“You, Lord, are intimately acquainted with every part of my life and thoughts — past, future, present — though such a realisation staggers the natural mind. Everywhere is near You. Your nearness knows no limits. There is neither height nor depth of human experience beyond your sharing or perception. All that I am, comes from You. You are the Cause, and Yours the skill that from my beginning called forth and watched over every stage of my growth, thus turning Your thoughts into my being. The comprehensiveness of Your thoughts defies my imagination, and by them, I am brought forth, not unto myself, but unto You — Your presence, care, and love. Where can any evil, stand in Your presence? May it flee before You, and thus before all whom You cause to stand near You. And may that nearness discover and eradicate all trace of error, that I may walk with You always.”
This paraphrase of Psalm 139 surely expresses the wonder of the dealings of the Lord and His care for each one of His people. It is an intimate confession of the surprise and the awe brought to us by the Truth when we are let into Divine secrets, and when we are thus confronted with the mystery, WHY? Why, Lord, are you interested — in this worthless lump of clay? Who am I Lord? And who are these Thy people? What claims have we upon Divine love? And yet, we are here only because You made us, Lord. We are what we are because that is how You made us. And we are in Your presence, because that is where You had in mind for us to be.
If the lips were King David’s, the words were of the holy Spirit. Their full appreciation requires also the Spirit of God in the heart of the Readers.
Five Parts, Like Genesis to Deuteronomy
The psalms are not in chronological order. This is apparent, in that psalm 137, describing conditions during the captivity in Babylon, is followed by a whole series from the sweet psalmist of Israel, David, psalms 138 to 145, centuries before the captivity. Nevertheless, the Jews have long believed that the psalms are grouped according to a pattern, a series of five themes, which they have likened to the five books of Moses, from Genesis. We find our psalm, 139, in the last of these — the Deuteronomy portion. The book of Deuteronomy is one of retrospect. It looks back over the forty years of wilderness wanderings. This psalm of David also looks back over many years. It looks back with wonder at the countless thoughts of God towards him, the trials, the failings, the over‑rulings, in every experience, God was there.
Perhaps, looking back, we too may be able to recognise in general terms a sequence in our own individual lives. Our own Genesis of beginnings, our first reaching out towards the Lord. In my case, and that of many other brethren, that Genesis beginning coincided with the reading of Volume one of “Studies in the Scriptures — The Divine Plan,” by Pastor Charles Taze Russell. Joseph Rotherham, translator of the “Emphasised Bible,” left his own testimony concerning this book. “The chapter on the Permission of Evil alone is worth more than the price of the whole Volume and is the fullest discussion of this great mystery and the nearest approximation to a probably correct solution of it with which we are acquainted.” (With Volume One selling in those days for only 60 cents, that was a bit of an understatement!) The Lord had set our feet upon a Rock. Many millions of copies of this Volume went out throughout the world. The seed was widely sown, yet from those millions comparatively few were to respond to the sickle‑like message of the harvest of the age.
“Whose hearts the Lord opened.”
It was not you or me, but the Lord; and this must have an awesome effect upon our minds. Why did the Lord open my eyes? Those first vague desires, that impulse to follow, though I knew not whither I was going, why me, Lord?
With each of us, that Genesis stage would soon develop into our Exodus — the effect of Truth in releasing from captivity to the ways and thinking of this present evil world, and the power of the evil one. Again the blessedness of that release was not by our effort. It was the Lord, our Deliverer. He opened our eyes to the vanity of all below, and by various means loosened our grip upon the things of this earth.
He emptied my hands of my treasured store,
And His covenant love revealed;
There was not a wound in mine aching heart,
But the balm of His breath hath healed,
Oh, tender and true was the chastening sore,
In wisdom that taught and fried,
Till the soul He sought was trusting in Him
And nothing on earth beside.
The book of Leviticus was concerned with the Divine sanctuary, the consecration of the priesthood, and the implications of approach to a Holy God. We came to realise that salvation lay in something more than the endeavour to live a high moral life of separation from the world.
At what great cost the Lord made provision for our sinful state.
