Psalm 139 – Perfect Hatred (Sermon Notes)

Psalm 139

Text: Psalm 139:1-24
Title: Perfect Hatred
Date: July 3rd, 2022
Location: Trinity Church – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho


Psalm 139 is one of the most comforting and yet (I think also) one of the most surprising Psalms in the Psalter.

  • Perhaps you noticed this when I read it but the first ¾ of the Psalm (the first 18 verses) are taken up in this glorious exaltation of the divine attributes: God is omniscient: He knows everything, God is omnipresent: He is everywhere, God is omnipotent: He fashioned you in your mother’s womb, His thoughts of you are more than the sand on the seashore, when you wake up He is right there, but then in verse 19, there is what might feel like a sudden mood change, one of those moments of Davidic schizophrenia, where David goes to the dark side. His strumming upon the harp shifts from major to minor key, he moves from sweet meditation upon God’s perfections, to calling down judgment upon His enemies, “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God…I hate them with perfect hatred, I count them my enemies…(vs. 22).”
  • And then after giving vent to this expression of perfect hatred, the lights come back on, the key changes again, and David ends where he began, “Search me O God, and know my heart, Try me, and know my thoughts, see if there be any wicked way in me…”
  • What is going on here? How does David’s declaration of perfect hatred in verse 22, fit with and flow from everything that came before it? Furthermore, how does this fit with Jesus’ command to love our enemies? Is David being unchristian here? Are we allowed to pray or talk or feel this way? Well, these are just some of the questions I want us to wrestle with in this Psalm. And so let us walk thru the text together and see what the Lord will show us.

Exposition of Psalm 139

Psalm Title & Context

  • We read in the title that this is a “Psalm of David,” but we are not told (as we are in other Psalms) what the historical circumstance is. We don’t know what provoked David to write this. Commentators speculate as to what that occasion might have been.
    • Some say: Saul’s persecution, others say Absalom’s rebellion, some say that what fits best is when Shimei cursed David and accused him of being a bloodthirsty man (2 Sam. 16:5-7).
    • We don’t know for sure, but David lived a life of constant conflict such that this Psalm would have been appropriate at almost any stage of his life. David always had enemies!
      • He was surrounded by men of war who sometimes acted wickedly (even those on his own side), for example Joab murders Abner to settle a personal score, putting at risk the peace treaty between Israel and Judah (2 Sam. 3). David is constantly having to restrain his men, and even himself at times from taking vengeance upon their enemies.
      • Think of how Abigail intercedes for her husband Nabal after he mistreats and dishonors David’s men. David says afterwards, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand” (1 Sam. 25).
      • David had enemies wherever he went, and at times God had to restrain him from exacting vengeance.
    • If you remember the life of David, he was anointed by God to be king probably around age 10, he was chosen, the oil was poured upon his head, later he slew Goliath, he had been courageous and obedient to God, and how is he rewarded?
      • Saul gets jealous, he chases him out of the kingdom, gives his wife to another man, he hunts him in the wilderness, and David has to hide and live amongst the Philistines. That is the reward for David’s obedience to God.
    • Eventually Saul dies, David is enthroned (age 30), but then he starts to reap the consequences of his own sins, his failures as a father, his polygamy, his adultery, his murder of Uriah, come back to haunt him as his own son Absalom tries to kill him and take the kingdom.
    • So you can imagine, whatever the occasion was, why David wrote this Psalm…
  • David (like us) needed true theology (true knowledge of God) to comfort him and to encourage him in his trials to keep going. David could not undo the past, he knew he had made mistakes, he knew that under the law of Moses he deserved to die, he knew that God knew him to the core, and that his whole life was a gift of grace. Well this Psalm is a testimony to that reality.
    • Where is God when you are falsely accused? Where is God when your job or livelihood is in jeopardy, when there is conflict in your family, when sickness has sapped your strength, or sorrows shoot through you heart? Where is God when people are mutilating their bodies in the name of freedom and equality? Where is God when the world seems to have gone mad? David has an answer for us.

Verses 1-2 say,

O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,

Thou understandest my thought afar off.

