Pastors Speak


PSALM 139:19-24

Psalm 139 has often been noted as a beautiful expression of the value of human life. Taken as a whole, it is a prayer reflecting on God’s intimate knowledge of who we are – a knowledge stretching to the moment we were conceived in the womb and before. The theme of continuity is striking. Notice how the author uses personal pronouns with reference to himself both before and after his birth. Past (v.1), present (vv.2-3), future (v.10), and the pre-natal stage as well (v.13). The psalmist is clearly aware of no discontinuity in his existence. He was, is, and will be the same person…again both during his pre-natal and post-natal life.

Recognizing this, how should we respond to those who would advocate aborting such a life? It’s at this point we need to read a little further through Psalm 139 and take a look at vv.19-24. As always, God’s Word tells us not only what is right, but also how to do the right thing in the right way. Reflecting on what we’ve seen so far, the psalmist finds himself filled anew with a zeal for this God who knows him so completely. And he then turns this zeal both to those around him as well as towards himself.

As the psalmist looks at others around him, he recognizes that not everyone responds to God with faith and love. (continued on page 2) Some respond with blasphemy and hate. And this leads him to use some strikingly harsh language…words that really take us back (READ v.22). How ought we to understand such words? And is it ever appropriate for us to say the same thing? Well, in order to answer these questions, we need to clear some things up…

Who are the people being cursed? (READ v.19a and b) How are they characterized? (READ v.20a and b, v.21a and b) So what then are the curses? We need to recognize that in Hebrew poetry, we often find the usage of vivid and graphic language. Used here, it is not intended to be expressions of a desire for personal vengeance. Rather, the psalmist is filled with moral indignation and a desire for God to exercise justice.

So in terms of application, we need to remember that these words are the prayer of the psalmist, not actions he carries out. We need to remember that these words are not “personal.” They do not reflect unrestrained anger or malice. The concern is for God’s honor and glory with a view even beyond the human behavior to the opposition being expressed in the situation by the Prince of Darkness.

And so, as we think about all of this with respect to the pro-life movement, we can look at the abortionist and pray with good conscience not that his life would be taken, but that his livelihood would fail. We can look at those on the forefront actually promoting and encouraging abortion and pray that God, in His mercy, would allow them to suffer a foretaste in this life of His eternal punishment and that perhaps He might then bring them to repentance.

And that then takes us to the second expression of the psalmist’s zeal – that is, towards himself. In vv.23-24, we see that even with the strong language of what he’s just said, he recognizes that he is not above reproach. And so he prays and with boldness and humility, he asks God not to allow him to be self-deluded and instead to open up the dark recesses of his soul. We would do well to follow his example – recognizing both that we all stand before the God of Psalm 139 with certain obligations and that we have fallen short in meeting those obligations. Some have sacrificed their children. Some have advocated for the freedom to make such sacrifices. And yet others – especially in the Christian community – have responded with hate, complacency, and ignorance.

The point is that we all stand guilty before God and in need of His cleansing forgiveness. I personally have never been the direct cause of an abortion. But I have to ask myself as a member of the human race and as a Christian, “What have I done to stop it?” Too little!

And it’s there that I take comfort in the reality that just as surely as we stand guilty, there is hope of the cleansing of our guilt. (“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18).

We can start anew – every one of us – both with the calling before us to protect the defenseless and the assurance of forgiveness.

No matter how we have failed. No matter what we’ve done.

Pastor Richard Schwartz
Assistant Pastor 
Grace Presbyterian Church of Peoria, IL