Studies in Psalm 139

The Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent God

This Psalm is one of the most excellent and beautiful of all one hundred and fifty Psalms. It is unsurpassed is the sublimity of its message. Not only is its message a glorious one, it is also one of the most soul-searching chapters in the Bible. David, the psalmist of this particular psalm, realized he was in touch with the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God. The fourteen verses of the Psalm divide into four sections of six verses each. In Psalm 139:1-6, we learn of God’s omniscience in being the all-knowing and all-seeing one. Next in Psalm 139:7-12, we see how God is omnipresent, meaning He is present everywhere. In Psalm 139:13-18, we find David proclaiming God’s omnipotence, meaning that He is the all-powerful One. We also see that in Psalm 139:14-20, the psalmist reacts to these majestic truths, and finally, in Psalm 139:23-24, the psalmist ends the psalm on his knees in earnest prayer as he considers God’s attributes and his own unworthiness.


The Omniscient God, Psalm 139:1-6

Let us now consider God’s omniscience as we examine more thoroughly the first six verses of Psalm 139. David says, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1) This means that God knows each and every one of us in this intimate way, with deep knowledge of our minds, emotions, wills, and lives. In fact, nothing escapes His all-seeing eye nor alludes the gaze of his all-knowing mind. There are examples in Scripture where we see Jesus casting meaningful glances as He knows the intimate details of people’s lives and minds. In the story of Peter’s betraying of Jesus, Jesus predicts that Peter will betray Him three times, yet he denies it. When this does come true, we see that “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." (Luke 22:61)

In Revelation, Jesus appears with “eyes like a flame of fire” and says to the seven churches, “I know your works.” (See Revelation 1:14 and Revelation 2) When Jesus tells the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee praying before God at the temple, the one who “goes down to his house justified” is not the Pharisee, who performs for the outward appearance of his actions and prays he is not like other men. Rather, God, who searches all hearts and knows men’s thoughts and actions, knows that the tax collector is justified, because he recognizes his sin and unworthiness of mercy. (See Luke 18:9-14) God is watching us every moment of our lives with His searching, penetrating, piercing eyes. We also cannot avoid God, because there is no escaping from Him. In scripture, we see Adam, Elijah, and Jonah all attempting to hide from God and His call for them. (See Genesis 3:8, 1 Kings 19:1-10 and Jonah 1:3) Hebrews 4:13 claims, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Every part of our life, moment, movement, and microscopic detail is revealed and known to Him.

In Psalm 139:2-6, David tells us the extent to which God knows us, speaking of our thoughts, actions, and words. David says, “You understand my thought afar off.” (Psalm 139:2) Only the all-knowing God possesses this kind of knowledge. This is a most comforting and yet frightening thought! David continues by saying, “You are acquainted with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:3) This means that God also knows the motives that prompt our actions and has perfect knowledge of our open and secret life. He sees and hears what we do and say. If we reflect on David’s experience with Bathsheba and his adultery, Nathan finds out from the Lord about what David has done in secret. He tells David a parallel story about a rich man and a poor man, and when David condemns the rich man’s actions, Nathan reveals to David, “You are the man.” (See 2 Samuel 12:1-15) God indeed can see into every part of our lives, even that which is hidden to other men. Continuing on in Psalm 139:4, David says, “For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” This shows that God is also in full knowledge of and well acquainted with our words. Let us consider for a moment how much and how often we open our mouths to speak. The average man fills an average-sized book with his words every single day. That means that in a lifetime, he would speak as many words to fill enough books in a large library! Yet while he will forget most of the words he spoke, God always remembers them all. God’s knowledge is so extensive that even before our thoughts are brought together coherently or expressed in words, He knows what they will be and understands them!