With this deepening realisation came the longing to know Him better, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire into His sanctuary. With deepening appreciation we learned what consecration really meant — and so beside His sacrifice we were led to lay down our little all. That consecration is still to be brought to completion. Such a state of resolution was the result of heaven’s love overflowing into our hearts. Again; it was the Lord.
A period of wilderness experiences was to follow, our book of Numbers stage. In many ways these wilderness tests and trials of faith are still ours today and probably will be until the journey’s end, yet already, perhaps, they are merging into our Deuteronomy stage of retrospect.
Tonight, we can look back over the whole of life’s journey so far. Do we see a hotch‑potch of seemingly disconnected experiences?
Did our path seem to ramble, first this way, then another, without particular sign of progress or achievement?
That’s what we mean by wilderness wanderings. Did we notice that Rock? — The Rock that followed us? In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul sanctioned the Jews’ tradition that the rock itself, or at least the stream from it, followed the Israelites from place to place, supplying its life‑giving pools throughout the wilderness way. Deuteronomy 32:4-37 identifies the Rock as the Begetter and the Former, the Saviour and Defender of the Lord’s people; the Source of Truth sweeter than honey, and of the Holy oil, and in all these works, perfect beyond compare.
Someone was watching, watching us every step of the way. Watching us even this moment, and perhaps now, as we look back, helping us to trace the way of the Lord’s dealings in our lives.
“Deep on my heart let memory trace
His acts of mercy and of grace.”
Never did we walk alone, for He had said, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Exodus 33:14). “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20).
And with that special Angel of His presence, Our Blessed Lord and Head, came other angels, some of them visible angels with human faces. The Janes and Wills, the Mays and Hildas, Judys, Evas, Franks and Harrys, and Jims, the home ecclesia brethren, and other dear brethren both here and throughout the land, each to play a part in our lives, as helping hands along the way. We had so many helps, so many blessings. We can now look back with deepest gratitude to the Lord. He Who designed the Great Ages of His Plan, had turned His wondrous skills to me.
Toward the End of Our Journey
Psalm 139:16 in the Hebrew, “In Thy book each day was planned.” “Thou hast searched me and know.” He knows it all; with vision divine He knows each turn of our path, He knows how it all will end; he knows what is required to achieve that end.
If we have begun our Deuteronomy stage, we know it is not only one of retrospect — it is forward looking also. Never have we been nearer to our journey’s goal. The river at last pours out into the boundless waters of the sea. The nearer it gets to that estuary the greater is the influence of what lies so close ahead. It is moved by its tides, as the great ocean waters mingle with its own. And so with the saints as they anticipate their home‑coming now so near. The abundant entrance, the joyous throng of welcoming overcomers who have gone before — already we sense that sweet taste of victory through Christ — already does that joy unspeakable bring its glory‑glow into our hearts. Soon, the day will arrive for each of us to finish this present course — our Graduation day! Are our gowns ready? Will it be marked, that last step of the way? Will we find a label stating, “This is your final test of faith”? We wait on Pisgah’s mount until that “vision glorious” melts into its full blessed reality.
Looking now forwards towards that veil we perceive but the semblance of what lies beyond. Through that pattern of blue, and purple, and scarlet threads, set in the fine twined linen of cunning work: we but vaguely perceive the hazy outline of heavenly things, depicted in the cherubim. But once we pass that veil, the scales of all present limitations will fall from our eyes, and with vision clear as the noon‑day sun, we shall see Him Whom our soul loveth, face‑to‑face.
Then too shall we see what He has wrought. A new creation, after the likeness of Him that made it. Then, from within those encircling arms of our Father, we shall be blessed with full retrospective wisdom, know at last the reasons for so many puzzling circumstances and experiences of the way.
Even now, can we not anticipate something of the wonder of that blessed hour? Lord, that I might view my present walk, each test, each trial, each concept of Thy Truth, against the glory of that perfect day. Oh that with retrospective wisdom blest, I could retrace each step, remould each thought, with noonday vision of my Father’s face. It is, then, in blessed realisation of all we have come to know of our Father thus far, that our hearts echo the refrain of the psalmist in this song of retrospective wisdom.
