A prayer for God's thorough examination.
st. 1 = vv. 1-6
st. 2 = vv. 7-12
st. 3 = vv. 13-18
st. 4 = vv. 19-24
Psalm 139 is a profound prayer asking God to examine the psalmist's heart. It recognizes God's intimate knowledge of our lives, even before birth. It expresses as nowhere else how awesome it is to lay oneself open to God's full scrutiny. I open myself to your searching eye, O God, says the psalmist; you know everyone of my thoughts, words, and deeds (st. 1). There is no hiding from you (st. 2). You put me together in the womb; you know me far better than I know myself (st. 3). My zeal for you sets me against all who are against you; search me, teach me, and lead me (st. 4). Perhaps the author's loyalty to the LORD has been put under suspicion, which makes him long for God's vindication. Or, being zealous for the LORD (vv. 19-22), yet knowing the deviousness of every heart, does the psalmist want God to root out "any offensive way" in order to be led "in the way everlasting" (v. 24)? Calvin Seerveld (PHH 22) versified this psalm in 1985 for the Psalter Hymnal.
During periods of self-examination such as Advent, Lent, and preparation for the Lord's Supper; during services focusing on the work of the Spirit (st. 1-2).
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook