Some time ago, I was part of a women’s Bible study that looked at Psalm 139. This is a fairly familiar psalm where many of the different sections are well known. From the opening lines of “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,” to the rhetorical questions of verse 7, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” to the affirmation that life begins at conception in verses 13-16, to the plea at the end for God to “search me and know my heart,” you can probably quote much of this psalm yourself. It’s a beautiful psalm. But in this particular Bible study, one lady brought up a curious phrase. Verse 5 says of God, “You hem me in.” What is that supposed to mean?
Of course, we turned first to the study notes in our Bibles to see if they could shed any light on that interesting phrase. The Lutheran Study Bible says, “God surrounds us. We cannot escape Him,” and the Concordia Self-Study Bible says, “To keep me under scrutiny.” Hmm. Well, okay. After all, the verses immediately prior to this verse do talk about God knowing everything about us—our thoughts, our movements, our words. But then again, verse 5 goes on to say “You lay Your hand upon me.” In the Bible, God’s “hand” is often used as an expression of God’s saving power. So if God is placing His saving power upon us, perhaps God “hemming us in” isn’t so much God scrutinizing us as God protecting that salvation He gives us.
One of the ladies in our Bible study pointed out that there is much talk in the psalm of God creating us with His hands—God “knit” us together in our mothers’ wombs, He “wove” us together in the depths of the earth, we are fearfully and wonderfully “made.” Those are all creative, hands-on actions. So thinking along the lines of knitting and weaving, what is the point of a hem? Isn’t a hem there to protect the rest of the garment? The hem keeps it from fraying and finishes it off. A garment without a hem looks unfinished, sloppy. But with the hem, the garment is protected and finished. It can withstand the wear and tear of normal usage and washing without falling apart.
If God created each of us individually with the care and love of a handmade garment, isn’t it comforting to know that He finishes what He started? He doesn’t leave us helpless. He protects us. God’s Word is the hem that keeps our faith from fraying. We have His all-powerful Word and the armor of God to help us withstand the assaults of this world. And so we can say with confidence the words of Paul in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Thank God for His hem of protection around His chosen ones!