  • God’s knowledge is infinite, it is universal, there is nothing that God does not know, but here David focuses on what is pertinent to him: that God knows David (thou has searched me, and known me).
  • God knows all people everywhere all the time, but whereas we cannot give our attention to more than one or two things at a time, or if you are a parent can only attend to one or two kids at a time, it is not so with God, God’s attention is plenteous, it is bountiful and He knows you without distraction, without interruption, He does not lack for intimate knowledge of your sitting down and standing up.
  • As the theologians say: God is closer to you than you are to yourself; “in Him we move and have our being (Acts 17:28). God knows you better than you know you; for “the Spirit searches all things…” (1 Cor. 2:10).
    • God knows whether you are standing in the path of sinners or sitting in the seat of the scornful (Ps. 1:1), OR if your delight is in the law of the Lord, and upon God’s law you meditate day and night. God understands your thoughts afar off.

Verse 3,

Thou compassest my path and my lying down,

And art acquainted with all my ways.

  • This word compassest is KJV speak for, “to surround” (encompass); it might also be translated as “winnow.” God encircles us, He winnows us, He separates the wheat from the chaff in our life, He is acquainted with all our habits, our vices, our virtues, our mannerisms, our tendencies, He knows how we live when nobody else is watching.
  • This acquaintance extends to our words and thoughts before we ever speak them…

Verse 4,

For there is not a word in my tongue,

But, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

  • God knows the inner dialogue that runs in your mind all day long. He knows your fears, your worries, your frustrations. And he also knows your unspoken prayers and the deepest desires of your heart.
    • This should be a comfort to us who are not very good with words, who are not good at expressing ourselves,who do not know how to articulate what we are feeling, or what we want to say.
    • Have you ever been so overwhelmed that you don’t know how to feel or what to say to God except, Help!? Well there is help for us.
  • God’s intimate and infinite knowledge allows Paul to say in Romans 8:26-27 that, “the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”
  • When we don’t have the words, God does, because God knows. When we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit speaks on our behalf. Before the word is ever upon our tongue, God knows what you need better than you do.

Verses 5-6 say,

Thou hast beset me behind and before,

And laid thine hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

It is high, I cannot attain unto it.

  • Like a potter molding the clay, or a shepherd picking up his sheep, God lays his hand upon you, not to harm you, nor break you beyond repair, but to do you good, to conform you into the image of Jesus Christ. This is the good that is God working all things for.
  • This knowledge, David says, “is too wonderful for me.” It is too high to reach, it is beyond the grasp of creatures. As David says elsewhere in Psalm 103:11, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is God’s mercy toward those who fear Him.”
  • The Christian can take comfort in this: that God’s infinite and unreachable knowledge is matched by His infinite and incomprehensible love.
    • Paul says in Ephesians 3 that God’s love is so great, that you need supernatural strength from the Spirit to pick it up, “that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-18)
  • For the Christian, God’s infinite knowledge and love is revealed in Jesus Christ. Have you tasted and seen that He is good? That his love for sinners is vast, and that if you come to Him, He will by no means cast you out. What marvelous love God has for sinners!

Verses 7-12

David goes on in the next section, verses 7-12, to describe how he cannot escape from God even if he tried…

Whither shall I go from thy spirit?

Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:

If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

If I take the wings of the morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

10 Even there shall thy hand lead me,

And thy right hand shall hold me.

11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me;

Even the night shall be light about me.

12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee;

But the night shineth as the day:

