Psalm 139:16

Sermon preached on September 20, 2015 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Biographies are an interesting form of literature. Most of them are written near the end of someone's life, or even more likely, after someone dies. There are even autobiographies, where a person writes his or her own life story. But a problem with autobiographies is that they are often self-serving. The person who writes it usually emphasizes the good things he has done and leaves out or minimizes the negative things. Even biographies written by others are distorted. For example, shortly before he died, Steve Jobs got Walter Isaacson to write a biography of him. Jobs gave Isaacson great insight into his life and work. Jobs never got to read Isaacon's work because he died before it was published. But many of those closest to Jobs were greatly disappointed in the book because they said that it gave a very distorted picture of him and it dwelt too much on the negative things about him.

Earlier this year another biography of Jobs appeared called, "Becoming Steve Jobs". Many of the people who worked with Jobs at Apple during the last 14 years of his life gave interviews for the book and the picture that emerged was, I believe, a more balanced, a more accurate one. But some other people very close to Jobs criticized the second book they believe that it distorted and minimized his early years at Apple, in the late 70's and early 80's. So it seems that neither biography gives a completely accurate picture of Jobs. No biography gets everything right.

Except one. In our text we read about a biography that is quite different from normal biographies. David speaks of the biography that God wrote about him. He said, (Psalm 139:15–16)

"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,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

God's biography of David was written before David was born. Not only that, but God's biography was 100% accurate and complete. But even more than that, David knew that God didn't just know what was going to happen to him in his life, and what he was going to do—but that God ordained all his days. All the days that God ordained for him were written in God's book before one of them came to be.

This is an incredible passage—one that has great lessons for us.

There are two main teachings that I want to draw your attention to this morning.

First, it is clear from our text that

God knows us so intimately.

He knows everything about us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Verses 1–6,

"O Lord, you have searched me
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 know it completely,
O Lord. You hem me in—
behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain."

There is not one detail of our lives that he doesn't know. He knows our thoughts. He knows what we will say even before the words are on our tongues. He knows every move we make.

He hems us in and lays His hand on us. The idea there is of God surrounding us. Some see it as referring to God surrounding us to protect us and keep us safe. God certainly does that. Others see it as referring to God's inspection of us—that God lays His hand on us, holding us strictly under his gaze, so that we cannot move, (Calvin, Psalms)

"a hair's breath without his knowledge."

He knows all about us wherever we are, in the light and the darkness. He knew all about us when we were in our mother's womb.

But God's activity regarding us is more than a mere knowing. David tells us that God created his inmost being, that He knit him together in his mother's womb—that God made him in the secret place, that God wove him together. (verses 13-15)

To summarize all this, we could say that

God made our being.

God determined what our physical bodies would be like. He determined our personalities. Everything about us was fashioned by God.

Now this does not mean that God is responsible for the sin in our lives. Quite the contrary. God made man upright. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world. Since we are descended from them were are born sinners.

Nevertheless, God made us in our mother's womb. David declares that he was fearfully and wonderfully made—that God's works are wonderful. I believe it is evident from that that what David is highlighting here is God's grace in forming and shaping us. He is not making us as sin would have us—but even in the womb has started, or laid the foundation for recreating us in His likeness in Christ.

This leads us to our second point.

God ordained our days.

In our verse David makes a connection between God's work on us when we were in the womb and His subsequent ordering of our lives. In verses 15 and 16 David said,

"When I was woven together
in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

In his commentary on this Psalm John Goldingay tells us that this, (Psalms 90–150, Baker)

"section suggests that the outline of a person's life, the days that will unfold for them, is written into their origins. If Yhwh is involved in and knows all about the origins, then, Yhwh knows about the life that will follow.""There is a sense in which the person's shaping in the womb also determines the person's life. It decides how clever they are, how strong they are, what weaknesses they have, and so on, and how long they will live. Environmental factors and personal decision making enter into the outworking of this, but they cannot evade the constraints of what goes on before birth. In this sense, what we are and how long we live ('the days that were shaped') are predetermined. And the one who could witness the shaping of the person could also therefore know how the person would turn out and how long the person would live, and know all that before one of those days had arrived… Yhwh has already done that and has that information on file."

David tells us that in his mother womb God formed him and that his days, ordained by God, flowed out from that forming. David says they were written in His book before one of them came to be. Derek Kidner tells us that the emphasis here is, (Psalms, p. 466)

"on our pre-natal fashioning by God (13-16a at the least)—a powerful reminder of… His planning our end from the beginning."

