For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13-16).
The Scriptures have a way of reducing to absurdity the self-justifying questions we often pose. For instance, when Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” by a lawyer who wanted to know who he was required to love and who he was not, Jesus responded by telling the story of a despised Samaritan—who would be a neighbor.
Here is such a question in our day: When does life begin? And another: When does a fetus become a person?
Is it at conception? “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
Quickening? “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well.”
Viability? “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
Birth? “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Evidently the psalmist doesn’t appear to be concerned with our timelines and categories. We shouldn’t be surprised, for there is only one reason why we ask whether or not a fetus is a person, or when life begins. Yet the Scriptures are not silent in these matters.
Peter Leithart has written a helpful reflection, available online, having to do with this passage. The Hebrew word roqem is used to describe the intricate embroidery God called for in the weaving of the curtains of the Tabernacle, the magnificent tent where the Lord dwelt before the building of the Temple. The same word, translated “intricately woven,” is used in Psalm 139 to describe God’s careful work in creating life. As the reader of the Old Testament will appreciate, to violate the sacred space of the Tabernacle was to put oneself at great risk of the wrath of God. An excerpt from Leithart’s reflection:
With its allusions to the roqem work of the tabernacle, the Psalm goes further, implying not only that God has made the infant in the womb, but also that the infant is being woven into a dwelling for God. Abortion attacks not only a creature of God but a house of God. The abortionist’s instruments pierce through the unfinished roqem curtains and tread on holy ground. We are talking here not only about slaughter of the innocent but about sacrilege, a direct attack on “space” claimed by God. That is the most serious offense possible. Paul’s warning hovers ominously over our nation: “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy.”
In dealing with human life, we are on holy ground. If God is jealous for his Tabernacle, how much more is He jealous for what the Tabernacle represents, we who are woven in His image and likeness?
Leithart’s entire reflection can be found here: www.firstthings.com/article/1999/11/attacking-the-tabernacle