Yet in Psalm 139:5, David says, “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.” This shows that God’s knowledge of us and what our days will be like is so complete that He can guard us from both behind and in front of us day by day. His powerful hand continues to protect us. In Psalm 34:7, David also claims the promise that “the angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him.” Psalm 91:11-12 promises us God’s angelic protection, saying, “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” David continues his psalm in Psalm 139:6, saying, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high, I cannot attain it.” Here David can rejoice in the knowledge of the Lord’s promise to never leave us nor forsake us, the awareness that He will resurrect us in a place where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. (See Revelation 21:4)


The Omnipresent God, Psalm 139:7-12

Now let us examine the next section of this psalm, with verses 7-12, that reveals the omnipresence of God. The psalmist not only knew God as the all-knowing and almighty God, but as the ever-present God who is in all places at one and the same time. David was convinced that nothing could hide us from God and His inescapable presence. Hebrews 13:5 promises us that He will never leave us. Romans 8:39 similarly promises us that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Look at the two questions David asks in Psalm 139:7: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” In the next five verses, David proceeds to answer his own questions by describing the inescapable God as present in five extreme spheres: His height, depth, the east, the west, and extreme darkness.

First, he says, “If I ascend into heaven, you are there.” (Psalm 139:8a) Heaven here symbolizes the highest height the Lord reaches, because the Lord’s presence reaches far beyond earth’s confines. In Psalm 89:11-12, the psalmist says, “The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all its fullness, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them.” All of the vast, stellar empires of space and the countless stars and their satellites traveling at inconceivable speed are His too. Think about the fact that there are a hundred million galaxies in which the Milky Way is only one. In this one galaxy, there are a hundred billion stars spinning around a central disc. This disc is one hundred thousand light years from rim to rim and contains six hundred million, billion miles of stars, and they are all His. Isaiah 40:26 speaks of God’s divine creation and care for the heavens: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing.”

David then identifies the depth of God’s presence in Psalm 139:8b: “If I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there.” He follows this with a description of God’s presence in the easternmost parts of the universe, saying, “If I take the wings of the morning,” implying God is there too. The psalmist here is making an allusion to the rays of the morning sun that streak across the sky at 186,000 miles per second. Even if we could travel like this at the speed of light to the remotest corner of the universe, when we arrive, God would still be there. We cannot hide from Him and He is absolutely inescapable. Think of the example of Jonah, who God wanted to go to Nineveh five hundred miles northeast of Palestine. But instead of going east, Jonah decided to go two thousand miles to the west. God sent him to the greatest metropolis of that day, but Jonah instead headed for a remote trading post on the fringe of civilization, fleeing from the presence of God. Despite his well-laid plans, though, he could not hide from God. The Lord knew where Jonah was all along and found him to complete his mission he desired him to complete.

David continues in Psalm 139:9-10 by saying if he dwells “in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.” Let us recall a story in history to reflect upon this. In 1845 Sir John Franklin lost his life in the snow-clad polar regions of the Pacific while on an exploration with his ship crew. None of his team ever came back or was found alive. Years later, Sir Francis McClintock discovered what remained of the expedition, and among the books and bones was Franklin’s copy of John Todd’s Student’s Manual. The dead explorer’s finger was pointing to a place on the page in the book where a dialogue was found. This dialogue said, “Are you afraid to die?” The other says, “No!” The person reacts, “No? Why does the uncertainty of another state give you no concern?” He replies, “Because God has said to me: “Fear not, when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” We can see that even on this doomed, freezing expedition in Northern Canada, Sir John Franklin knew the abiding presence of God.  

We see from Psalm 139:7-10 that David is sure that not even death, being in heaven nor being in hell can hide him from God. Revelation 21 speaks of the gates of pearl, the streets of gold, the walls of jasper, the foundations gleaming with precious stones, the tree of life, and the crystal river, where there is no night, no sin, no suffering, and no tears. God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, the Son of God will all be present there, and we will see His face. We cannot hide in heaven nor hell, and death allows no escape from God. Anyone who shuts God out of their life and dies will meet God in hell. They will hear the dreadful sentence being passed upon them. Revelation 22:11 says, “He that is unjust let him be unjust still, he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.”

