The Sanctity of Human Life in the Womb – Psalm 139

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Summary: This message takes a close look at the Hebrew text of Psalm 139 in order to affirm the sanctity of human life in the womb.

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Psalm 139:13-16

INTRODUCTION: Today is “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” President Ronald Reagan declared the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day back in 1984. Since then, most presidents have celebrated this day each year on the Sunday closest to January 22nd. January 22nd is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States.

In the year 2003 on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President George W. Bush made a proclamation in which he called on all Americans to “reaffirm the value of human life and renew our dedication to ensuring that every American has access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” His proclamation continued: “Every child is a priority and a blessing, and I believe that all should be welcomed in life and protected by law.” You would think that all people everywhere would welcome a proclamation affirming the value of human life and the importance of children, but instead the President’s proclamation sparked masses of criticism from those who advocate abortion rights.

“Sanctity of Human Life Day” actually affirms human life in many areas, not just in the area of abortion. It is a day to reflect on the sacredness of human life not only in relation to the child in the womb, but also as regards the elderly, the weak and infirm, the mentally challenged, and those with physical limitations. All of human life is sacred, and all human life should be equally valued and protected under the law. This morning, however, we will especially focus on the sanctity of human life as regards abortion and the unborn child. Pro-life/pro-choice is not a political issue, it is a moral issue, and as Christians we have a moral imperative to stand up and speak up for the rights of the unborn.

In Psalm 139:13-16 David praises God as he reflects on God’s special role in David’s own creation even in his mother’s womb. But these words do not apply to David alone. They apply to all human beings, at all times and in all places. We should protect all human life in the womb, because every unborn child is a special creation of God. And so as we examine David’s song of praise this morning, we will look at five specific reasons why we should affirm the sanctity of human life in the womb and seek to protect those children who are yet unborn.

The first reason is this: God has ownership rights as Creator.

I. God has ownership rights as Creator. (verse 13a)

God has ownership rights as Creator. Look at verse 13 where David writes: “For you created my inmost being.” (Psalm 139:13a) God is the Creator, and therefore God has the rights of ownership over all that he has created.

The Hebrew language has several different words that we translate with the word “create” in English, each with its own special connotations and nuances of meaning. The particular word that is used here is the word, qanah, which is the normal word for “buy” or “purchase.” When you buy something, you own it. Therefore when this word qanah is used of God as Creator, it also points to the fact that he is the possessor or owner of all that he has created.

You can see this more clearly when you compare how this word is translated in various Bible translations. For example, Genesis 14:19 in the New International Version reads, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” The same verse in the New American Standard Version reads, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth.” Or you could look at Deuteronomy 32:6. In the New International Version it reads, “Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” In the New American Standard Version it reads, “Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.” That’s one of the benefits of having several different translations to compare. Different translators bring out different aspects of the words they are translating.

This word qanah in the Bible is also used of God as Redeemer of his people (for example in Exodus 15:16 and Psalm 74:2). So you can see there is a whole lot of theology wrapped up in this Hebrew word as it used throughout the Old Testament Scripture. God created us, and therefore he owns us. Yet he still purchased us back through redemption. And so if you are a believer this morning, you have been bought twice by God. He has double rights of ownership over you as your Creator and Redeemer.

Now let’s apply all this to the child in the womb. God is the Creator. He is the originator, the purchaser. Therefore he has the rights of ownership. So when we look at abortion from a Biblical perspective, it is not even a matter of women’s rights here. No mother ever “owns” the child in her womb. No parents ever “own” their children. The child belongs to God, and as parents we are entrusted with the nurture and care of our children. But God is the Creator. He has the rights of ownership. God is the giver of life, and therefore only God has the authority to take life. And so the first reason we should protect human life in the womb is that God has ownership rights as Creator. We do not have the right to take innocent human life.

A second reason is this: Human life should be treated with special reverence and awe.

