Psalm 139, another of David, is very well known because it is so humbling for we who know just how sinful we are. David’s God, and ours, is no Deist God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our Lord Jesus Christ, is radically and intimately, no, atomically, sub-cellularly involved in our lives. Mediate on this for a while:
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
That is discomforting. I’m not exactly thrilled with myself, what little I know of myself, the riddle inside a conundrum wrapped neatly in a paradox that I am. But He knows me. David says this knowledge is really too much for him to fathom. It makes him want to get away from God’s Spirit, but where can he go. Even if he tries to hide in the darkness or the other side of the sea, God is right there, perfectly exposing light and unsettling omnipresence. But God chose to make me knowing what I would become. I, we all are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And in verse 16 we read:
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
And according to David, his thoughts about me are innumerable, as copious as the sand on the seashore. There is some confusion about the interpretation of these verses, whether it is just God’s thoughts themselves, or thoughts about David, but in the context the latter makes more sense. So as hard as it can be to believe at times, we are the objects of God’s infinite affection. God so loved the world, right? He surveyed all that He had made, and declared it “very good,” right? The fall and sin haven’t utterly defaced his most astonishing creation, us.
Then David goes into his most harsh and vindictive mode, asking God to “slay the wicked.” He uses some very strong language:
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
This seems to come out of nowhere. David has “nothing but hatred” for God’s enemies. Maybe if we look at this in the broader redemptive-historical context it will make more sense. We tend to default in our reading of the Bible in purely person terms, so of course this Psalm is about David and his relationship with God, and thus is an example for ours. But while it is that, it is much, much more.
It is no coincidence that the first five words of God’s revelation to man are, “In the beginning God created.” It is a foundational theme throughout the OT. At the apex of God’s creation is man, male and female he created them, and in this Psalm we see how intimately God is involved with his creation of man. It isn’t just David speaking of himself in this Psalm, but God speaking of us all. We tend to think of God’s creating as a sort of magic, he says abracadabra, waves his wand, and boom, there’s a man! To completely trivialize it, God is a “hands on” creator, infinitely attentive to his handiwork, even to the knitting us together in our mother’s wounds. What a fascinating image that brings to mind. We are all, we 21st Century Westerners, functional Deists, and practical, philosophical naturalists. God made the clock, wound it up, and now it just runs itself by “natural” laws. But our God is infinite and omni in every sense, and thus presently at every moment animating his entire creation. As Paul says, “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else,” and speaking of Christ as creator, he says that “in him all things hold together.” Every conception is in this sense every bit as miraculous as Christ’s conception. Without the Holy Spirit’s active involvement there would be literally no life!
So David’s animus here for God’s enemies are for those who are defacing God’s creation; he calls them “bloodthirsty.” And David, as do all God’s people know how utterly horrific is the creation’s fall into sin. We yearn for justice, for God our creator to be vindicated. And as we think about this, and our own frustration for the utter mess we inhabit in this fallen world, it is important to know that David’s hope was in the promise; he knew the Pentateuch, knew of God’s promises to Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, knew of God’s promises to Moses and Joshua, and to him! Now contrast to our hope, in the fulfillment! Seen by eyewitnesses, defined for us in the New Testament. So when David prays what he prays in the last two verses, he believes God can somehow pull this off. We on the other hand know that he already has:
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
And what is “the way everlasting”? Christ! If the whole of the OT is about Christ, as Jesus said, then these verses and this Psalm is about Christ. Most of us are inclined to read this as God unearthing whatever is offensive in me, and helping me to not be offensive, i.e. to him. But when he convicts us of our sin, when he finds the offensive ways in me, David’s prayer is that he would lead us to Christ, the way everlasting (in Jesus we have eternal life–see John 5), to the cross, not away from it. The Psalm is his realization that escape isn’t an option. It is into his arms that sinners must flee, for in Christ, as Paul puts it, there is “the righteousness of God” that is given to us “through faith in Jesus Christ.” It’s all there in Romans 3. We read the Bible first and foremost as a moral guide, and thus we completely miss what it’s actually about! The gospel! So sinners can have a relationship with a holy God.
Christian ethics flow out of this. But for most of us, unfortunately, and implied in way too much Christian teaching, is that ethics come first, that being moral is the sin qua none of Christianity, and that the goal of our Bible reading is to become more so. And subconsciously we think the more we don’t do, and the more we do do, we’ll be more acceptable to God. As Paul says, if we can gain a righteousness from the law, Jesus died for nothing. No, the goal of our meditations on Scripture is to know the one true God who is just and the justifier of sinners, the God who died for us that he might give us his righteousness that we might be accepted before him. The temple curtain was torn in two when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that we sinners might enter to commune with God the Father clothed in his perfection.