God knows us inside out

Psalm 139:1-10

Tuesday, December 9

God knows our true heart attitudes, and we can’t hide from Him. At the same time, we cannot be hidden from His saving help and mercy.

1  You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.

  • The key phrase of this psalm is “You know” and the key concept is the human heart, although that word is not used. This is praise to God who knows us intimately and knows our heart attitudes – something that David understood, although at the time relationships with God were more typically mediated through the priesthood.
  • The “searched me” or “searched me out” phrase is related to winnowing. This is adoration of God who knows us better than we know ourselves, in an active and engaged way.
  • “You know me” has more depth as in the sense of complete divine discernment. In the final verses of the psalm (Ps. 139:23-24) knowing is also making judgments, but as a fair-minded, if rigorous, judge.

2  You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.

3  You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.

4  Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.

  • This gently confronts our tendency to ‘pray a news bulletin’ to God, or at least, to rely on the persuasion of our many words. It is encouragement to enter into a different kind of prayer encounter which lays down the need to explain and persuade, for listening and hearing God’s word for the situation.

5  You hem me in behind and before, and You lay your hand upon me.

  • The psalmist recognises that God is everywhere and sees everything – omnipresent and omniscient in theological language. Not being able to escape scrutiny is not good news for someone with a furtive attitude or lifestyle, but not being able to escape God’s notice and mercy is surely good news for someone set on living openly being known and corrected lovingly by God?

6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

  • Which is an awesome prospect, but also an unsettling one – am I ready for this?

7   Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?

  • “Your presence” is literally “Your face”  and the first thought of a less-than-holy human who encounters “God’s face” is to hide, as it was in the Garden in Genesis.

8  If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.

  • Heaven and Sheol are opposites; so are the wings of the dawn, farthest east and far side, far west, of the Mediterranean (v.9)
  • This language, perhaps even this expression, is picked up by Amos in Amos 9:2 to describe a fugitive from justice. There is the sense here of a flight from such awesome love, such all-seeing and perfect justice.

9  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

  • Here thoughts of fleeing give way to being picked up and held close by God’s love in all its depth and breadth.


Only Job was similarly forthright about God knowing him. The human tendency is to live behind a mask which we present to others, and not want people to know us too well, too soon, because they might find something which causes them to reject us. But God will never reject us, and He already knows everything there is to know. He wants to lead us into freedom from the fear of rejection, to be transparent and with Him and with others, with nothing to prove. That is the journey into maturity.

Difficult times and situations are part of the spiritual battlefield of life. Sometimes they are self-inflicted, but verse 7 reminds us we can never be far from God’s presence. If we head into a dark valley, even if it is of our own making, God’s goodness and mercy follow us, as David wrote in the well-known Psalm 23, verse 6, which supports the assertion of v.10 “…even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me.

Discussion starter

What initial thoughts does being hemmed in by God (verse 5) conjure up?

Also published on Medium.

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