Considering Psalm 139
When travelling by car through particularly beautiful regions, one may come across a scenic viewing area, a place where cars pull off the highway in order to appreciate an especially captivating vista. Linda and I have done this, but never have we discarded the rest of the vacation for the sake of camping ourselves in one place. There is surely more beauty to be seen on the journey, not to mention a purposeful destination to reach! Sometimes when reading a psalm we can do exactly this. We come across something so arresting or comforting that we camp on a single verse. Just as we benefit from reading and understanding the Book of Psalms as a whole, we also benefit from reading each individual psalm as a whole.
Take Psalm 139 for example. Its first 18 verses are not only collectively beautiful, but contain several highpoints that command our devotion and attention. We are naturally drawn to the truth that God: knows us intimately (vv1-4), surrounds us (v5), pursues us (vv7-9), leads and holds us (v10), forms us (v13), fearfully and wonderfully makes us (v14), and every day we awake we are with him (v18). As we read through the psalm it is a great idea to pull over and reflect upon these wonderful truths. At verse 19, however, the psalm takes such a turn that it may become difficult for us to read it, let alone pray it and apply it. But to stop at verse 18 is to miss the applicational point of the entire psalm. From verse 19, David writes of the malice of the “men of blood” and prays the Lord would “slay the wicked”. The language of “hate”, “loathe”, and “enemies” is hardly the stuff of inspirational posters! But as we take in the whole of the psalm, we see it is more than an invitation to reflect upon God’s intimate knowledge and love of us; it is a chance to reckon with the God who confronts wickedness – ours (v24) and others (v19). In verse 1, David states, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” And it is to this thought he returns after considering the wickedness of his enemies, and he then he realizes he must confront the evil in his own heart.
Although it may be tempting to read and pray only parts of a psalm, it is important to remember that God has given us whole psalms to teach us not only about his attributes, but also what it means to follow him in “the way everlasting”. This is the ultimate purpose of the Psalms – that we would know and follow the Son of David.