Psalms of David
One of the first things I do when looking at a passage from the Old Testament is to check Jewish sources, they have had these scriptures longer than we have. A Rabbinic take is that Psalm 139 is by Adam in theme although the words are David’s. The question asked here is, “What does creation mean to me?”
The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
139 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!Psalm 139 ESVUK
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
I am known for my t-shirts. From geeky designs such as the workshop manuals of the droids R2D2 and C3PO from the Star Wars films to a Human Ingredients design bought at the Science Museum, let’s face it, you have to be a geek to buy t-shirts from there. Then there are the slogan ones, I bought one saying ‘Stereotype’ as a protest at the way autistic people like myself are often stereotyped, a cartoon of a man falling off a bicycle with the caption, ‘I do all my own stunts’ and one I had printed saying ‘perfetcionist’ which suits me because I am never content with the quality of what I do, so perfectionist spelled wrong is perfect for me. There is one which the people at church really like, also my own design, which says in large print, ‘fearfully and wonderfully mad’ and in small print ‘Psalm 139:14 abridged.’
This psalm is one of my favourite songs in the whole Bible, alongside Mary’s prayer, commonly referred to by its Latin name, the Magnificat, in Luke chapter 1 where a pregnant teenage girl sings a song that is equally inspiring, challenging and disruptive of the norms of society. I like this psalm for the same reason, it challenges the norms of what we accept the world to be like.
We live in a society that both supports and derides individuality. Yes I do realise there is a bittersweet contradiction in my use of society and individuality in that last sentence. Individuality is praised as long as you do being an individual in the same way that everyone else is being an individual: Peer pressure is very strong. The question for people of faith is how do I, or we, show God to people in this sort of society and the answer is the same as it ever was. God is among us, he knows what we are doing and there’s no hiding place. Whether you find God being aware of all that you do and the motives behind them something to be afraid of or something that brings comfort says a lot of who and what you think God is.
David’s view of God? He changes from being delighted that his attempts to hide from God have been futile to asking God to slay the wicked. David sees that the faithful cling to God no matter what, but there are those who go against God. Rabbi Abramowitz says that the wicked here are those who use the name of God as if God approves of their deeds and as a consequence cause people to reject God. If Abramowitz is right this is theological terrorism in the same way that terrorists try to undermine the Government’s ability to protect their people. Whether or not that can be found in this text that is how the devil works, by undermining our belief that God will protect, but that is a lie, God protects those who cling to him. What is significant is that the prayer for God to strike against his enemies, not David’s enemies, is followed by another prayer for God to search his heart. We need to let God show us how he sees us, yes it is a frightening prospect that God may show us that we are not the good guts and that we are the theological terrorists using God’s name for our own agenda. We do not have to worry, God searches us in love. My own self-loathing is one of the things that hold me back, but God loves us and does not loath anyone. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Adam was made by God out of the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. Even when we were being formed in the womb we were not unknown to God for God has a plan for each of us.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Fearfully when translated from the Hebrew means with great reverence and respect. Wonderfully when translated from Hebrew means unique and set apart. You were created with great reverence and respect to be unique and set apart!
This applies to everybody. We are all made by God and respected by God. But there’s something about Christians that goes beyond this. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;2 Corinthians 5:17-18
We are made new in Christ and reconciled to Christ but that does not make us better than anyone else. We should not be standing apart from anyone else but standing with them in order to continue God’s ministry of reconciliation, reconciling people to us, to Christ and to each other. When people set themselves apart from each other we should stand in the gap between them.