“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.”
He invokes in adoration Jehovah the all-knowing God, and he proceeds to adore him by proclaiming one of his peculiar attributes. If we would praise God aright we must draw the matter of our praise from himself – “O Jehovah, thou hast.”
No pretended god knows aught of us; but the true God, Jehovah, understands us, and is most intimately acquainted with our persons, nature, and character. How well it is for us to know the God who knows us!
The divine knowledge is extremely thorough and searching; it is as if he had searched us, as officers search a man for contraband goods, or as pillagers ransack a house for plunder. Yet we must not let the figure run upon all fours and lead us further than it is meant to do, the Lord knows all things naturally and as a matter of course, and not by any effort on his part.
Searching ordinarily implies a measure of ignorance which is removed by observation; of course, this is not the case with the Lord; but the meaning of the Psalmist is, that the Lord knows us as thoroughly as if he had examined us minutely, and had pried into the most secret corners of our being.
This infallible knowledge has always existed – “Thou hast searched me”: and it continues unto this day since God cannot forget that which he has once known. There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there never will be a moment in which we shall be beyond his observation.
Note how the Psalmist makes his doctrine personal, he saith not, “O God, thou knowest all things”; but, “thou hast known me.” It is ever our wisdom to lay truth home to ourselves. How wonderful the contrast between the Observer and the observed! Jehovah and me! Yet this most intimate connection exists, and therein lies our hope. Let the reader sit still a while and try to realize the two poles of this statement, – the Lord and poor puny man – and he will see much to admire and wonder at.
“Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising.”
I thou knowest, and all that comes with me. I am observed when I quietly sit down and marked when I resolutely rise up. My most common and casual acts, my most needful and necessary movements, are noted by thee, and thou knowest the inward thoughts which regulate them. Whether I sink in lowly self-renunciation or ascend in pride, thou seest the motions of my mind, as well as those of my body. This is a fact to be remembered every moment: sitting down to consider, or rising up to act, we are still seen, known, and read by Jehovah our Lord.
“Thou understandest my thought afar off.”
Before it is my own it is foreknown and comprehended by thee. Though my thought is invisible to the sight, though as yet I am not myself cognizant of the shape it is assuming, yet thou hast it under thy consideration, and thou perceivest its nature, its source, its drift, its result. Never dost thou misjudge or wrongly interpret me, my inmost thought is perfectly understood by thine impartial mind. Though thou shouldst give but a glance at my heart, and see me as one sees a passing meteor moving afar, yet thou wouldst by that g!impose sum up all the meanings of my soul, so transparent is everything to thy piercing glance.
“Thou compassest my path and my lying down.”
My path and my pallet, my running and my resting, are alike within the circle of thine observation. Thou dost surround me even as the air continually surrounds all creatures that live. I am shut up within the wall of thy being; I am encircled within the bounds of thy knowledge. Waking or sleeping I am still observed of thee. I may leave thy path, but thou never leavest mine. I may sleep and forget thee, but thou dost never slumber, nor fall into oblivion concerning thy creature. The original signifies not only surrounding but winnowing and sifting. The Lord judges our active life and our quiet life; he discriminates our action and our repose, and marks that in them which is good and also that which is evil. There is chaff in all our wheat, and the Lord divides them with unerring precision.
“And art acquainted with all my ways.”
Thou art familiar with all I do; nothing is concealed from thee, nor surprising to thee, nor misunderstood by thee. Our paths may be habitual or accidental, open or secret, but with them, all the Most Holy One is well acquainted. This should fill us with awe, so that we sin not; with courage, so that we fear not; with delight, so that we mourn not.
“For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.”
The unformed word, which lies within the tongue like a seed in the soft, is certainly and completely known to the Great Searcher of hearts. A negative expression is used to make the positive statement all the stronger: not a word is unknown is a forcible way of saying that every word is well known. Divine knowledge is perfect since not a single word is unknown, nay, not even an unspoken word and each one is “altogether” or wholly known. What hope of concealment can remain when the speech with which too many conceal their thoughts is itself transparent before the Lord? O Jehovah, how great art thou! If thine eye hath such power, what must be the united force of thine whole nature!
“Thou hast beset me behind and before.”
As though we were caught in an ambush, or besieged by an army which has wholly beleaguered the city walls, we are surrounded by the Lord. God has set us where we are, and beset us wherever we are. Behind us, there is God recording our sins, or in grace blotting out the remembrance of them, and before us, there is God foreknowing all our deeds, and providing for all our wants. We cannot turn back and so escape him, for he is behind; we cannot go forward and outmarch him, for he is before. He not only beholds us, but he besets us; and lest there should seem any chance of escape, or lest we should imagine that the surrounding presence is yet a distant one, it is added, –
“And laid thine hand upon me.”
The prisoner marches along surrounded by a guard and gripped by an officer. God is very near; we are wholly in His power; from that power, there is no escape. It is not said that God will thus beset us and arrest us, but it is done – “Thou hast beset me.” Shall we not alter the figure, and say that our heavenly Father has folded his arms around us, and caressed us with his hand? It is even so with those who are by faith the children of the highest. Psalm 139:6
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”
I cannot grasp it. I can hardly endure thinking of it. The theme overwhelms me. I am amazed and astounded at it. Such knowledge not only surpasses my comprehension but even my imagination.