This whole psalm, 139, is an expression of the awe and wonder of this knowledge of the Lord — that is, His knowledge of us. Verses 2‑5: we have the concept of His omniscience. He knows it all. There is nothing hidden from the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. How thankful we are of that. Did we ever feel, “My way is hid from the Lord.”? “I am on my own, He does not know; He does not heed”? Verse 11 of the psalm (139) says, “Surely the darkness shall cover me.” The Hebrew word translated “cover me” is used only three other places. Each time it retains its true meaning, to bruise me. Job speaks in 9:17, of being bruised or broken by the stormy tempest the Lord had allowed into his life.
Genesis 3:15 speaks of the bruising of the seed of the woman. Is there then a hint in this verse 11 of the psalm of the powers of darkness under which both Jesus and His followers would be bruised? Was His arm then shortened that He could not use those very trials to achieve the end He has in mind?
If it pleased the Lord to “bruise” Him, or any other of His children, it is to an end more wonderful than anything they are caused to bear. But only by His permission can the bruising come.
Isaiah 49:14,15. — Does Zion cry “The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me”? “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget [a mother’s mind is full of so many things. We can recall one sister who, arriving home from the daily shopping chores, suddenly remembered that she had left the pram at the store!] yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”
Looking back, can we not each testify with the conviction of retrospect.
“He was better to me than all my hopes;
He was better than all my fears;
He made a bridge of my broken works,
And a rainbow of my tears.
“The billows that guarded my sea-girt path,
But carried my Lord on their crest;
When I dwell on the days of my wilderness march
I can lean on His love for the rest” (“Stream in the Desert” by L.B. Cowman).
The woman was at her wit’s end, dejected and desolate, Genesis 16:6. Her life had become so hard that she had tried to run away. But to go further into the wilderness meant she would certainly perish.
It was then
that the Lord sent His angel to tell her to
and submit to her trials.
What a message! Wherein lay the comfort? Where was the way of escape?
“Go back! Submit!”
Yet with wonder Hagar realised that the Lord knew everything about her, He knew, and He cared! With awe she had come in that moment of crisis to know the name of the Lord. Genesis 16:13, You‑Are‑The‑God‑Who‑Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Did our experience match?
At time of need, did the message come: “Don’t run away! Submit!” Was it in storm that we found our anchor, and first came to realise what it was for?
In that experience Hagar knew she had heard the voice of the Lord, and had seen Him in new light. Forever in her mind that place would be a memorial to a precious divine understanding of human need. She had found a well, and she called it “The Well of the one Who Lives and Sees Me” (NKJV). Never would that well run dry. And the child born from that experience was called “Ishmael,” “God hears.” God really does hear!
Psalm 139:1 — “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and know.” The following verses show it is an on‑going ever‑present tense. It is said that “the word rendered searched, has a primary reference to mining into the earth as for precious metals.” Digging deep into the inner recesses of our heart. As the result of that searching and sifting, we can confidently say, “Thou, Lord, seest all that is in my heart. Nothing is, or can be, concealed from thee. You know everything about me, yet You still love me!”
It is with this deep consciousness that the psalm begins; and all that follows is but an expansion and application of this revealing. God knows me altogether; He sees all that is there in my innermost being. He sees more in me than I can see in myself. He is fully acquainted with every stage and step of my past life. How does He do this? We may well ask!
More to the point; Why?
Why does He condescend?
Why does He notice?
Why trouble to know me, and everything about me?
It would, of course, be true to say; “known unto the Lord are ALL His works from the beginning.” He is not confined to our concept of time. It is part of His nature, His ability, His attribute of omniscience, to know all things. Is there anything He does not know? But knowing in this intimacy is for us, part of a close relationship, that of a Father and His child. Jesus said (Matthew 6:8), “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” And for our Father to see and know, is for Him to oversee and supply the needs of His child.
Psalm 37:25 — “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” How many of our dear elderly brethren today can echo those words! Yes, maybe sometimes the bread we need turns out to be the “bread of affliction” in 1 Kings 22:27. It is the harsh treatment of one imprisoned by straightened circumstances, like Hagar. Here the word “affliction” is defined as something “to bring one to the state of submission.”
Paul found that imprisonment is not so bad, when shared with the Lord. But sometimes this same expression “bread of affliction” means the sustenance that the Lord specially provides in the midst of trial, as in Deuteronomy 16:3. The Lord will use many means, many messengers, to supply those needs. In 1 Kings 17:4 He uses ravens. In Psalm 23, as in the darkness the enemies circle around the flock, we find a table prepared before us.
