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Omnipotent! (Psalm 139:13-18)


Some feel threatened by the sovereignty of God. They regard it as an infringement on their personal autonomy or fear that it will reduce humans to mere automatons, incapable of meaningful and morally significant choices.

Others, yours truly included, cannot imagine life apart from the comforting, reassuring, rock-solid confidence that flows from knowing that God governs all things, from the exalted affairs of heaven to the seemingly random rain drops that plummet to earth. I think I have David on my side. Or perhaps I should say that since David is a defender of divine sovereignty, so too should you and I be.

To this point in Psalm 139 David has focused on two of the so-called "Omni's" of God: omniscience in vv. 1-6, and omnipresence in vv. 7-12. But the question might be asked: How do we know that God truly knows? On what grounds do we embrace the notion that he is always and ever with us?

The answer is found in what follows next in vv. 13-16. In fact, the answer is wrapped up in the causal particle with which v. 13 opens. I'm referring to the word "for". Don't overlook this word or fail to grasp its significance, for in it we find an answer to our question: "How is it that God knows David so intimately? What accounts for his immediate involvement in the affairs of David's life?" The answer, quite simply, is that it is God who formed him in his mother's womb and ordained all his days. David's point is simply to assert that no one has a truer, more accurate, or more exhaustive knowledge of a person than the Sovereign God who has made him and fashioned his days in advance of their occurrence. Thus he writes:

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them" (Ps. 139:13-16).

Here we see an exalted portrayal, in extremely personal terms, of an abstract and often misunderstood theological term: Omnipotence.

The Bible doesn't merely speak of God's power or his ability to produce effects. It clearly affirms that such power is without limitations. His power is infinite. It knows no boundaries other than what is required by God's nature.

Thus we read that God is "mighty in strength" (Job 9:4). He is "the Lord, strong and mighty" (Ps. 24:8), a "great and awesome God" (Deut. 7:21), "the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel" (Isa. 1:24a). "Ah, Lord God! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you" (Jer. 32:17). Creation is a testimony to "the greatness of his might," for "he is strong in power" (Isa. 40:26).

When Mary inquired of Gabriel how she, a virgin, could conceive a child without the involvement of a man, his response was: "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). After comparing the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven with a camel passing through the eye of a needle, Jesus said: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26). Consider as well the following texts:

"Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps" (Ps. 135:6; cf. 115:3).

"For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and, who will turn it back?" (Isa. 14:27).

"declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'" (Isa. 46:10).

"Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted'" (Job 42:1-2).

"all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'" (Dan. 4:35).

Returning to Psalm 139, we see that David focuses on two manifestations of God's power in his life. He first declares that God has altogether shaped and fashioned him in his mother's womb (vv. 13-15). The word "formed" in v. 13 literally means "to possess," and "inward parts" is a reference to one's kidneys, which in Hebrew thought encompasses the most secretive, and sensitive locus of the personality. "You knitted me together" actually means "to weave" or "to embroider" and would include not only David's physical features, such as hands, toes, ears, legs, etc. but also the psychological characteristics of his personality and temperament.

Here the mother's womb is described not merely as the secret place but "the lowest depths of the earth." Perhaps this points to the remote and hidden place of fetal development. But others have seen here a retrospective reference to the formation of the first human body out of the dust of the ground, i.e., the creation of Adam himself. Delitzsch writes: "According to the view of Scripture the mode of Adam's creation is repeated in the formation of every man (Job 33:6). The earth was the mother's womb of Adam, and the mother's womb out of which the child of Adam comes forth (David) is the earth out of which it is taken" (350).

The second manifestation of God's power consists of his decree of all David's "days" (v. 16). "Every one of them", says David, were written in God's book. But "every one" of what? The KJV looks back to David's "unformed substance" and thus translates v. 16, "in thy book all my members were written." Most other translations (NIV, NASB, NRSV, ESV) look forward to the "days" that were "formed" or "ordained". It is these days, then, that were written in God's book before one of them came to be.

Steven Roy points out that "this latter translation has the advantage of the grammatical agreement of the plural (‘all of them') with the plural ‘days'" (33). Donald Glenn agrees:

"The reason David can affirm that the Lord knows his every thought, word, and action (and knows them beforehand - verse 2b), and the reason he cannot escape from this knowledge and consequent control is because the Lord formed him and foreordained the course of his life. Likewise, the reason that in verses 17-18 David responds with such awe about the Lord's thought and purposes is that the Lord's foreordination of his life proves how precious and constant are the Lord's thoughts about him" (176-77).

Both the number of his days and their content have been pre-ordained by God (cf. Ps.. 56:8). As each day of his life passes he may look upon it and confidently assert that everything which transpired had already been sovereignly orchestrated by the merciful and mighty hand of God!

But how are we to understand vv. 17-18? David declares, "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you."

Many argue that these "thoughts" are not all that God thinks about in general but primarily his intentions toward David in particular, which understandably would be extremely "precious" to the psalmist. If so, then David is referring both to God's pre-ordained plan for his life (now inscribed in God's book, v. 16), as well as the on-going implementation of that purpose in the present. According to this view, v. 18b means something along the lines of, "When I wake up from sleep I discover that nothing has interrupted your design for my life or put a distance in our relationship with one another." On the other hand, it must be noted that David's marveling at the "sum" of God's thoughts as exceeding "the sand" of the seashore makes more sense if it is a reference to the full extent of divine omniscience.

So, in conclusion, how does divine omnipotence strike you? What response do you find welling up in your soul? Stephen Charnock contends that it at least ought to awaken worship:

"Wisdom and power are the ground of the respect we give to men; they being both infinite in God, are the foundation of a solemn honour to be returned to him by his creatures. If a man make a curious engine, we honour him for his skill; if another vanquish a vigorous enemy, we admire him for his strength; and shall not the efficacy of God's power in creation, government, redemption, inflame us with a sense of the honour of his name and perfections! We admire those princes that have vast empires, numerous armies, that have a power to conquer their enemies, and preserve their own people in peace; how much more ground have we to pay a mighty reverence to God, who, without trouble and weariness, made and manages this vast empire of the world by a word and beck! What sensible thoughts have we of the noise of thunder, the power of the sun, the storms of the sea! These things, that have no understanding, have struck men with such a reverence that many have adored them as gods. What reverence and adoration doth this mighty power, joined with an infinite wisdom in God, demand at our hands" (Charnock, 429).

There is also in divine omnipotence a warning to the wicked: "How foolish is every sinner," writes Charnock. "Can we poor worms strut it out against infinite power?" Oh, that every obstinate sinner

"would think of this, and consider his unmeasurable boldness in thinking himself able to grapple with omnipotence! What force can any have to resist the presence of him before whom rocks melt, and the heavens at length shall be shriveled up as a parchment by the last fire! As the light of God's face is too dazzling to be beheld by us, so the arm of his power is too mighty to be opposed by us" (437).

God's omnipotence is also a comfort to us, as it was to David, when we are persecuted and oppressed (Ps. 27:1). In it we find encouragement when we are tempted (1 Cor. 10:13). It is especially a comfort to us when we pray, for it reassures us that God is altogether able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we either ask or think (cf. Eph. 3:20-21).

Well, there you have it: Omniscient! Omnipresent! Omnipotent! What a God!