Date: 23 Oct 2022
Speaker: Eld Elgin Chan
Sermon Text: Psalm 139:1-24
It is sometimes difficult to see God in control of the world and our lives when the world is facing so much turmoil, conflicts and uncertainties (ongoing pandemic, war in Ukraine, energy and food crisis, extreme weather patterns, etc). May psalmist David’s experience of suffering and hardship help us to see with the eyes of faith that God is still in control of the world and how His greatness is revealed in His loving care and protection over our lives.
I have entitled my message as “Our Searching God – Comfort or Concern?”. Why our searching God and not our beloved God? This is because I find it interesting that David opens this Psalm with a declaration, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me!” and then he concludes with a passionate prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”
I gather that David is pointing us to our God who manifests His loving care and concern for us by constantly looking out for us and watching over us, in the same way as how a loving parent would look out for his/her child.
Psalm is ascribed to psalmist David (2 Sam 23:1)
Composed for public worship (to Choir Director/Choir Master)
Consensus among Bible scholars – “Nowhere else in Scripture can we find God’s greatness so strikingly set forth as in Psalm 139”.
“Both in loftiness of thought and in expressive beauty of language, Psalm 139 stands preeminent, and it is not surprising that it has been called ‘the crown of the Psalms’”
“I-Thou” or “I-You” relatioship between psalmist David and God is emphasized prominently throughout & serves as the “unifying thread” throughout this Psalm.
May I suggest 2 key learning points for our learning and encouragement:
A) God’s greatness revealed (v1-12) through:
1) His omniscience as the all-knowing God (v1-4)
2) His omnipresence as the all-present God (v5-12)
B) Our Response to God’s greatness (as revealed in Psalm 139)
A1) God’s Omniscience (First Segment)
Here, God’s greatness is revealed through His omniscience as the all-knowing God.
From this first segment, we can draw several personal responses:
1) God has searched me (v1) First Personal Response
Here, we see that God’s searching of us is an intense and personal search, as illustrated by our Lord Jesus in the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:1-7.
We are reminded that our Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd who spares no effort in going after lost sheep like you and me, until He has found us.
Comforting Truth: God will never give up on us, as emphasized by Paul in Rom 8:31-32.
Point of Concern: Our impulsive tendency is to give up easily on those who have hurt us or disappointed us. May God’s love and grace enable us to be more Christ-like and forgiving towards those who have hurt us or let us down.
2) God knows me intimately (v1) Second Personal Response
Hebrew meaning for “yada” (pronounced as yawdah) is translated as "to know" (appeared about 950 times in the Hebrew Bible. Its meaning is more insightful than our modern English word with the same spelling.
In OT time, “to know someone” is not just to know him/her intellectually, but it’s having a personal and intimate relationship with that person.
We see this intimate relationship illustrated in 2 Bible characters:
Abraham: In Gen 18:19 (KJV), when God said “I know him” – it refers to God having a very close and personal relationship with Abraham (Elsewhere in James 2:23, Abraham was called a friend of God because he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness).
Moses: God’s intimate relationship with Moses is described in Ex 33:11 when it says that God speaks to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
Comforting Truth: Christ’s invitation to us to come before His throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace in time of need (Heb 4:15,16)
Point of Concern: Our sinful tendency to keep a distance from God, for fear that all our sinful thoughts, words and actions will be exposed and multiplied before His holy presence. May Christ’s promise of His forgiveness and His acceptance of us in 1 John 1:9 help us to overcome our fear of drawing near to Him, that we may experience the joy of His presence in our daily walk with Him.
3) God comprehends my thoughts fully (v2) Third Personal Response
“You discern my thoughts from afar.” (v2)
The word “discern” has the same meaning as “to recognize, to comprehend fully.”
Since God comprehends all our thoughts fully, including all our doubts, fears and anxieties, He desires us to bring all our cares to Him, for He cares for us.
“casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)
Comforting Truth: We find this comforting truth in Christ’s promise” of inner rest in Matt 11:28-30.
