Psalm 139: Transparency


Overhead Projector

Back in the last century, when folks wanted to show documents to a crowd, one of the machines they used was a quaint device called the overhead projector, which shown a bright light through a transparency, bounced the light off a mirror and through a lens held above the transparency, and onto a white screen. Almost magically, the image shone large enough for the audience to read the text—if the room was dark enough.

King David, of the Old Testament tribe of Judah, revealed a different kind of transparency in his Psalm 139.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalms 139:1-4 ESV)

This is not only the authoritative statement on God’s omniscience by the man who knew and loved God best, it is encouragement for those of us whose faith falters occasionally. At times I wonder if God really listens to my thoughts or knows my inmost urges, motives, and needs. But this psalm shows me that he does far more than that.

From The Treasury of David: “How well it is for us to know the God who knows us! The divine knowledge is extremely thorough and searching; it is as if he had searched us, as officers search a man for contraband goods, or as pillagers ransack a house for plunder.” Yet, the self-existent One owns such knowledge, not through great effort, but through his infinite insight. In fact, you can’t hide anything from him, even if you want to.

That’s real transparency, more like another object from the last century: Revell models’ Visible Man. At sixteen inches tall, his internal bones and organs were visible through his transparent, plastic skin. You might say I felt like God while searching out his secret innards. Yet, the thing was inert, without thoughts or motives. Imagine how God can look through us, not just seeing, but knowing, all that goes on from scalp to sole, both physical and mental, emotional and spiritual. Is that not truly wonderful?

It is, if you aren’t foolish enough to think you’re hiding something from him.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalms 139:5-6)

Rearguard Action

If you read that and think in terms of “trapped,” you need to reexamine your relationship with the Lord. I prefer to think of him in terms of his forming my rearguard and vanguard as I march along life’s unknown path. As my rearguard, he extinguishes the enemy’s flaming arrows of shame and regret for the wrong things I’ve done either before joining him, or after, when I chose to live my own way outside of his protection. You know, the stupidest thing you can do when marching through enemy territory is wander out of ranks. I can’t imagine a more comforting sensation in those dark places than the warmth of his hand resting lightly on my shoulder.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalms 139:7-12)

This portion begins with rhetorical questions. The only reasonable answer is within the psalm’s context. Sheol is the Hebrew abode of the dead, not “hell,” according to common misconception. You’ve heard the sage advice, “You’ve made your bed. Now lie in it!” Sheol could be taken as the corrupt, world system. As one of God’s chosen, you may try to make yourself comfortable in the darkness of popular culture, human religion, and crass materialism, but God will always see you and never abandon you to those things. He may make you miserable in them, but he won’t let you go.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalms 139:13-16)

This passage may seem familiar if you’re a pro-lifer, but there’s so much more in it. Ever wonder if God indeed has a destiny for you? Unlike yours and mine, his knowledge and understanding aren’t limited to what was or is. In fact, our own knowledge and understanding is so limited as to be laughable, compared to his.

Nothing in your life will ever take God by surprise. This truth suggests a great illustration of our minuscule knowledge and woefully errant understanding; we think of God’s foreknowledge and conclude that if it’s true, all is fated, that we can’t do anything about anything. That’s human reasoning for you. Only God can see how our choices work along with his foreknowledge, without violating one of his greatest gifts to us: personal volition.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalms 139:17-18)

All I can say is, “AMEN!”

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