Every word we speak is known to the LORD! That was my waking thought as I pondered Psalm 139.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether - Psalm 139:4
As I mused a little further this truth overwhelmed my soul. Each phrase upon our lips, has been written in a script, from the foundation of the world.
The term David uses is not the normal one for word (DAVAR) but the one which refers chiefly to an individual word, utterance or speech (MILLAH) - it includes sentences and speech units, both syllables and phrases. Earl Kalland, in the TWOT by Harris, Archer and Waltke, defines MILLAH as follows:
"Word, speaking, speech, talking, by word, what to say, anything to say, answer, matter."
While certainty here is a little tricky, he suggests that MILLAH relates more to expression and DAVAR to meaning. He remarks, in reference to our text Psalm 139:4:
"God's knowledge extends to every word on the Psalmist's tongue."
David is not explicit! Yes, its genre is poetic: nevertheless it implies other truths that exhaust our mental grasp. Come marvel at the extent to which He knows our speech.
Omniscience is one point that David wants to make, yet prescience is included: not only does God overhear all conversations that I speak, but he knows them advance - before thoughts form in brains, or air vibrates the voice-box, or sentences pour past lips, the LORD knew the words I'll speak. In an imperfect, limited, sense, which needs carefully qualified, we are but actors who speak lines God penned for us!
Sovereignty is another truth that the Psalmist helps to stress. For God to know words in advance, then, they all must be decreed. If every mouth is predicted, each is governed by His power. He cannot author bad words - but, for His own glory, by permitting second causes, he permits sinful human speech. All events criss-cross, according to His plan. Each continent, circumstance, character, relationship, mood and stress, contribute to the script in a way we cannot grasp. The education we have and vocabulary we acquire, including books we've read, affect our tone and talk.
To change tack a little, and to deepen our devotion, there are almost limitless things to ponder when we think about our speech.
How it humbles us to consider all our shameful words: terms too bold or rude, phrases with double-entendre, jokes that are inconvenient, gossip that cause strife, vows made in haste, insults that produce rifts, folly that creates havoc, hatred filled with spite, idle words on Sabbath, criticism of a neighbor, assassination of someone's character, talk that ruins reputations, statements that twist truth, exaggeration that may mislead, bearing a false witness and well-worn but ill-considered cliches; in the religious realm this includes psalms sung without heart, scriptures recited without thought, prayers with many words, without having our brain engaged, or that employ flowery words, and are aimed first at men not God; a preacher can't escape if there's unwise or ill-chosen speech, or just poor explanation without careful preparation and application: more serious by far is error whether ignorant or intended - all such considerations must drive us to our knees, in repentance before God, with prayer to use less words and seeking grace to guard lips more.
It also comforts believers to know God hears insults that are heaped upon his saints. Saul's blasphemies, hurled at the church, Christ took personally at its Head. In the Beatitudes Jesus teaches us we are blest when spoken against if it is on account of truth. He also framed the phrases that are spoken in advance - to utter up heartfelt cries to pray for the help we need. Before His children speak, the Bible tells us God will answer. All sobs and groans, assisted by the Spirit, are part of intercession that ascends up to Christ in petitions for His Church. It is the LORD who frames the heart and also forms the thoughts that help articulate words of greeting, welcome, kindness, truth and love. When we bow to say a prayer or stand beside a bed to read, elders and pastors should know their healing words were graciously gifted by God. Phrases that make peace, break an awkward silence, or cajole distant on-lookers into a crowd with a touch of humor or smile, are just as much a part of the script, as the most aptly chosen words. The striking phrases in sermons, soul-elevating expressions that focus on Christ, with all memorable expositions, were written in advance, and by strange providence, given to the pastor for the edification of the church.
As many regularly remind us, Jesus also sang this Psalm - He is the greater David whose words were both destined and fore-heard. Not a word Christ spoke ever went off-script. Every expression He uttered was prepared in advance, and, by the Spirit of Grace, spoken into the world for our instruction and salvation.
Words of warning to hypocrites. Words of pardon to cripples. Words of cleansing to lepers. Words to raise the dead like Jairus' daughter and Talitha. Words to instruct sluggish disciples, preach parables to spellbound crowds, to urge the ear to listen with care, or to pronounce sight for the blind. Loving words to Judas who was Hell-bent on betrayal. Commanding words to the storm to subdue the wind and waves. Words to reveal glory - I AM the Bread of Life, I AM the Door, I AM the Light of the World, I AM the Good Shepherd, I AM the Resurrection and Life, I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Words at the tomb to tell Lazarus 'Come Out.' Words at the Last Supper that declare Him God's True Vine. Words of the Great High Priest 'Holy Father, now glorify your Son ..that they may all be one'. Words to the dying thief that promise instant paradise! Seven words on the Cross - It is finished the foremost! Those dying words, as Jesus breathed His last - into Your hands, Father, I commit my Spirit! Those loud teary cries, as he sweated drops of blood, aghast in Gethsemane - all for His Church, redeemed with precious blood - nevertheless, Father, not My own will but Yours be done! Words of hope and comfort uttered on resurrection morn! All the conversation and phrases to Cleopas near Emmaus! Words of peace to disciples after migrating through stone walls as He stood in the upper room. Words of instruction to Thomas - come, place your hands in wounds, stop doubting, just believe. Sermons and promises, cheer and encouragement, peace and pardon, challenge and correction, with revelation and instruction - all Gospel words Christ speaks in grace never deviated from His lips' God-intended course.
All His words were good, all His phrases kind, all His speeches just - full of glory, peace and truth. When anger was required, frustration expressed at sin, or weeping expressed for Jerusalem it contained no hint of taint. Impeccable, immaculate - holy, true and right - sums up the speech of this Psalmist Jesus Christ.
That is why His active, obedient, speech provides a covering when we mis-speak, and it was God's spotless, unblemished offering, as a guilt-bearing substitute for sin, who exhausts all Christian guilt for every remark uttered in evil, folly or haste. Each foul or faithless expression has been punished once for all. It is this perfect script of Christ that provides gracious words for us.
Repent of sinful speech. Lay all your guilty words on Christ. Ask Him for the Spirit to be more mindful of your lips. Pray for gracious resources to help you speak the way God wants - ask for the power of the glorified Christ to be mediated by the Spirit to honor God in all your speech. Offer up the prayers that are destined to be heard by God! It is Jesus who has the pen to write all the good words on your Script - all expressions bought on the Cross, at the infinite price of His wounds, so He could set them on your lips.