Reflections on Psalm 139 (Part 3)

August 17, 2017

Ray Galea

Over 3 weeks I have been sharing with you some reflections on Psalm 139, here is the third, and final, instalment.

No place to run

Our all-knowing God is also ever-present.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.

(Ps 139:7-10)

David tries to imagine a place where God is not, but to no avail. If David climbed up to the heavens and stood on Mount Everest, or sank down into the waters of the Mindanao trench, God would be present. If David moved to the far side of the sea (which for an Israelite was the end of the earth), still God would be there. God is present in the place of the dead, even hell itself. Hell may not contain the face of God or the offer of fellowship, but it is God’s justice that people will know in the place of utter darkness for all eternity.

There is no place to run—the prophet Jonah certainly found this out! There is no godforsaken place on the face of the earth. Isn’t that a comforting thought? You need never feel alone. Distance is irrelevant to God. There is no place where God is not. The technical word is ‘omnipresent’. In fact, God is all-knowing because he is all-present.

Darkness, which can hide us from each other, is a meaningless category for God:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.” 

(Ps 139:11-12)

It’s as though God has a pair of those military night binoculars. He can see in the dark. We often use darkness to stop people from watching us do things we are ashamed of. That is why they are called ‘deeds of darkness’. But darkness is an ineffective barrier for God, whose eyes pierce the jet blackness of the night. The distinction between private and public, which we modern Westerners so carefully guard, simply does not exist when we stand before God. Everything is public!

However, the thrust of this psalm is to comfort, not to condemn. You may know the feeling of being completely alone as you lie in bed with tears streaming down your cheeks. You may feel equally alone lying next to a husband or wife who doesn’t know you, or doesn’t want to know you. This leaves you feeling profoundly unloved and disrespected, each thought as painful as the next.

But in this psalm, God is saying to you, “I know your pain. I understand and I am with you.”