Psalms for Families: Devotions for All Ages, Psalm 139

Psalms for Families is a devotional book for the entire family designed to help parents explore the riches of the book of Psalms with their children and teens. These devotionals will help parents learn more about the psalms as they teach their children about praise, prayer, and lament.

Introduction and Full Series

Devotional 1, Devotional 2, Devotional 3, Devotional 4, Notes for Adults

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Prayer
Lord God, who see us wherever we are, we know that you hear us because you are with us wherever we go. You knew us even before we were born. That is a great comfort. Thank you for never leaving us. Amen.

Psalm 139 Who Cares?

Psalm 139
Devotional 1: Who Cares?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Part of his creation is you. Because God made you, God knows you. Listen to these words from Psalm 139:1-3:

 1 You have searched me, Lord,
   and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.

There are times in life when you wonder if anyone cares that you are here. Who notices me? How can I be in the middle of a group of people and feel like no one sees me? Do I matter? 

Have you ever felt that way? Do you ever wonder if anyone would ever love you if they really knew what went on inside you?

God knows what people are like. He knows that we have these feelings. He knows about our habits and quirks. We don’t need to pretend that we are perfect because God knows what we are really like. He loves us completely, including all of the not-so-perfect stuff inside us.

If God really knows us, all of us, how can he still love us? This is a great mystery. His love is unconditional! We don’t have to wait until we are better or older or thinner or smarter to talk to God. God knows us today. Isn’t that great?

Enter the Psalm: Read the children’s book Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and compare it to Psalm 139. Other similar children’s books are Mama, Do you Love Me? by Barbara Joosse; I Love You Just the Way You Are by Virginia Miller; The Way Mothers Are by Miriam Schlein; or I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri.

If you don’t have any of these books, talk about other stories you know in which a parent loves a child just because of who he or she is.

Psalm 139 Jonah Tries to Hide

Psalm 139
Devotional 2: Jonah Tries to Hide

Remember the story of Jonah? God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people there to repent. But Jonah did not want to go. He decided he was going to run away from God.

So Jonah boarded a ship that he thought would take him far away from God. What relief he must have felt as the ship pulled away from the dock! He was so relieved that he went below deck and fell asleep. He slept so soundly that later, when the wind began to blow and the seas got very rough, he didn’t even wake up.

The sailors were afraid that the ship would sink, so they tried to make the ship lighter by dumping the cargo into the sea. But that didn’t help. The captain woke Jonah up and told him to pray to his god to calm the storm. Jonah realized that he was the reason for the raging sea. Jonah recognized that God knew where he was and he felt bad that the others on the boat were in danger because he had tried to run from God. So he told the sailors to  throw him into the sea, and the waters immediately calmed. 

Psalm 139:7-10 says:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.

These words from Psalm 139 might not have been a comfort to Jonah when he got on the boat, but when Jonah was thrown overboard he was quite glad that God knew where he was. God sent a giant fish that swallowed Jonah. Jonah lived inside the fish for three days until the fish spit Jonah out onto dry land. God knew where Jonah was the whole time, because he saved Jonah from the storm and from the sea.

The next time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people to repent, Jonah went. The people did repent and God didn’t destroy them or their city.

I wonder if Jonah knew Psalm 139. He might have. It seems like Psalm 139 could have been written for Jonah! But Psalm 139 was written for us too. We make mistakes just like Jonah did. Sometimes we pretend that God doesn’t know us. But he does. That doesn’t mean that things always work out for us like we want. (They certainly didn’t for Jonah!) And it doesn’t mean that bad things won’t ever happen to us. But it does mean that wherever we are, no matter how far we travel or what we have done, God knows us and is always with us.

Enter the Psalm: Many of us try to hide from God in different ways. Maybe we forget to spend time with God or maybe we get too busy with work or school. Sometimes we get stressed out about things and we forget to think about God’s presence in our lives. If you wrote a psalm like Psalm 139, how would it go? Try it.

Where can I go from your spirit? 
Where can I hide from your presence?

If I fly to (faraway place), you are there.
If I drive to (far away place), you are there.
If I (think of how you make yourself busy)
If I (think of times when you feel lonely)

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139 I Am Wonderfully Made

Psalm 139
Devotional 3: I Am Wonderfully Made

Like many families, we have lots of family photos. Some of the pictures, the ones that were taken just after we got married, show only two of us. When we had our first child, our family pictures showed three people: mom, dad, and a baby. A few years later we had twins, so for a while our family pictures showed five people. Then we had our last child, and now our family pictures have six people in them..

