For Beginners – The Heart Of Psalm 139 23 And 24 Meaning

Even though he wrote so much about his love and trust in God, King David was not perfect. We all have times when we fall and then regret our actions. 

This Psalm of David was a sincere plea from one who was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet he sinned miserably at one point in His life. After that experience, he wanted to remain as close to God as possible.

So how do we return to God when we have missed the mark? And once we are there, how do we remain close to God? We will find the answer in the heart of Psalm 139 23 and 24 meaning. 

(This could be a very scholarly discussion but I have chosen to keep it as simple as possible so that even beginners can understand it.)  

What is the prayer for Psalm 139 23 and 24?

Often it helps to read Bible verses in several different translations to understand them better. In one version they will use one word, and in another a different word. 

 Here is what Psalm 139 23 and 24 says in the New Living Translation (NLT), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the Amplified Bible.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (NLT)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (ESV)

“Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” Amplified Bible

This is truly a prayer of openness. It is an expression of absolute willingness to cooperate. There is no lack of trust in God.  

So what is David asking for in this prayer?

Photo of a a stethoscope up to a plastic heart.
Know my heart

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me …”

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me ,,, :

“Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me …” 

When we go to the doctor for a check-up, we expect that we will get a thorough examination. This is usually more than taking our temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate, or listening to our lungs.

Blood work and other tests are done looking for the things that are not always apparent, but signs of deep problems.

Labs look at the inner person physically. David is asking for God to do the same thing but spiritually.

” … know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you …”

” … know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me ,,, “

” …know my anxious thoughts, and see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me …”

Photo of test tubes with blood, and a lab read out behind them.
Reveal anything wrong

Once we have had a thorough examination, we wait for the test results and what the doctor thinks they mean. Some results may be normal, and others might be out of range. 

We then must trust that the doctor knows what is concerning about abnormal results. We have to acknowledge that something is wrong.

We can’t just bury our heads in the sand if we hope to be restored to the best health, even if it means more tests or exploratory surgery.  

Similarly, Jesus has been referred to as “The great physician”. He is the one who can interpret our spiritual test results.

David’s acknowledgment of what is wrong will help him accept the treatment plan. He does not want to be a spiritually sick and wicked man.  

” … lead me along the path of everlasting life.” 

” … lead me in the way everlasting! “

” … lead me in the everlasting way.”

It is always good news when there is treatment available for what is ailing us.

One of the worst things that people sometimes hear from a doctor is, “I am sorry, we can’t help you. Go home and set your affairs in order.” 

Praise God there is hope for spiritual health and eternal life through Jesus Christ. 

Photo of a Physician prescription pad with patient name as "anyone", address "world", date "every day", the prescription "I will lead you in the way everlasting", and signed by "Jesus the great physician."
God’s prescription for good spiritual health

David doesn’t want any “wicked way” in his life. He knows that the treatment plan is found in the word of God. 

What does Psalm 139 23 and 24 mean?

To have a complete understanding of a passage of Scripture we have to look further than the surface. We need:

  1. The context (what comes before and after)
  2. The meaning of the Hebrew words
  3. Other Scriptures that use the same words
  4. The culture of the day and how it contributed to the meaning
  5. The structure of the language (parts of speech, tense, etc. )

For our purposes, we will look at the first two only.

We should always look at what comes before and after the Scriptures that we are studying.

Context can change the meaning of everything. Just picking a verse here and there and trying to make a case for yourself is a dangerous practice. 

Psalm 139 section one

In the first section of Psalm 139, we find that David has a history of asking God for His opinion. We also see David’s acknowledgement of the omniscience of God.

There is absolutely nothing hidden. God’s knowledge is beyond our comprehension  

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (verses 1-6, ESV)

Psalm 139, section two

In the next section, David talks about the omnipresence of God. This is good news for The Christian life. We are never in it alone. The ever presence of the Lord is a great promise and reason for joy.

“7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day,  for darkness is as light with you.” (verses 7-12 ESV)

Psalm 139, section three

In this third section, David acknowledges his roots or origin. It is like a hymn of praise celebrating life with no ill design. David is in awe of the Lord’s intimate knowledge of him. 

13 For you formed my inward parts;  you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[aWonderful are your works;    my soul knows it very well.15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,  intricately woven in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,  when as yet there was none of them. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them! 18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (verses 13-18 ESV)

Psalm 139, section four

In this last section, David talks about the ones who are full of evil and He then concludes by asking God to keep him from being like them. 

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!  O men of blood, depart from me! 20 They speak against you with malicious intent;  your enemies take your name in vain.[b] 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?22 I hate them with complete hatred;  I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts![c] 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (verses 19-24 ESV) 

(If this section is too scholarly for you, just skip ahead.)

