; in verse 16, he stands in awe of God’s agenda for him; and in verses 17-18, he rejoices in God’s affection for him.
God’s Creation of You is Wonderful
Let’s begin with God’s creation of you. Here are verses 13-15 again. The English Standard Version says: For You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
The Lord formed your inward parts and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. Job 10:11 says something similar: “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.”
We know much more now than David knew about the development of a baby in the womb. We know that at conception, the baby’s eye and hair color, gender, and much more are already set. By the third week, his or her brain, spinal cord, heart, and gastrointestinal tract are being developed. All of this is before a woman typically even takes a pregnancy test.
By week four, the beginnings of a nervous system, skin, hair, and enamel for teeth begin to develop, as well as the foundations of a heart, lungs, skeletal system, and much more.
And by week five, the baby’s heart is beating.
And yet, every baby that has ever been born and developed is unique. You are creatively distinct from every other person who has ever lived on earth or who is living on earth now, which researchers say is over 100 billion people, including the nearly 8 billion alive today.
There is no one like you and there never will be—you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
This is why Christians are such outspoken advocates for the protection of preborn children. The brutal and unspeakable injustice of our day is the savagery of the taking of these little lives and these beating hearts.
David’s point is one of wonderful praise and the complexity of the body God had formed for him. And no wonder. God gave you lungs that take about 20,000 breaths a day. Your heart beats about 100,000 times a day, and you have 100,000 miles of blood vessels inside you—100,000 miles of blood vessels! Your liver, which is the largest gland in the body, performs more than 500 essential functions every day. Your tongue is covered by about 8,000 taste buds. You have more than 600 muscles; and ounce for ounce your bones are literally stronger than steel. And here’s something you probably didn’t know. An average individual can produce enough saliva during his or her lifetime to fill two swimming pools.
I haven’t even talked about the human brain—but you get the point.
One writer said, “Your body’s parts — from the largest bones and organs to the smallest molecules and cells — are put together with a precision no engineer could design. Your body is able to do a remarkable array of things. And it must do many of them nonstop without your attention.”
I’ve been reading a book that is a little above my head. It’s by Dr. Marcos N. Eberlin, who is the former president of the International Mass Spectrometry Foundation. His book is called Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose. Dr. Eberlin contends that the science of biology is in the middle of a gold rush of discovery. He wrote, “All of this new knowledge is exhilarating in its own right. At the same time, I am now convinced that many of these discoveries, taken together, point beyond themselves to something ever more extraordinary. This new age of discovery is revealing a myriad of artful solutions to major engineering challenges, solutions that for all the world appear to require something that matter alone lacks. I will put this as plainly as I can: The rush of discovery seems to point beyond any purely blind evolutionary process to the workings of an attribute unique to minds—foresight.”
David knew that 3,000 years ago. God’s creation of you is unique and wonderful. That’s what we find in verses 13 through 15.
God’s Agenda for You is Established
Verse 16 goes on to say that God’s agenda for you is established. He didn’t just create you fearfully and wonderfully in order to throw you into random confusion and disorganized chaos. When He created you, He had an agenda already in mind for your life.
Verse 16 says: 16 You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!
This is as close as I’ve ever come to having a life verse. I’m not sure where the original copy of my first Living Bible is, but I can still see this verse highlighted in vivid yellow lying open on my dormitory desk. I found this verse one day in my devotions, and I’ve never been the same. It’s wonderful to discover this verse while a young adult!
Later I found a New Testament verse that says essentially the same thing—Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I wrote about this in my book, Mastering Life Before It’s Too Late. If God has planned each day of my life, then I should wake up every morning and say, “Lord, what do you want me to do today.”
Let me read you what I wrote in that book:
The child of God never awakens to a day unplanned by heaven or unattended by the Lord. When the alarm goes off each morning, we roll out of bed knowing we have a divine purpose, plan, and presence. There are no blackout dates on the calendars God keeps for our lives. There are no mistakes in His almanac. “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
We are not on earth haphazardly—not products of primordial sludge that randomly came to life and accidentally developed into the complexity of who we are. We’re made in God’s own image, and He always operates with purpose, passion, peace, and poise.
We are on earth today because God designed an individual plan for us to be alive at this particular moment, knowing in advance the impact we can have in a world He loves. Since He is all-knowing, the past and future are equally plain to Him.
We were each born on just the right day on his calendar, and we will finish our earthly tasks at just the right moment in his will.
He placed us on a planet that rotates on its axis by his command once every twenty-four hours.
He has correspondingly planned his will to unfold in one-day increments. While we do our best to ascertain what God has for us in the future and plan our calendars accordingly, we wisely live in one-day increments.
Our greatest joy is to open each day determined to invest our daily allotment of hours doing exactly what God has planned for us—being about our Father’s business. If we begin each day with a prayer for his will to be done as it’s done in heaven, we’ll end each day bringing glory to Him on earth by completing the tasks He’s given us.
This pattern, pursued for a lifetime, will enable us to finish the work God has given us at the end of our earthly lives, and we’ll begin our heavenly careers with the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The person who understands this lives radically different from those who don’t.
So God’s creation of you is wonderful, and His agenda for you is established.
God’s Thoughts of You are Continual
Finally, God’s thoughts of you are continual. Verses 17 and 18 say: How precious it is, Lord, to realize that you are thinking about me constantly! I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me. And when I awaken in the morning, you are still thinking of me!
The Christian Standard Version says: “God, how precious Your thoughts are to me; how vast their sum is! If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand; when I wake up, I am still with you.”
In other words, the Psalmist said, “Lord, even when I am asleep You are thinking about me constantly, and when I awaken You are still thinking about me.
Dr. E. J. Young in his book about Psalm 139 said, “The thoughts of God of which David speaks are those which God has concerning David, thoughts which are constantly directed to him and which have embraced and do embrace him in the entirety of his life. These thoughts which have originated with God revel how great God is. They show that He is truly omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent…. It would seem that David is uttering his surprise at the power of the thoughts of God. The total impact which they make upon him is that of strength.”
We can find some of God’s thoughts toward us in Scripture, which is the record of the mind of God. But His loving care for us and continual thoughts of concern for us are beyond even the Scripture. They are infinite, and David calls them precious.
God’s creation of you is wonderful; His agenda for you is established; and His thoughts about you are continual. All the energy of His omnipotence intersects with your life, your need, and your eternal purpose.
Let me end with these incredible words from the hymn, “O Worship the King.”
Thy bountiful care what tongue could recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light.
It streams from the hills and descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
Thanks for digging into the Bible with me, and may God be with you until we meet again.