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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 5

Written by David Knight, posted on Thursday, March 26, 2020

In these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Psalm 139 


O LORD, thou hast searched me out and known me: thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising, thou understandest my thoughts long before. 
Thou art about my path, and about my bed: and spiest out all my ways. 
For lo, there is not a word in my tongue: but thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether. 
Thou hast fashioned me behind and before: and laid thine hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me: I cannot attain unto it. 
Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit: or whither shall I go then from thy presence? 
If I climb up into heaven, thou art there: if I go down to hell, thou art there also. 
If I take the wings of the morning: and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; 
 Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me. 
If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me: then shall my night be turned to day. 
Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day: the darkness and light to thee are both alike. 
For my reins are thine: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. 
I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. 
My bones are not hid from thee: though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth. 
Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect: and in thy book were all my members written; 
Which day by day were fashioned: when as yet there was none of them. 
How dear are thy counsels unto me, O God: O how great is the sum of them! 
If I tell them, they are more in number than the sand: when I wake up I am present with thee. 
Wilt thou not slay the wicked, O God: depart from me, ye blood-thirsty men. 
For they speak unrighteously against thee: and thine enemies take thy Name in vain. 
Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee: and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? 
Yea, I hate them right sore: even as though they were mine enemies. 
Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart: prove me, and examine my thoughts. 
Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me: and lead me in the way everlasting. 

This is a very personal psalm whose original text leaves us guessing the many meanings of the psalmist. It is full of personal awareness and our links with God. 

The writer acknowledges that God knows us better than we know ourselves and realizes the awesomeness of God. God knows us through and through as our Creator from the very beginning. The psalmist creates a sense of wonder at his being and his intimate relationship with God in pictures which are as relevant today as when the psalm was first composed – probably late in the second century before the birth of Jesus. He also expresses his thanks to God as his Creator.  

We may find it difficult as Christians to accept the way the psalmist asks for the wicked to be slain, and these four verses [vv19-22] are often omitted, but they express the extreme opposites familiar to the  Hebrew mind; contrasts between the goodness and awesomeness of God and the desultory evil expressed in human form. However, the psalmist still asks God to examine him and allow him – and us with him - to follow in the Way everlasting.

David Knight