There’s a doctrinal viewpoint called Calvinism. Are some people destined for destruction while others are predestined for salvation? Are we all individually predestined by God to heaven or hell? Why would ANYONE reading the Bible think that is true? Don’t we all control, each one, our own destiny, OR, does God already have that all planned out for us beforehand? What does the Bible say?
Well, today’s Psalm doesn’t settle this, but it does contribute to the debate. For we who grew up and cut our teeth on the doctrine of personal responsibility and freedom of the will, Psalm 139 says some pretty hard things. And the hard things in Psalm 139 don’t stop with what some see as predestination, but also our relationships with God’s enemies, where the Psalmist seems to contradict Jesus.
It is humbling to me to read scripture and discover that maybe I don’t know things as I ought to know. Or, maybe there are things about God and our relationship to Him that are too wonderful for me to understand, too lofty for me to attain. God’s word has a way of stretching me as I study it and take it seriously, It does that for all of us if we truly are seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness first.
The Bible plants one stake deeply into the sovereign will of God where all things are seen from the eternal perspective. But it also plants another stake deeply into the human responsibility of man where all things are seen from a temporal perspective. A problem occurs when we settle into one of these at the expense of the other. One leaves man without free will, the other leaves God in the dark concerning the future. The Bible sets these in tension, and seems comfortable not resolving it all for us. Sort of like the question: Is Jesus God or is He man? Is God sovereign or does man have free will? The answer is: yes.
In Psalm 139 David explores five personal aspects of his relationship with God.
vs 1-6 God knows David.
vs 7-12 God is with David.
vs 13-18 God made David.
vs 19-22 David hates God’s enemies.
vs 23-24 David invites God’s guidance.
Each of these deserves much more attention than we can give today. Let’s just walk through and discover a few of the jewels of this Psalm together.
Let’s recite Psalm 139 together, and explore these with David:
Notice first the bookends of the Psalm: verse 1 and verse 23. Verse one is past tense, verse 23 looks to the future. What lies between is David exploring the amazing knowledge and presence of God. In doing so He says some things that make us wonder, “Did the Bible really say that?” And, “Doesn’t that contradict the New Testament?” Etc.
Let me suggest something. Before we begin to correct all the “mistakes” of this Psalm, let’s hear and appreciate its message first. Lets trust that this is God’s word and believe that God isn’t trying to damage our doctrines. Let’s let God correct OUR misunderstandings about His kingdom and further enlighten OUR minds about His righteousness. Let’s be careful, but not blindly resistant to inspired words from God.
Open your heart to the wonder of our all knowing, ever present, eternal God! David did. He’s called a man after God’s own heart! That’s what I want too, don’t you?
Verses 1-6 tell us that God knows us! I mean really really knows us! Jesus echoes this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:8,32) “Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask.” He sees in what is in secret (Matt. 6:4,6&18). Matthew 10:29-30 Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. God is watching over us all, carefully, individually, completely aware of every aspect of our lives. God knows you! Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
The voice of God in scripture is clear. God knows us.
Verses 7-12 God is with us! David asks, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? The short answer of Psalm 139 is: nowhere. Is that true? Yes! Why then does the Bible tell us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you?” Moses once said to the Lord, “If you don’t go with us, we’re not going anywhere.” Why does Isaiah 59:2 tell us that our sins have separated us from God? Why does 2 Chronicles 32:31 say that God withdrew from Hezekiah to test him and see everything that was in his heart? And why did Jesus cry out on the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Well, my answer is: I don’t know. I know that 2 Thessalonians 1:9 describes the very worst punishment, and it is being forever shut out from the presence of God. Upon being banished, Cain’s complaint to God included being hidden from God’s presence, Genesis 4:14. David, who wrote Psalm 139, also wrote Psalm 51:11 where he begged God not to cast him away from God’s presence, or take His Holy Spirit from him. So what does Psalm 139 mean? David says that there is no escape from God. Jonah found that to be true. God’s presence in scripture seems to have more than one dimensional in nature. There is a nearness to God in favorable kind. There is also a terrifying presence of God in wrath and vengeance. There is also a sort of silence of God at times when we are being tested. But there is nowhere you can go to escape God’s awareness, even if you are not aware of Him.
God is inescapable. That’s comforting to those who love Him and should be terrifying to those that resist Him.
Verses 13-16 God made us, and wrote the story of our lives. You’ve heard of the chronicles of the kings of Judah and Israel. Also, in Esther 6:1, we read how King Xerxes, when he couldn’t sleep, had someone bring the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, and read to him. Just imagine your entire life written in a book of chronicles! Every day’s events recorded in exquisite detail, down to you very words, thoughts and attitudes. Before Facebook, there was Psalm 139:16. Imagine opening Facebook and discovering that your entire life was already recorded, including your future. We might imagine the past being recorded, but the future too? Could that be possible? Does God have that kind of knowledge? Well, read verse 16 again. If we go through the rest of the Bible, what do we find? Romans 8:28-39, Eph. 1:3-14, Rev. 20:11-15.
There are about 14 references to God’s book of life in the Bible. Five of them are in Revelation. (3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:15, 21:27). Six are in the Old Testament. (Ex. 32:31-32, Psalm 69:27-28, 139:16, Mal. 3:16).
Jesus once told His disciples, “rejoice that your names are written in the book of life.” Luke 10:20, Paul, addressing two quarreling Christian sisters at Philippi, “Help Euodia and Syntyche to get along… whose names are in the book of life.” Phil. 4:2-3. Hebrews 12:22-23 speaks of the church of the Firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.
Our God is The Great King who keeps record of all His subjects. We are good with that. But does God write the record before it came to be? Rev. 13:8 and 17:8 don’t say that, but they do say this: everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
One thing is absolutely clear in scripture, our lives are on record and we will face the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for everything we do while here in this world. Our eternal destiny depends on whether or not our names are in the Lamb’s book of life. God can put your name in there and He can blot it out of there.
Do you know that your name is in God’s book of life? Are you ready to meet him? David’s words in this Psalm are a wonderful expression of faith. Seeking God as King. Walking in His righteousness. These describe those whose names are in God’s book and whose lives He has written.
Let’s finish the Psalm: Verses 17-22 beg the question of how we relate to God’s enemies. David hated them. If someone said something nasty about your Mother, how would you feel? If someone said something nasty about God, does that not stir your heart too? Nuff said…
Verses 23-24 David invites and welcomes God’s searching of his heart and life. This is perhaps the real lesson from this Psalm for us. Are we openly asking God to search us and expose anything in us that He would not want? Are we willing to accept God’s complete guidance over every aspect of our lives? This is the heart of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.