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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 139

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verses 1-12


Psalms 139:1-12. O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising; 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.

DAVID was a man bitterly persecuted and greatly calumniated. Nothing could exceed the acrimony with which Saul pursued him to take away his life. But David had the comfort of a good conscience: and he often appealed to the heart-searching God to attest his innocence of those crimes that were laid to his charge. It is probable that such were his circumstances when he composed this psalm; and that, when traduced by men, he consoled himself with the reflection, that every thought of his heart was fully known to God. The sentiments are delivered in an immediate address to the Deity himself: and they are such as ought to be deeply impressed on every mind.
Let us in our comment on this passage consider,


The truths here acknowledged—

David asserts in a most solemn manner the omnipresence of the Deity—
[Certain it is, that God is everywhere present. “If we should go up to heaven, he is there; or down to the grave or the abodes of departed spirits, he is there.” There is no point of space where he is not, or where he is not as wholly and entirely present as in heaven itself. “The heavens cannot contain him.” He himself puts the question to every child of man; “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord [Note: Jeremiah 23:23-24.].” It is in vain therefore for us to think of hiding ourselves from him, since in every place “he besets us both behind and before, and so lays his hand upon us,” that it is not possible for us to escape. He is present with us, “to lead us,” if we seek his guidance; or “to hold us,” if we would attempt to run from him.]

Together with the omnipresence of the Deity, the Psalmist further asserts also his omniscience—
[The eyes of God are continually upon the ways of the children of men. What men know only by searching, God knows by a single glance of his eye, and as perfectly, as if he had “searched” with the utmost care and diligence into the minutest parts and circumstances of every transaction. Even the thoughts, yea, and every imagination of the thoughts of men’s hearts, are open to him, together with the whole frame and habit of our minds. Are we retiring to rest, or lying upon our bed, or rising from thence after our night’s repose? he knows precisely in what state we are. He sees whether we are calling our ways to remembrance, and humbling ourselves before him, and imploring mercy at his hands, together with grace that we may serve him more acceptably; or whether our minds be running out after earthly objects, and occupied about the things of time and sense. Do we go forth to our respective callings? he sees by what motives we are actuated, and by what principles we are governed. Whatever fraud we may practise in our dealings with men, or whatever artifice we may use to promote our own interests, he is privy to it: on the other hand, whatever dispositions we may exercise, or actions we may perform, for the glory of his name, he beholds them also. We may be so unostentatious, that even our right hand may not know what our left hand doeth: but he knoweth it, and marks it with his special favour. So likewise in the public assemblies of his people, he sees whether in our devotions we be humble, fervent, and believing; or whether we have a mere form of godliness, without the power of it. In a word, wherever we be, in public or in private, he knoweth infinitely more of us than the best-instructed Christian in the universe can know of himself: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us; we cannot attain unto it.” As for light or darkness, it makes no difference to him: “the night and the day to him are both alike.” “All things” without exception, even the most hidden recesses of the heart, “are naked and open before him;” as the inmost parts of the sacrifices, when cut down the back-bone, were to the priest appointed to inspect them [Note: Hebrews 4:12-13. τετραχηλισμένα. See also Jer 16:17 and Job 34:22.].]

These are solemn truths: and the importance of them will forcibly appear, whilst we suggest,


Some reflections naturally arising from them—

On this subject we might multiply reflections without end, seeing that there is not any part of a Christian’s experience which is not most intimately connected with it. But we will confine ourselves to two; namely,


That many, however high they may be in their own estimation, will be found most awfully to have deceived themselves in the last day—

[Among the foremost of these are the ungodly and profane. These, with an atheistical contempt of God, go on in their own way, saying, “Tush, God shall not see, neither shall the Almighty regard it:” “How doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not [Note: Job 22:13-14.Psalms 73:11; Psalms 73:11.].” But how will they be surprised in the day of judgment, to find, that not one single act, word, or thought of their whole lives had escaped the notice of the Deity! They, if no human eye beheld them, prosecuted their licentious pleasures without fear; little thinking Who was present, beholding their every act, hearing their every word, noting their every thought. Had but a child been present, they could not have proceeded with such indifference: but Jehovah’s presence they regarded not, any more than if he had been, like the heathen gods, unknowing, unconscious, unconcerned. Truly, it is a fearful account which they will have to give, when they shall see the long catalogue of their crimes written with unerring accuracy, and brought forward against them as the ground of their eternal condemnation.

