Theme: Being Searched by God
In this week’s lessons, we learn about the benefits of God’s omniscience for his children.
Scripture: Psalm 139:13-24
As we concluded yesterday’s study, we noted that we can rebel against God’s knowledge and pursue evil, or we can ask God to search us with the goal of our being directed in his way. By repudiating the first and embracing the second option, the psalmist articulates a personal twofold response to this teaching.
1. He wants nothing to do with evil or evil persons. This is another of those passages that seems imprecatory, the psalmist calling down judgment on the wicked. But that is not the actual thrust of these verses, though it is of like sounding passages elsewhere. In line with the personal tone of the psalm thus far, what David is actually saying is that he wants no part of the evil that evil men devise. We say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner!” It is nice advice. But it is also hard to do it since love of the sinner, if we are not extremely careful, leads first to a love of the sinner’s sinful ways and then to a participation in them. David was not at all sure that he could successfully love one and hate the other. So his decision was to separate from evil persons entirely.1 So taken was he with the greatness of God that he wanted nothing to endanger his relationship to God.
2. He wants to continue walking and growing in God’s way. The last two verses of this psalm are extremely beautiful and are often memorized and quoted: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The problem David perceives is that although he wants to keep clear of evil people and their ways, he is nevertheless aware of evil in himself. In fact, that is why he cannot trust himself in evil company. It is not that he is too good for such people, but that he is too sinful; he is prone to the very same sins. So here he appeals to God to search him out in order that he might be led in a righteous way, a way everlasting. Actually, he prays for four things: 1) that God might know him and expose his thoughts; 2) that God would try or perfect his thoughts; 3) that God would purge away whatever evil remains in him; and 4) that God would lead him in the way everlasting.
Isn’t it interesting that a psalm that begins with an unparalleled declaration that God knows all things should end with the request that God might search and know the psalmist? How can that be? What is the point of asking God to know what he already knows or do what he has done? The point is what we have been noticing from the beginning of this study, namely, that this is a practical psalm, embracing practical theology, and what David is asking is that this great, perfect and pervasive knowledge of God might be used by God to benefit him personally. He wants God to use the knowledge he has of him to lead him in the right way.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!” It is a serious thing to pray, because it invites painful exposures and surgery, if we truly mean it. Still it is what every wise believer should desire.
Arno Gaebelein wrote,
Happy the Christian who prays thus every day! Who puts himself into the presence of the all-seeing God, who stands in his light, and is willing to have anything and everything which is not right brought to light and judged. This is the true walk “in the light.” Even the thoughts must be so dealt with. In the New Testament it is expressed in this wise, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Then there is the willingness to put away anything which is grievous to God and to his Spirit and to be led in the way everlasting.2
1This does not mean that David never had anything to do with sinful people; he himself was one. It only means that he did not want to be with those who were openly marked by evil or were hatching evil actions.
2Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), pp. 484, 485.
Why does David ask the all-knowing God to search and know him?
What is difficult about the phrase, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”?
For what four things does David pray?
Application: Practically, how do you keep the love for the sinner apart from the sin?
Prayer: Ask God to help you cleanse your thoughts.
For Further Study: James Boice’s entire sermon series on all 150 psalms is available in paperback. If you would like to add this to your own library, or perhaps to give to someone else, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering the three-volume set for 25% off the regular price.