“I’ve been thinking about you,” we say to people we care about. Our minds naturally gravitate toward those we love, especially when they are in need. We want them to know that they are not forgotten, they are not alone, and we are praying for them. Even atheists, who have no faith in God and no belief in prayer, when times are tight, will speak of sending positive thoughts your way.
In Psalm 139, David says, in effect, “God has been thinking of you.” In fact, you are never out of His mind. For some, such a concept fills them with dread. Christopher Hitchens, the well-known atheist, for example, once confessed:
I think it would be rather awful if God existed. . . . If there was a permanent, total, round-the-clock divine supervision and invigilation of everything you did, you would never have a waking or sleeping moment when you weren’t being watched and controlled and supervised by some celestial entity from the moment of your conception to the moment of your death. . . . It would be like living in North Korea.
I suppose that is one perspective, but it is not the psalmist’s. The idea that the mind of God is alive with thoughts toward him fills his soul with delight, not dread. “God’s thoughts of me,” he says, “are so many, I cannot count them (see Ps. 139:17), and they are so precious, I cannot put a value on them” (see Ps. 139:6). Young children often fall asleep in their parents’ arms, but they usually wake up to an empty bedroom. This never happens to the Christian. Even when he sleeps, David says, God is there watching, knowing, loving. When I awake, I am still with Him—He hasn’t left me for a moment.
Let’s think about the thoughts of God for you and me by examining Psalm 139.
Whatever We Do, He Knows Us
God’s knowledge of us is careful and complete. Look at the verbs in the first stanza.
- Searched (Ps. 139:1): This word always refers to a “difficult and a diligent probing.” It carries the idea of searching something exhaustively—not the half-hearted rummage of a brother looking for his sister’s Barbie accessory in the cavernous confines of a toy box.
- Known (Ps. 139:1): This is the verb Moses selects to describe Adam’s intimate knowledge of his wife, Eve. Adam knew her as nobody else did. So it is with God. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
- Discern (Ps. 139:2): This verb goes beyond gathering data. It describes a person’s putting all the pieces together, like Sherlock Holmes at the end of one of his famous cases. God knows us so well; furthermore, He can recognize what’s going on in our minds from a mile away (Ps. 139:2b), like a husband looking across the room at his wife who is struggling with an awkward conversation partner at a party. She glances at him for a second but doesn’t have to mouth a word; her eyes say it all: “Get me out of here!”
- Search out or scrutinize (Ps. 139:3; NASB): This verb is used for a farmer’s winnowing the wheat from the chaff. It can describe a person’s spreading something out in order to get a proper look at it. Think of a father and a son building with LEGOs. What do they do? They spread out all the pieces on the table so that they can find just the piece they need.
- Acquainted (“intimately acquainted with all my ways” NASB): God reads us so well, and He knows us through and through. The Hebrew is emphatic: “You, yourself have known when I sit down and when I rise up” (see Ps. 139:2). This knowledge is personal; God does not gain it by the report of another.
Everywhere you go, in everything you do, He is there searching, observing, scrutinizing. Before a word leaves our lips, He knows what we are going to say and why (Ps. 139:4).
God’s knowledge is also kind. It is alive with tenderness (Ps. 139:5). His providential care surrounds us. His gentle hands wrap us all around, like a girl cherishing a fuzzy, fragile, little chick. Such knowledge overwhelms David with gratitude (Ps. 139:6).
Wherever We Go, He Is with Us
We live our life in the bubble of God’s presence. There are no backdoors through which we can escape when He is not looking. Go as high as you can up into the heavens, and He is there. Go as deep as you might into the pit, and He is still there. Take the wings of the dawn and fly at light speed to the remotest parts of the cosmos, but you can’t outrun His all-holding hand (Ps. 139:7–10).
