A Biblical Mystery- Psalm 139:4-6

As we continue in our examination of Psalm 139, we now encounter a phenomenon found frequently in the Bible, the recognition of the idea of mystery. When we think of the term mystery, we generally think of a crime show on television, in which some type of law enforcement uncover more and more clues, and the assembling of these clues allows the mystery to be solved. A Biblical mystery, however, is not like this at all. We will see what is meant by a Biblical mystery as we examine verses 4-6, in which David encounters one, and in his reaction we will see the nature of a Biblical mystery and how it differs from our common understanding of mystery. We have already seen that God knows what David is thinking (verse 2), what David will do before David does it (verse 3), and now, in verse 4, we find that God knows what David will say before David says it. That before a word is on David’s tongue, God “knows it completely”. This flows naturally out of verse 2, for if God knows what David is thinking, He will also know what David will say, for words are expressions of thoughts, our speaking is a product of our thinking. The Hebrew word translated word here is one which refers to deliberated speech, to words which are specifically planned and precisely chosen before they are uttered. These words, which are freely chosen by David, are known by God before they are chosen. David sums up what he has expressed thus far in verse 5, in which he tells us that God “hems me in behind and before, thou hast laid thine hand upon me”. This poetic expression refers to the fact of God establishing the boundaries within which David may move, but adds the dimension of God steering David as he moves between them. In the use of this expression, David expresses to us the mystery which his meditations have led to an encounter with, the fact of God sovereignly determining his free choices. The fact of God’s sovereign determination is expressed here in terms of foreknowledge rather than pre-determination, but if God is in fact sovereign, the difference between the two is only one of semantics. For a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, no real distinction can really be made between pre-determination and foreknowledge, and only those looking to cling to a theological agenda will seek to find one. He understands here “that” God somehow sovereignly determines what David freely chooses to do, but does not (or more correctly cannot) understand “how” God sovereignly determines David’s free choices, or how he can be free to make them if they are sovereignly determined. So we now see here the mystery upon which David has stumbled, and what is of supreme importance to note is his response, which is found in verse 6, in which he tells us that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain”. The Hebrew word knowledge here is daath, which refers to insight or understanding, and the word wonderful here is one which literally means “incomprehensible”, it is knowledge which is too far into the “beyond” (or lofty), which is beyond David’s ability to “grasp” (or attain). So we now see what the reaction of David was when he stumbled upon a Biblical mystery, the mystery of God somehow sovereignly ordaining the free choices made by David, while God remains truly sovereign and David remains truly free. This is one of the fundamental mysteries which is presented in the pages of Scripture, and it is not a mystery in which clues are added together so that a solution is somehow figured out, but is rather a mystery which cannot be figured out, and at which no attempt is made at explanation and for which no clues are given, but which is simply presented to us and left to us to respond to. The choice we must make is the same one which David was faced with, either to humbly accept the reality of the mystery because it is presented to us in the inspired word of God, or to reject the mystery, either by trying to “solve” it or by rejecting the Bible as foolishness because it presents us with mysteries such as this. May we all reflect the attitude of David in the presence of mysteries such as this, and praise God for being the sovereign one He is, and live with the attitude expressed most clearly by John Calvin, who referred to those mysteries as things which we can never comprehend, but must humbly apprehend.

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