II. Human life should be treated with special reverence and awe. (verses 13b-14)

All life should be treated with respect. But human life should be treated with special reverence and awe. Look at verse 13 again. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) David says, “You created my inmost being.” The Hebrew word for “inmost being” here is actually the word for “kidneys,” which probably sounds a little strange to us at first, “O Lord, you created my kidneys.” Well, God did create our kidneys, but that’s not what David is talking about here. In those days when you dismembered an animal, the kidneys were the very last organ you would reach, and so in Hebrew thought the kidneys came to represent the innermost part of the person, your very inmost being. Nowadays we use the word “heart” in the same way. When we say things like “I love you with all my heart,” we don’t mean “I love you with the physical organ of my heart; I love you with all of my atriums and ventricles,” but we mean, “I love you with all my inmost being.” So guys, if you lived in Old Testament times I suppose you could tell your girlfriend, “My dearest, I love you with all my kidneys.”

God created your inmost being, not just your physical self, but your soul or your spirit as well. Human beings are not just physical beings. We are much more than just biology and chemistry. We are much more than just animals. From the very time of creation God distinguished human beings from all other animal life. Genesis 1:27 tells us that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” And so we are persons created in the image of God. We have personality; we have the gift of speech; we have a moral nature. God not only created your physical body. He also created the person inside – your inmost being.

And where does this special act of creation take place? The Bible says it takes place in the womb. Looking at verse 13 again: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) Now that word “knit” here has several meanings. It can mean “to knit,’ as in “to join or weave together,” or it can also mean “to cover over.” If David means “knit” here as in “joining together,” then he is speaking of God’s personal involvement in the child’s creation in the womb. If he means “to cover over,” then he is speaking of God placing the child in the womb as a place of covering or protection. I believe both meanings are intended here, because these two ideas of God personally fashioning the child in the womb and then also placing the child in the womb as a place of protection are both picked up again in verse 15. We’ll look at that verse in a moment.

But first David goes on to say in verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14) Now the word “fearful” here doesn’t mean you have been made “scary,” although I suppose some of us are scarier looking than others. No, it is a word which means “to cause astonishment and awe, to inspire reverence or godly fear.” It is the same word that the Bible uses when we are told to fear God. When the Bible tells us to fear God, it doesn’t mean that we should be scared of God, but rather that we should treat God with reverence and respect. In the same way human life should be treated with wonder and reverence and awe. Here is a person who has been created in God’s image. We should marvel at God’s amazing creation in the womb.

David also says, “I am wonderfully made.” This word means wonderful in the sense of “to be distinct or set apart, to be distinguished from something else.’ Here it means that all of human life is separate or distinct from animal life, and that each individual human life is special and distinguished from all other human life. Every child, every human being is uniquely created by God. And then David finishes off verse 14: “Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14b) This is a different word for “wonderful,” and it means “something extraordinary, something beyond our ability to do or comprehend.” That’s what God’s works are like. They are all beyond us, but especially the marvelous creation of the baby in the womb.

So when you take this phrase all together, to be “fearfully and wonderfully made” means that you are a special creation of God. God knit you together in the womb. You have been created in God’s image, and you are unique. There is no one else quite like you. Human life is sacred. And therefore human life should be treated with special reverence and awe.

A third reason why we should protect human life in the womb is this: God designed the womb as a place of nurture and protection.

III. God designed the womb as a place of nurture and protection. (verse 15a)

And so now we come to verse 15 of which we spoke earlier. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” (Psalm 139:15a) “The frame” here refers to one’s bones or skeletal structure; it is that which gives shape and form to the child. David says, “My frame was not hidden from you in the womb.” There was a time when the physical form of the child in the womb was hidden from everyone but God. But we’ve come a long way nowadays with ultrasounds and 3D-scans and mini-digital cameras, and we can now see for ourselves what God has seen all along: that the child within the womb is indeed a tiny human life. At 18 days after conception, the baby has a heartbeat. At 6 weeks following conception, the baby’s brain waves can be measured. At 8 weeks after conception, the stomach, liver, and kidneys of the baby are functioning; his or her fingerprints have formed. At 9 weeks, the unborn child can feel pain. God sees every child in the womb. And God designed the womb as a special place of nurture and protection.