The Psalmist continues by showing how not even darkness can hide us from God. In Psalm 139:11-12, David says, “If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from you, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to you.” Humanly speaking, darkness is considered the surest of all hiding places, because mortal eyes cannot penetrate dense darkness. Although darkness may hide man from man, it cannot hide man from God, as we see in these verses. In His presence, the night shines as the day, the darkness and the light are alike to Him. In Jeremiah 23:23-24, The Lord Himself asks rhetorically, “Am I a God near at hand and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Men and women have tried to hide from God since time began, starting with Adam and Eve in the garden. In Amos 9:2-3, the Lord similarly shows the ultimate knowledge of His creation, saying, “Though they dig into hell, from there my hand shall take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down; and though they hide themselves on top of Carmel, from there I will search and take them; though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, from there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.” We can see that the Lord knows and sees our whereabouts and can be present with us in our every attempt, because He is everywhere. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death and when we pass through the deep, dark waters. When the storm in our breast is raging we will not fear, for God is a present help in time of trouble. (See Psalm 46) When we walk through the fire of affliction, if we trust that He was with Daniel in the lion’s den and the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, He will be with you leading you out faithfully. Isaiah 32:2 assures us that during a future reign of righteousness and justice, men will be “as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Let us remember the words of the well-known hymn, Take My Hand, Precious Lord, by Thomas Dorsey:

“When my way grows drear, precious Lord linger near. When my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall. Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.”


The Omnipotent God, Psalm 139:13-18

In Psalm 139:13-16, David presents to us the omnipotence of God through skill and delicacy, describing the mystery of conception, the development in the womb, and the birth and life of human beings. David sees man as God’s crowning achievement. He says, “For you formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16) Here, to demonstrate the power and skill of omnipotent God, David chooses not to describe the immense power of God in creating the universe from nothing, creating Adam from a small quantity of earth, creating the animals, or even creating Eve from Adam’s rib. He does not even reference the amazing event of the liberation of Israel from Egypt or the miracle of the opening of the Red Sea. Instead, to prove his point of the awesome power and omnipotence of God, David chooses rather to describe the marvelous development of a baby in its mother’s womb.

Even though David’s knowledge of the mysterious process by which a baby is conceived and grows in the womb would have been very limited, he knew enough to be awed at the process of the development of life and still attributed this inexplicable phenomenon to omnipotent God. He could not have realized how marvelous and miraculous the growth and development of a child in a mother’s womb truly was! Since David’s time medical knowledge has exploded, baffling the intellect of our brilliant professors and doctors. We now know that in an infinitesimal embryo, smaller than the dot over the letter ‘i’, all the future characteristics of an individual with their physical traits and natural abilities are programmed in germ form in that fertilized egg. Each cell contains two hundred trillion tiny molecules of atoms, each of which is a micro-universe of unbelievable complexity. All of these cells put together make up a living creature. Every minute of every day, some three billion cells of the body die, and the same number are created to take their place. There are thirty billion of these cells in the brain and billions of red blood cells in the veins. With infinite skill and delicate precision, our omnipotent God develops one tiny egg into sixty trillion cells, one hundred thousand miles of nerve fiber, and sixty thousand miles of vessels carrying blood around the body with numerous bones, joints, ligaments and muscles working in conjunction to form a life. Such a complicated human system cannot possibly be the result of the mechanical forces of evolution or chance. We see in this psalm that even without this complex study, David was indeed confident that God had made, formed, and created him.

David also knows that God determines the length of our lives before we are born. (See Psalm 139:16) The Lord’s tender care does not cease once we are launched on to the ocean of life and are born. God’s thoughts toward us are unfailing and more than the grains of sand on the sea shore. (See Psalm 139:18) These verses urge us to think, “How precious it is Lord, to realize that you made me and that you are constantly thinking about me.” He schedules the things around us all of the time, each day of our lives are planned even before we began to breathe. God made us, our fingerprints and our DNA uniquely, like no other among the billions of humans that have lived. Beyond this microscopic attention of the Lord, He is also powerful at the telescopic level. For example, astronomical evidence displays that the earth is indeed the Lord’s. (See Psalm 24:1) Our God is the God of the Universe, and He spoke worlds into space, billions of stars sprang into life, shone, burned, blazed, exploded and expanded. To create these, God had only to speak them into existence.