The Hebrew word that is used here means 'to be formed'. It's used in Genesis 2:7 which tells us that

"the Lord God formed the man
from the dust of the ground
and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life,
and the man became a living being."

In 2 Kings 19:25 it refers to God controlling the human plans of the Assyrians. Sennacherib, King of Assyria boasted about his accomplishments in invading foreign lands and subjugating them. He said that in his chariots he had ascended the heights of the mountains of Lebanon and dried up the streams of Egypt. God replied,

"Have you not heard?
Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities
into piles of stone."

God controlled the Assyrian conquest. The Assyrian king thought that he planned and accomplished these conquests. But God said that as God He was in absolute control. God stopped Sennacherib at the walls of Jerusalem.

The word is also used of a potter, who forms items out of clay. In Psalm 33:15 it says that God,

"forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do."

Zechariah 12:1 says that the Lord,

"forms the spirit of man within him,"

The point of all this is that when David says that God forms our days he is declaring that God is in complete control. Martin Luther writes, (Quoted from Psalms, by William S. Plummer, p. 1166)

"The psalmist here proclaims that incomprehensibleness of the divine wisdom and goodness, whereby, in a wonderful manner, he himself and all men, with all their affairs, all their works and all their thoughts, both the greatest and the least, were predestinated of God from everlasting."

David said it was that way about his death too. His days were ordained by God. We see the same teaching in Job 14:5. Job said,

"Man's days are determined;
you have decreed
the number of his months
and have set limits he cannot exceed."

Death is in God's hands. Psalm 90:3–6 says,

"You turn men back to dust, saying,
'Return to dust,
O sons of men.'
For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death;
they are like the new grass
of the morning—though in the morning
it springs up new,
by evening it is dry and withered."

These two doctrines, of God knowing everything about us and ordaining all our days before one of them came into being has tremendous consequences.

There should be a great sense of comfort and hope.

Jesus, our Great Shepherd, is in control of our lives. We live our lives in His hand. He knows everything about us. He fashioned us. He formed us. He brought us forth. He is responsible for all the good in us—the good characteristics of our personalities.

This has all sorts of implications. It means that there should never be proud of ourselves. We should be proud of God and the grace He has given us. We should boast in Him. It means that we should give him all the glory. It means that we should have a great sense of humility. By God's grace we are what we are.

It also means that we should know that God loves us as we are.

By that I don't mean that we should accept or be comfortable with the sins that we see in ourselves. By that I don't mean that we shouldn't fight against our sins. We certainly should be like the apostle Paul who said, (Philippians 3:12)

"Not that I have already
obtained all this,
or have already been made perfect,
but I press on to take hold of that
for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

But God loves us as we are. We can't hide anything from him. He knows us inside and out. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows all about our sin. Yet He still loves us.

God loved you while you were a sinner before you came to know him. He saw you as a sinner and He loved you. In love you in spite of all your sins and faults.

Isn't that incredibly comforting? Isn't that reassuring?

But even more than that—isn't it wondrous that God is working His purposes in us? As Leighton Ford said,

"God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way."

This teaching also means that

you should not beat yourself up over incidental things where you did no wrong.

Not long ago I saw a TV crime show about a young woman who was abducted at a mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 2003. The man who abducted her killed her a short time later. At one point in the program there was an interview with the girl's father. He said that in a certain way he felt responsible for what happened to her. This was because he had convinced his daughter to move to Grand Forks because he thought it was a safe place for her to go to college.

It must be horrible to be tormented by regrets like that. Yet he didn't do anything wrong. He gave his daughter his best advice. And statistically speaking, it was very good advice. The crime rate there is well below the U.S. average. Murders there are almost unheard of. But it turned out to be a disaster for his daughter.

You hear about such things from time to time. People feel responsible for decisions where there was no right or wrong involved on their part. They think,

"If only I had done things differently… my daughter would still be alive."

Thoughts like that can bring such anguish. But there is a great Biblical truth that can give relief to Christians in that situation. But it's not just them that it can help. It can great hope and comfort to all Christians. We have one example of this truth in our text. It says, (Psalm 139:16)

"All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

Lastly for those of you who aren't Christians,

this means that you should see how wonderful God is and believe in Jesus.

Sin seeks to destroy us. We are all sinners. That's our nature even in the womb. If sin had its way, we would be born to wreck such havoc on this world, hurting and being hurt, suffering and then dying to enter hell.

But what does God do? He sent Jesus. He overcomes sin and works against it even while we were in our mother's womb. He offers you life. He calls you to Himself. Go to Him. Repent, turn from your sins and find life in Jesus.