“If I take the wings of the morning,and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” --Psalm 139:9-10
You know there are 150 Psalms recorded in the Bible; the most famous of course being the 23rd; but possibly the finest recorded was the 139th. I don’t know for sure if the writer, David, realized at the time he was writing Number 139 or not. I would like to think he just had something inside himself that needed to be expressed, and that was it.
It’s an unusual psalm, and difficult to comprehend in its entirety. A few years ago I attended a funeral of a friend’s father, and the minister read the psalm, but he omitted the last six verses. It seemed the logical thing to do. It seems to have a theme of comfort, God’s divine providence, his power in that “the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee,” as stated in the 12th verse. Then in the 19th verse David goes into a different vein about wickedness, anger, and even hatred. “I hate them with perfect hatred,” he says in the 22nd verse. Then, finally, after all that, he concludes with the words, “See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” First speaking about God’s love, then about wickedness and hatred, and finally, “see if there be any wicked way…” It kind of reminds me of an electrician or plumber who, instead of fixing your problem, made it much worse, and then left you with the words, “If you need anything else let me know.” “See if there be any wicked way in me,” David concluded the words of the 139th psalm.
Yet it does fit together perfectly and beautifully. You see, David could have ended with verse 18, “When I awake, I am still with Thee.” Wouldn’t that have made sense? God knows us, he loves us, he watches over us--end of story. If that had been the case, what would the reader then have learned, or how would he associate it with his own life? We know the real world isn’t always like that; it’s not a bed of roses. There is pain and suffering that leads us to ask, “Where is God now?” It’s a perfectly logical thing to wonder. I think when David wrote the psalm he may have been troubled by this reality, and so he wrote about wickedness and hatred; for these are also emotions we all have to live with. Our walk with God is not a sugar-coated way, but a way fraught with difficulties and evils; not only from others, but within our own selves. In addition to that there is much suffering to be had in this imperfect world, in this imperfect universe.
So what then is the comfort? God knows us, watches over us, yet we suffer. That’s like the electrician or plumber who made the problem worse, and then said, “If you need anything else let me know.” That’s not very comforting. We would rather he had solved the problem, and then asked if there was anything else. That would have made more sense, and left us feeling a little more at ease.
In our lives there is much trouble to be had, and it will probably always be. David, when he wrote the psalm, knew that. He wasn’t blind. But David knew in his heart in spite of all that evil, there is still a comfort to be had.
Our lives are a constant learning experience, it’s what we do. We learn, and pass it on to future generations, and they build upon that knowledge and learn even more. This has gone on for centuries, throughout all of human history; and yet how much farther do we have still to go? We may never reach the point where we understand it all; and if we did, what would we do with that knowledge? Even then there would still be questions; we just haven’t thought of them as yet.
David knew that wickedness and suffering were part of our reality, and he knew that even he himself was anything but perfect. Those last six verses complete the psalm, showing us that he was still in touch; it was not a contradiction, but the story of our lives, the story of the good and evil that we will always be with.
Our lives, what are they really? We often hear the expression, “I need to get a life.” No one is ever given a life; instead we are given a day. If fortunate enough we’ll be given many days; but however many there may be, or few, they’ll always be given to us one day at a time. There will be good days, and bad; but through it all, the evil and the good, from beyond us and within ourselves, there will always be hope and the knowledge that we are known and loved. Not all will have this knowledge, it’s true; but it is there.
O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
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.
--Psalm 139, King James Version