Next to these are the proud formalists, who, because they have never run to any excess of riot, applaud themselves as righteous and secure of the Divine favour. But whilst they boast of their negative righteousness and their performance of some external duties, and look with contempt upon those who have been less moral than themselves, little do they think in what a different light they are viewed by “God, who knoweth their hearts; in whose sight that which is highly esteemed amongst men is not unfrequently an utter abomination [Note: Luke 16:15.].” Very different is the standard by which he estimates them, from that by which they estimate themselves. The things for which he looks are, a tenderness of spirit, a lowliness of mind, a brokenness of heart, a deep self-lothing and self-abhorrence; not one atom of which has he ever seen in these self-applauding Pharisees. Say, thou formal moralist, when did the heart-searching God ever see thee weeping for thy sins, and smiting on thy breast, like the repenting publican, and fleeing to Christ as the manslayer to the city of refuge? When did he ever hear thee adoring and magnifying him for the exceeding riches of his grace in Christ Jesus? Know that He can discern between true and false religion, whether thou canst or not; and that it is “not he who commendeth himself, that shall be approved in the judgment, but he whom the Lord commendeth.”

But of all self-deceiving people, there are none who have so much reason to tremble at the idea of God’s omniscience as the false and hypocritical professor. True, if there were ten thousand of this complexion present, not one would apply the title to himself, or suppose himself to be comprehended under this head. Yet are there many such in the Church of God; many, whose religion consists in hearing and talking about the Gospel, rather than in exercising the spirit it inculcates. If a zeal about certain tenets, or running to hear sermons, or putting themselves forward in religious meetings, or sitting in judgment upon others who are not of their party, if this were religion, they would be very eminent: but if religion consist in humility of mind, in meekness and lowliness of heart, in patience and forbearance towards those who differ from them, in a diligent attention to the duties of their place and station, and in a secret walk with God, they will be found most awfully wanting in them all. Alas! the religion of many makes them not a whit more amiable and lovely in their dispositions and habits, than if they had never heard of “the example of Christ:” on the contrary, their pride, and conceit, and forwardness, and presumption, render them ten-fold more disgusting both to God and man, than if they made no profession of religion at all. When such persons come into the presence of their God at the last day, what testimony will they receive from the heart-searching God but this, that “they had a name to live, and were dead;” and that whilst “they said that they were Jews, they lied, and were in reality of the synagogue of Satan?” Yes; “their excellency may mount up to the heavens; but they shall perish like their own dung; and they that have seen them shall with surprise and grief exclaim, Where are they [Note: Job 20:4-7.]?”

The confidence which any of these classes may profess, only binds upon them the more strongly the fetters they have forged for themselves, and ensures more certainly their everlasting ruin [Note: Pro 21:2 and Psalms 50:21.].]


That many who are low in the estimation both of themselves and others, shall receive at last from God himself a glorious testimony in their behalf—

[Many there are of the Lord’s “hidden ones,” who have been kept back by diffidence or other circumstances from joining themselves to the Lord’s people in an open and ostensible way, who yet shall receive from God the strongest tokens of his approbation. They perhaps envied the gifts and talents of some more forward professors, and thought themselves unworthy to join in their society: but God, who knew their hearts, said of them, “I know thy poverty; but thou art rich.” He heard the sighs and groans which they uttered from day to day under a sense of their own unworthiness. He treasured up in his vial the tears they shed from a lothing of themselves, and an admiration of their God. He saw how precious the Lord Jesus Christ was to their souls, as their hope, their peace, their strength, their all. They were of no account perhaps amongst their fellow-Christians; but they were greatly beloved of their God. The more abased they were in their own eyes, the more exalted they were in his. He saw that in their prayers, their fastings, their alms, they sought not glory from men; and therefore “he in the last day will reward them openly.” He will say of them in that day, “I saw thee under the fig-tree:” “if thy talent was small, thou madest a good improvement of it:” thou thoughtest that in “giving thy mite to the sanctuary,” thou hadst done nothing; but I testify for thee, that “it was more in my sight than all that the rich gave out of their abundance.” Yes, Beloved, as ye desire to serve and honour God, so will God accept and bless you: “He will bring to light the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man, who was of no account in his own eyes, have praise of God.” If then, Brethren, ye be overlooked, or even calumniated and traduced by men, lay it not to heart, but seek to approve yourselves to the heart-searching God. Let man have his day, knowing assuredly that God will have his also [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. See the Greek.], and that “his judgment will be according to truth.”]


[Let all now shew what regard they have for God. Let all retire, with a consciousness that God sees them: let them go to their secret chamber, and there implore mercy from him for their past neglect of his presence, and grace that they may henceforth be enabled to “set him always before them,” and to “walk in his fear all the day long.”]

