How many of us strive to be humble and contrite in spirit like the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14? He stood at a distance, would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13) In Isaiah 66:2 the Lord says: “My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine, but what I am looking for is the one who is meek and contrite of heart, who trembles at my word.” Some of us are like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, proud, self-righteous, always thinking he is holier than others. How can we be more humble and contrite of heart? Doing God’s will might invite insults, persecution and calumny (Matt 5:11), should we then resist His call to service or duty?
I think the best bible passage to enlighten us and to put us in the right disposition is Psalm 139. It is one of the most beautiful Psalms composed by King David when he realized he was in touch with the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God. It is unsurpassed in the sublimity of its message. Not only is its message a glorious one, it is also one of the most soul-searching chapters in the Bible. The fourteen verses of the Psalm are divided into four sections of six verses each.
In Psalm 139:1-6, we learn of God’s omniscience in being the all-knowing and all-seeing one. David says, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1) This means that God knows each and every one of us in an intimate way, with deep knowledge of our minds, emotions, wills and lives. In fact, nothing escapes His all-seeing eye or eludes the gaze of his all-knowing mind. There are examples in Scripture where we see Jesus casting meaningful glances as He knows the intimate details of people’s lives and minds. In the story of Peter’s betrayal, Jesus predicts that Peter will betray Him three times, yet Peter denies it. When this does come true, we see that “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” (Luke 22:61)
When Jesus tells the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee praying before God at the temple, the one who “goes down to his house justified” is not the Pharisee, who performs for the outward appearance of his actions and prays he is not like other sinful men. Rather, God, who searches all hearts and knows men’s thoughts and actions, knows that the tax collector is justified, because he recognizes his sin and unworthiness of God’s mercy. (See Luke 18:9-14) God is watching us every moment of our lives with His searching, penetrating and piercing eyes. We cannot avoid God because there is no escaping from Him. In scripture, we see Adam, Elijah, and Jonah all tried but failed to hide from God and His call for them. (See Genesis 3:8, 1 Kings 19:1-10 and Jonah 1:3) Hebrews 4:13 claims: “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
In Psalm 139:2-6, David tells us the extent to which God knows us, speaking of our thoughts, actions, and words. God knows the motives that prompt our actions and has perfect knowledge of our open and secret life. He sees and hears what we do and say. If we reflect on David’s adulterous experience with Bathsheba, we can see the power of the all-knowing God when Nathan finds out from Him what David has done in secret. Nathan then tells David a parallel story about a rich man and a poor man, and when David condemns the rich man’s actions, Nathan reveals to David, “You are the man.” (See 2 Samuel 12:1-15) God indeed can see into every part of our lives, even that which is hidden to other men.
Next in Psalm 139:7-12, we see how God is omnipresent, meaning He is present everywhere. David was convinced that nothing could hide us from God and His inescapable presence. Hebrews 13:5 promises us that He will never leave us. Romans 8:39 similarly promises us that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Look at the two questions David asks in Psalm 139:7: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” In the next five verses, David proceeds to answer his own questions by describing the inescapable God as present in five extreme spheres: height, depth, the east, the west, and extreme darkness.
We see from Psalm 139:7-10 that David is sure that not even death, being in heaven nor being in hell can hide him from God. In Romans 14:7-9, the author says: “For none of us lives for ourselves alone and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” In Jeremiah 23:23-24, The Lord Himself asks rhetorically, “Am I a God near at hand and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?” We can see that the Lord knows and sees our whereabouts and can be present with us in our every attempt, because He is everywhere. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death and when we pass through the deep, dark waters. When the storm in our breast is raging we will not fear, for God is always there to help us in times of trouble. (See Psalm 46)
In Psalm 139:13-18, we find David proclaiming God’s omnipotence, meaning that He is the all-powerful One. He presents to us the omnipotence of God through skill and delicacy, describing the mystery of conception, the development in the womb, and the birth and life of human beings. David sees man as God’s crowning achievement. He says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16) Here, to demonstrate the power and skill of omnipotent God, David chooses not to describe the immense power of God in creating the universe from nothing, creating Adam from the dust of the ground, creating the animals, or even creating Eve from Adam’s rib. He does not even refer to the amazing event of the liberation of Israel from Egypt or the miracle of the opening of the Red Sea. Instead, to prove his point of the awesome power and omnipotence of God, David chooses rather to describe the marvellous development of a baby in its mother’s womb.
We also see that in Psalm 139:14-20, David reacts to these majestic truths, and finally, in Psalm 139:23-24, he ends the psalm on his knees in earnest prayer as he considers God’s attributes and his own unworthiness. We should also consider the practical application of these truths for us. The omnipotent God knows how we treat Him and His Son because He created us. He will undoubtedly draw us to Him and hold us accountable for our actions. Even though we are born in sin, we must answer to Christ for all that we have done and said in this life. Proverbs 29:1 promises us, “He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” We also know that there is no escape from this inevitable judgment. In Hebrews 2:3, the author asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Our omnipotent God has a personal message for us. In Acts 17:30-31, Luke reports, “He now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.” Therefore, we are to repent, brothers and sisters, because we know that we will one day appear before Christ to answer for our lives.
Jesus warns us to “flee from the wrath to come” when He lashes out at the Pharisees in Luke 3:7. He also teaches his followers to deny themselves and take up their crosses to follow him. He says, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:24-26) Again in John 5:24, Jesus teaches, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” He also says to his followers, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Hence, brothers and sisters, resist no more (see Job 9:4; Isa 1:20), repent and surrender to the Lord who loves us (see Rom 8:37-39; 1 John 4:7-11).
A British Christian Choir sing Bernadette Farrell’s lovely hymn O God You Search Me and You Know Me. Text: Based on Psalm 139.