Book #5: 107-150, cont’d.
There are numerous attributes of the nature of God…and each of them is extremely important. But on many occasions in my life there are four of those attributes that seemed to be particularly apparent and important. They are God’s love, His presence, His power, and His holiness. Here, in this Psalm, those same four attributes stand out.
Psalm 139:1-6-God’s love
David says that God knows everything about him...from his actions, to his thoughts, to his location. And, He knows these things past, present, and future. I see here a doting parent, diligently watching over the child he loves. The word “searched” (:1) speaks of the careful scrutiny that is given by a miner digging for valuable stones and minerals, or an explorer who is carefully adding details to a map of a new land. God knows him in the details of every moment as well as the general behaviors of an entire lifetime (:2). The words “intimately acquainted” (:3) translate a single Hebrew word whose root, or origin speaks of someone who lives or dwells with another person. The idea is that here is someone who knows another person so well for the simple reason that they constantly live together in the same house and he is aware of everything that the other person does, all of the time. Because of this vast amount of insider information God can anticipate what he is going to say before he even knows what he is going to say, himself (:4). David goes on further to say that God has “enclosed” him (:5). This word means to be put into a confined space. It is often used of an enemy who is slowly, but surely, closing in tighter and tighter. And here, using that same thought of proximity, it speaks of the fact that God is immediately present with him at all times. The wonder of this truth is heightened when David says that God is so close that He has “laid Thy hand upon me”. The hand of God…it is likened to the tender, loving hand of a father gently stroking the head of his child, reassuringly resting on his shoulder…guiding, protecting, supporting him. David says that his awareness of this truth about God’s love is almost overwhelming, almost too much to comprehend (:6).
Psalm 139:7-12-God’s presence
David begins with a question: Is there anyplace that I can go that God is not already there? The answer: No. He gives several examples of extreme places where he might travel and upon arrival find that God is already there…
- “heaven” (:8)…meaning the starry skies
- “Sheol” (:8)…meaning the place of the dead
- “wings of the dawn” (:9)…meaning the most distant place that it is possible to see across the face of the earth
- “remotest part of the sea” (:9)…meaning the furthest known point to which any known person had ever traveled
- “darkness” (:11)…meaning the dead of night when there is absolutely no light by which to proceed.
David says that there is nowhere that he can go that God is not already there...there to guide him and to protect him (:10).
Psalm 139:13-18-God’s power
David says that God made him in his mother's womb, that He was there when he was conceived. The word “form” (:13, NASV), comes from a root word that means to “create”…and by extension, to “own, possess” (cf. Genesis 14:19,22). Something belongs to a person because they are the one who made it. God is not only our creator, but our possessor. And He will take care of that which belongs to Him. The words “inward parts” (:13) refers to the internal organs. In the days of the Psalmist, the belief was held that our emotions are centered in our inward parts (especially the kidneys)…since it is often a person’s experience that when they become emotionally moved, their stomach would be stirred. The word “weave” (:13) has a double significance. On one hand, it speaks of entwining materials together…as one would carefully construct a fence or hedge by interlinking pieces of material together. On the other hand, it speaks of the protective nature of the hedge…as a fence, or cover. David is saying that his conception was not by accident. But that God, Himself, was involved in creating the very cells of his body which He carefully wove together in his mother’s womb where he would be kept safe until the time of his birth. David then says that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (:14). While it could be that David, even with his extremely limited understanding of the true detail of the intricacies of the human body, was speaking of how amazing his physical body is…it could also be said that he wasn’t thinking so much of the product, as he was thinking of the producer, the One Who made the product. He is amazed that he is not just the product of a man and a woman…but that he is in fact the very creation of God, Himself. This is substantiated by the very next words, “Wonderful are Thy works…” (:14b). David then says that his “frame” (meaning his bones, physical structure) was not hidden from God when he was “made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth” (:15). Again, he is saying that God is totally aware of the very moment of conception of a child…even though to men it may be a “secret” (they don’t know the exact time) and “in the depths of the earth” (at a place they cannot see)…because God is the cause of the process of conception and birth, He is completely aware of the timing of conception and birth. Then, just to make sure that we understand that God knows everything that would ever happen in our life…David backs up and says that even before the act of his conception ever took place…God was already aware of every moment of his life that would follow afterwards (:16). Once again (cf. verse 6), David is almost overwhelmed by these thoughts. If we could count the grains of sand on the seashore…they would not equal the thoughts of God that are concentrated on us (:17-18).
