A Reflection on Psalm 139

Posted by Susan Hines-Brigger on 2/18/16 11:55 AM

Photo: Brian Mann.

You have searched me, Lord,

    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
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.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. 


Psalm 139 in Context

Psalm 139 has elements of both hymn and lament. It begins with praise for God’s presence and continual care (verses 1-18), but then addresses the writer’s difficulty in dealing with evildoers, those whose external behavior gives evidence that they “hate God” (verses 19-22).

The psalmist seeks to avoid their “faithless oaths” but instead to promote values that reflect God’s covenant with the Hebrew people. Throughout this very personal psalm, the writer (“I”) is speaking directly to God (“you”). The psalmist sees personal union with God as tightly joined to social action on behalf of others.


 For an overview of the Psalms, read The Book of Psalms: Prayers for Everyday Living, by Michael Guinan, O.F.M.


When I was pregnant with my children, I used to spend endless hours wondering whether they would look more like me or my husband or what characteristics of ours I wished they did—or didn’t—inherit. And then after they were born, I would look at them in amazement at the thought that my husband and I created them and I nourished and helped them grow within my own body.

I’ve often wondered if God gets a similar feeling when looking at me. Perhaps that curiosity is what draws me to this psalm. The words in it trigger so many experiences, emotions and questions within me.

In fact, when I was younger, I learned a popular slogan that perfectly sums up this psalm: “God doesn’t make junk.”

The Whole Kit and Caboodle

While it would be a whole lot easier to simply focus on the two verses of this psalm that I’ve chosen, I can’t ignore the entirety of the passage. And that means that while I do praise God for how “wonderfully” I have been made, both God and I are well aware of my shortcomings.

Each time I read this psalm, I can hear God’s voice—much like I’ve often heard my own father or mother—saying, “I’ve got an eye on you.” It’s both a comforting feeling and a reminder to be vigilant about my actions and the choices I make.

It also reminds me that my potential is endless and that someone’s always got my back. God has given me everything I need to be a loving, caring person. But then it’s up to me to use it.

I became even more aware of that when I became a mom. I remember writing in my daughter’s baby book that what I hope for her as she grows up is that she be kind and loving to others, and to remember that she is capable of doing whatever she puts her mind to.

This psalm reminds me that she’s already well on her way to achieving that, thanks to God. Through my husband and me, God has provided her with all she needs.

Those things with which she struggles, such as the impatience she seems to have inherited from her mother, God is ready to help her overcome. All she has to do is ask. Perhaps her mom will learn along with her. 

One-on-One with God

One of the other things that attracts me to this psalm is how personal it is. Because of that, it’s a perfect fit for me, because my relationship with God has always been a very personal one.

It’s a relationship where one minute I can be angry with God for something bad that has happened and then the next minute I can’t thank God enough for the many blessings in my life. It helps to remind me that, no matter what, God will always be there for me. In fact, many of the psalms are like that.

That one-on-one I have with God connects with the personal nature of this psalm. I’m not one for speaking out in the name of all people as some of the psalms do, but I do know what’s in my heart. As Psalm 139 reminds me, so does God—better than anyone else.


To gain a better appreciation of the Psalms, check out
The Psalms: Prayer in God's Own Words.


 The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Brueggemann

Categories: Psalms, Bible, God