Theme: Theology of the Best Kind
In this week’s lessons, we see the importance and blessing of God’s omniscience.
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-12
Somewhere in J. I. Packer’s writings there is a reference to the Puritan theology as theology of that “older, better, wiser and more practical sort.” That applies to the Puritans, but it applies even more to the theology of Psalm 139. For here is theology that is even older, even better, even wiser and even more practical. It is theology of the very best sort.
Sometimes we speak of “doing theology” today, and we often talk about the conflict between the head and the heart, saying that either one alone is inadequate. A theology that is all of the head is cold, dry, barren and of little practical value. A theology that is all heart may be warm, comforting and practical. But it will lack substance, and because it does it will be subject to every theological fad that comes along and will not hold up in hard times. Psalm 139 has both head and heart. It is strongly theological, dealing with such important doctrines as God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. It is probably the weightiest part of the Bible for discussing God’s omniscience. But it is also wonderfully personal, because it speaks of these attributes of God in ways that impact the psalmist and ourselves.
H. C. Leupold, the Lutheran scholar, observes that the thinking of the psalm “is not formulated in theological abstractions but in terms of personal religious experience.”1 Leslie C. Allen, a contributor to the Word Biblical Commentary, calls it “applied theology.”2 Alexander Maclaren, one of the best expositors of the last century, wrote, “Not mere omniscience, but a knowledge which knows him altogether, not mere omnipresence, but a presence which he can nowhere escape, not mere creative power, but a power which shaped him, fill and thrill the psalmist’s soul.”3
What this means, of course, is that these reflections are the very essence of worship, the matter we are dealing with especially in our study of these last psalms (Psalms 135-150). It is worth noting in this respect that Psalm 139 is specifically dedicated to “the director of music,” obviously for use in the people’s temple worship.
Or we can say this another way. Although Psalm 139 deals with some of the highest and most important of all theological concepts, the omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence of God, it nevertheless has a twofold practical aim that becomes clear at its close (in vv. 19-24). First, the writer wants to separate himself from all who deliberately practice evil. Second, he wants God to search him out thoroughly and purge him of anything that might be offensive to God so that he might walk in the way everlasting. It is hard to think of any more practical reasons for theology than those.
In terms of its outline, the psalm falls into four easily recognizable parts: 1) praise of God for his omniscience (vv. 1-6); 2) praise to God for his omnipresence (vv. 7-12); 3) praise to God for his omnipotence, especially in the creation of the psalmist himself (vv. 13-18); and 4) a response to what has been said, indicating the two ways a person can relate to the all-knowing God (vv. 19-24). Each of these sections has six verses that fall into two parts each. The first four verses are descriptive; they introduce the main idea of the section. Then they are followed by two more verses that are reflective.
We will look at the first two of these sections in this study (vv. 1-12) and the last two sections in next week’s study (vv. 13-24).
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1969), p. 942.
2Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21, Psalms 101-150 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 263.
3Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3, Psalms 90-150 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 383.
Why is it important to have both head and heart knowledge? What can happen when you have one without the other?
What is the twofold practical aim of the psalm?
Prayer: Pray that God will search your heart thoroughly and purge anything that is offensive to him.
Omniscience: God’s complete and infinite knowledge