Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Psalm 139 is popular for the poet’s description of himself as Exhibit A of God’s amazing creation. He says:
I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works,
I know that full well (v. 14).
But the poem is not so popular for the poet’s attitude toward his enemies. He says:
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord. . . .
I hate them with perfect hatred,
I count them my enemies
(vv. 21a, 22; KJV translation “perfect hatred”; see also Walter Brueggemann).
How does the poet transition from wonder to hatred? Let’s follow his trajectory by praying parts of the psalm.
Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you know my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down,
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in behind and before,
you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain (vv. 1-6).
O Lord, we keep our inner lives hidden, where evil thoughts lurk, where unclean desires rule and unkind words arise, where we judge our neighbors and excuse ourselves. But all is visible to you, for you search us and know us. To you “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden” (“Collect for Purity”, Book of Common Prayer). As the poet says,
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
and settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,’
and the light becomes night around me,
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like day,
for darkness is as light to you (vv. 7-12).
O Lord, this is our comfort and our fear. We have nowhere to hide, no darkness for cover, no location too distant, no place of escape in heaven or hell. Teach us to bring our lives willingly into the light of your presence, to rejoice that you have wonderfully created us, to trust that you think well of us. As the poet says:
You created my inmost being,
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious are your thoughts to me, God,
How vast is the sum of them (vv. 13-15, 17).
And then, surprisingly, the poet changes direction,180 degrees, asking you to destroy the wicked:
If only you would slay the wicked, God!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who rebel against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies (vv. 19a, 20-22).
With the poet we celebrate you as the God who sees. You created us in the womb, you formed us into human beings, you watch over us forever.
But one thing still mystifies and confuses the poet, and us. If you are so good and great and life-giving, why don’t you deal with your enemies: those death-dealers who speak maliciously against you, who want to destroy your creatures and your creation.
The poet, and we with him, identify ourselves with your cause, God. Your honor is our honor; your judgments are our judgments. You are our friend, God. Your enemies are our enemies. We reserve our hatred for their evil ways, their misuse of your name, their opposition to all that is good.
Finally, in the last stanza, we join the poet to rest peacefully in your presence, to receive your intimate knowledge of us, to turn from the sins we know and the sins we don’t yet know. We affirm you as our everlasting guide:
Search us, O God, and know our hearts;
test us and know our anxious thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in us,
and lead us in the way everlasting (vv. 23-24).
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.
YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube