WORKS OF GOD’S HANDS
“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps. 139:14).Praise and worship grow out of God’s revelation of Himself to us. The more we know of what God has done and is doing, the more we respond to Him in worship.
The many and varied works of God for His people stimulate praise. The Lord is praised for works on behalf of Israel (Pss. 135–136). In contrast, the Babylonian captives were unable to sing the songs of Zion (Ps. 137). David praised God for the Lord’s work in shaping his life (Pss. 138–139) and in preserving him from enemies (Pss. 140–141).
Understanding the Text
God Has Chosen Jacob. That choice, expressed in history by the Lord’s defeat of Israel’s enemies, moved the psalmist to call God’s people to praise. “Israel . . . His treasured possession” Ps. 135:1–7. The psalmist began by expressing his wonder that God should have chosen the Hebrew people to be His own. As the entire Old Testament testifies, this was a sovereign choice, not based on Israel’s merits. God, “who does whatever pleases Him,” selected Israel simply because He wanted to. How good to know that God’s choice of you and me is also an expression of His free will. God loves us because He wants to, not because we deserve to be loved. “He struck down the firstborn of Egypt” Ps. 135:8–21. God’s love counts. He, unlike the foolish pagan’s idols, is able to act for us in the real world. No wonder Israel was moved to praise! God wrested Israel from slavery, struck down many nations, and gave His people their land as an inheritance. Psalm 136: His Love Endures. A mere six syllables in Hebrew compose the joyful response of the people as a worship leader chanted praise to God for His many wonderful works. We can capture that response in six English words: “for His love has no end!” Psalm 137: No Song to Sing. In Babylon, far from the inheritance promised by God, Israel was unable to sing songs of praise. The preceding and following psalms show us that praise grows out of God’s self-revelation. As we know Him through His works, our hearts respond. In Babylon, far from their ancient homeland, the Jewish people felt crushed and isolated from God. Only when God acted again, to crush their oppressors and restore them to the Holy Land, would songs of joy again spring from their lips. The psalm reminds us it is only when we see God at work, in history and in our present lives, that we know real joy. Jesus put it this way: “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). Christ did not imply that receiving the thing we pray for will bring joy. His point was that in the answer to prayer we will sense God at work, and this—God active in our lives-gives us joy. Psalm 138: His Purpose for Me. Each believer is also a work of God’s hands, shaped for a purpose. We find joy, and are moved to worship as we trust Him to work in and through us. “Exalted above all things” Ps. 138:1–3. David called us to focus thoughts of God on His “name” and His “Word.” When we do, we learn to trust His qualities of love and faithfulness. “When they hear” Ps. 138:4–5. The word uttered in the name of the Lord should stimulate even the kings of the earth to praise. “You preserve my life” Ps. 138:6–8. David had a personal reason for praise. He had experienced God’s love and faithfulness as the Lord preserved him in many troubles. What David understood, and we need to appreciate, is that each of us is important to God. His love has led Him to make our lives meaningful by linking it to His eternal plan. We may not have a large part. We may not even know now what His purpose in us is. Yet God does have a purpose to fulfill in your life and mine. To Him, we do count! We can say with David, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of Your hands.” Psalm 139: You Know Me. In one of the most significant of his psalms, David probed the nature of his relationship with God, and traced that relationship back to the Lord’s creation of his “inmost being.” (See DEVOTIONAL.) “You know me” Ps. 139:1–12. David was untroubled by the paradox of a transcendent God who is also imminent. He acknowledged God as One who fills the entire universe, yet saw the Lord as constantly, pervasively present with His servants. God was near, observing every act of David, conscious of his every thought. God is transcendent, far above the highest heaven. Yet God is also totally present in the saint’s here and now, giving each of us His undivided attention. “You created my inmost being” Ps. 139:13–16. David extended his wonder at God’s concern for the individual to the past and the future. God has been with us, superintending our development from the womb. Furthermore God’s care reaches on into the future: to “all the days ordained for me,” which were written in God’s book before even one of our days came to be. How clearly this psalm teaches the significance of individual life: a significance underlined by God’s careful attention to the individual from conception, through his fetal stage, into his childhood and beyond, encompassing every day of the individual’s existence. God knows, even if many today deny, that life begins in the womb and extends on into eternity. How precious you are to God! And how precious the unborn. “How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God” Ps. 139:17–24. David responded to the love he sensed in God’s care with a desire to please the Lord. He wanted to understand the Lord’s thoughts, to hate those who hated God, and to be cleansed of “any offensive way.” God does know us, even when we try to hide from Him. And when we consciously open our hearts, and become totally honest with God and ourselves, He tests our hearts, cleansing us from “offensive” ways. Psalm 140: Justice for the Poor. David called on God to rescue him, sure that among His works is protecting the believer from men of violence, and securing justice for the poor. Psalm 141: My Refuge. David sought help from God, first to live a righteous life, and then to be delivered from evildoers he expected God to judge.
Darkness As Light(Ps. 139)
I heard the story many years ago from a mom who used preschool lessons that I wrote. Her little girl came into the house, complaining, “I wish he’d leave me alone.” Mom went outside, but found no one there. A little later the three-year-old returned. “I wish he’d leave me alone.” Again Mom looked, but no one was there. When it happened a third time, Mom sat down with her daughter and asked: “Who?” The answer was: Jesus! The three-year-old’s Sunday School lesson was “Jesus Always Sees Me.” The little girl had wanted to pick some forbidden flowers, and wished that Jesus would leave her alone so she could do it without being seen! Sometimes we feel a little like that little girl. The idea that God is with us constantly, observing every act, aware of every thought, seems burdensome. David, however, had a different perspective. We can never hide from God, for even darkness is light to the Lord. But David did not want to be hidden! The fact is that life itself is darkness to us! Only a God to whom darkness is as light can guide us safely from conception to eternity. Even more, David realized that God is bending close to express His love, not to catch us in some sinful act. He stays close to guard us, and to guide us into His best. When we sense Him near and realize that what we feel is love we, with David, will invite Him, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
God knows us perfectly and loves us completely. We have no need to hide from Him.