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Read Psalm 139

As you read, consider what this Psalm's attitude is (praise, thanksgiving or lament? Is it focused on expressing faith and trust? Is the psalmist remembering history or past experiences? Is it for teaching, proclaiming or prophesying?)

  • What is your initial reaction to this Psalm? How does it make you feel? What questions does it raise for you?

  • Some people say this is a psalm about God's 'omnipresence' - would you agree with that? Or is it about something different for you?

Reread verses 1-6

  • Look at the verbs in verses 1-5. What is God doing - and why?

  • Why does the author conclude this stanza the way they do in verse 6? What is it about the ideas in verses 1-5 that lead them to say this?

  • Have you ever felt this way when thinking about God? Share what in particular struck you.

Reread verses 7-12

  • What do you notice about the shift between these two stanzas? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?

  • What about the shift within this stanza - what progress does the Psalmist make as they explore this theme?

Reread verses 13-18

  • How does the stanza build on the foundation of the first two? And what new thought is introduced here?

  • Why does the author praise God? Do you praise God for this for yourself? Why/why not?

  • How do verses 17-18 serve as a conclusion to this stanza; and to the whole Psalm up to this point? (consider their relationship to verse 2 and verse 6) [1]

Reread verses 19-24

  • Why the sudden shift of focus to "the wicked"? Why do you think the author suddenly thinks of them after verses 1-18? And why do you imagine the author is so angry? [2]

  • Why would people hate the God we've been meditating on in verses 1-18? What is it about picturing a God who is ever-present that can make some people respond with praise and others with evil and hatred?

  • Verses 23-24 conclude by returning to the theme of verse 1. What does it mean to welcome God's searching gaze into our hearts and our thoughts?

  • How does God lead us "in the way everlasting" by revealing "any offensive way in me"?

  • Spend some time on your own in quiet prayer and reflection, asking God to search, to know, to reveal, and to lead.

  • Then when you're ready, come together to pray (or sing!) a prayer of praise to the God who is always with us.

[1] Verse 18b, "when I awake, I am still with you," are considered by some to be a hint at resurrection. For example, Michael Wilcock writes, "it may be that among the many ‘second meanings’ of the Psalter is the New Testament revelation that all the days of verse 16 will in fact go on into eternity; and that therefore the awaking of verse 18 looks forward also to the day of resurrection."

Michael Wilcock, Psalms Vol. 2: Bible Speak Today Commentary, p.260

[2] C. S. Lewis describes this moment as happening "naively, almost if it were surprising that such a simple remedy for human ills had not occurred to the almighty."

C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p.24

He goes on to respond to his own thought like this:

At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain them away or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both facts squarely. The hatred is there— festering, gloating, undisguised— and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves. Only after these two admissions have been made can we safely proceed.

C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p.25-26

And proceed he does - for the rest of the chapter (chapter 3). He gives a lot of wisdom about how to understand the more angry and vindictive verses in the book of Psalms. If you want to read it, you can download it here.


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