The Omniscience of God from Psalm 139

August 31, 2020
Bill Yuille

David begins Psalm 139 marveling about God’s knowledge: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.” We conduct a search to find something that is lost or to obtain information about something of which we want to know more. But that doesn’t apply here. It is not that at some moment God chose to examine David more closely. Rather at any moment it is as though God had done a thorough examination and knew David through and through.  

“You know my sitting down and my rising up” (v. 2).

For example, when Philip brought Nathanael to the Lord Jesus, the Lord told him, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48).

“You understand my thoughts afar off” (v. 2)

For example, “Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard” (1 Sam. 1:13), but the Lord knew her thoughts. When the scribes questioned His authority to forgive sins, “Jesus perceived in His Spirit that they reasoned thus among themselves” (Mark 2:8). When the disciples were indignant about Mary anointing Him with oil, “Jesus was aware of it” (Matt. 26:10). When the Pharisees attributed His casting out demons to Beelzebub, “Jesus knew their thoughts” (Matt. 12:25). When the Pharisees were displeased about His healing on the Sabbath, “He knew their thoughts” (Luke 6:8).

“You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways” (v. 3)

Some translations render it, “You search out my path…” (ESV). It may be the idea of soldiers setting an ambush or sending out spies to discover the enemy in his march and ensure that there is no escape. Another suggestion is that it be translated “winnowed” or “sifted,” speaking of the most discriminating examination such that the Lord knows not only what is done but why it is done. Hannah said, “The Lord is the God of knowledge…” (1 Sam. 2:3): He knows the facts about every situation, “… and by Him actions are weighed”: He knows what is behind the actions taken. That’s why Paul could tell the Corinthians that they had no right to judge him and his motives: “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court…” He hesitated even to judge himself because it is difficult for us to be truly objective in assessing ourselves: “I do not even judge myself…” But the Lord knows: “He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:3-4).

“For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether” (v. 4)

Sometimes we may be deliberately evasive in answering a question or sharing information. We may even be guilty of saying something that is true but it is said in such a way that the listener gets the wrong message. But the Lord accurately sees what is behind the words spoken. For example, when the Herodians asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes, “Jesus perceived their wickedness” (Matt. 22:18). He knows what is said, why it is said, and what remains unsaid. Indeed, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (ESV).

“You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me” (v. 5)

This could be understood as a statement about God’s protection. He hedges us around so that nothing can harm us, much as He did when He allowed Satan to get at Job but limited what he could do to him. However, David is writing about God’s knowledge. The ESV reads, “You hem me in…” It is almost claustrophobic that He surrounds on every side and there is no escape from His omniscience. 

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is high, I cannot attain it” (v. 6)

He knows my movements, my thoughts, my actions, my words, my person. He knows me through and through, better than I know myself. It is said of the Lord Jesus that “He knew all men and had no need that anyone should testify of man, because He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).  

He knew what Nathanael was doing when Philip called him: “I saw you under the fig tree.” And He also knew the kind of person Nathanael was, an Israelite indeed in whom is not guile, such that Nathanael asked, “How do you know me?” 

Peter recognized that the Lord knew about his boast that he would never deny Him and about how differently it turned out: “Lord, you know all things.” But the Lord also knew how Peter felt about what had happened and what he really felt about the Lord Jesus: “You know that I love you” (John 21:17).  

It is a sobering thought. We may deceive others, even deceive ourselves, but we can never deceive God. “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and bare to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). 

It is a comforting thought. You may have been treated unfairly, you may find yourself in circumstances that are difficult to handle, you may be disappointed with yourself and with others, you may be lonely and feel that no one cares. The old hymn says: 

Jesus knows all about our struggles; 
He will guide ’til the day is done: 
There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus:
No, not one! no, not one!”1 

I think of Hagar when she fled from Abraham’s household. The Lord knew the events that had occurred: her pregnancy, the cruelty of her mistress, her flight from Abraham’s house. He knew her circumstances: in the wilderness, alone, abandoned, with nothing to drink. He also knew how she felt: the loneliness, the hopelessness, the frustration. And the angel of the Lord came alongside with a message of comfort about the son she would have. “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-are-the-God-who-sees” (Gen. 16:13). 

Finally, it is a challenging thought. David concludes Psalm 139 by asking the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23-24). Obviously, this search isn’t for God’s benefit. David had begun the psalm by affirming that God already knew everything about him. It is as if he said, “Lord, I have searched myself, and can see no wicked way in me. But Your sight is much better than mine and it may be that You see some evil habit, some unconfessed sin, some selfish attitude, some bad feeling towards another. I would know the worst about myself, that I might take corrective action. Therefore, if You know of any such way in me, cause me to know it also.” 

Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.2

 1. No, Not One, Johnson Oatman Jr.
2. Search Me, O God, J. Edwin Orr