“It is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
Mount as I may, this truth is too lofty for my mind. It seems to be always above me, even when I soar into the loftiest regions of spiritual thought. Is it not so with every attribute of God? Can we attain to any idea of his power, his wisdom, his holiness? Our mind has no line with which to measure the Infinite. Do we therefore question? Say, rather, that we, therefore, believe and adore. We are not surprised that the Most Glorious God should in his knowledge be high above all the knowledge to which we can attain: it must of necessity be so since we are such poor limited beings; and when we stand a-tip-toe we cannot reach to the lowest step of the throne of the Eternal. Psalm 139:7
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit?”
Here omnipresence is the theme, – a truth to which omniscience naturally leads up. Not that the Psalmist wished to go from God, or to avoid the power of the divine life; but he asks this question to set forth the fact that no one can escape from the all-pervading being and observation of the Great Invisible Spirit. Observe how the writer makes the matter personal to himself – “Whither shall I go?” It was well if we all thus applied truth to our own cases. It was wise for each one to say – The spirit of the Lord is ever around me: Jehovah is omnipresent to me.
“Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
If full of dread, I hastened to escape from that nearness of God which had become my terror, which way could I turn? “Whither? Whither?” He repeats his cry. No answer comes back to him. The reply to his first “Whither?” is its echo, – a second “Whither?” From the sight of God, he cannot be hidden, but that is not all, m from the immediate, actual, constant presence of God he cannot be withdrawn. We must be, whether we will it or not, as near to God as our soul is to our body. This makes it dreadful work to sin; for we offend the Almighty to his face, and commit acts of treason at the very foot of his throne. Go from him, or flee from him we cannot: neither by patient travel nor by hasty flight can we withdraw from the all-surrounding Deity. His mind is in our mind; himself within ourselves. His spirit is over our spirit; our presence is ever in his presence. Ps139:9
“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.”
If I could fly with all swiftness, and find a habitation where the mariner has not yet plowed the deep, yet I could not reach the boundaries of the divine presence. Light flies with inconceivable rapidity, and it flashes far afield beyond all human ken; it illuminates the great and wide sea, and sets its waves gleaming afar, but its speed would utterly fail if employed in flying from the Lord. Were we to speed on the wings of the morning breeze, and break into oceans unknown to chart and map, yet there we should find the Lord already present. He who saves to the uttermost would be with us in the uttermost parts of the sea.
Wherever you are, your heavenly Father watches over you. He looks on you as if there were no other created being in the entire world. His eye is fixed on you every moment. You cannot banish me from my Lord. Send me to the snows of Siberia, and I will have the eyes of God on me. Send me to Australia, and He will visit me. Send me to the utmost verge of this globe, and I will still have God’s eye on me. Put me in the desert, where there is not one blade of grass, and His presence will cheer me.
Let me go to sea in the howling tempest, with winds shrieking, the waves lifting their mad hands to the skies, and I will have the eye of God on me. Let me sink. Let my gurgling voice be heard in the waves. Let my body lie down in the caverns of the sea, and still, the eye of God will be in my very bones. “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” Psalm. 139:9–10.
And in the resurrection day, my every atom will be tracked in its wanderings. The eye of God is everywhere. Providence is universal. God’s eye is on your friends who are far away. If you have beloved ones moving, wherever they go, God will keep them. Wherever you are, whatever your case, God will be with you. His eye is at the wedding, the funeral, the cradle, and the grave. In the battle, God’s eye is looking through the smoke.
The revolution of God’s hand is managing the masses who have broken from their rulers. In the earthquake, Jehovah is manifested. In the storm, there is God’s hand tossing the ship, dashing it against the rocks, or saving it from the boisterous waves. In all seasons, always, in all dangers, and in all regions of the earth, there is the hand of God.
“Even there shall thy hand lead me.”
We could only fly from God by his own power. The Lord would be leading, covering, preserving, sustaining us even when we were fugitives from him.
“And thy right hand shall hold me.”
In the uttermost parts of the sea, my arrest would be as certain as at home, God’s right hand would there seize and detain the runaway. Should we be commanded on the most distant errand, we may assuredly depend on upon the upholding right hand of God as with us in all mercy, wisdom, and power. The exploring missionary in his lonely wanderings is led, in his solitary feebleness, he is held. Both the hands of God are with his own servants to sustain them, and against rebels to overthrow them; and in this respect it matters not to what realms they resort, the active energy of God is around them still.
“If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me.”
Dense darkness may oppress me, but it cannot shut me out from thee, or thee from me. Thou seest as well without the light as with it, since thou art not dependent upon light, which is thine own creature, for the full exercise of thy perceptions. Moreover, thou art present with me whatever may be the hour; and being present thou discoverest all that I think, or feel, or do. Men are still so foolish as to prefer night and darkness for their evil deeds, but so impossible is it for anything to be hidden from the Lord that they might just as well transgress in broad daylight.