In my Old Testament Poetry and Wisdom course at Colorado Christian University, we discussed the Old Testament in the Bible. The Bible is divided into 2 sections—the Old and New Testament. There are 39 books in the Old Testament, one being the book of Psalm, which has 150 chapters, written by various authors, most by the notable King David. You may recall King David, the son of Jesse, who was a handsome mighty warrior and skillful musician, but was initially overlooked for the role as king (1 Samuel 16); who killed the giant, Goliath (1 Samuel 17); who was known by God as “a man after His own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14); and who committed adultery with Bathsheba and deceived and murdered over it (2 Samuel 11, 12). So, you see, the writer was a man who, like us, experienced the peaks and valleys of life.
The psalms have various genres, or a category or style of writing they fall into and are usually individual or communal. There are hymns, as Psalm 97, 103,117, 113 and 150. These psalms offer general praises of God, celebrate Yahweh’s kingship and sing Songs of Zion. Some are literal musical compositions sung by a communal group of worshipers. Other psalms are categorized as laments, as Psalm 13, 22, 41, 51 and 54. These are the most common psalms that “express the psalmist’s response to God when in a situation of need or affliction” (Lucas, 2003). In the psalm of lament, usually: “(1) someone feels falsely accused of some crime; (2) someone has an illness; or (3) it is an expression against some enemy invasion or trouble caused by enemies.” It’s true! Read one of the examples to get a better understanding. In his article, Psalms of Lament, Lester (n.d.) agrees with Lucas on the features of lament Psalms. He states, “In a lament psalm, a petitioner addresses God directly on the occasion of some calamity…” (Lester, n.d., para. 2). There are also psalms of thanksgiving or trust in God, such as Psalm 32, 66 and 116. Thanksgiving psalms express thanks and praise to God for some specific act of deliverance that the psalmist has experienced. They are also a form of witness to God’s saving work, declared throughout the congregation. Psalms of trust are united by mood and may refer to God entirely in the 3rd person; however, there is scholarly debate as to which psalms belong in this category. There are also royal psalms, such as Psalm 2, 18, 30, 45, 89 and 110. Their distinguishing feature is the content of the psalm, which concerns the relationship between God and the King. Some of the royal psalms have a battle context. Other royal psalms speak of royal occasions or situations, such as in Psalm 2 and 10, and coronation psalms, that address the rulership succession in the Davidic dynasty. Lastly, there are psalms that provide wisdom for us. Examples of wisdom psalms are: Psalms 1, 34, 37, 49, 73, 111 and 112 (Lucas, 2003). It is important to note how within the psalms, overall attributes of God are revealed but also how those attributes relate to humanity.
Most of us are familiar with the psalms and have heard a few read in a sermon at church, recited at a funeral, or quoted as a liturgy at an ecumenical service—as Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…;” or Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…;” or Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear…;” or Psalm 150, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord…” I wonder, however, if you’ve ever read Psalms 139? It’s one of my favorite psalms. As you’ll see, it seems to have all the elements of the type Psalms we just discussed. Most importantly, this is the Psalm that helped me in my battles with low self-esteem, low self-image and low self-worth. Through this Psalm, I dealt with my negative identity issues and problems I faced with rejection and isolation that travelled with me most of my life from my teenage years. Yes, issues from puberty can and do linger to adulthood if you don’t recognize them and/or honestly face them at some point in your life. Many people ascribe to me a sense of strength and confidence. Well, here’s where a lot of this came from—reading, studying, meditating on and understanding Psalm 139. You’ll understand after you delve into it for yourself. So, right here, right now, please STOP reading my blog and take a few minutes to read this magnificent, awesome psalm. Hear King David’s message to us about God, the Father, Creator of the Universe and what He (and King David) wanted humanity to know about God.
Finished? Great! Now, let’s continue with our blog post. It’s quite easy to recognize the central theme or focus of this Psalm, because King David opens verse 1 by showing us. He says, “O, Lord, You…” As you read on, he continues to acknowledge God by referring to Him using the pronoun, “You,” or “Your,” or by saying “God” or “Lord.” The reference to the pronoun you/your is repeated 30x in the NASB version of this reading. NASB is simply a version the Bible was written in (like the KJV version). God is the central figure of the text and the object of David’s conversation. David’s choice of verbs enables us to visualize God as a real, active being who functions. He says, “You search and know…” (vs. 1); “You know when…” and “You understand…” (vs. 2); “You scrutinize”(examine or inspect closely) and “are intimately acquainted…” (vs.3); “You know it all before it’s said…” (vs.4); “You have enclosed…” and “laid your hand upon…” (vs.5); You are Spirit; it’s everywhere… (vs.7); “You are there…” (v.8); “Your hand will lead…” and “Your right hand will lay hold…” (vs.10); “You formed…” and “You wove…” (vs.13); “Your works are wonderful…” (vs.14); You know the bodily frame…” (vs.15); “Your eyes have seen…” and “You have a written book you record in…” (vs.16); “You think many precious things…”(vs.17,18); “You have enemies…” (vs.20). It’s quite evident here that God is present, knowledgeable, and an active participant in life. Interestingly, though, not only is God the subject of the text, but there is a central object we see in the text as well, where David personally refers to himself as “me,” “my,” or “I.” Humanity then is the object of God’s ways, function, actions or emotions in the text. Who He is and what He does are on behalf of, for, or directed toward a human being, King David. “Me” is repeated 16x in this chapter; “my” 15x, and “I” 20x. This is another skill we learned in school to get to the intended meaning of a scripture text. Pretty cool, huh?
I want to conclude this month’s blog right here. In what we have discovered thus far, I believe we have gained enough insight to ponder and meditate on. It’s simple, yet a wealth of information. We discover several attributes about God in this psalm. We discover several things about ourselves in this psalm as it relates to God. We find a connection between Him and ourselves. David assures us of this as He speaks to God about Himself and is telling us, in essence, “God, you’ve done this, you’ve done that; you know this, you know that—all for and about “me.”
I invite you then, to go back and read once more Psalm 139. This time, however, where King David indicates “me” in the text, replace the word “me” with your name. It will now become more personal to you, and you’ll be able to internalize God’s intended message for you through this Psalm. What a mighty God…!
Be blessed until next time when we’ll look further into the attributes of God as revealed in this psalm and what it means for us! 😊
Lucas, E. C. (2003). Exploring the Old Testament, Volume 3: A guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.