Palm 139 is a common go-to passage for many believers when talking about the sanctity of human life and how God views us. In particular, verses 13 and 14 tell us,
“… you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” — Psalms 139:13-14 ESV
Here we read plainly that God is directly involved in the growth of a human being in the womb, and “fearfully and wonderfully made” implies that it is a careful, specific, purposeful forming. This is indeed an astounding revelation, and the Psalmist immediately declares in the same verse, “Wonderful are Your works, my soul knows it very well.”
I would like to step back and have a look at more of the Psalm, and point out how much this Psalm tells us about God and how He interacts with us at every stage of our life.
What Psalm 139 says about God
This psalm is packed full of declarations of who God is:
- He has “searched” us and “known” us (v. 1)
- He knows when we “sit” and “rise” (v.2)
- He “discerns” our thoughts “from afar” (v.2)
- He searches out our path and our lying down (v.3)
- He is acquainted with all our ways (v.3)
- He knows what we’ll say it before we speak (v4)
- He “hems” us in behind and before, and lays His hand on us (v.5)
- He is everywhere — heaven and Sheol (the place of the dead) (v.8), the farthest parts of the sea (v.9)
- He guides us and sustains us wherever we are (v.7-10)
- Nothing is hidden from Him (v.11-12)
- He formed our “inward parts” and we were “knitted together” in our mother’s womb (v.13)
- His works are wonderful (v.14)
- Before we were physically substantial, God “saw” us (v. 16)
- God “formed” our days and has written them in His “book” (v.16)
When as yet there were none of them
One of the clearest statements in the Psalms in regards to the total sovereignty of God over human life at every stage is found in verse 16. For context, it immediately follows verses thirteen to fifteen:
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb...
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139:13,15)
Here, David writes that it is God who carefully arranges the microscopic explosion of life that follows the moment of conception. Even before the existence of the baby is known to the mother, God sees our “frame” as we are “being made in secret.” He doesn’t stop there, though, but rather continues even farther back, before conception:
16 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 was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)
“While as yet there was none of them” transports us into the mind of God before we are conceived. In verses 1-15 David been exploring the breadth and length and depth of God’s domain:
- God knows us completely inside and out, knows what we’ll say before we say it, and is always with us (verses 1-6).
- There is no distance we can travel, no height we can ascend, no depth we can plumb, or place we can hide where God is not already present (verses 7-12).
- It is God who was in control of our creation, at every moment. (verses 13-16)
Everything so far in the Psalm builds up to this point, and the David tops it off by saying before any of this, you had already planned out everything.
The days formed for me
The active participation of God in predestining the “days” rings bright and clear in the phrase, “the days that were formed for me”. What the ESV translates as formed is often translated ordained (ASV, NASB, NIV), fashioned (NJKV, KJV), planned (HSBC, NCV), appointed (AMP), and even laid out, (NLT).
The choice of word does not affect the message too much, though. The point is that God shaped the future path of human beings before those human beings were created. All our days—the good ones and the bad ones—were ordained and fashioned by God.
Many spend a lot of effort trying to wriggle themselves free of this conclusion; trying to make it so that God is somehow foreseeing or foreknowing the days of a man’s life without participating in the decisions that are made on those occasions. This, however, does not fit.
It is unfair to accept the wonderful specificity of verses 13-15 as apparent and true representations of God and then treat a single phrase in the middle of verse 16 with a different method because we want a different conclusion. Rather, we can take the plain meaning—that God determines our days before we are born—and find hope and comfort therein.
God knows us intimately—even before we were born He already knew all of our days. This doesn’t apply to only believers, though, but to all human beings. In this psalm, David recognises God’s omniscience, and applies it to himself; but he also applies it to those who are David’s enemies and God’s enemies.
Every person who has ever lived or ever will live is already known to God. Nothing is hidden from Him—every evil thought and injustice is fully exposed. In his gospel, Luke relates the words of Jesus: “nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).
When we are confronted by the prevailing wickedness around us as David seems to be in verse 19-22 of Psalm 139, we should do what David does; call upon the Lord to search our hearts, that we might be aligned with His will rather than our own. He knows what is happening to us and how we feeling, but He also knows that which we do not: the end towards which our situation is working. He has planned it already, and planned it for our good.