So Jacob too was to find as he lay himself down in his stony place. Nor was he the first, nor would he be the last, to discover in the midst of trial the wonders of a God Who sees all, sees our past, and our present, and understands our needs. He knows and sees also what we cannot see, the outcome, the end to which the path is leading and He sends His messengers to our aid with the blessed assurances of His Word of promise. For there Jacob saw a ladder linking all the array of heavenly resources to the pressing needs that moment of one fleeing before the threat of death. He saw Angels ascending and descending.
Do we share Jacob’s vision?
O could we hear the sound of many wings of angels’ flight on wondrous mission bent! Could we but see each messenger speed forth, to aid, to strengthen, comfort and support! Could we perceive the interest of a spirit world — some rising, some descending, all sent forth along the sunlight shafts of love divine … breaking through clouds … opening prison doors! With ease and grace their wonders they perform, whispering words behind us, beckoning on, guarding, guiding, watching every step of every saint, to keep in all their ways … beholding constantly a Father’s face.
Before we cry, they take our hand to bear us up, and lift us high above the stumbling stones of earth, beyond the things of time and sense to glory realms, eternity’s domain, where dwells our Lord. See, He prepares, within His Father’s House, a place “reserved” (oh blessed thought!) in heaven — for me? Sweet are such messages of love. Beautiful the flight of those who bring them to my longing heart — and loan to me their wings. How wonderful those holy sons of light whose flight from heaven’s courts was made for me, who readily descend to sinful earth to grapple with dark powers to save me harm. Yet their successes apprehended not by our poor minds, we rarely even notice that smoothed path, nor sense their effort, vigilance, or zeal in faithful ministration for our sake.
An angel’s mind accepts such poor acclaim. They joy to do it in the Father’s Name, and recognised or not, they serve the same.
Psalm 139:7‑8 speak of His presence. It is as though He is everywhere, and in everything He is the Cause. The heights — and the very depths of human experience — He is there.
Psalm 139:7 — “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” Adam ran to hide from that Sacred Presence.
The psalmist was not trying to flee from the Lord’s presence, far from it. He is testifying from his own experiences that there is no place, no trial, no circumstance in life, that is beyond the range of divine awareness, too great, or too little, for Him to share. There is no situation beyond the reach of His eternal arms, or beyond the need of His purpose in us. He uses those two words, presence and spirit, or breath, interchangeably. In every place, He is so close that we can feel, as it were, His breath.
Psalm 139:6 — “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
Psalm 139:17,18 — record the wondrous admiration of the psalmist. “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! (18) If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.”
Like a child who falls contentedly to sleep upon his Father’s breast, he wakes to find himself there still, within those same unfailing arms. “When I awake” — Our spiritual life is made up of awakenings, rousing of the senses, from our first awakening to the light of Truth and Love and the realms of things eternal. Perhaps in moments of holy contemplation the Lord awakens our mind to depths of truth we had not before suspected. Perhaps at times of great pressure, when the foes of the soul are too strong for us at such a moment, He opens our eyes, like the eyes of Elisha’s servant, to those great forces working together for us — the Hosts of the LORD, the limitless supply of all the divine resources.
Perhaps, like Jacob, our hours of weariness have become times of vision and great reassurance of divine promise so that we feel we have just awakened to the personal watch care of our God and His never‑failing faithfulness, so that we too are constrained to say, “SURELY THE LORD IS IN THIS PLACE, and I knew it not.”
Our spiritual life is made up of such awakenings. There is yet to be the ultimate of all our awakenings, and each awakening of our present course makes it nearer.
Here is that moment of sweet release from all limitation of human frame, the moment of victory. This is the awakening “where sin and sense molest no more,” and the mind soars like the eagle to the sun, to gaze upon and to comprehend all the glorious fullness of truth’s ultimate reality. In Scripture it is compared with the full light of noonday. Doubly precious not only will that moment of blessed truth introduce us into the closest, fullest, relationship and awareness of the glories of eternity, it also will mark the completion, the bringing to perfection, of Our Heavenly Father’s most wondrous purpose for us.