You would think that we would have pictures from all these different eras in our family life on display, but we don’t. Our youngest child was three years old when she looked at those pictures and pointed at her family and noticed that she wasn’t in the pictures. To her those pictures were not complete. Those earlier pictures accurately show what our family was like at that time, but it doesn’t seem right to have a family picture without our youngest—even though we didn’t know her yet.

Read Psalm 139:13-16:

13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

We didn’t know our children before they were born, but God did. He knew you too. God doesn’t have any family pictures without you in them. He knows you because he made you—he knows every part of you. God not only knows you today, he knew you yesterday and he will know you tomorrow. He won’t forget who we are because we’re his family.

Enter the Psalm: Tell what you know about the day you were born or adopted. Take a few moments to pray for all the people in your family by name, thanking God for being with them and asking him to bless them. Then thank God for making you part of his family.

Psalm 139 Changing Direction

Psalm 139
Devotional 4: Changing Direction

Psalm 139 begins by pointing out how well God knows you. However, in verse 19 the psalm seems to change. The writer writes:

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
   Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
   your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
   and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
   I count them my enemies.

Many times a psalm seems to be heading down one path but then it changes to head down a different one, much like we see here in Psalm 139. In Psalm 139 the author makes a turn from talking about how well God knows him to asking God to deal with his problems. The author says: “God, since you know me so well, slay these wicked people.”  Things like that can be hard to read. We are not used to asking God to slay people. We all have times, though, when we feel like other people are against us. The writer of this psalm doesn’t mince words. He just outright asks God to deal with those who are against him and against God.

But one thing the writer doesn’t do is tell God that he is going to slay the wicked himself. He asks God to do it for him. He puts the fate of his enemies in God’s hands. That’s good for us to remember too. When there are people who are against us, we can follow the psalmist’s lead and ask God to deal with them.

Then we can also follow the psalmist’s lead as he continues in verse 23 and 24:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

He asks God to search him, to see if he is acting like those wicked people he accuses. This is good for us to remember, too. If we’re asking God to deal with our “enemies” because of the way they act, it’s probably a good idea to confess the way we act as well.

Enter the Psalm: Write the words “Search me, God, and know my heart” on a Post-It® note. Place the note on the mirror you will look at tomorrow morning. When you get up, read the note and remember that God knows you and loves you.


Psalm 139
Responding to God—Notes for Adults

Psalm 139 is a much-loved psalm with some noteworthy, well-known phrases in it such as these: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (v. 1); “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (v. 14); “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (v. 24). This psalm constitutes a prayer to God—one that, remarkably, asks God to enter our hearts and see if we are righteous.

This psalm has four sections, each six verses long. The first section, verses 1-6, is about how God knows us completely. It begins “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,” and it goes on to list specific things that God knows about us: our thoughts, our activities, and our speech. The author of Psalm 139 also states that God “hems us in.” In other places in the Bible, the word translated as “hems us in” is used to signify being surrounded, like a captive city might be surrounded. This knowledge is “too wonderful” for us—it is difficult for us to even imagine knowing so much about someone else. It is also hard for us to be known that completely.

The second section, verses 7-12, shows that the psalmist knows that God is everywhere and, like Jonah, there is nowhere we can go to get away from God. In his poetic way the psalmist explores the truth that he can not escape God vertically (v. 8: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there”) or horizontally (v. 9: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea . . .”). Finally, (v. 12) the psalmist acknowledges that even darkness can’t hide us from God.

In verses 13-16 we read about how God knows us well. He is omniscient; he knows everything. God created us; the phrase “inmost being” is meant to show that God didn’t just create our bodies; he also created our emotions. God even knew us before we were born. Then in verses 17 and 18 the psalmist notes that God’s thoughts are precious and that there are so many of them that if we were to try to count them we would fall asleep, and when we woke up, God would still be there with us.

In the final section, verses 19-24, the writer turns from acknowledging God as omniscient to asking God to deal with wicked people. The fact that the psalmist asks God to slay his enemies can be a challenge when we’re reading this psalm with children. After all, we don’t really want them praying for God to slay other kids who bother them on the playground.

There are two things to keep in mind: first of all, when the psalmist calls them wicked people, he really means it; they did some pretty bad things in the name of their idols. Secondly, the psalmist isn’t saying, “Let me go slay them”; he’s asking God to deal with them and God will do it in a way that is just. We aren’t taking matters into our own hands, we’re asking God to help us, and, fortunately, God doesn’t always take our suggestions for how to do that.

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