Point of Concern: We may allow our hearts and minds to be overwhelmed by our daily toils and struggles and the cares of this world, causing us to lose our focus on Christ’s promise of inner rest in Him, if we are not careful. May the Holy Spirit help us to come to Christ and lay our burden at His feet, that we may experience inner rest for our anxious souls.
4) God is familiar with all my ways (v3) Fourth Personal Response
3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. (v3)
The Amplified Bible says it beautifully: “3You scrutinize my path and my lying down; You are intimately acquainted with all my ways.” (Ps 139:3, AMP)
To “scrutinize” is “to examine someone or something thoroughly to gather the right information”.
Comforting Truth: God’s invitation to trust Him for every decision and step we take, since He has our best interests at heart and He can see the way far ahead of us, better than any of us can.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall make straight your paths.” (Prov 3:5,6)
We see this in our Project Ebenezer’s experience – how God has helped our church leaders to do the right thing by not leaning on their human understanding and wisdom, but to acknowledge Him in every step of the way, and how He has made straight our path in helping us to obtain the religious permit from the Planning Authority, thus enabling us to worship Him in-person at Henderson.
Point of Concern: Our self-reliant attitude may hinder us from seeking God’s guidance and direction. We only come to God at major crisis points in our lives. In the process, we may miss out on His intended blessings that come from seeking and trusting Him at every step of the way, by having our faith in Him strengthened and our love for Him deepened.
5) God knows what I’m going to say (v4) Fifth Personal Response
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (v4)
Some of us may have this experience when we find ourselves at a loss for words – for example, when we are shocked and overtaken by a traumatic event or news, that no words can describe how we feel at the moment.
Comforting Truth: We can take comfort in God’s Word in Romans 8:26-27 that His Spirit will help us in our moment of weakness, when we are at a loss for words.
Point of Concern: God’s Word tells us in James Chapter 3 that our tongue is like a very small fire that can set a great forest ablaze. To this end, we see Paul warning us against using profane or abusive speech. Instead, we are to use our words to encourage one another and not to put one another down, as is befitting of a child of God and disciple of Christ.
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Eph 4:29 NLT)
We now come to the Second Segment, which is God’s greatness revealed through His omnipresence as the all-present God.
A2) God’s Omnipresence (v5-12) (Second Segment)
1. God’s presence envelopes me (v5) First Personal Response
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:5)
“Hem” means “to besiege a city on all sides”, so that there is no escape for the city inhabitants. Here, David is using the word in a positive sense, as referring to God’s hemming him in on all sides to protect him from unseen dangers and harm.
OT Hebrew meaning of “hem” also refers to images of rocks as stronghold or fortress. This ties in beautifully with the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 91 when he says,
1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My Refuge and my Fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps 91:1-2)
Comforting Truth: as God’s people, we can rest in His protective presence, knowing that He is our Refuge and Fortress, and we can trust Him to protect us and our loved ones from unseen dangers and harm.
Point of Concern: our self-reliant and stubborn spirit may hinder us from fully trusting in God’s protective presence in our daily lives, especially when we are faced with a very stressful situation, and we are then tempted to rely on our own strength and experience to carry us through, as happened in the account of king Saul in 1 Samuel Chapter 13. May the Holy Spirit help us to turn to Christ, that we may commit the stressful situation to Him and learn to rest in His protective presence.
2. God’s presence goes before me (v7-10) Second Personal Response
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
Comforting Truth: we can take comfort in Christ’s promise in Heb 13:5 and Ps 23:4 that He will never leave us nor forsake us during times of testing.
Point of Concern: our sinful & rebellious nature may see us rebelling against God’s indwelling presence in us. This sinful tendency of going away from God is captured by the famous hymn writer and poet, Robert Robinson, when he wrote in Stanza 3 of his beloved hymn “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing”:
3 Oh, to grace how great a debtor Daily I'm constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here's my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.
Summary: God used a lady believer to help Robert Robinson to see his backsliding years as reflected in his poem and through her encouraging words, helped him to come back to God. God subsequently used his hymn to turn the hearts of many wayward believers back to Him.
3. God’s presence outshines my darkness (v11-12) Third Personal Response
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.