Even when you feel lost in the darkness—when all your senses tell you, “God has abandoned you,” and all your circumstances scream, “All hope is gone!” Even that darkness is not dark to Him, and night is as bright as the day (Ps. 139:11–12). Unlike the Coast Guard, God never needs to call off the search until morning light. You can hide your location on your iPhone from your friends and family, but you cannot hide from God. He knows our physical and spiritual GPS coordinates at all times.
Whatever We Have Become, He Made Us
Like a potter forming the clay, God formed us in our mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13–16). Every part of our being is lovingly put together from our kidneys to our knees, from our heart to our hair, from our eyes to our ankles. Every day of your life is lovingly planned out (Ps. 139:16). Nothing is ad hoc. Nothing is left to chance. God’s creative care extends not just to our good days but to our worst days as well. It covers not only our strengths but also our weaknesses. What comfort this should give us all.
Verse 13 begins with the explanatory word, “For you formed my inward parts.” David is explaining why God will never lose us in the darkness (Ps. 139:11–12). Because God took the trouble to make us, He will take the trouble to care for us. Upstairs in my boys’ bedroom, my son Josiah has several larger LEGO starships that he built. He cares for them. They are his, for it was he who made them. So he takes it personally when his brothers damage them. So it is with God. He takes it personally when people hurt His people (Acts 9:4).
Whatever You Face, He Will Help You
As if the doors of bedlam had burst open, verses 19–22 interrupt the calm of the psalmist’s language. Where on earth (or from hell) did they come? These jarring words probably provide the life context behind David’s song. Wicked men threaten his life (Ps. 139:19b). They hate him, but their real beef is with God (Ps. 139:19a). For this reason alone, David counts them his enemies. If this assumption is correct, David wrote Psalm 139 on an errand to God for deliverance. Yet in prayer, he spends much more time ruminating about his God than he does about his trouble. What he really wants is for God to deliver him from sinful, grievous, anxious thoughts (Ps. 139:23–24). There is a lesson here for us all, I think.
In the 1950s, Communist Romania was a tough place to live. In this officially atheistic country, the government imprisoned tens of thousands of Christians for their faith. Silvia Tarniceriu grew up as a child through those dark days. Although she lived in a Christian home, her teachers at school mocked the very notion of a God, and Silvia wasn’t sure what to think. Her parents were dirt poor, and Silvia, with eight siblings, grew up wearing a terrible amalgam of boy and girl hand-me-downs.
The winters in Romania were bitterly cold. Going to school every day, Sylvia trudged through the snow, shivering in a thin sweater and wearing her big brother’s boots. They were ridiculously oversized for her tiny feet, and she had to pack them with newspaper just to keep them from falling off. Silvia hated this. Secretly, she longed for shoes of her very own.
When she was thirteen years old, she decided to see if God was really there. One night, she got down on her knees and prayed to Him, “God if you are real and you really listen to our prayers, then please would you send me a sweater, a coat, and a pair of shoes, girly brown shoes, with buckles?” She kept her prayer all to herself and waited.
Two months went by and nothing happened. Then one day, Sylvia’s dad returned from work carrying a brown paper parcel. What could it be? Nobody ever sent them parcels. Even more intriguing, the postmark read, “The United States of America.”
Feverish with excitement, Mr. Tarniceriu cut the twine and went to work opening the parcel. He reached in, and out came a sweater, then a beautifully warm duffle coat, and last of all, out came a pair of brown leather, girly shoes, with a brass buckle on either side.
“Whose are these?” her daddy asked, bewildered. As her family rushed to look, Sylvia couldn’t contain herself, “They are mine!” she blurted. Her siblings all stared at her, horrified by such selfishness!
Then she explained how she had prayed two months before for these very items. As she did so, a terrible thought flashed across her mind, “Oh, no,” she thought, “I forgot to tell God my size!”
But when she tried the new clothes on, to her relief, she discovered that they fit perfectly, and Sylvia thought to herself, “I can’t believe it—God knows even my size!”
If there is a word of comfort for us Psalm 139, it is surely this: God knows our size, but He also knows much, much more.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 21, 2020.