O Lord search me and know me (Psalm 139.23a)

David Anderson

Psalm 139: Beautiful, then What the…!!!!

Just read the Bible. Just do what it says. You hear a lot of people say that. It sounds like an easy approach. It tends to cut through all the bull. The problem is when I just read it, just do what it says, I tend to read it in my own context. But the authors were writing it in their context, not mine. I was reminded of this recently when I read Psalm 139 in a Bible study. During the discussion, we wondered about this passage:

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me — 20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

(Psa 139:19-22 NRS)

Apart from these verses, this is one of my favorite Psalms. Verses 1-18 are a beautiful meditation on God’s careful watch over the Psalmist. He says God knows his every move, every word, every thought. There is nowhere he can hide that God cannot see him. If you think about this, do you find it comforting or scary? The Psalmist is comforted by it, so that tells us something of his trust in God.

Then you have the verses quoted above. “Kill the wicked…I hate them with perfect hatred?” As a Christian, I think, Jesus taught, “Love your enemies…turn the other cheek…do good to those who hate you…bless those who spitefully use you.” This is one of the most un-Christian scriptures I can think of. For a long time when I read this Psalm, I would skip these verses. Then verses 23-24 conclude with a request for God to search him and reveal any unrighteous way within him. I’m thinking, “How about verses 19-22?” That’s reading it in my context.

But in another context…

In what context was the Psalmist writing? First of all, I feel pretty confident that this Psalmist would not have known any of the Sermon on the Mount, because Jesus wasn’t even born yet [Duh!]. The Gospel of Matthew was written hundreds of years after the Psalmist. So is it realistic for him to have my Christian sensibilities? Probably not.

Second and more to the point, the beginning says this is a Psalm of David. Well, scholars dispute whether David actually wrote it, but I won’t go into that here. If it was written by David, the most likely time would seem to be during the years when Saul was chasing him. He had to hide out in caves for long periods of time. That’s another difference between his context and mine. I’ve never had anyone chasing me with his own army and trying to kill me. Verses 19-22 make perfect sense in that context. Even with my Christian ethic, I could easily get sick of it and start complaining, “Oh God, I can’t kill him, but I wish you would.” I might hate my Saul with perfect hatred.

Subject to like passions as we… (Jas. 5.17, KJV)

Reading the Psalm this way reminded me of how human the writers of scripture were. There are many other Psalms that show this very well. This is why if I’m angry at God, I tell Him. You may feel like you have to be respectful to God and hide when you’re feeling angry, depressed, confused, doubtful, but as the Psalmist said, God knows your thoughts before they even form in your head. God knows your words before you speak them. So if you’re angry at God or an enemy or friend, and you say you’re not, A) you’re lying, and B) God knows you’re lying.

God is the one being I always have to be honest with. So even when I’m complaining, it’s probably the healthiest relationship I have. Not that complaining is my only communication with God. I thank God for the good things too. But when I really have to vent my frustrations at God, I’ve found he can take anything I dish out.


  1. God knows everything inside you, thoughts and feelings, conscious and subconscious. God knows all your words and deeds even before you say or do them. Unlike the government’s NSA surveillance, that’s a good thing. So always be honest with Him.
  2. When you come across a difficult passage in the Bible, remember to read it in its original context before coming to any conclusions.
  3. The writers of scripture were just as human as we are. They may not be perfect role models, but their honesty reveals our own weaknesses. God was able to use them – and therefore us – anyway.

What will my next post be? I don’t know yet. Until then,

Grace and peace to you,

David Anderson