The World’s Final Judgment and the Omnipotent God

We should also consider the practical application of these truths for us. The omnipotent God knows how you treat Him and His Son because He created you. He will undoubtedly draw you to Him and hold you accountable for your actions. Even though we are born in sin, we still must answer to Christ for all that we have done and said in this life. Proverbs 29:1 promises us, “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” We also know that there is no escape from this inevitable judgment. In Hebrews 2:3, the author asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3) Later, the author also claims the inevitably of our deaths: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Our omnipotent God has a personal message for us. In Acts 17:30-31, Luke reports, “He now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.” Therefore, we are to repent, brothers and sisters, because we know that we will one day appear before Christ to answer for our lives.

Let us examine Revelation 20:11-15 and what it says about the world’s great assize, or final judgment. John “saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.” (Revelation 20:11) This scene is in eternity, where earth and heaven have disappeared and the throne is set up in space, upheld by the mighty power of the omnipotent God. John continues, “I saw the dead small and great standing before God, and books were opened.” (Revelation 20:12) These men standing before God will include all types of men: great, rich, poor, religious, moral, famous, and infamous, and we will all be there too! (See Revelation 6:15-17) There will be no escaping this call. John goes one to describe this scene: “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” Here, John is describing the second resurrection, involving all those resurrected from Hades, or those who have died without Christ as their Savior, being judged out of the books. At this time, the degree of punishment will be determined for everyone. Finally, John tells us about those who have appeared before God at the great white throne and “cast into the lake of fire.” He says, “This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14-15) If you die without Christ, you too will be there. There will be no escaping this call! 

However, despite the judgment to come that is promised, we know that we have an escape as believers of Jesus Christ. God, our omnipotent God, provides for us! He does this through His Son, our Savior, Jesus. Jesus Himself actually warns us to “flee from the wrath to come” when He lashes out at the Pharisees in Luke 3:7. He also teaches his followers to deny themselves and take up their crosses to follow him. He says, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Again in John 5:24, Jesus teaches, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” He also says to his followers, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) When we think of the provision of our omnipotent God to be saved from His wrath at the final great assize, let us remember the words of the hymn Lord I’m Coming Home by William J. Kirkpatrick from 1892: “I wandered far away from God. The paths of sin, too long I’ve trod. I’ve wasted many precious years, I now repent with bitter tears. I’ve tired of sin and straying Lord; I’ll trust thy love, believe thy Word. My soul is sick, my heart is sore; my strength renew, my hope restore. Coming home, coming home, never more to roam. Open wide thine arms of love, Lord I’m coming home.”

In Psalm 90:12, the psalmist requests from God, “Teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart to wisdom.” We should ask ourselves if we trust that nothing is too hard for God. As we have seen in Scripture and in this study, nothing is impossible with God! The Lord asks Abraham in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The angel tells Mary in Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” We must remember that He has the whole wide world in His hand. We should also be in awe of Him: God is so great that there is nothing He does not know, nowhere He is not present, and nothing He cannot do. He knows when you and I sit down, when we get up, and is acquainted with all our ways, words and thoughts. He is behind us, before us, His hand is on us all the time, and He is absolutely inescapable.


Let us cry out to God as David cries out to God at the end of Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) In the royal Christmas message broadcast on December 25, 1939 to England, a country just on the brink of World War II, King George VI read the famous poem God Knows by Minnie Louise Haskins. He is quoted as saying, “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied,
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” Beloved, God is so great! Let us rejoice in these three amazing characteristics of our God. There is nothing He does not know. There is nowhere He is not present. There is nothing He cannot do.