Do you see that phrase “the secret place” in verse 15? In the Hebrew it is a word which specifically means “a covering or a shelter, a hiding place.” The thought is that of hiding with the purpose of protection. We find the same word used in 1 Samuel 19:2 when Jonathan warns David: “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there.” David wasn’t playing a game of hide-and-go-seek. He was hiding for his life! Some of you may be familiar with Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” In the King James Version it reads, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High.” The “secret place” is a shelter; it is a special place of protection. We find the same word in Psalm 32:7 – “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

God designed the womb as a place of nurture and protection for the developing child. That is the primary purpose of the womb. It is a covering, a shelter, a hiding place for the unborn child. And that is a third reason why we should protect human life in the womb.

A fourth reason is this: God personally fashions the baby in the womb.

IV. God personally fashions the baby in the womb. (verses 15b-16a)

God personally fashions the baby in the womb. We touched on this point earlier, but the imagery here in verses 15 and 16 is especially beautiful. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” (Psalm 139:15b-16a) Earlier in verse 13 David spoke of God knitting him together in his mother’s womb. Now he speaks of being “woven together in the depths of the earth.” “The depths of the earth” is simply a poetic phrase for the womb, another way of expressing the womb as a secret, hiding place of protection. The phrase “woven together” is a single word in the Hebrew which means “to skillfully weave,” to carefully choose and mix the colors so as to produce a beautiful product. God skillfully weaves the baby together in the womb.

David says, “When I was skillfully woven together in the womb, your eyes saw my unformed body.” Any Lord of the Rings fans out there? You are going to love the Hebrew word for “unformed body” here. It is the word golem. In the Lord of the Rings, Gollum is the name of one of the characters. In Hebrew, golem is the word for “embryo” or “fetus.”

And so together verses 15 and 16 teach us a very beautiful truth. God personally fashions the baby fetus in the womb. He knits the child together. He lovingly and skillfully weaves together the various parts to make a beautiful product. That’s a message a lot of us need to hear today, because a lot of people don’t really like themselves. They wish God had made them differently. Please know that God made you just the way he wanted you to be. You are the work of a master craftsman who personally fashioned you in the womb as a unique and beautiful work of God. I like the poster I saw in a Sunday School class once. It read: “I’m special because God made me, and God don’t make no junk.”

You are special. You are a wonderful, unique creation of God. Every person is. And where does God do this work of knitting and weaving us together? He does it while we are still in the womb. That is the fourth reason why we should protect human life in the womb – because God personally fashions each baby in the womb.

There is a fifth and final reason in this passage why we should protect human life in the womb: God has a plan for each child’s life even before the child is born.

V. God has a plan for each child’s life even before the child is born. (verse 16b)

Look at the end of verse 16. David writes, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16b) God has a plan and a purpose for each child’s life even before the child is born. David looks back on his own life with all of its surprises, with all of its unexpected twists and turns, and he realizes that God had planned out his entire life before he had even lived a single day of it!

Theologians like to make a distinction between what is called God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will is what would happen in life if we all followed God’s revealed will one-hundred percent of the time. God’s permissive will is what actually happens in our world as we break God’s commands and make bad decisions in our lives. And yet amazingly God continues to work out his purposes in our lives anyways. God’s perfect will is what our world would look like without evil or sin. God’s permissive will allows sin temporarily in this world as God patiently withholds his final judgment. As Peter puts it in 2 Peter 3:9: “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Sin, suffering, sickness and abortion are all things that take place within the realm of God’s permissive will. God has a perfect will for every child in the womb. But that perfect will is too often interrupted when the child is aborted instead of brought into the world as God intended.

