Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 8:26-39; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-20; Psalm 139:7-16; 2 Chronicles 18-19
Today’s section of Psalm 139 is often referred to in discussions about the ethics of abortion and research with human embryos. It is important to keep in mind that this psalm was not written to address such issues. It does not give a straight-forward declaration of the biblical view of abortion. We are not told whether the foetus is or is not a person. At the same time, the imagery used does provide insight into God’s perspective on the foetus. So long as we do not use this psalm as a simple proof-text about abortion, we learn a lot about God’s engagement with the developing foetus.
The overall context of Psalm 139 is God’s intimate knowledge of David. Knowing this encourages David to ask God to search his thoughts and know his heart. It also comforts him to know that God will protect him as he faces his enemies. This leads David to reflect on how God protected him even when he was in his mother’s womb. A detailed study of the Hebrew words used in biblical passages that refer to the unborn shows that many incorporate the idea of protection, although this is sometimes not apparent in English translations. The word translated ‘knit together’ in v. 13 (and Job 10:11) normally carries the idea of a covering or protection. In v. 15 the Hebrew word translated ‘in secret’ is more usually translated as a hiding place or shelter. It is distinguished from similar words by the idea of protection.
Coupled with the overall context of Psalm 139, the message is clearly that the unborn are not just hidden in the womb, but they are protected there. God’s involvement with the unborn is as a protector. Since we are called to be images of God, we should interact with the unborn in similar ways. We should protect the unborn, not kill them.
In addition, David reflects in Psalm 139 on God’s intimate knowledge of him and how this began in the womb. God watched over his unformed body being shaped, and reflected on the days of David’s life. As a result, David gains confidence that God will continue to be involved in his life, and will protect him in the face of those who seek to destroy him.
Psalm 139 does not examine the personhood of the unborn or discuss the ethics of abortion. But it does reveal how God is involved with the unborn in the womb. He watches over and protects the unborn and looks forward to the days of their lives. This provides clear guidance to his images on how we should relate to the unborn. Just as we are to love others because he first loved us (1 John 4:19), and forgive others because he forgave us (Ephesians 4:32), we should protect the unborn because he protected us while we were developing in our mothers’ wombs.