Comforting Truth: we can take comfort and courage in God’s abiding presence with us and have no fear when we go through the valley of darkness and testing.
My personal testimony – how God led me through a time of darkness and testing way back in 2001 and how He has strengthened my faith through His promise in Ps 46:1.
Point of Concern: in our low moments of testing, we may allow the darkness of doubt and discouragement to weaken our faith and to draw us away from God’s promise of His abiding presence, as can be seen earlier in the struggles and pains experienced by the hymn writer Robert Robinson. May the words of a Christian pastor encourage us – “Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.”
Here, we see the importance of meditating and hiding God’s Word in our heart, as you can never tell when you will need His Word to enlighten your darkened path and point you back to Him.
B) Our Response to God’s Greatness
Finally, we come to our response to God’s greatness. May our response be like that of Psalmist David:
1) We marvel at God's greatness (v1-12).
As the all-knowing God who knows us through and through – including our sins and shortcomings, yet inviting us to have a personal relationship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the all-present God who constantly watches over us with His loving presence and protection.
A Bible commentator sums up the beauty of God’s greatness as written in Psalm 139:
“Psalm 139 is one of the grandest of all the Psalms, for it brings us face to face with the majesty and power of God. Immediately it exalts God as all- knowing and omnipresent, and clearly shows that all of man's life is in God's hands.”
Comforting Truth: we can take heart that Christ is our Good Shepherd who knows us through and through and who watches over us with His loving presence and protection. May we constantly look to Christ as our Good Shepherd to lead us, to protect us and to provide for all our needs.
Point of Concern: Allowing our personal goals & ambitions to distract us from His majesty and power. Personal goals and ambitions are not wrong in themselves, as even Paul has strong warnings in 2 Thessalonians Chpt 3 against lazy believers who are walking in idleness, not busy at work but are busybodies in other people’s lives. May the Holy Spirit help us to submit our goals and ambitions to Christ, that He may direct us to use our time and talents to serve Him for His kingdom’s sake and, in the process, to cultivate a deeper love and vision of His majesty and power in our lives.
2) We marvel at God’s creation of new life (v13-16)
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Comforting Truth: God as the Creator & Sustainer of all lives.
Point of Concern: opposition from secular voices to Church’s stand to uphold the sanctity of life as taught in the Bible.
3) Asking God to search our heart (v23,24)
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Comforting Truth: For the faithful child of God, the thought of asking God to search our heart is not frightening but comforting. David invites God to search him because he knows God loves him and cares for him deeply. He has complete confidence in God’s loving grace and forgiveness. As a Christian writer says, “This prayer “Search me and know my heart” can only be spoken by someone who feels completely loved and accepted. And it can only be spoken to a trusted person who unconditionally loves the person he is watching.”
Ultimately, God’s searching of us is for our own good, to lead us to cleansing of our heart & restoration of our fellowship with Him.
Point of Concern: Lack of genuine desire & intent to open our heart to God’s Word and allow His Spirit to convict us of our sinful thoughts, words and actions.
“It is easy to mock God, by asking Him to search you whilst you have made but little effort to search yourselves, and perhaps still less to act upon the result of the scrutiny.” (Melvill).
In closing, may the following thoughts encourage us in our journey of faith and walk with the Lord.
The greatness of a king is seen most beautifully in his kindness towards his subject and his people. Indeed, God’s greatness is seen in His kindness towards us as revealed in Rom 8:32.
David, as the sweet psalmist of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, is not perfect - he has his fair share of sins and shortcomings, yet through all his adversity and trial, David has come to appreciate his intimate relationship with God and is comforted by God’s loving presence and protection over his life.
May the words of this Christian writer encourage us:
“This psalm speaks of the pervasive presence of God, and His intimate knowledge of us, which offer us an outsized measure of hope and comfort in the face of adversity and trial”
Like David, we too have our fair share of adversity and trial. May God’s promise in Deut 33:27 encourage us to trust Him in greater measures in our journey of faith: “The eternal God is Your Refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27).
May we experience His loving and everlasting arms as we go forth from here. Amen.