Joe Wheeler in his book, Christmas in My Heart, shares the first person narrative of a doctor who was delivering a mother’s first baby. The baby was in breech position, which is dangerous for the baby because the head comes out last and the doctor must deliver the head quickly in order for the baby to survive. When the first foot appeared he reached for the other one but could not draw the two down together. Then he realized what was wrong. The entire thigh from the hip down to the knee was missing. The doctor paused momentarily. He recalls:

I knew what a dreadful effect this would have upon the unstable nervous system of the mother. The family would almost certainly impoverish itself in taking the child to every famous orthopedist in the world. I saw this little girl sitting sadly by herself, while the other girls danced and ran and played. I could slow my hand; I could delay those few short moments. No one in this world would ever know. The mother, after the first shock of grief, would be glad she had lost a child so sadly handicapped.

The little pink foot on the good side bobbed out from its protecting towel and pressed firmly against my slowly moving hand, the hand into whose keeping the safety of the mother and the baby had been entrusted. I couldn’t do it. I delivered the baby with her pitiful little leg. Every foreboding came true. The mother was in the hospital for several months — she looked like a wraith of her former self. As the years went on, I blamed myself bitterly for not having had the strength to yield to my temptation.

The doctor goes on to tell how years later he attended a Christmas party at the hospital. He shares:

Three lovely young musicians on the stage played softly in unison with the organ. I was especially fascinated by the young harpist. She played extraordinarily well, as if she loved it. Her slender fingers flicked across the strings, and her face was upturned as if the world that moment were a wonderful and holy place.

When the short program was over, there came running down the aisle a woman I did not know. “Oh, you saw her,” she cried. “You must have recognized your baby. That was my daughter who played the harp — the little girl who was born with only one good leg 17 years ago. We tried everything else first, but now she has a whole artificial leg on that side. Best of all, through all those years, she learned to use her hands so wonderfully. She is going to be one of the world’s greatest harpists. She is my whole life and now she is so happy … And here she is!” The sweet young girl had quietly approached us, her eyes glowing. Impulsively I took the child in my arms. Across her warm young shoulder I saw the creeping clock of the delivery room 17 years before. I lived again those awful moments when her life was in my hand. As the last strains of “Silent Night” faded, I found the comfort I had waited for so long.

God has a perfect plan for each child in the womb. The child who suffers abortion never gets the opportunity to live out that plan. All the days ordained for you were written in God’s book before one of them came to be. No one had the right to take away your life as a child. Neither do we have the right to take away another person’s life. No one has the right to interfere with God’s plan for the child in the womb.

We should protect human life in the womb because: 1) God has ownership rights as Creator. 2) Human life should be treated with special reverence and awe. 3) God designed the womb as a place of nurture and protection. 4) God personally fashions the baby in the womb. 5) God has a plan for each child’s life even before that child is born.

CONCLUSION: As we close today, I imagine that there are a number of people in this room whose lives have been affected by abortion in one way or another. All of us have made decisions in the past which we regret and which continue to trouble and haunt us today. There is no way around it. Abortion is wrong. It is sin. But if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior this morning, please know that God forgives your past, and that he offers you cleansing and healing as you confess your sins to him. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please know that God offers you forgiveness of sin and a relationship with Him as you place your faith and trust in his Son, Jesus Christ. The purpose of this morning’s message is not to condemn the mistakes of the past, but to affirm the sanctity and the value of life, to discover what the Bible says about this precious gift of human life.

Let me briefly share with you three things that you can do to help protect the lives of the unborn.

  1. First of all, you can pray. Pray for the unborn; pray for mothers in crisis; pray for a change in attitude concerning abortion in our country; pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  2. Secondly, you can vote. Exercise your rights as a citizen by voting for people and policies which affirm life and protect the rights of unborn children.
  3. Thirdly, you can support. You can give individual encouragement and support to mothers in crisis. You can give financial or volunteer support to local crisis pregnancy centers which provide invaluable counsel and assistance to mothers in crisis pregnancy situations.

Each unborn child is a special creation of God. We need to speak up for the unborn child who cannot speak up for him- or herself. We need to do all that we can to protect human life in the womb.

© Ray Fowler

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