Joshua 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein:
Psalm 119:97 How I love your law! It is my meditation all day.
These Scriptures talk about people meditating, specifically about God’s Law. We recognize that when God commanded Joshua to meditate, and when the Psalmist mentions meditation, they are examples to us and we, too, should consider meditation as part of our spiritual journey. But from here it gets a little funny. Often, writers on spirituality will quote the above Scriptures along with others that mention meditation, but all they have done is show that meditation was commanded or that it is desirable. When it comes to describing meditation they often have to admit that there is no “and this is how you meditate” command and so the meditation they prescribe is from their personal experience with its sole endorsement being the pragmatic “and this works for me.” One writer I read mentions the lack of biblical description, then adds that “Judaism is an Oriental Religion” then goes on to describe a form of Transcendental Meditation as Biblical Meditation!
It is my contention, though recognizing that spirituality is a very individual thing, and that some may find true spiritual benefit in using some biblical mantra to empty the mind, or perhaps by spinning 120 times a minute, that the Bible has not left us without at least examples of what is meant by Meditation. What should be to no one’s surprise, there are many examples in the Psalms. Psalm 139 is one such example and it shows not any kind of emptying of the mind but an active exercise of the whole personality.
If you look in your study Bible, this psalm is often used as a theological textbook, introducing the “Omnis”. They will break it down into Omniscience (vv 1-6), Omnipresence (vv 7-12), Omnipotence (vv 13-18) and God’s Holiness (vv 19-24 This is adapted from the Ryrie Study Bible, but I read one writer who, in order to keep the alliteration, named the last section Omni-holiness.) Nothing wrong with the “Omnis” per se, but look at verse 1, Lord, you have searched me, and you know me. Now look down to verse 23, Search me, Oh God, and know me. There is a difference between these expressions and I’ll get to that, but what I want to observe now is that this Psalm begins and ends with the concept that God searches and knows me. Psalm 139, if you will, is a meditation on the fact that God searches and knows me.
Where does one get the starting point of meditation? The portions I quoted at first say the starting point of meditation is God’s Law. This Psalm’s starting point, God searches and knows me, is somewhat unclear where that came from, but it surely is out of David’s relationship with God. In other Psalms are other starting points. Psalm 19 starts with an observation on the sun describing it in very poetic terms and then a switch is made and the Psalmist is meditating on God’s word and how it is like the sun. Psalm 23 digs into David’s past as a shepherd and starting with his experience with sheep David meditates on how much his relationship with the sheep parallels God’s relationship with himself.
Psalm 139:1-6 Lord, you have searched me, and you know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but, behold, Yahweh, you know it altogether. You hem me in behind and before. You laid your hand on me. This knowledge is beyond me. It’s lofty. I can’t attain it. David’s starting point that God searches and knows him gets a little exercise. If it is true, then it is true in the minutia in which I am now living. Sitting or standing, whatever it is I’m thinking (v2). Where I walk and where I sleep, to intimate detail (v3) Even before I speak, God knows (v4). David’s mind also makes the connection that searching and knowing also means active involvement in protecting and guiding (v5). This exercise of mind causes David to feel overwhelmed by his thoughts. God’s searching and knowing is not just theoretical, it is not just “God talk” but is very real and God is very active in his life.
(7-10) Where could I go from your Spirit? Or where could I flee from your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there! If I take the wings of the dawn, and settle in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will hold me. Having considered present ramifications of God searching and knowing him, David’s meditation turns to the concept of place. In his imagination, he tries to consider whether there is any place where God does not search and know him. Heaven or Hell, across the ocean or under the ocean. there is no place – real or imagined – where God might lose his knowledge of David.
(11-16) If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me; the light around me will be night;” even the darkness doesn’t hide from you, but the night shines as the day. The darkness is like light to you. For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you, when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my body. In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them. David’s mind now turns to time. Might there have been a time when God did not have knowledge of me? Night or day makes no difference to God. What about before David was born? God was right there putting him together. Even before David was conceived, God had written the book on David. There was no time, David’s meditation concludes, that God did not search and know him.
Up until now, it has been somewhat cerebral. David, starting from the point that God searches and knows him. Exercising mind and imagination, he stretches both to see the intimate detail of God’s active knowledge, and that there is no place or time where God’s knowledge of David did not exist. David’s meditation goes beyond the lofty thoughts to the place where he responds to what he has thought. Without the steps of response, we are not meditating.
(17, 18) How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand. When I wake up, I am still with you. The first response is one of the emotions (this has also been seen in vv 6 and 14) Overwhelmed, David bursts out in praise to God whom he has just contemplated.
(19-22) If only you, God, would kill the wicked. Get away from me, you bloodthirsty men! For they speak against you wickedly. Your enemies take your name in vain. Yahweh, don’t I hate those who hate you? Am I not grieved with those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred. They have become my enemies. In this section, though you will find some emotions at work, David has what I would consider an intellectual response. Having meditated on God, he then incorporates his thoughts into how he views the things going on around him. His meditation shapes his world view. The world and the actions within it are discerned based upon the truth about God.
(23, 24) Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Finally, David prays that God would search and know him. This sounds odd, as he has just meditated on God’s complete searching and knowing him. But what we see here is a response of the will. Not only does David know that God knows him, he wants God to know him. He accepts with his will the searching knowledge of God. Not only search me and know me, but I will to accept the changes you would make in my life.
God prescribes meditation for our spiritual health. The biblical examples show us that far from being the passive emptying of the mind of Eastern religion, but an active exercising of the mind and imagination around truth about God, and having exercised our mind, we respond with our whole selves including emotions, intellect and will.