Psalm 139: January 19—Value every life!
Jan 12, 2014

Mark Rathel is a professor of theology at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
Psalm 139 possesses vital importance for two key issues of our day. First, the psalm affirms the sanctity of human life from conception to the grave. On January 22, 1973, the U. S. Supreme Court granted women the right to abortion until the point of viability of life outside the womb based upon a new doctrine of a right of privacy based on the Fourteenth Amendment. According to verse sixteen, God views the “formless” (the Hebrew term for ‘embryo”) in a relationship manner. Second, the psalm implicitly addressed the issue of religious liberty. The Psalm affirms God’s nature as all-knowing, all-present, creator, and holy. Therefore, the creator God is Lord of life rather than government authority. On January 25, 1525, a group of believers in Switzerland practiced believer’s baptism. In response, the city authorities of Zurich drowned the believers that practiced believer’s baptism. The city council reasoned—‘by water they sinner, by water they will be judged.” This week in January historically reminds believers of two interconnected issues: the sanctify of human life and religious freedom. Government impingement into the arena of the sanctity of human life is a key battleground of religious freedom.

Psalm 139 primarily sets forth the nature of God. What does the Psalm proclaim about God? What is the connection between God’s nature and the sanctity of human life?

First, life is sacred because God knows the details of every individual’s life (Ps. 139:1-6). Seven times David referred to God’s knowledge. The term for “know” in this Psalm describes intimate, relational knowledge. Reflect upon God’s detailed knowledge of your life. God knows your inactivity (sit down) and actions (stand up). He knows your thoughts (motivations). He knows all the detail of your ways (lifestyle). He knows your unformed words. An individual is an object of God’s providential care (v. 6). An awareness of God’s detailed knowledge led David to praise God in worship.

Second, life is sacred because God is present at every moment of an individual’s life (Ps. 139:7-10). No individual can escape the presence of God. David viewed this truth as a source of comfort rather than fear. God’s presence encompassed the eternal ( the heavens and the place of the dead), the geographical (east and west), and the temporal (day and night). Wherever a believer goes, God’s hand directs and supports the believer.

Third, life is sacred because God is the creator of life (Ps. 139:13-18). Life is sacred from conception to gestation to independent life to resurrected life. Note the repeated use of personal pronouns “I,” or “me.” Even in the womb, David possessed personhood. God formed our inner nature. The 

Hebrew term for ‘inward parts” literally means “kidneys”—the seat of emotion and conscience in the OT—as well as the physical bone structure. God superintended (knitted) the process of conception and gestation. Before the acquisition of our modern knowledge of prenatal development, life in a womb was a secretive as the depths of the earth. God perceived David even in his formless state, a translation of the Hebrew term for embryo. The phrase “when I wake up” in verse eighteen may refer to awakening after sleep; however, some biblical scholars understand the term as a reference to resurrection. The contemplation of his personal development led David to praise (v. 14). 

Fourth, life is sacred because every individual is accountable to God (Ps. 139:23-24). David’s sense of accountability to God resulted in a twofold prayer. First, David prayed for God to examine his heart (search, know, try) to assist David to gain knowledge of his offensive ways. Second, he prayed for guidance in the way of life.

Since God is the source of life, all of life is sacred. God rather than a court determines the value of life.


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