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Known by God

July 23, 2023 Speaker: Jonathan McLeod Series: Summer in the Psalms 2023

Scripture: Psalm 139:1–24

Smile, You’re on Camera

People act differently when they know they’re on camera.

Psalm 139 tells us that there is someone who sees everything we do. There is someone who hears everything we say. There is someone who knows everything we think.

That person, of course, is God.

How should this reality make us feel?

God’s Knowledge of Us

The title above Psalm 139 says that it’s a psalm of David. (Are the titles of the psalms canonical?)

Psalm 139 talks about God’s omniscience and omnipresence, but it’s not a theological study. It’s “applied theology.”

The psalm is very personal. One or more of the words “I,” “me,” “my,” “you,” or “your” are found on almost every line of the psalm.

Psalm 139 gives us three realities about God’s knowledge of us.

Reality #1: God knows every single thing about you and me.

The psalmist begins by saying, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1). Here the word “search” means to examine. Nothing escapes God’s attention. He knows us completely. It’s like what Hebrews 4:13 says: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Jesus said to the seven churches in Asia Minor, “I know your works” (Rev. 2-3).

In verses 2-4, the psalmist says that God knows all of his actions, thoughts, and words. [Read vv. 2-4.] God knowing our thoughts means that he knows not only what we do, but also why we do it. He’s also familiar with our daily routines (“acquainted with all my ways,” v. 3b).

Some of what Psalm 139 says can have a positive or negative connotation. Verse 5 is an example of this: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” To be hemmed in means to be surrounded. And God laying his hand upon the psalmist is like cupping your hand to trap a bug.

Then the psalmist confesses in verse 6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Here “too wonderful” means incomprehensible, too difficult to understand. The apostle Paul had a similar reaction in Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

There are people who know us well (e.g., your spouse, a parent, your best friend), but no one knows us like God does.

Reality #2: God is everywhere you and I go.

In verse 7, the psalmist asks, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” The answer to both questions is nowhere.

Someone who tried to flee from the Lord’s presence was Jonah. [Read Jonah 1:1-3.] But, of course, Jonah couldn’t escape God’s presence. God “hurled a great wind upon the sea” (v. 4) and “appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (v. 17).

[Read vv. 8-12.] The psalmist says that no matter how high or low he goes, God is there. No matter how east or west he goes, God is there. If he hides in the darkness, God is there and will see him.

Reality #3: God knew everything about you and me even before we were born.

Perhaps the darkest place for the psalmist to hide would be in his mother’s womb. But even there—as an unborn child—God knew him. [Read vv. 13-16.]

The psalmist had a basic understanding of biology (i.e., how babies are made), but he sees himself as ultimately the creation of God. God “knitted [him] together in [his] mother’s womb” (v. 13b). He says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (v. 14a). Human life is an amazing thing!

In these verses, there are two metaphors for our lives. First, our lives are a work of art. The psalmist uses the words “knitted” and “woven.” We aren't accidents. We aren’t worthless. We matter greatly to God. Christians see in these verses support for the sanctity of human life.

Second, our lives are a book. God has written a book about us that includes every day we will live. So God knows our past (when we were in our mother’s womb), the present, and the future (each of our days are in his book).

Again, the psalmist is amazed by God. [Read vv. 17-18.]


Psalm 139 takes an unexpected turn in verses 19-22. [Read vv. 19-22.] What about “Hate the sin, love the sinner”?

In his commentary on the Psalms, Allen Ross writes that “at the heart of the word translated ‘hate’ is the idea “to reject” (as opposed to the word for ‘love’ which has an emphasis on choosing).” This is what Malachi 1:2-3 means when it says, “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”

What the psalmist is saying is that he’s choosing God and rejecting God’s enemies. He says, “I count them my enemies” (v. 22).

We could go back to the book of Jonah to see that God loves all people, even his enemies. Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh? [Read Jonah 4:1-11.] God asks Jonah, “Should not I pity [i.e., have compassion on] Nineveh?” (v. 11).

Search Me, O God

Psalm 139 ends with a prayer. [Read vv. 23-24.] Other translations say, “know my anxious thoughts.” The psalmist’s enemies make anxiousness a possibility. But he wants to make sure his loyalty belongs to God. He wants to be led “in the way everlasting,” the right way of living.

So the psalm begins with the psalmist acknowledging that God has “searched” him and “known” him. And now it ends with the psalmist inviting God to “search” him and “know” him.”

Comforted or Disturbed?

Let’s go back now to considering God’s knowledge of us. How does God’s complete knowledge of you make you feel?

Does it comfort you? Or does it disturb you?

Let me give you a reason why it should be comforting to us.

God knows everything about us, yet he still loves us.

Christ died for people God knows everything about. 

Christ will receive anyone, even though he knows everything about us.

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