Psalm 49 is a compelling psalm that causes the reader to ponder the fact that one’s status in life is infinitely less important than one’s status in eternity. This psalm uses the fact that we will all pass away (unless the Lord returns first) in order to impress upon the reader the importance of not becoming preoccupied with riches, materialism, or one’s own earthly acclaim. Interestingly, the writers credited with this Psalm are the sons of Korah, who were spared from the punishment their father faced for rebelling against the Lord (Num. 26:9-11).
A Call For Listening: “Hear this, all peoples; Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, Both low and high, Rich and poor together. My mouth shall speak wisdom, And the meditation of my heart shall give understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will disclose my dark saying on the harp” (vs. 1-4). Very much like the book of Proverbs, Psalm 49 opens with a call for the reader to heed both wisdom and understanding by hearing what the Psalmists have to say.
It is worthy of noting that verse one indicates that “all peoples” and “all inhabitants of the world” should “give ear,” regardless of background (emphasis mine throughout). Verse two delves deeper, indicating that all should heed what wisdom has to say, regardless of one’s economic background or social class. In a world that seems to want to constantly divide people based on these issues, the Bible reminds us that all are equally amenable to its truth.
Futility In Going Back After One’s Eternity Is Decided: “Why should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity at my heels surrounds me? Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him — For the redemption of their souls is costly, and it shall cease forever — That he should continue to live eternally, and not see the Pit” (vs. 5-9). This amazing section of the Psalm subtly alludes to the coming Messiah, pointing out that all the money in the world is not enough to redeem a soul.
Jesus asked the eternally important question: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). There is nothing more valuable in this world than a human soul, and the only thing valuable enough to redeem it was the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, which is the purchase price of Jesus’ church where the saved are located (Acts 20:28 cf. John 1:29; Acts 2:47).
I can’t help but be reminded of the account of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16. In verse 19 we find that the rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” Yet, verses 22 and 23 show us that the rich man died and found himself tormented in Hades. In that story, the rich man wished that Lazarus might be sent back to warn his brothers of their coming judgment, but that could not be so. Once one’s eternity has been decided, it cannot be changed.
Futility In Leaving Earthly Legacies: “For he sees wise men die; likewise the fool and the senseless person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses will last forever, their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (vs. 10-12). Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” This is man’s common lot in life; regardless of his tremendous intelligence (or lack thereof), man has never been able to figure out how to cheat death – and he never will.
What is the common mindset of men whose priorities are on the here and now instead of the hereafter? “Their inner thought is that their houses will last forever. Their dwelling places to all generations. They call their lands after their own names.” And what does the rest of this section say? “Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” In the words of James, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (4:14b).
Inevitability Of Death: “This is the way of those who are foolish, and of their posterity who approve their sayings. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me” (vs. 13-15). Akin to Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, this section also serves as a grand summation of life. There will be those who fare sumptuously in this life but end up tormented in the next for their lack of preparation, and there will be others who will be spared from the power of death through salvation in the Lord.
Futility In Earthly Acclaim: “Do not be afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lives he blesses himself (for men will praise you when you do well for yourself), he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. A man who is in honor, yet does not understand, is like the beasts that perish” (vs. 16-20). Again, all the riches in the world and all the honor and acclaim that a man can get will earn him no better lot in eternity. There are no hearses with luggage racks or trailers attached, and there has never been a man of renown who was able to read his own epitaph from the other side.
Life is about loving God, living for Him, and doing His will in this life so that we can be with Him in the next.