Psalm 139 – God’s Knowing Justice

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

This Psalm is an artful piece of poetry and truth. The best way to approach the Psalm is to prayerfully read it and meditate on what it reveals about the great God we serve.

The first 18 verses are among the richest poetry in the Bible. Verses 19-22 are quite harsh and troubling. I hope to give some explanation to why they are in this sublime Psalm.

God’s Searching

The speaker of this Psalm has been injured and pleads for justice in his case. Verses 19-22 are harsh words that are prayed against the oppression, hardship and persecution.

When every opportunity to find justice has been extinguished, we are able to bring our complaint to God. He knows every aspect of our lives and present to help.

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 far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
(Psalm 139.1-3)

The first and last verses of the Psalm forms something like a parenthesis around the other verses. The speaker can ask for justice in the midst of intense injustice, because God has searched him completely.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139.23-24)

The speaker is quite aware that he is not sinless. However, he believes God will examine his life and find him far more innocent than his persecutors.

God knows how the speaker has conducted his life. He knows whether his speech has been honest or deceitful.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
(Psalm 139.4-6)

God’s personal relationship with people is a major feature of this Psalm. God knows us intimately. The door to his presence is wide open. He invites us to speak to him about his knowledge of us and the troubles we face.

God’s Presence

God is everywhere present. There is no hiding place from his very Being. Let’s remember that he knows us so that he can better guide us.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can 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 settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
(Psalm 139.7-10)

Sheol is the realm of the dead. Hebrew thought at the time when the Psalms were written believed that God was absent from Sheol.

The speaker in this Psalm declares that there is no place to deep, to far away, or too difficult for his presence.

He is with us so his “hand” can lead us and his “right hand” can hold us fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
(Psalm 139.11-12)

God sees light, even when it is darkness all around.

When persecutors and oppressors think their crimes against the vulnerable will not be seen, the “poor in spirit” of the earth know that God sees even in the dark.

When illness, loneliness, addiction, or fear makes us feel like we are living in the dark, we recall that “night is a bright as the day” to God.

God’s Creating

Darkness and Sheol (the realm of the dead) is not an obstacle to God’s presence. Neither is our “unformed substance” prior to birth a problem to God’s knowing and all-seeing self.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know 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 beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
(Psalm 139.13-16)

The world’s system may make us feel like we are a nobody and have no significance. These verses declare that we are a wonderfully made creation of God.

We are not a mere product of biology between a man and a woman. We are an intention of God. We are part of God’s purpose.

There is no person on earth, who is beyond the truth of these verses. The enormity of God’s purposes and plans for humans causes us to exclaim along with the speaker of the Psalm,

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
I come to the end — I am still with you.
(Psalm 139.17-18)

God’s Judgment

In C. S. Lewis’ treatment on the Psalms he recognizes that great injustice is no light thing. People don’t easily turn from deep pain to forgiveness in the span of a moment.

The pain of injustice, oppression and persecution boiled over in the speaker. He saw his offense as that of an offense against God.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
(Psalm 139.19-22)

In January, we will begin a study of the parables of Jesus. The first parable will consider the subject of forgiveness. It will put these troubling words of an otherwise beautiful Psalm in perspective.

For now, let’s remember that when people have been terribly hurt by a powerful oppressor, they still have an opportunity to appeal to God for justice with very raw words.

As we think about God’s amazing character and the troubles of life, we join the speaker and pray,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139.23-24)

May We Pray for You?

If you have a prayer request, please email me at or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and ask the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church to pray, too.


  1. How precious the knowledge that we can be raw and honest with God. That He is just…which proves His love for all. He does not pick favorites. He does not make mistakes. He is patient with us. He will search us and show us our wicked ways if we ask. He longs for our asking….for our desire to follow Him. Thank you, Pastor Bob for including the beauty of this Psalm in your blog this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

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