Verses 17-18


Psalms 139:17-18. 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.

THESE words will admit of a twofold interpretation: they may be considered as referring to the thoughts which God had entertained in his bosom respecting David, or to those which David entertained respecting God. If we take them in the former sense, the import of them is to this effect: ‘It is impossible for me ever to enumerate the mercies which, in thine eternal counsels, thou hast prepared for me, and which I am daily receiving at thy hands: and if I should attempt to number them through the whole day, I should make so little progress, that in the following morning I should have all my work to do again.’ In this view, they agree with what the inspired penman says in another psalm, “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered [Note: Psalms 40:5.].” If we take them in the latter sense, their meaning is, ‘My delight in contemplating all thy glorious perfections, and all the wonders of thy love, O my God, is inexpressible: it is my sweet employment day and night, insomuch that my first waking thoughts ever recur to thee.’ In this sense they accord with what he says in the 104th Psalm: “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise unto my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord [Note: Psalms 104:33-34.].” It is to this latter sense that I rather incline; because there is a remarkable coincidence between the general subject of the 104th Psalm with that which is before us, (both of them speaking altogether of God as the Creator and Governor of the world;) and because the expressions of delight in God, in both the psalms, stand in immediate connexion with his aversion to sinners, whom, for their opposition to God, he consigns over to merited disgrace and punishment [Note: Compare Psalms 104:34-35. with Psalms 139:18-19.]. But, in either case, this is clear, namely, that David found his happiness in contemplating the Deity: and whether we extend his views to the wonders of God’s love in general, or confine them to those which had been vouchsafed personally to himself, they will equally afford me occasion to shew you the nature and blessedness of Christian experience.

Let us consider,


The nature of Christian experience—

The world at large have no conception of delighting themselves in God: they rather say to God in their hearts, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways [Note: Job 21:14.].” And they endeavour to put him far from them: for they will not entertain him in all, or any of their thoughts [Note: Psa 10:4]. Nor has the hypocritical professor of religion any real delight in God: for Job says of him, “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God [Note: Job 27:8; Job 27:10.]?” But of the true Christian this is a very leading feature [Note: Psalms 37:4.Isaiah 58:14; Isaiah 58:14.]: he delights,


In the contemplation of God—

[His mind soars upwards to the Deity; who is, as it were, ever present to his view. In all the works of creation, in all the dispensations of Providence, and in all the wonders of redemption, he sees the glory and excellency of his God. He can behold nothing, he can think of nothing, which does not set God before him in some of his glorious perfections. The wisdom, the power, the goodness, the patience, the forbearance, the love, the mercy of his God, pass in review before his eyes, and call forth his devoutest acknowledgments; and the display of these, in his own personal experience, calls forth in him such admiring thoughts as no language can adequately express.
But it will be remembered, that this psalm speaks particularly of the omnipresence and omniscience of the Deity; and these perfections, which are so terrible to the ungodly, and of which they would, if possible, divest him, are to the true Christian a source of exquisite delight. Wherever he goes, he sees God at his right hand, ready to direct him in all his ways, ready to succour him in all his exertions, ready to preserve him in every danger. In many instances, his views are misapprehended, his actions misinterpreted, his character traduced. But he comforts himself in the thought that God knoweth his heart, and is acquainted with every motion there; and that, whether he interpose or not to vindicate his character in this world, he will do it in the world to come; and that, if man have his day, God also will have his [Note: See 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. The Greek.]. True, he is conscious that God sees his infirmities; but he knows that God can distinguish what man cannot so easily discern, the difference between unallowed infirmities and wilful sins; and that if he behold our weaknesses, he is also acquainted with our sighs, our tears, our groans, every one of which attests the desire of our hearts, even where there has been too evident a failure in our attainments.]


In communion with him—

[These perfections of God, which are the subjects of the Christian’s contemplation, are also the subjects of his devoutest praise. “Truly, his fellowship is with the Father, and with the Son, Jesus Christ.”
Throughout the day “he walks with God,” as Enoch did, communing with him, and committing to him his every concern. He would not willingly take a step but in entire dependence upon God. Not in his stated devotions only does he call upon God, but in ten thousand ejaculations through the day, according as circumstances arise to call them forth. In the whole habit of his mind “he dwells in God;” as “God also, by the constant communications of his grace, dwells in him.” This mutual in-dwelling of God in his people, and his people in him, is frequently spoken of in the Holy Scriptures [Note: Joh 6:56 and 1 John 4:15-16.]; and it well conveys the idea of that rest in God which every true Believer enjoys, and of that familiar intercourse, if I may so express myself, which subsists between his God and him.

