Psalm 139:3

This psalm, one of the most sublime of them all, is of unknown authorship. It seems to be the composition of some saint of God who lived after the Captivity. If so, what proof it gives of the blessing of sanctified sorrow (cf. the probably companion psalm, Psalm 119., vers. Psalms 119:67, 71, 75)! The furnace of the Exile, the husks of the far country, did bring prodigal Israel to himself; and this psalm is one clear evidence thereof. And so, we believe, God will do with all like prodigals. They may seem set against him - they very often are; but his resources are not exhausted, and he will find ways and means to bring them to a better mind. The psalm is divided into four stanzas, of which -


1. Here is a fact asserted. "Lord, thou hast searched me," etc. The word originally means "to dig," and is applied to the searching for precious metals (Alexander). God had penetrated far below the surface of the psalmist's acts and words, so that he knew him perfectly. And he knows our time of rest and of going forth to active work (ver. 2). He winnows or fans - such the meaning of the word rendered "compassest" - so as to sift our whole life, separating the evil in it from the good, as the chaff is separated from the wheat. And this is true of the night-life as well as of the day (ver. 3). He knows not only the words that we do speak, but those that we are going to speak (ver. 4). The past and the future - that which is behind and before - are all known to him, and under the control of his hand (ver. 5). We cannot understand all this, but so it is (vers. 5, 6). Thus emphatically is the truth asserted.

2. And altogether credible.

(1) For reason would infer it (comp. Psalm 94:9). The maker of a machine would surely know how his machine would work! Much more must the Lord know our nature and the workings of man's mind and will. He knows our nature (twice) as one knows the dwelling in which he has lived, for he tabernacled in it and dwelt among us (John 1.). He was the Son of man, and he knows what is in man.

(2) And there is the testimony of conscience. The very etymology of that word implies the knowledge of some one with us; and what we call "conscience" is our recognizing that God sees and judges all we are and do. "Thou God seest me" is not a mere text, but the confession of every soul.

(3) And then there is the testimony of our Lord's life on earth. He revealed God in his holiness, power, and love; but he revealed this also - God's knowledge of our inmost heart. Again and again do we meet with statements that assert this superhuman knowledge of our Lord. See how he knew Nathanael, Peter, Judas. Others did not thus know themselves or their fellow-men, but he knew them perfectly. This also was a revelation of what is ever in God.

3. And blessed. For it shows that we are not under the rule of a stranger. The rule of a stranger is ever a hard and irksome rule. And it shows how gracious he is; for, though he knows all about us, yet this does not stay his blessing. And how holy; for, though with us the knowledge of evil and the continual contact of it defiles, or at least tends to deaden our sense and horror of evil, and so to lessen our own holiness, it is not at all so with God. See this in Christ. He was surrounded always by sin, but yet was himself "holy, harmless, and undefiled." And because he thus knows us, he must know what is best for us, so that we may be well content with his ordering of our lot. What a holy restraint this truth exercises upon the believing soul! Indeed, it is only to such soul that this truth is or can be welcome; to the ungodly it is all unwelcome, and they seek to cast it out of their minds. God forbid that we should do this!

II. THE SECOND DECLARES THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF ESCAPING FROM THE PRESENCE OF GOD. (Vers. 7-12.) The height of heaven cannot transcend him; the depth of hell cannot hide from him; flight, rapid as the rays of the morning sun, cannot outstrip him; distance, like that of the uttermost parts of the sea, cannot separate from him; darkness, deep as midnight, cannot conceal from him. It used to be said of ancient Rome that the extent of her empire rendered it impossible for any one who had incurred the displeasure of her emperors to escape their vengeance; yet more truly is it impossible for us to do what Jonah vainly tried to do - to flee from the presence of the Lord. But this perpetual presence is a perpetual joy to the people of God. Our Lord cheered his disciples ere he left them, by promising that he would be with them always. He had said before that "wherever two or three are gathered together in my Name, there," etc. He is a God "at hand, and not afar off." "At thy right hand, therefore, I shall not be moved." But this perpetual presence, inescapable, is the terror of the wicked man, for he knows he cannot get away from God. How needful that we should acquaint ourselves with God, and so be at peace! So shall the terror be turned into joy.

III. THE THIRD SETS FORTH THE GROUND OF GOD'S PERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF US. (Vers. 13-16.) "The mysterious beginnings of life which none can trace, the days all of which are ordered before the first breath is drawn, - these are fashioned and ordered by the hand of God." How, then, can it be otherwise than that he should know us altogether? And how reassuring is this truth of God's knowing us from the very start of our being, because he is the Author of that being!


1. It gives rise to a vast throng of precious thoughts within Him. He calls them (ver. 17) "thy thoughts," which may refer either to God's thoughts about us, or to our thoughts about God. Probably both are meant; for God's thoughts about us are precious, for they are thoughts of good, and not evil. And how great and undeserved and freely given is that good! And our thoughts about God are precious also, if indeed we be reconciled to God. None others can think about God and find delight in such thoughts. But if we be his servants, we think of what God is in himself, of what he has done and will do, in things temporal and in things spiritual, for ourselves, for others dear to us. How vast the sum of these thoughts, and how precious!

2. His soul is filled with a holy hatred of the ungodly. Not because of what they had done to him, though that was bad enough, and could not but wake up the spirit of resentment, but because they were the enemies of God (vers. 19-22). It is good to hate evil, first in ourselves, then in others; and if those others will cleave to it, then they and their sin cannot be separated, and we must "count" both our "enemies." "Ye that fear the Lord hate evil." Would to God we all did (cf. homily on Psalm 97:10)!

