Today [Psalm Forty-Nine] Does Your Life Count for Anything? In this psalm the writer speaks of the transient nature of earthly pursuits. Many times we can be distracted in life with the wealth and success of others. The psalmist puts things in perspective reminding us that at the end of our life social standing or economic status will count for little or nothing. The reality is that every one of us regardless of our experience on this earth will spend eternity somewhere – either in heaven or in hell. The psalmist stresses the one great fact and exhorts us to keep our perspective.
[Psa 49:1-20 KJV] 1 [[To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.]] 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:
This is a psalm about longevity and the transient nature of earthly accomplishments. It speaks plainly about the afterlife which is a theme not clearly emphasized in many portions of the Old Testament. The Sadducees in Jesus’ day did not believe in the spiritual realm, the afterlife or angels. They did not accept the idea of resurrection and as the ruling class in Jerusalem and the defacto leaders of the nation one wonders what they did or how they interpreted passages such as this psalm.
The psalm opens with a call of divine inspiration to be heard by all the men of the world. The term world as it is used here is not so much a geographical reference as it is referring to the “age” of man which applies to us right down to today. This is important because there are two kinds of truth found in the bible. There is eternal truth, that applies to all mankind in any generation and there is “present truth” that Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:12. Eternal truth is objective and inflexible, applying to all without variation. Present truth is subjectively applied and relative primarily to the situation and the circumstance where it is brought forth. Eternal truth is ascribed to the scriptures which we hold to be infallible. Present truth is more along the lines of what Acts 2:42 calls “apostles’ doctrine” where the apostolic fathers sought to make the eternal truth of the emerging canon relative to the changing needs of a racially and culturally diverse church. Many of the more contentious and controversial components of Christian doctrine arise from the application of scripture being changed and adjusted from one generation to the next.
The writer of Psalm 49 speaks in the style that Solomon adopts when he writes the wisdom literature ascribed to his authorship. He addresses his message to people of all ages, regardless of economic status or station in life. He also makes reference to the modality from which his inspiration arises. He is not just pondering as a philosopher but makes use of the harp as a instrument of evoking the prophetic spirit lending an even stronger authority to his words and the assertions of his point. Musical instruments are seen in use throughout the scriptures as an aid to bringing forth the spirit of prophecy and David is no exception.
The writer comforts men who feel their lives have taken a downward spiral and encourages them not to be discouraged by the seeming prosperity of others when their own state is so deficient. He places the matter of material wealth and social standing in context by stating that in view of eternal matters no man can bring redemption to himself or his loved ones through the resources of his earthly affluence. Eternal judgment then becomes the great leveler – the common ground that all men and women, great or small meet on equal footing before the judgment seat of heaven.
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.
In verse 8 the writer speaks of the transient nature of the soul of man and the inborn sense in every man that his soul is in jeopardy and in need of a savior. Though unbelief is the common state of most men, if you study human nature you can see even by man’s rebellion against God that their sense of vulnerability toward death is profound. Even the atheist who believes in nothing other than what is experienced in this life – by his adamant atheism demonstrates by his shrill protestations the inescapable conviction in his own soul that he needs a savior.
To this agrees John 1:9 that declares that God is the light that lights every man that comes into the world. Solomon also wrote in Ecc. 3:11 that God puts the world (eternity) in the hearts of man that causes even those who know nothing of God in the culture to nonetheless have a religious sense. Religion in human culture is everywhere present. It is a reflection of man’s deepest need to understand, connect and be a part of something beyond himself. It is one of the things that sets man apart from animals who demonstrate no such capacity.
In verse 10 the writer observes the vanity of investing one’s sense of self in the amassing of wealth and natural things seeing when you die they will not follow you into eternity. Paul spoke of this in 1 Cor. 15:19 saying that “if in this life only we have hope we are of all men most miserable…” This runs counter to the hedonistic culture of the western world. Today the ruling principle is “eat, drink and be merry – for tomorrow we die”. This was the maxim in the days of the Roman empire when gladiators would give themselves over to their own appetites because they have no hope of tomorrow. To a large degree Christian teaching in popular culture focuses on earthly concerns not looking very deeply at the afterlife other than to admit in a general way that we will have one.
It is important to bear in mind that God wants us to live our lives with eternity in view. You are an eternal being. Every man who has ever lived will spend eternity awake and alert somewhere. It may make us uncomfortable (and it should) but we cannot claim to believe the bible without admitting to this inexorable eventuality of heaven or hell for every person who has been brought into this earth. Jesus in His teachings spoke often of heaven and of hell. He refers to heaven and the afterlife 120 times. He makes reference to hell and eternal punishment over 60 times that I could ascertain. It is very interesting that researching that fact turned out to be very controversial and it is difficult to find any scholar or bible student who gives a quantifiable answer to the question as to whether Jesus spoke of heaven more than hell. Nonetheless we know that He did speak of both and as is the theme this psalm we are exhorted to live our lives in the context of understanding that we are eternal creatures bound for an eternal destination.
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.
As is typical with all psalms written in the Davidic style this psalm presents a dark contemplation following up with a firm resolution of faith looking to God as the answer to the redemptive need of man. It is a fact that throughout life there are many ups and downs and there is always someone who is wealthier, or more blessed than you are. This psalm is a reminder when we look at the affluent classes of men above us or the impoverished masses below us that all we stand one day and give an account before God when none of this will even matter. Our best response then is to keep our perspective and walk in humility before God without distraction by earthly matters.
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