Summary: This psalm is classed as a wisdom psalm the subject of which is the prosperity of the wicked, as contemplated by the righteous; that is to say, why do the wicked prosper, while the righteous are poor and afflicted? This was a frequent cause of wonder to these Hebrew thinkers (compare Psalm 37).
July 3, 2015
Title: An Intimation of Immorality
(A psalm for the sons of Korah)
Theme: The end of those who boast of their riches.
Psalm 49 (KJV)
1 Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
5 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
This psalm is classed as a wisdom psalm the subject of which is the prosperity of the wicked, as contemplated by the righteous; that is to say, why do the wicked prosper, while the righteous are poor and afflicted? This was a frequent cause of wonder to these Hebrew thinkers (compare Psalm 37). And the psalmist presents to us the only consolation within the reach of those times—that the glory and success of the ungodly was only temporary, and would pass away like a shadow; while the righteous might count upon an eternity of unbroken blessedness in the presence of God. The purpose of the author, like that of other writers of wisdom psalms, is to instruct and exhort men about the fundamental issues of life. The instruction which the psalmist offers here as the solution for the issue, “why do the wicked prosper, and the righteous suffer,” came to him as he brooded over the matter, more by a mystical communication or by inspiration than by the process of reason.
This is an anonymous psalm. Sometimes the anonymous psalms are called “orphan psalms” because they stand alone on the page of Scripture without their human parentage being known. All we know about this psalm is that it was “for the sons of Korah,” who descended from a father who perished under the wrath and curse of God because of his arrogance and pride. The fact that he was a Levite, the grandson of Kohath, great-grandson of Levi, and kin to Moses and Aaron, only aggravated his fault. The psalm serves to underscore the wickedness and pride of the rich man who makes money his god. The psalm does not make being rich a sin. The sin lies in trusting in riches. In the long run it is stupid to trust in money rather than in the Lord! That is the gist of the message of Psalm 49. It is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of it.
The inequities of life may never be corrected here in this world. But death is the great equalizer. Rich and poor, high and low, prince and pauper, all come to the same end. Once men grasp the fact that riches hold no assurance for eternity, much of the problem disappears. The fundamental idea is, that the pious have no reason to fear under such circumstances in this transitory world, because the poor rich man—people who have money, but that is all they have; family, fortune, friends, and future; nothing matters but money—cannot with all his gold purchase exemption from death, but by his vanity and foolishness becomes more and more like mere animals that perish. The money of the rich before whom men are awed, can buy all that the world has to offer, but it cannot buy off death. They can offer no ransom [the price of one’s life] great enough to free themselves from the common plight of men. The psalmist proclaims a very necessary truth which is more pointedly set forth in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:6-21).