Lasting Truth: God’s Part in Conception

Psalm 139:13–16

What is God’s part in the conception and birth of children? For what did David praise God? What are two ways to interpret verse 16? Why is this a key passage on the sanctity of human life?

Psalm 139:13–16: For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knows right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

The word for ties these verses to verses 1–12. The theme of Psalm 139 is the all-seeing, ever-present God. God knows all about us (vv. 1–6). His presence is everywhere (vv. 7–12). Verses 13–16 explain how He knows us so well. He has been involved in our lives from the beginning. Genesis 9:6 referred to humans being created in God’s image. This was true of the first humans, but it continues to be true of all human life, even after sin came. Psalm 139:13–16 enlarges on that truth. Since this is one of the key Bible passages on sanctity of human life, we need to look at it carefully.

One of the main points is that God is the Creator of human life. Four terms in verses 13 and 15 make this point. The words hast possessed can be translated “created” or “formed” . Covered me can be translated “knit me together” . The verb has the idea of God as the Master Weaver in His creative work. The word is similar to that translated curiously wrought. Many translators see the idea of weaving in this word—“woven together” or “intricately woven”.. Made is used throughout the Old Testament to describe the continuing creative work of the Lord. Psalm 100:3 reminds us that “it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.”

The combination of these four terms shows that God is the One who creates human life. Where does God create new life? David said that this creative work was in my mother’s womb. Verse 15 refers to the place as the lowest parts of the earth (“the depths of the earth,” ). These words “are a metaphor here for deepest concealment, that is, the hiddenness of the womb.”

The product of this creative work in the womb is a human life. Reins refers to the kidneys. In Hebrew thought the kidneys represented the seat of human emotions and moral sensibility, that is, to one’s “inward parts” or “inmost being” . Substance is usually translated “frame” . The word means “strength” or “bones.” This probably refers to the skeletal structure.

When all these words are put together, it refers to a human being of more than flesh and bones but also of a being with awareness, emotions, and moral sensitivity. This is another way of describing a being made in God’s image. In physical structure man is much like some of the animals, but the original pair and their descendants were created in God’s image.

Verse 14 is the psalmist’s personal testimony about his creation by God within the womb. He praised God because he said, I am fearfully (“remarkably,” ) and wonderfully made. What would he have said if he had had the tools of modern technology that enable us to watch the process of conception and growth of life within the womb through all its stages of development?

verse 16 can be interpreted in two ways. The words all my members is literally “all of them.” The King James Version assumes that “them” refers back to substance, hence to the new life within the womb. Other translations assume that “all of them” refers to the days of one’s life.

Your eyes saw me when I was formless;
All my days were written in Your book and planned

If the first view is right, verse 16 reinforces verses 13–15. If the second view is right, the meaning is carried one step ahead. It adds the thought that God has a plan for each life. Derek Kidner explained, “The rather cryptic Hebrew may mean either that the days of my life were mapped out in advance , or that my embryonic members were likewise planned and known before the many stages (‘day by day’) of their development.

When God called Jeremiah, both ideas were included. God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee: and before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Thus each person has great potential as one whom the Lord made and all of whose days He knows. The theme of Verses 13–16 is that God creates life within the womb and He has a purpose for every life.

Life is a gift from God. He is involved in human conception and grows that life within the womb. Many people believe these are only natural biological functions. They feel about this the way they do about the creation of Genesis 1–2. They do not see the hand of God but only a purely naturalistic process. The Bible sees God involved in both.

When I was a small child, I had no brother or sister. I was not aware at the time that my mother had had a miscarriage. I told my parents that I wanted a brother or a sister. They told me to pray and ask God for this. I did, and my mother became pregnant; and I got a baby sister. Of course I knew nothing about how babies were conceived and born, but I still believe that God heard my prayers. I knew that babies came from God, and so I asked God for one.

So you can see why Psalm 139:13–16 is a key biblical passage in supporting the sanctity of human life. And it is not just an academic statement but a key part in a psalm of praise. As the psalmist had these thoughts, he said to God, I will praise thee. When a birth took place, the people praised God because the child was a gift of God.

The issue of abortion is a source of debate in our country. Two strongly held views are involved. These views can be seen in how each group answers two questions: First, when does human life begin? Or to put it another way, is that which is in a woman’s womb a person or something less than a person? Second, what will be the results of terminating the pregnancy? Those who favor abortion claim that a woman should have the right to choose and that which is in the womb is less than a person. Those who oppose abortion claim that the unborn is a person and ask who will protect the rights of the new life of the unborn person.

Which view is more consistent with biblical teachings? How does Psalm 139:13–16 speak to these issues? What stage of human life must be reached before a human becomes a person? Must the being become a person only after birth? What are the criteria for personhood? An infant is helpless and small. Is he a person, or must he reach a certain size or level of maturity? Or is birth only another stage in a person’s development? Each Christian needs to ask himself or herself these questions and then seek to answer them according to biblical teaching.

What are the lasting truths in Psalm 139:13–16?

  1. God creates new life within the womb.
    1. Parents are cocreators with God.
    2. The human body is more than a physical thing; it has emotion and moral sensitivity.
    3. The human body’s complex unity is a wonder for which we should praise God.
    4. God has a purpose for each life even from the time before birth.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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