Familiar With All My Ways- Psalm 139:3

As we continue in our examination of this Psalm, we will recall first of all that this Psalm is essentially a prayer, and we find David here simultaneously both praising God for His love of and care for His people in spite of their many stumbles and shortcomings, while also asking God to show him why he continues to stumble and how he may go about eliminating his stumbles and shortcomings. As we come to verse 3, we will recall that David has already discovered that God knows him better than he knows himself (verse one) and has asked God to show him why he thinks the way he thinks, where his flawed thinking may be causing him to become unnecessarily worried or agitated (verse two). We then find that, in verse three, David tells us that God can “discern my going out and lying down, you are familiar with all my ways”. The phrase “going out and lying down” is again imagery, a word picture. The Hebrew word “going out” here is orach, which refers to one’s path, the way one has chosen to walk, which clearly here is a reference to David’s behavior, to what David chooses to do. The use of the word “discern” here tells us that God is more than a mere observer of David’s behavior, but that God not only sees all that David does but understands why he does it. We should also note the NIV translation of orach as “going out”, which captures the connotation of one who heads out on a path which leads away from “home”, away from the place of safety and security, and off of God’s chosen path for them. So what we find David asking for here, in the first part of this verse, is that God would help him to understand why he does what he does, that he would understand exactly what it is that causes him to wander off of the path God has chosen for him. If we connect this with what we learned in verse 2 (remember the parallelism in Hebrew poetry), we may reasonably surmise that it is the “agitation” of thinking in verse two which contributes mightily toward the “going out” in verse 3. Perhaps it is the combination of anger, frustration and impatience revealed in verse two which causes David to make the wrong choices expressed in verse three. We know that action flows from thought, and David shows us here, from his own life, how his distorted thinking leads to the making of wrong choices, and that a correction in thinking should produce the making of better choices. David then concludes the verse by telling us that God also is “familiar with all my ways”. The word “ways” here also refers to behavior, but to behavior of a different sort. It refers primarily to ones mannerisms and habits, and refers more to one’s unconscious reactions rather than conscious choices. Our “ways” here are those “knee-jerk” reactions which come about without conscious thought, those ways of reacting to people and circumstances which just come out of us as a type of reflex rather than a conscious choice. The word “familiar” here, as can be readily seen, has in it the idea of family, of one who dwells continually in the same place with another and is intimately familiar with them. God not only knows what causes David to make the conscious choices which lead him onto the wrong path, but also what causes the unconscious reactions which also lead him astray. So what we find David asking for here is that God would show him why he chooses to do what he does, and also what causes him to respond in the way he does in his knee-jerk reactions as well. David realizes that it is flaws in the way he thinks which cause him to act the way he does, and he here asks God to help him see and correct the places in which his thinking varies from what is true, which will help him stop making the conscious choices which lead him off of the right path, and also stop responding reflexively in ways which also serve to lead him astray. May we learn from David here the importance of having the way we think shaped by the truth of the Word of God, for it is as our thinking is conformed to the truth that we will be able to keep from making the conscious choices which lead us off God’s path for us, and also begin to eliminate the unconscious reactions to people and circumstances which cause us to go astray as well.

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