Yada, Yada, Yada
Psalm 139 August 25, 2019
Social psychologists warn us that we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic.
Even among those who are surrounded by people, 20% of Americans say they feel lonely much of the time, and 43% of senior adults say they feel lonely all or most of the time … and 94% of Americans say they have no one in their life who really knows them.
Since we are wired for relationship, it’s not surprising that chronic loneliness impacts our health.
In fact, chronic loneliness shortens our life expectancy by as much as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Why all this loneliness?
A persistent barrier to intimacy is our fear of vulnerability – our fear that if people really knew who I am they wouldn’t accept me.
So, most of us set about constructing a persona we think will win people over.
We try to appear smarter, more successful, more secure.
The catch is that this very pretense keeps people at arm’s length because we are turned off by inauthenticity.
We have a radar that senses when someone is being fake.
Vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive.
Vulnerability is the courage to be yourself.
Yes, there’s a risk to emotional exposure but Psalm 139 assures us that we are valuable – not because we’re smart, strong or accomplished, but just because we are.
Psalm 139:13 It was You, Lord, who formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
You are uniquely and lovingly made to be you.
That means that an essential part of our spiritual journey is peeling back the layers upon layers of self-protective personas.
The more open, honest and vulnerable we come before God, the more we are open to His grace.
In John 8:32 Jesus says … you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
Well, what if the truth that Jesus says will set us free is that we are fragile and yet loved?
Yes, we are fragile, fearful, sinful, broken – as well as hopeful, joyful, strong – and God will meet us in any of those places.
So, God can meet us anywhere – but He waits to be invited in.
Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
Psalm 139 says there’s no place we actually can flee God – human life is enclosed within divine reality.
God sees right through our self-protective pretenses and personas but our keeping them in place isolates us from God.
Psalm 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
Think of all the energy we invest in maintaining our “lookin’ good acts”, all the inner anguish of reconciling the reality of who we are with the face we show the world.
Really, it’s our worldly pretenses – and our defense of those pretenses – that get in the way of intimacy with people and with God.
There are two particular things I’d like to lift up about how this psalm illustrates the intimacy between us and God.
First, Psalm 139 uses deeply personal language to address God directly.
For example, he uses personal pronouns ten times in the first six verses: “You have searched,” “You know,” “You discern,” and so on, and then he refers to himself thirteen times: “you have searched me and known me,” “when I sit down and when I rise up,” “my thoughts,” “my path”.
This is not an equal relationship between God and the psalmist, but it is a personal relationship where a person bares his soul in his prayer to a known, named and identifiable other.
This is not the “unknown god” of Athens that Paul mentions in Acts 17.
God is neither distant nor an impersonal force.
God is close and relational.
Psalm 139 is a devotional expression of “radical monotheism”.
That term describes the breakthrough the Hebrew people had in relating to God.
Until that time, people thought that the divine realm was populated by a pantheon of gods – some universal and some regional.
If those gods even noticed human beings, they were merely pawns to use in their celestial power struggles.
But when God revealed himself to Abram and later again to Moses, He showed himself as caring for His people and involved in their lives.
The personal relationship between you or me and God can be deep, real and healing because God genuinely knows us … which is the second way this psalm describes our intimacy.
Seven different times Psalm 139 repeats the verbal root yada’ that gets translated as “knows”.
Unfortunately, English doesn’t capture the richness of yada’ or the range of its meanings – from simple recognition to intimate sexual relationship.
In Genesis 4:1, we read that Adam knew (yada) his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain.
In Ezekiel 6:7 God says, “they will know (yada) that I am the LORD”.
Psalm 139:2-5 You know (yada’) 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 (yada’) it completely.
Some form of this word occurs sixty times in the psalms, emphasizing how fully, deeply knowing the other person is a critical element for a meaningful relationship.
We are to strive toward knowing God, just as God knows us fully for who we are.
Afterall, God designed us.
Psalm 139:14 I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
The word we translate as “fearfully” is derived from the verbal root yara’.
Unfortunately, we often just equate “fear” with the instinct to fight, hide or flee.
But the Hebrew yara’ encompasses a much larger meaning that includes awe, respect, love and honor.
So, a better translation of the word in verse 14 might be “reverently”.
The Creator of all life reverently made you.
Then this word we translate as “wonderfully” comes from the verbal root pala’, which means to be different, striking, remarkable – outside of the power of human comprehension.
It is a word is repeatedly used in the psalms to describe the acts of God on behalf of humanity.
Let me give you one example so you get the flavor of this word:
Psalm 40:5 Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.
My point here isn’t to do an academic word study – but to bring us closer to understanding how our God feels about us.
So, Psalm 139:14 might read
I am reverently and lovingly made – a unique, striking, remarkable creation beyond anyone’s imagination.
Regardless of your failures, sins, short-comings, or self-doubt, that is what God sees when He looks at you.
So, here’s an exercise for you this week.
Use the language of Psalm 139 to affirm how you are seen in God’s eyes.
I, your name, am reverently and lovingly made – I am a unique, striking, remarkable creation beyond anyone’s imagination. That’s who I am.
That is why, in these days of deep loneliness, you can come to God honestly and vulnerably and experience total acceptance and unconditional love.
As we read Psalm 139 this morning, you undoubtedly noticed the jarring shift from praise to this:
Psalm 139:19-22 If only You, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of You with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse Your name.
Do I not hate those who hate You, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against You?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Those four lines are so troubling to some that they are routinely skipped when people read the psalm – and they are even omitted by the Lectionary, the list of suggested scripture for each Sunday of the year.
The two parts of this psalm – the comforting praise part and sudden attack on the wicked – are held together by its opening and closing lines.
Psalm 139:1 You have searched me, Lord,
and You know me
And Psalm 139:23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
So, these are intended to be a unit … we can’t just ignore what feels uncomfortable.
Verses 19-22 seem to serve two purposes.
First is an affirmation that the psalmist feels so close to God that he is as offended as God by the wicked.
But, of course, there are familiar dangers with this attitude.
Every army thinks God is on their side.
Some terrorists shout their name for God when they blow themselves up in a crowd.
The Inquisition tortured people they thought were unfaithful.
But the psalmist doesn’t leave it there.
Seeming to recognize the danger of toxic hate and revenge, he opens himself to divine inquiry as he concludes,
Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, 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.
Today’s world is not only experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, but it is also experiencing a resurgence of fear, intolerance and hate.
The assurances that come with this classic devotion are joined with the mandate to check our heart – hating what we think God is hating is still hate, and hate is always corrosive.
Right now, hate is eating away at the fabric of our society, and the only way to reverse that is for every person of faith to draw close to the personal God to be reassured that He loves and accepts them for who they are, to lay bare all our defenses, pretenses … and, yes, our prejudices and hate.