3. An intense longing after entire holiness. (Vers. 23, 24.) The psalmist yearned to be free from all sin, not only from some sins. Therefore he would lay bare his soul before God - would come into the full light of God, that the Divine scrutiny might be thorough and complete. He knew that after all his own search sin might yet lurk in unthought-of places, and hence he prays God to search, and try, and know, and see, and show him the wrong, and then lead him "in the way everlasting." Such is the effect of this faith: "Lord, thou knowest me altogether." - S.C.

Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
: — This is so, because —

I. GOD RULES AND GOVERNS MEN. But this could not be without such knowledge. And so at times He governs men's secret projects.

1. By discovering them, making them known to others.

2. By preventing them.

3. By turning them to other ends than men purposed (Isaiah 7:7; Genesis 45:5).



1. He does so in this life where He often gives foretaste of the future (Deuteronomy 29:18),

2. In the day of judgment (Luke 12:2).

IV. HE IS OMNISCIENT AND OMNIPRESENT (Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13). Then —

1. Presumptuous sin is atheism.

2. Let secret sinners be afraid.Such are those who sin in thought and desire only. God judges such, for they are the roots of sin. Spiritual wickedness is worst wickedness. And they are the product of the man himself, as his actions sometimes are not. And there are secret sins not only thought, but acted, only concealed from men (2 Samuel 12:12; Habakkuk 2:11; Genesis 4:10). God will judge them.

3. Let sincere-hearted Christians be comforted. The same sun-rising and break of day that terrifies the robber is a comfort to the honest traveller. Thou that, art sincere, God sees that sincerity in thee that others cannot discern; perhaps thou canst not fully discern it thyself. And He will exalt thee.

(R. South, D. D.)


II. THAT RECORD MAY BE PRESENTED TO OUR CONDEMNATION. Men are making efforts to recover the secrets of another's brain. It is hard to conceive what the possibility means, as suggested by the results of rapid photography in the vitascope. It is not position that is presented, but action; even the change of face with change of thought. It is the publication of a partial set of records. Who could risk the scrutiny of their whole lives with such publicity?

III. BUT THAT RECORD CAN BE BLOTTED OUT. A photographer can remove the sensitive salts in a bath. The picture then has no existence and cannot be exhibited; But we cannot trust our forgetfulness to do this, nor man's charity. But God in mercy has provided a cleansing flood.

(W. J. Gregory.)

: — The word in the Hebrew original for "compassest" is "winnowest." This calls up before the mind an image which helps to illustrate the meaning of the verse in a most interesting manner. The mere compassing of our path by God is an elementary, commonplace truth which requires no argument or proof. It is a truism which loses very much the power of truth through our familiarity with it. But when we substitute the winnowing of our path by God's dealings with us, we have not in that case a commonplace fact, but a most suggestive and instructive metaphor. Harvest operations in the East are all carried on in the open air, for the weather at that time of the year is uniformly fine. When the corn is reaped it is not piled into stocks, or gathered into barns, as with us, but threshed on the spot, on some piece of rising ground, beaten hard and smooth, and exposed to the wind. The sheaves are heaped on this spot, arranged in a circle, and over them are driven rude, heavy sledges of wood, having their under-surface stuck full of sharp pieces of hard basalt. Oxen are yoked to these sledges, and a man stands on them to increase their pressure, while another man drives the oxen round and round upon the sheaves until they are mashed to pieces, the straw being broken and crushed, and the grains of corn separated from it. When the grain is all threshed out in this manner, the heaps of mixed corn and broken straw are tossed up before the breeze with a shovel; and then the grain, being heaviest, falls straight down, and the broken straw and chaff, being lighter, is carried by the wind, and forms a heap a little farther on. This explanation will make perfectly clear the allusion of the psalmist: "Thou compassest, or winnowest, my path." It refers to the oxen going round and round on the sheaves laid on the threshing-floor, in order to separate the corn from the straw and chaff. In like manner, the psalmist, by a bold figure, represents God going round and round our path by His dealings with us in providence and grace, in order to purify our nature, and to separate the good from the evil. God humbles Himself to do for us the work which the oxen do for the corn. We are valuable to Him as the corn is to the husbandman. How patiently do the oxen plod on hour after hour, going their constant round, treading down the corn until their task is accomplished. And so how patiently and unweariedly does God compass your path with His providences and gracious dealings, till He has fulfilled in you the good pleasures of His goodness, and prepared you for being presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. Life to every one is a common round of continual beginnings and endings. Each day is a little circle returning where it began. Our range is as narrow as that of the ox that treadeth out the corn among the heap of sheaves. And all this is apt to become monotonous and wearisome. Some are so consumed by ennui that life has lost all relish for them; and some have grown so tired of pacing the irksome daily round that they have put an end to it by violent means. But surely it gives a new zest to life if we realize that all this constant doing of the same things, this constant going round and round the same little circle of daily duties, is not a treadmill penance, a profitless labour like weaving ropes of sand, but is designed to bring out and educate to the utmost perfection of which we are capable all that is best and most enduring in us. And surely it heightens the interest immeasurably to be assured that God has not merely ordained this long ago as part of His great providential plan for the world, but that He is daily and hourly superintending the process of our discipline and education by His personal presence, compassing our path, going round with us in the circle of life's toils and duties, and causing all our experiences, by His blessing, to work together for our good. He will not go round on your sheaves with His heavy dispensations oftener than is required to separate the chaff from the wheat; and you may be certain that not one grain of good in you will be destroyed, not one element of lasting benefit will be injured — only the chaff will be blown away and the straw removed.

(H. Macmillan, D. D.)

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