HOW GREAT THOU ART
Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
PSALM 139, one of David’s Psalms, is considered by many to be the most beautiful Psalm
because of its majestic character. It is divided into four parts, God’s: (1) wisdom and
omniscience; (2) omnipresence and omnipotence; (3) love; and (4) justice. This Psalm describes
how God exercises these three attributes of being (omniscience, omnipresence and
omnipotence), and three attributes of character (wisdom, love and justice) in His special care
over David, and in a larger sense, over all His consecrated people.
God’s Infinite Wisdom and Omniscience
Verses 1-6: God’s wisdom and knowledge:
1. “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.”
This passage shows that God knows everything about us.
2. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.”
David gives the proper order. Our “downsitting” must come first. In other words, we must first
study, meditate upon and learn the Truth of God’s Word; then comes the “uprising,” our
declaring, spreading, teaching and preaching of His Word of Truth. Even the great Apostle Paul
spent three years in study before he began his active ministry. The second part of this verse
shows that God knows our thoughts, even before we think them.
3. “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”
The word “compassest” means “winnowest.” God closely analyzes our path, whether we are
active or resting. He knows everything about our thoughts, words and deeds. Nothing is hidden
from Him – everything is open to His sight.
4. “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.”
God knows our words before we speak. He even knows what we do not utter.
5. “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thy hand upon me.”
The word “beset” gives the thought of being “hedged in.” If we run ahead, He is there. If we turn
about, we cannot escape. If we are in the wrong, He puts His hand upon us to correct us. If we
are in the right, He puts His hand upon us to encourage us.
6. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
David is here expressing that the finite, which includes all of God’s creatures, cannot
comprehend the Infinite One.
God’s Omnipresence and Omnipotence
Verses 7-12: God’s omnipresence and omnipotence:
7-8. “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 [the grave], behold, thou art there.”
In the original, the word “art” and the second “there” are not in the passage, which makes it read,
“If I ascend up into heaven, thou there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou.”
9. “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea.”
The “wings of the morning” refers to light, and “the uttermost parts of the sea” means beyond
10. “Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”
The words “right hand” mean God’s special favor, so whether we are in this country, or
elsewhere, or in any condition, we may rest assured that God is leading and caring for us.
11. “If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.”
This passage shows that nothing is hidden from God.
12. “Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and
the light are both alike to thee.”
We see here that everything is plain and open to God, and that He is our great Protector. This
verse reminds us of Psalm 121: 4: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor
God’s Love and Tender Care
Verses 13-18: God’s love and tender care:
13. “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.”
The heart is often used in the sense of being the seat of our affections, and the “reins” would
represent the seat of our innermost or hidden affections or motives. The kidneys are our most
sensitive organs, so they would well represent our most sensitive emotions. The words “covered
me” give the thought of “knit me.”
14. “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and
that my soul knoweth right well.”
Note how David does not praise himself or his parents, but the Lord. He also shows his
appreciation of how marvelous the human body is!
15. “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in
the lowest parts of the earth.”
The “substance” here refers to the bones, the framework of the body, the skeleton. The “lowest
parts” mean “depths.” God designed the body in such a way that all the bones are necessary and
are all arranged in the right way. The word “secret” has reference to the womb, the hidden place
where the embryo is developed.
16. “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.”
In this passage, the word “substance” refers to the embryo, which in its process of development
is “unperfect,” meaning not fully developed. In God’s “book,” that is, God’s plan, or mind, He
“fashioned” us. One example is that the definite period of human gestation is 287 days, which is
divisible by seven, the Divine number.
17. “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!”
God’s thoughts toward us are precious indeed, going beyond our creation, including every aspect
of our care.
18. “If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still
David is here emphasizing God’s innumerable thoughts toward himself, “more in number than
the sand.” It reminds us of all the beauties of nature that God has provided for our enjoyment –
flowers, birds, pets, building materials, marble, gems, etc.
Verses 19-24: God’s justice:
19. “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.”
The word “bloody” gives the thought of destructive, hateful, murderers. David recognized that
we are molded by the company we keep, and did not want to be associated with such people.
20. “For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.”
David is describing the vile, the vulgar and those who have no reverence for God.
21. “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up
We are, or should be grieved with such. Our Lord was grieved and angry with those of this class.
We read in Mark 3: 5: “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved
for the hardness of their hearts.”
22. “I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”
David possessed a righteous hatred toward God’s and his enemies. We read about our Lord in
Hebrews 1: 9: “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God,
hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
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.”
What a beautiful expression! Note how these verses connect with the first verse. But why does
David ask God to search his heart and thoughts, when in verse 1 he expresses that he knows that
God has searched and known him? It is because he wanted to make sure that there was nothing
within him that would come between God and himself. He so desired God’s favor, that he
petitioned God to scrutinize him, and to expose any leaven in his character, that he may be
cleansed from any secret faults. The word “wicked” here means pain or grief. He did not want
anything about himself to cause God any pain or grief. He desired to be led in the way that leads
to everlasting life.
These verses remind us of a passage from another one of David’s Psalms, Psalm 26: 1-3: “Judge
me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I
shall not slide. Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart. For thy
lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth.”
For the truly consecrated, this Psalm should increase our reverence for our great and wonderful
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