The moment of reaching the goal, the reaching out and grasping of the prize of the high calling, the moment too, that will be, that He reaches His goal for me — His work in me finished, and the great seal of divine approval pronounced, “It is very good,” and, as in a dream, I will realize that He speaks of His work in me! And His “well done,” shall be, though all eternity, enough for me.
Only in the peaks of our present spiritual experience can we remotely sense that height of the Father’s triumph in His achievement, the bringing of His child to glory, the setting of the jewel in His crown. “They shall be Mine.” That moment of awakening to see what He has wrought! Will it not surpass our brightest hopes and sweetest dreams? The years of pilgrimage all lead to this. That delight in the Lord, deepening with time, will be answered in the granting of the heart’s desires, to be experienced in ten thousand joys, all compressed into that moment of change. And central to all our joys, Dear Lord, I am “Still, still with Thee.”
Psalm 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.”
This has to be searching with intent — the intent of the purifier of silver, and the trier of gold. His thoughts towards us — so many; so high, and humanly unattainable. Here is the response He seeks. The depth of the desire He has imparted in our hearts for holiness, the yearning to be all that He wants us to be; all this is expressed in our earnest plea,
This is the cry so patiently He waits to hear.
This is the prayer that He alone can answer, and answer it He will, for He it was who has inspired in us this thirst after Him, as of the little deer for the water brooks.
Our Father can make us “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12). What a precious realisation! But He knows those that are His;
He knows the sincerity of our cry for Him to help us search out every corner of our heart for that hidden crumb of leaven, that would pollute His sanctuary.
“Walk before Me, and be thou perfect.”
He never asks what He cannot achieve, and how we long for it!
We cry to Him to search out and remove the dross, the ways and weaknesses that cannot co‑habit with a Holy God — Whose dwelling place we are!
The psalmist commences with the acknowledgement of the Lord’s ability to scrutinize and lay bare before His eyes all that we are. Now he responds with earnest plea of these verses 23 and 24 that those holy eyes search out all trace within us of anything that would grieve our Father’s heart.
“Oh may thy goodness chase away all hindrance to Thy love.”
Do I really long to see my God? Are all my springs — in Him? Does the Spirit He has poured into our hearts answer for us?
If my Heavenly Father desires me for His rest forever, then the honour and the glory cannot be compared with any earthly joy!
Thus do our hearts’ desires with our Father’s desires, merge into that blessed oneness of which our Master spoke in that sacred prayer in John chapter 17.
The psalmist prays that the Lord would examine him with that closest scrutiny, so that he might be under no delusion or self‑deception. To search that he might not indulge in any false hopes; that he might not cherish any improper feelings or desires. Here is a prayer of deep sincerity; a prayer that also implies self‑distrust. Self‑examination is required but is limited in its efficiency.
The goal is closer now; that glorious end of the Lord, that once had seemed so far away. Every moment, we stand upon the brink of realization of that blessed hope. But every moment too, we are already experiencing the joy of that fellowship, the sacred sharing of everything, with our Father, and the consciousness of His great love from which neither life nor death can now ever separate.
So what thought can we carry away with us, today and every day, to keep us poised, as it were, that will recapture for us all the blessings of this searching song? One constant thought helps me. I trust it may also help each one of you.
“This moment belongs to You, Lord. This moment, this knife‑edge of time on which I forever dwell, belongs to YOU.”
A New Song
In Revelation 14:3 we read, “And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”
Is this that song which only Thy saints can sing? This psalm — this beautiful song — the melody that fills the life with the holy awareness of God, to be sung by those whose mind and vision have been enabled by the Spirit’s invitation to “Come up higher”? This song that enables us to break through the boundaries of natural sight into the greater and grander realm, to see the King in His beauty, in the land of far horizons, the immeasurable dimensions of the Divine, that constitute the glory that will fill eternity?
If we have learned this song, how can we keep from singing?
We each can say Psalm 40:3‑4 — “You, Lord, have put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. How Blessed indeed is that one that you have brought to make the LORD our trust …”
How can I keep, from singing!
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, not far‑off hymn,
That hails a New Creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul —
How can I keep from singing?
Br. Donald Holliday — for the above post.
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