Psalms 139:19-24-God’s holiness
Psalm 139:19-22-David says that he hates those who hate God (:21). Not only do these people practice wickedness (:19) towards other men, but they are also intentionally disrespectful towards God…”they speak wickedly against Thee” (:20). The word “wicked” in verse 19 comes from a root word that speaks of a commotion, or a disturbance. There is a right way to do something…and someone has caused disorder by doing it in the wrong manner. The word “wickedly” in verse 20 is a different word and it means to plot, scheme, or devise. It goes a step beyond the word in verse 19. Not only are they doing something in a wrong manner, they are giving careful consideration as to how they do it. This is no accident. This is deliberate, intentional disobedience and rebellion against the orderliness of God. They “rise up against” God (:21). David is not ambivalent in his attitude towards these people. Not only does he “hate” them…he “hates them with the utmost hatred” (:22). The word “hate” is a strong word…to which we often associate intense emotional feelings. And indeed, that is a part of what this word means. The emotions of hate are the companion feelings that result from a decision to take a resolute stand against those that practice wickedness. Those who practice wickedness against God are in diametric opposition to Him. Whatever God is…they are the opposite. They are the enemies of God. Seeking to undermine, thwart and demolish His sovereign rule. The ancient root word for “hate” speaks of this idea of being an enemy…and was at times actually translated this way (cf. Exodus 1:10; Leviticus 26:17). To use this word means that you are the enemy of someone…and as a result, there are intense emotional feelings towards them. At its heart…when David says that he “hates” those who practice wickedness…he is saying that he stands with God against those who oppose Him and because they are God’s enemy, they are his enemy. The word “utmost” means “perfect, complete”. He leaves no room for uncertainty, or ambiguity about which side he has chosen.
Psalm 139:23-24-David prays that God will reveal to him anything that is displeasing in his life...and then lead him in the correct way to live.
Psalm 140:1-5-David asks that the LORD rescue him from those who seek to harm him. The serpent was seen as an image of a liar…his tongue being sharp and quick…even as a liar’s tongue (words) is sharp, seeming to impale the truth with its vicious accusations; and quick, seeming to dispel the facts with its vague assertions. The “viper” (:3) is the Egyptian cobra and is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. David asks God to protect him from their attempts to destroy him (:4-5)
Psalm 140:6-8-David says that he has called upon the LORD because He is his God.
Psalm 140:9-11-He specifically asks God to judge those who lead in attacks against him. That whatever lies they spread about him…become true of themselves (:9).
Psalm 140:12-13-He says that he is confident that God will rescue those who follow Him.
Psalm 141:1-2-David asks that God will view his prayer as the incense that is burned in the Temple. And, that as he lifts up his hands God would see it as an act of sacrifice.
The Golden Altar of Incense
The golden altar of incense, which is not to be confused with the brazen altar, sat in front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. This altar was smaller than the brazen altar. It was a square with each side measuring 1.5 feet and was 3 feet high. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. Four horns protruded from the four corners of the altar.
God commanded the priests to burn incense on the golden altar every morning and evening, the same time that the daily burnt offerings were made. The incense was to be left burning continually throughout the day and night as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. It was made of an equal part of four precious spices (stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense) and was considered holy. God commanded the Israelites not to use the same formula outside the tabernacle to make perfume for their own consumption; otherwise, they were to be cut off from their people (Exodus 30:34-38).
The incense was a symbol of the prayers and intercession of the people going up to God as a sweet fragrance. God wanted His dwelling to be a place where people could approach Him and pray to Him.
“…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)
The picture of prayers wafting up to heaven like incense is captured in David’s psalm and also in John’s vision in Revelations:
“May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2)
“Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” (Revelations 8:3-4)
Psalm 141:3-4-David prays that God will keep him from doing what is wrong. He asks God to keep him from saying anything that is wrong and to protect his heart…from which those things that are wrong would originate. He asks that there would be no desire in him to enjoy that which is evil.
Psalm 141:5-7-He says that he is willing to listen to the advice of righteous people...it is good and helpful (:5). When the “judges” (leaders) of the wicked die and their judgment is evident (their bones are scattered in the dirt) then those who had previously listened to them will now pay attention to David (:6-7).
Psalm 141:8-10-He concludes by saying that he has set his mind to follow the LORD and to take refuge in His protection.
Prayer: Father, David’s thoughts of Your nature…the depth of Your love, the closeness of Your presence, the extent of Your power, and the perfection of Your holiness…were so expansive that he could hardly comprehend them. I agree. There are aspects of Your nature that send my mind spiraling…Your omnipotence, Your omniscience, Your omnipresence, Your immutability. And then to realize that You have created us in such a way that we can not only know about You…but can know You personally…is almost more than I can grasp. But I would want no other God. I don’t want to worship a God Who is so distant that I can only have a vague and uncertain knowledge about Him. Nor do I want a God that is so natural that a mere human mind can easily explain Him. With all due respect and wonder I say that You are as God should be. And having said that…I am inspired to worship You and trust You more than ever before.