For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,
both low and high,
rich and poor alike:
My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle:
Why should I fear when evil days come,
when wicked deceivers surround me –
those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches?
No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them –
the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough –
so that they should live on for ever
and not see decay.
For all can see that the wise die,
that the foolish and the senseless also perish,
leaving their wealth to others.
Their tombs will remain their houses for ever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
They are like sheep and are destined to die;
death will be their shepherd
(but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.
Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendour of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendour will not descend with them.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed –
and people praise you when you prosper –
they will join those who have gone before them,
who will never again see the light of life.
People who have wealth but lack understanding(Ps. 49:1-20 NIV)
are like the beasts that perish.
This Psalm is clearly a wisdom Psalm as indicated in v3. However, the introduction reflects both the tradition of the prophets
Hear, you peoples, all of you,(Mic. 1:2 NIV)
listen, earth and all who live in it,
that the Sovereign Lord may bear witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
And the tradition of wisdom
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction(Prov. 1:8 NIV)
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
In a wisdom Psalm we expect to see the way of the wise compared to the way of folly. The Psalm can be divided into three sections
- Introduction v1-4
- The shortfalls of wealth v5-12
- The folly of riches v13-20
- Introduction v1-4
The Psalmist calls for every people and all who live in the world to listen. Many voices today say that we cannot impose the Christian message on everyone. God does and we can. All the world will be judged by the standard of righteousness that is revealed in God’s word. The word for world here is not the geographical world, but a word that means all those living in the world at this time. Time is going to be an issue in this Psalm.
Whether you are rich or poor, in a low or high position in life, everyone is to listen to this message of wisdom. The Psalmist uses four words for wisdom – wisdom, understanding, proverb and riddle. The Psalmist’s theme will be the riddle of life and death. It is a riddle in the sense that the wicked rich appear to prosper, and that raises a feeling that this is a great injustice. The Psalmist is not opposed to the idea of riches, but the confidence that people put in riches and the boasting about wealth. He will accompany this riddle with the harp. His poem is set to music. The Psalmist is unapologetic about his use of poetry and music to get his message across, in fact, it is second nature for him to compose his message in this way. The Psalmist’s wisdom that he wishes to impart comes from deep within his heart. This is something that he has given great thought to and has meditated upon the issue.
- The Shortfalls of wealth v5-12
The Psalmist raises a rhetorical question, ‘Why should I fear when evil days come?’ The wicked deceivers are those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches. The obvious answer here is, he shouldn’t fear and the rest of the Psalm will explain why. The Psalmist will set out the reasons why it is a foolish thing to trust in riches and why it is unwarranted to boast about wealth.
Death is the common experience of all people, rich and poor alike. In death, the rich cannot boast of any advantage. Money cannot be used to redeem the wealthy from death or to buy a substitute. The rich may live an extravagant lifestyle and even create the impression that they will live forever.
Life itself teaches that the wise and the foolish die and whatever wealth they have acquired is left to someone else. Some may have attempted to immortalise their name by naming property or land after themselves. But this is a futile venture because their grave will remain their house forever. The wicked rich are foolish and die just like the beast of the field.
- The folly of riches v13-20
Death is the fate of the rich and the entourage that follow the rich to benefit from their association with the wealthy. Death is like a shepherd that ushers the rich like sheep towards the grave. Death then grazes on the rich. Soon the darkness of night symbolising the suffering of the poor at the hand of the rich, and then morning will come. Those who trusted in the Lord will rule with the Lord.
The Psalmist expresses his sense of hope in v15. No one but God can redeem a life and the Psalmist is confident that the Lord will bring him to dwell in the Lord’s presence.
The question that arose in v5 is now answered. Why fear what will pass away so quickly. When the rich appear to prosper and acquire many possessions. Naked we came into the world and naked we will leave it. The splendour of the rich will not descend to the grave with them, they go alone. The tragedy of wealth is that it gave a false sense of security to the detriment of the spiritual.
The rich die and join the generations that have gone before them never to see the light of life again. It is a sad note that the rich who lack understanding die like animals. Of course it doesn’t need to end like that because the wisdom in this Psalm is intended to provide understanding so that they don’t place their confidence in anything but the Lord.
Lord help us not to put our trust in anything but You. We freely acknowledge that we could never redeem our lives, but we humbly bow and thank You that You have redeemed us. You have bought us out of the slave market of sin. Like everyone else we will bring nothing with us when we die, but we thank You that death for the child of God means an absence from the body but to be present with the Lord. Help us to have confidence in You both in life and in death, because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.