But the expression in my text deserves a more particular consideration: “When I awake, I am still with thee.” This implies all that we have before spoken; namely, that in his meditations and prayers he was with God through the day: and it goes further to remark, that such was the entire rest of his soul in God, that, with the early dawn, as soon as he awoke, his very first thoughts rose to God, who was the one object of all his desires, and the one source of all his happiness. Now this is, perhaps, as striking a feature in the Christian’s experience as any that can be named. During the day, a Christian may have much to occupy his mind, and much to engage a great intensity of thought: at such seasons, therefore, the contemplation of the Deity, and of communion with him, may be in appearance suspended: but, as the needle of a compass, which, by force, or superior attraction, has been diverted for a while from its proper rest, as soon as it is at liberty to resume its wonted position shews to all its faithful subjection to the polar influence; so does the soul of a Christian, as soon as it is relieved from the pressure of contingent circumstances, return to God, as its proper, its chosen, and its only rest. And I wish you all, my Brethren, to be observant of yourselves in this particular; and never to think that you have attained the full measure of communion with God, till you can say, “When I awake, I am still with thee.”]

Having described the nature of Christian experience, I shall need but few words to shew,


The blessedness of it—

The Psalmist strongly marks this: “How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!” Whether we understand him as speaking of God’s thoughts of him, or of his thoughts of God, it is evident that the preciousness of them was felt in his own soul. Now this experience is truly blessed, because it fills the Christian’s soul,


With a sense of its obligations—

[What do the ungodly world lose, whilst they overlook the hand from whence their blessings flow! Verily, in their richest enjoyments, they have little perception of them, wherein they are not equalled by the beasts themselves. It is the taste of God’s love in them which gives to every one of them its highest zest. I hesitate not to say, that Lazarus, in the midst of his utter destitution, had, in the crumbs with which he was sustained, a sublimer gratification, than the Rich Man ever knew in all the pomp and delicacies with which he was surrounded. In truth, the discovery of God in every thing gives to the Christian a continual feast, and furnishes him with incessant occasions of unfeigned joy — — — Inanimate things proclaim unwittingly the honour of their God; but the believer sounds it forth continually with the devoutest acclamations. “All thy works praise thee,” says the Psalmist; “but thy saints bless thee.”]


With a persuasion of its security—

[Those who know not God are at a loss where to flee, or what to do, in any great emergency. But the Christian is assured, that “God is at his right hand, and that therefore he can never be moved.” He sees “God as a wall of fire round about him:” not a wall only, that might possibly be scaled, but “a wall of fire,” that will devour any who shall dare to assail us. “His very name is,” to the Christian, “a strong tower,” to which he runneth, and is safe. He sees “chariots of fire and horses of fire all around him;” and in perfect confidence he says, “If God be for me, who can be against me?”
Say, whether such an one be not happy? Hear his triumphant strains, and judge:—“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (as it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter:) nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Romans 8:35-39.].” If such an one be not happy, where shall happiness be found on earth?]

With an anticipation and foretaste of its eternal bliss—
[Such views of God, and such communion with him, what are they, but the very beginnings of heaven upon earth? The believer who can say “It is thus that I am with my God in this world,” may add, with an emphasis peculiar to himself, “When I awake in the eternal world, I shall be still with thee;” changing my place indeed, but neither my company nor my employment — — —]


[Beloved Brethren, has God from all eternity occupied his thoughts about you, and will not you turn your thoughts to him? Delay not. I will not say, Rob not him of his glory: I will rather say, Rob not yourselves of happiness. You cannot doubt the felicity of those who thus contemplate and enjoy their God. O let not the vanities of time and sense stand in competition with him! Look at the worst that befals a Christian, and you shall find him blessed in the midst of all. See him “poor in spirit;” see him “mourning and weeping;” see him “persecuted for righteousness’ sake:” in every state he is pronounced “blessed,” “blessed,” “blessed.” On the other hand, tell me where you will find the worldling blessed under any circumstances whatever. No: “in the fulness of his sufficiency he is in straits.” Know for a certainty, that he alone is, or ever shall be, blessed, whom God, the Judge of quick and dead, shall pronounce so. He alone is truly blessed, who has God for his God, his portion, “his eternal great reward.”]

Verses 23-24


Psalms 139:23-24. 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.