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

  • No man can escape the light of God’s presence. You can lie to yourself, you can sear your conscience, you can suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but no man can escape the bright luminosity of the God who is light.
  • It is curious that the Hebrew word for cover (שׁוף) in vs. 11, “the darkness shall cover me…” is a word that is only used a couple other times in the Bible.
    • One place is Job 9:17 which says, “For He crushes me with a tempest…”
    • And the other place is Genesis 3:15, the famous proto-evangelion, the first proclamation of the gospel and it is embedded in the curse upon the serpent:“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
      • That word bruise is the same word translated here in Psalm 139:11 as cover.
    • Why did David choose to describe the darkness this way? As bruising/crushing/trampling him?
      • Well as we will see later on in this Psalm, David knows the prophecies about the Messiah, and he sees himself as part of that ancient story that began in the garden and will in his future come to pass.
        • He knows Psalm 2, He wrote Psalm 110, He knows Genesis 49, that the scepter shall not depart from Judah. He knows God’s promise that from his loins shall arise a king whose kingdom shall last forever (2 Sam. 7).
        • And so these words and this Psalm are fitting for David’s lips and circumstance, but they are also a hint at and pointer to that future day, when David’s son, a baby born in Bethlehem, the one who calls himself “the light of the world” comes to crush the serpent’s head.
        • That light, Jesus Christ would himself be bruised, trampled on, and covered by darkness. He would descend into the heart of the earth, his body lay dead in the grave, but because He is the perfect son of God, His light could only be veiled for a time, it could never be extinguished. And three days later, the dawn of the new creation shone forth.
          • As it says in Hebrew 1:3, “Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
        • Christ is the light who was bruised and covered, but as verse 11 says, “even the night shall be light about me.” This was true for Jesus, this was true for David, and this is true for you.
  • (Application): If Jesus has gone to the darkest of all places, physically, meta-physically, He’s been there and He came back. Then you can be confident and say with David, that although the darkness may cover you, it may even kill you, and yet in Christ, there is endless light and resurrection on the other side. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can fear no evil, for Christ our light is with us.
  • There is nowhere that you can go, that Jesus has not already gone. So where is God calling you to take up your cross and follow him? Go, and do not be afraid.

Now as if that was not enough to encourage us, David has more rounds in the magazine. We have seen that God knows everything and that He is present everywhere, and now here in verses 13-18, David moves to consider God’s power and ownership of him.

Verse 13,

13 For thou hast possessed my reins:

Thou hast covered (formed/fashioned) me in my mother’s womb.

  • This word for reins could also be translated as kidneys or inward parts, and it refers to the control center of who you are, your heart, your affections, your desires. And here David says that God owns that part of him.
    • If you were to read in Leviticus you would see that the kidneys were one of the parts that was removed from the animal and burned on the altar as an ascension offering.
      • That sacrifice is a picture of what David is describing here. God created our kidneys, our heart, our inward parts. And he wants it, even if it means cutting it out, and burning it up, so that you can ascend as a pleasing aroma to Him.
      • We never belonged to ourselves, He formed us in our mother’s womb, and so offer what belongs to God to God. As Jesus says, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).
      • God owns our reins, because he made them.

Verses 14-16,

14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:

Marvellous are thy works;

And that my soul knoweth right well.

15 My substance was not hid from thee,

When I was made in secret,

And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect;

And in thy book all my members were written,

Which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

  • Here is one of the great declarations that a baby in the womb is precious to God. What the world calls “a clump of cells,” David ascribes personhood to. That unformed substance has all the days of its life written down in God’s book. That substance was not hid from God, but is rather the cause for David to marvel, “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” A person in the making is a person to God, and that unformed substance is precious.
  • Compare the difference between how David looks at himself and responds and how the world looks at itself and responds.
    • Our world looks in themirror, marvels, and then bows down before it. We are a nation that worships itself. But because idols cannot deliver what they promise, we end up with a love/hate relationship with ourselves. We both and love and hate who we are. This is the futility of self-worship that inward turn out of which grows all kinds of perversion and abominations.
    • But what does David do? David looks in the mirror, and he marvels at God, and worships God. The world says “praise me!” David says, “I will praise thee!” It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.

Verses 17-18 punctuate David’s awe.

17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!

How great is the sum of them!

18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand:

When I awake, I am still with thee.

  • Well this is where David transitions from praising God to petitioning Him. And the question we asked at the beginning was, how does this request for judgment fit with and flow from everything else that we just read?

Well let’s examine David’s request.

Verses 19-20,

19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God:

Depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.

20 For they speak against thee wickedly,

And thine enemies take thy name in vain.

  • Who are these enemies?
  • These are idolaters who are guilty of shedding innocent blood, and thus are worthy of capital punishment. In Israel, both idolatry (Ex. 22:20) and murder (Num. 35:31-34) were crimes that warranted to the death penalty. So these enemies of God have at least two capital crimes to their name.
  • What is David’s disposition towards these men?

Verses 21-22,

21 Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?

And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?