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew.

The good thing is that you do not have to be a seminary student to learn the basics. The Blue Letter Bible makes it fairly easy for novices and beginners to get a much clearer meaning of any Hebrew word. 

(For a brief lesson on how to use the Blue Letter Bible, follow this link. Scroll down about halfway)

“Search me”

The Hebrew phrase is H2713 –  חָקַר châqar (1)

This has more meaning than just looking for something. The same phrase is used 27 times in the Old Testament. Here are two of them:

” Shall not God search this out? H2713 for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.” Psalm 44:21 KJV

“Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, H2713 and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you;” Deuteronomy 13:14 KJV (2)

It is also used in Job 13:9. According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexiconl,

“The primary idea is that of searching in the earth by digging so that kindred roots are seen. (3)

Clearly, this is more than a casual activity. The secrets of the heart are uncovered by digging. Furthermore, it identifies related sins that lead us down wrong paths. It is a complete and thorough examination. 

“Test me” 

The Hebrew phrase is H974 –  בָּחַן bâchan – “a primitive root; to test (especially metals); generally and figuratively, to investigate:—examine, prove, tempt, try (trial).” (4)

I love the “trial” part of this definition. When someone is in a courtroom, they are examined by an attorney by asking questions. Other witnesses will prove or disprove the accusations. 

Sometimes we can feel guilty of something erroneous. The accuser wants us to be powerless due to false guilt. The Holy Spirit is the other witness who says,

“There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Photo of an open Bible and a quote from Romans 8:1.
Romans 8:1

Other times we truly need the confession of sin to our Heavenly Father. It is only when we understand God’s heart that we do not fear doing this. Jesus already paid the price for our sins.

Confession restores our sense of connection to God. He is not going to beat us up or throw us in spiritual jail. He remembers we are human. (Psalm 103:14)

God wants us to feel close to HIm. That is what confession does. It removes that self-induced barrier to fellowship. 

“Lead me” 

The Hebrew phrase is H5148 –  נָחָה nâchâh – and means to govern, guide, lead, and straighten. (5)

Have you ever heard a parent say to a child, “Straighten up”? Sometimes the crooked path that we are on needs to be straightened.

Other times we need just a little guidance. Many times, we need God to take us by the hand and lead us. There are different aspects to His leadership depending on our needs. 

A modern prayer from Psalm 139 and other Scriptures

Heavenly Father, 

I am so grateful that you made me and understand me. I want to be a man of God (or woman of God) like King David in Palms 139:23-24. I don’t want to be hiding from you like Adam and Eve did. 

It is such a blessing to know that you have compassion on me, and that you remember that I am human and often miss the mark.

Thank you that you have made a way to restore my relationship with you when I have blown it.

Thank you that you saw fit to record the stories of God’s people in the Bible, including David’s life. Even kings sin, but your mercy brings all of us back repeatedly. 

So now I ask that you search me and show me the secrets of my heart that I may have been hiding from myself. Show me the true motive for the things I do. Help me to never fear the searching of God in my life.

Test me, Lord, so that I understand what I am really guilty of, and what is false guilt. 

More than anything, I want to be in your presence and experience the everlasting joy that comes from being close to you.

Thank you that you want to be my “best friend”. Thank you that you love me and that your “perfect love casts out all fear”. 

In the name of Jesus, I pray, Amen.

You can download this prayer for free. Here is the link.

Is Psalm 139 23 and 24 your prayer? 

When Jesus was crucified, two other men were also hanging on crosses. One was mocking and criticizing Jesus. The other one acknowledged his sin as well as implying that Jesus was the Son of God, asking him to lead him to everlasting life.

The second man verbalized a similar prayer to that of David in Psalm 139. Because of those two confessions, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  

We all must come to a point where we agree with God about our sinful condition. The sooner we do, the better. 

Throughout the New Testament God reveals to us His plan for our restoration. It begins with realizing we need forgiveness for our sins. 

Photo of an open Bible and a quote from 1 John 1:8-9 which is a cross reference to Psalm 139 23  and 24 meaning.
1 John 1:8-9

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

We then need to be led in the “way everlasting” as David put it. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV

Photo of an open Bible and a quote from John 14:6.
John 14:6

If you don’t know Jesus, you probably have questions. The people at Chat About Jesus have answers. You can talk to them right now. They are available any time of the day or night, including weekends.

You can chat online from anywhere in the world. If you are in the United States you can text or call them.  

You might also like to read: 

References 1-5 are from the Blue Letter Bible.

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