THE perfections of God are all infinitely glorious; but, like the cloud of fire, they have a different aspect towards the friends, and the enemies of God. To the ungodly they are dark and terrible; but to the godly they are full of light and comfort [Note: Exodus 15:11.]. His omniscience in particular is a ground both of joy and terror: in this light David speaks of it in the psalm before us. He represents this attribute in striking colours [Note: ver. 1–12.]; he declares that the consideration of it was delightful to him [Note: ver. 17, 18.]: but the prospect it afforded him with respect to the wicked was extremely melancholy [Note: ver. 19.]. Returning however to his own immediate concerns, he improves this attribute to his own spiritual advantage [Note: ver. 23, 24.].

From these words we may notice,


The danger of indulging any secret sin—

There is no man who is perfectly free from sin [Note: 1 Kings 8:46.]; but no real Christian will knowingly harbour sin. The indulging of it could not consist with his salvation. This is strongly intimated in the text [Note: He intimates that if there were any wicked way in him, he could not be walking in the way everlasting.]. It is also expressly declared in other parts of Scripture.

[A regenerate person it is said cannot indulge sin [Note: 1 John 3:9.]. Allowed sin characterizes those who are of the devil [Note: 1 John 3:8.]: it entirely prevents the acceptance of our prayers [Note: Psalms 66:18.]: it entails on a person everlasting destruction [Note: Matthew 5:19.]. Our Lord repeatedly urges this as a reason for mortifying every sin, how pleasant or profitable soever it be [Note: Matthew 5:29-30.].]

Nor ought it to be esteemed “an hard saying”—
[The harbouring of any sin is a contempt of God’s authority [Note: James 2:10-11.]: it defeats the end of Christ’s incarnation and death [Note: 1 John 3:8.]: it argues an entire want of sincerity [Note: John 1:47.]: it therefore justly brings the curse of God upon us [Note: Jeremiah 48:10.].]

There is one thing indeed which renders the consideration of this extremely awful; namely,


The difficulty of discerning whether we have any allowed sin in us or not—

The rule of our duty is clear enough; but it is by no means easy to determine how far our experience corresponds with it. This is evidently implied in the solicitude which David expresses for divine aid and direction. It may be confirmed also by many scripture examples—
[What ignorance of his own heart did Hazael discover [Note: 2 Kings 8:13.]! James and John little thought by what spirit they were actuated [Note: Luke 9:55.], nor was Peter aware of his own instability [Note: Matthew 26:35.]. Paul himself could not venture positively to determine the extent of his own innocence [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:4.]. God has declared that no one can attain a perfect knowledge of his own heart [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.].]

Many reasons might be assigned for this difficulty—
[The very best of our actions are blended with sin. Self-love tempts us to view them in too favourable a light: we put specious names on our bosom-sins. Hence it is hard to discern the exact quality of our actions.]
To evince however that there is one way of judging aright, we shall proceed to shew,


The means we should use for the ascertaining of it—

Self-examination is a duty inculcated in Scripture [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.]. It is necessary for the attaining of self-knowledge. The Christian therefore can adopt the words of Asaph [Note: Psalms 77:6.].—But he does not rest satisfied with his own exertions—

[He is aware of “the deceitfulness of sin,” the treachery of his own heart, and “the devices of Satan.” Though he rejoices in the testimony of his own conscience, he dares not confide in it too much [Note: Proverbs 28:26.].]

He cries to God to “search and try him”—
[He remembers whose prerogative it is to search the heart [Note: Jeremiah 17:10.]: he reads the word that God may search him with it [Note: Hebrews 4:12.]: he regards conscience as God’s vicegerent [Note: Proverbs 20:27.]: he looks up for the Spirit’s aid and influence [Note: Romans 8:26.]. In this way he prays, like David, frequently, and with fervour [Note: Mark the text.].]

He commits himself to the divine guidance and direction—
[He knows he shall err if God do not “lead” him: he trusts in the promises which God has given him in his word [Note: Psalms 25:9. Proverbs 3:6.].]

In this way he attains abiding peace and confidence [Note: Philippians 4:6-7.].


[Let us all begin the work of self-examination. Let us call in the divine aid with importunate supplications. Let us inquire whether there be not some sin which we indulge, or some duty which we neglect? Let us especially take notice of our “thoughts” — — — Let us not think that inadvertence can excuse our sins, while we neglect the means of discovering them [Note: Leviticus 5:17.]: Let us tremble lest, through the indulgence of one sin, our religion prove vain at last [Note: James 1:26.]; let us not walk in a way which shall serve merely for a present show, but a way that shall be of “everlasting” benefit.]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 139". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/psalms-139.html. 1832.
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