Scary (or not) Psalm 139

I used to shudder at the words of Psalm 129:23 and 24, embedded into my consciousness from my earliest memory in the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

No matter how hard I tried, I was simply too paralyzed by fear to ever pray these verses with a sincere heart. I was afraid of the prospect of a holy God testing me, peering into my deepest thoughts, looking for wickedness.

That’s seriously scary stuff.

How sad that somehow I had come to take these verses out of context and so far removed from the original language of a Psalm that is awash in tenderness, compassion, and intimacy. Psalm 139 is not a Psalm of judgment. It is a love song sung between a child of God and his loving heavenly Father.

Listen to the beautiful imagery..

“You hem me in- behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me…” (vs5)

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb..” (vs 13)

“When I awake, I am still with you…” (vs18)

When I viewed this Psalm through the lens of judgment, verses 11 and 12 gave me pause, because you see, those who are in fear of judgment want to hide, don’t they?

Verse 11 says, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

I didn’t know that the word “darkness” in the original language carries the connotation of adversity that has befallen the life of the Psalmist. The word, means “misery, destruction, death, sorrow, ignorance, or wickedness.”

But the real revelation comes in understanding that the word translated “hide” in the NIV or “cover” in the KJV means to “gape, snap at..overwhelm”. These two words put together paint a picture of the Psalmist describing that moment in life we have all experienced when disaster strikes, and we find ourselves incapable to rise to meet it. The Psalmist says that in that moment, that even the darkness will be illuminated about him because of God’s faithful, powerful presence in his life.

And so we come to the final verses of the Psalm which once struck a chord of dread in my heart in which the Psalmist asks God to search him, search him intently, deeply- as a metallurgist tests the quality of the iron in his hand. Verse 24 in the KJV uses the word “wicked” the NIV chose “offensive”. The original language in effect says this…

“See if there is any “idolatrous path in me, and lead me in the path which points to everlasting life.”

The Psalmist knew that there is no life apart from tender, intimate relationship with his Maker; any idolatrous path was would only lead him away from the Lover of His Soul, the one who formed him in the womb, had lovingly watched his every moment, and recorded his every word.

Is it any wonder that in another of his songs of praise, David would exalt “What is man, that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Tender God,

Redeem your image in our hearts and minds today. May we receive you with open hearts, resting in your kindness, tenderness, and grace. -Amen

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