“A Prayer to the God Who Cares for Us”

(Psalm 139 – Pentecost 20 – October 10, 2021)

Psalm 139 – 1O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. 5You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. 7Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; 12indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You. 13For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. 15My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16Your 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. 17How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! 18If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; when I awake, I am still with You. 19Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. 20For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain. 21Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? 22I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; 24and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Dear Redeemed, beloved of God in Christ:

Psalm 139 is a prayer of David which we, as children of God in Christ, can also pray. In this Psalm, we see how intimately God knows each of us, and how He cares for us wherever we are, in good times and bad times, through all our life from beginning to end. Knowing His faithfulness and love for us, here we join David in “A Prayer to the God Who Cares for Us.”

Near the end, in verse 23, we hear David praying: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties.” As king of Israel, David knew many anxious times. Many enemies plotted against him, seeking to overthrow his kingdom as the Lord’s anointed king. So he prays in verse 19: “Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.”

Yet David realized that his enemies were not only against him; above all, they were enemies of the Lord Himself. As he prays in verse 20: “For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain.” Indeed, by their bloodthirsty plots and blasphemous lies, they were working to overthrow God’s Kingdom and truth. Ultimately, they were enemies of God’s plan of salvation in His Anointed One – that Messiah-King whom God whom had promised, who would be the Son of David according to the flesh, and also the Son of God according to His divine nature (2 Samuel 7:14). Behind all the wickedness in the world that is opposed the Kingdom of God and His Christ, stand Satan and all his hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12) – whose bloodthirsty plot is to drag sinners down by their lies to hell.

In view of such spiritual enemies, who oppose every good and loving plan of God in Christ, David could pray in verse 21: “Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Yet, not only did David recognize his spiritual enemies all around; he also recognized the enemy within, in his own sinful nature. So he went on to pray in verse 24: “and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David knew that he himself was not above sin. Though in so many ways David had lived uprightly, committing his life to God even in the face of bloodthirsty enemies, he was not above falling into temptation and evil. He lived with regret at his great fall into the sin of adultery with Bathsheba; and then the sin of having the blood of her husband on his hands, whom he sent to the front lines of battle to have killed.

Yes David knew the enemy within, and we hear him confess to God in Psalm 51:3-4: I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” David knew his sinful nature; therefore he clung to that word of absolution, spoken by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:13: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” David knew the boundless mercy of God, who forgives sinners and does not impute iniquity to them (Psalm 32:1-2). He knew the gracious Lord, who was leading him in the way everlasting by faith in that coming Messiah, the Savior of sinners.

In view of this gracious and forgiving God who sent His Son to save us from all sin and evil, we can join David in praying this psalm. We can pray the words confident that God is watching over us day by day, understanding all our ways, and working out His loving plan in our lives.

So we pray in verses 1-4: “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.”

If we merely understood that God searched our hearts and knew all our ways, His omniscience might frighten us. For like David, we acknowledge our sins before God in thought, word, and deed. But as we confess our sins, we have His promise that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9). For that promised Son of David and Son of God has come as our Savior. Jesus has taken away all our sins on the cross; and by His blood God cleanses us of all unrighteousness. So all the sinfulness of our heart and all the sins of our life that God knew, He knows no more. In their place, he imputes to us the perfect holiness of His Son.

Therefore now, His omniscience is for our comfort. For He watches over us in all our ways, as a dear heavenly Father who loves us and cares for us as His children in Christ. He who searches our hearts knows our prayers even before a word is on our tongue. Even when we do not know what to pray, His Spirit whom He put in our hearts intercedes for us (Romans 8:18). In the face of evil, He gives His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways (Psalm 91:11). Though Satan and fiercest enemies all around are opposed to us, yet God Himself is for us; and if God is for us, who can be against us? Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, as He watches over us in all our ways (Romans 8:31-39).

Knowing His personal, protective care each day, we go on to pray with David in verses 5-6: “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.” In Isaiah 40:11, we hear similar words about our Savior: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.” As our Good Shepherd, Jesus hedges us behind and before, surrounding us with His arms of love, holding us close to His heart. Even in the presence of our enemies, He prepares a table before us; He anoints our head with oil and our cup runs over, as He brings His rich feast of salvation to us in Word and Sacrament (Psalm 23). As the sheep of His hand, He assures us in John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

And as our loving Savior and Good Shepherd, He is with us everywhere we go, to guide us. As we pray in verses 7-10:Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” By describing utmost extremities, these words assure us that no distance or place can separate us from His loving care. Indeed, where could we possibly go where our omnipresent God and Savior is not? Has He not told us: “I am you always, even to the end of the age”; and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5)? If we go far to the east, where the sun rises as on wings in the morning; if we go far to the west, beyond the sea; even there He is with us, holding us with His right hand. His right hand is powerful, always doing what is right for the good of His children.

It is good for us to know that our all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere-present God and Savior is with us no matter what – and that this remains true even in the dark times of life. As we pray in verses 11-12: “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.” At times, we may lie awake at night, all alone with our thoughts. Maybe we have had a nightmare, or something is troubling us and we are scared or anxious. Maybe we are passing through a whole season of darkness, where things seem to be going from bad to worse, and we see no light at the end of the tunnel. But even then, we can be sure that God, who never changes, is still with us, still knowing all our ways, still hearing all our prayers. He is just as near through the dark times in life as in the light times. And in the light of His infinite wisdom, He already knows how He is working all things together for our good, according to His eternal purpose for us in Christ (Romans 8:28).

Indeed, our psalm tells us that He who gave us life from conception, and who gave us life as His children by baptism and faith in Christ, is working out His eternal plan for us day by day. As we pray in verses 13-16: “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.” From our mother’s womb until this very day, our God and Savior has been carrying out His plan for our lives. Just as carefully as He formed every cell, organ, muscle and bone in our body, right down to the minutest detail, so He is working in every detail of our lives to bring about His eternal design and purpose for us. It is like a story that has been written with a good ending: “And they lived happily ever after.” But this is no fairytale, it is written in God’s own hand; He has written our name in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 3:5; 21:27). Therefore with Philippians 1:6, we are: confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

So wherever we may go in daily life, whether we are in times of darkness or light, even from beginning to end, our God and Savior is watching over us, knowing all our ways, guiding and caring for us with His unfathomable love. That is why we pray with joy in verses 17-18: “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; when I awake, I am still with You.” Indeed if we were to count all of His precious thoughts toward us, it would be like counting the grains of sand on the seashore. We could go to sleep counting His loving thoughts toward us, and never finish counting them. And when we awake, we are still with Him!

Today we join David in praying to the God who cares for us: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties… and lead me in the way everlasting” (vs. 23-24). If we are anxious about anything – from the evil all around, to the sin within, to the needs and troubles of life – let us cast all our cares on our loving God and Savior, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). And let us go forth in the peace of God in Christ – knowing He has forgiven all our sins, He has conquered Satan for us, and He is leading us each day as our Good Shepherd. In answer to our prayer, He is leading us in the way everlasting, all the way home to heaven, where we will dwell with Him in perfect peace forevermore.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.