22 I hate them with perfect hatred:

I count them mine enemies.

  • We see here that David has chosen sides. He counts God’s enemies as his enemies. Because God hates idolatry and murder, David hates idolatry and murder.
  • If we were to ask David for prooftext to justify this hatred, I think he would respond with Proverbs 8:13 which says, “the fear of the LORD is to hate evil.” And these men are evil.
    • David fears God and so he hates with perfect hatred those who are enemies of God.

How To Love & Hate Your Enemies

Now how do we square with Jesus’ command to love our enemies?

  • Well there are two things we need to remember here:
    • 1. First of all, depending on when this was written, David is a king. He is the civil magistrate. He is the governing authority (Romans 13) who does not bear the sword in vain. And so as civil magistrate, David would have had a duty to be God’s avenger upon the wicked, to punish evil and to reward the good.
      • So if these wicked men were within David’s jurisdiction, David had the legal right and duty to execute God’s justice upon them. And if that is the case, then this is almost a prayer of restraint and a giving them over to God to determine whether He wants to execute them or not.
      • Alternatively, it could be that they are out of David’s reach (whether geographically or politically), and so David is asking God to do what he as civil magistrate cannot do. Slay the wicked who deserve to die.
      • Whatever the case, the command to love our enemies does not remove or override the duty of the civil magistrate to execute God’s judgment upon the wicked, “he does not bear the sword in vain.”
        • In this sense, the most loving thing that the civil magistrate can do is punish evil and reward the good. To remove the murderers from the land lest they murder more. So we need to remember this distinction between personal vengeance which is what Jesus is addressing (Matt 5:43-44, Luke 6:27-35), and God’s vengeance through the governing authorities. These are not at odds.
    • 2. Second, and more relevant to us who are not kings or magistrates, is that David is doing what all Christians are called to do. Namely, to love what God loves and to hate what God hates.
      • Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, “be imitators of God.” He says in 1 Cor. 11:1, “imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
      • And so while there are certain ways we cannot imitate God, we are not infinite, or omnipotent, or all knowing. There are many ways that we as creatures are called to imitate Him, and this is one of those places.
    • Which leads to the question: “How does God both love and hate his enemies?”
      • Most people take for granted that God loves all people all the time.But it says in Psalm 11:5, “The Lord tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”
        • It says in Psalm 5:6, “The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
        • It says in Psalm 7:11, “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day.”
        • It is because God is love and is holy and is righteous that he must hate the wicked.
        • The lake of fire that burns forever is a smoking witness that God hates sin and will punish it. The wages of sin is death.
      • And so the real question is: How can God love any sinner at all? How can he let David, who committed murder write parts of the Bible?
    • The answer of course is the cross. The death of Jesus, allows God to make a distinction between you and your sin. To punish you as His enemy in the body of His beloved son, and then give you new life in His name. Jesus is the coffin that you must buried in if you want to leave your sins behind.
    • Jesus is how David’s murder can be punished, forgiven, and forgotten. And Jesus is how you, a sinner, can be reckoned righteous.
    • The cross gives us a way to both love and hate our enemies. We love them as people created in God’s image, and yet we hate them with perfect hatred as those who perpetuate wickedness upon the earth.
      • As Paul says in 1 Cor. 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!”
      • And so we pray for God to slay them, either by the sword of the Spirit that makes them new, or by the sword of the magistrate that he does not bear in vain. This is how we love and hate our enemies.


Let us close where David closes.

  • There are many ways we can get this wrong (in both directions). The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. We can be like the disciples calling down fire upon the Samaritans but not knowing what spirit we are of.
  • And so when we pray this prayer of judgment (or any of the imprecatory psalms) as we ought, we must be sure to do so with clean hands and pure hearts, lest we call down that judgment upon our own heads.
  • We must ask the Lord what David asks in these final verses:

Verses 23-24

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart:

Try me, and know my thoughts:

24 And see if there be any wicked way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting.

Let us pray.

O LORD, you say that “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Teach us to hate with perfect hatred those enemies of our soul: the world, the devil, and even our own flesh, that we might we put off the old man, hating the works of darkness, and put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who is light. Make us more like you, for we ask this in Jesus name, and Amen.