Psalm 49: the Good News
Psalm 49 Why Should I Fear in Times of Trouble? To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. (1) Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, (2) both low and high, rich and poor together! (3) My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. (4) I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. (5) Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, (6) those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? (7) Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, (8) for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, (9) that he should live on forever and never see the pit. (10) For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. (11) Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. (12) Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. (13) This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah (14) Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. (15) But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah (16) Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. (17) For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. (18) For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed- and though you get praise when you do well for yourself- (19) his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. (20) Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. ESV
Why should I fear in times of trouble? For the choir director. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.
The Sons of Korah are believed to have led worship in the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem.
And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 2 Chronicles 20:19
Interestingly, Kohath was a son of Levi. The Levites were given the job of caring for and ministering in the tabernacle (Numbers 3). Kohath and his descendants had the job of carrying and setting up the very special inner sanctuary and its artifacts (including the Ark) as they wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 4:15). Korah, the grandson of Kohath, began to run with a nasty, grumbling crowd (Numbers 16).
Korah’s life did not end well, but his “sons” (future generations) had reason to worship and praise and sing to the Lord in remembrance. That was their job in the tabernacle and temple.
Psalm 49 is called a “didactic psalm;” a teaching or instructing psalm. Psalm 49 is also a prophetic psalm and speaks of redemption. And it sounds a lot like the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Some believe the psalm’s sound and wording date it to the time of David or just after, but the timing doesn’t really matter.
Listen to this, all you people! Pay attention, everyone in the world! High and low, rich and poor- listen! For my words are wise, and my thoughts are filled with insight. I listen carefully to many proverbs and solve riddles with inspiration from a harp. Psalm 49:1-4 NLT
These first four verses are a call to pay attention, something important is being shared, and the author is super excited about it. Maybe these verses reveal the prophetic nature of the song- one can only shout for attention once touched by the Holy Spirit!
Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 11:15
Not Jew or Gentile, believer or unbeliever, rich or poor, black or white, but “all you people,” “everyone in the world,” “all peoples.”
My mouth shall speak wisdom... Psalm 49:3a
Inspired and therefore lifted beyond himself, the prophet is not praising his own attainments, but extoling the divine Spirit which spoke in him. He knew that the Spirit of truth and wisdom spoke through him. He who is not sure that his matter is good has no right to ask a hearing.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
...and the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. Psalm 49:3b
If we are willing and open, the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom. But it doesn’t stop there; God wants us to meditate upon His Word, to consider what He is saying, to truly understand.
Why should I fear when trouble comes, when enemies surround me? They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave. Psalm 49:5-9 NLT
Verse 5 begins this section and the entirety of the psalm with great faith. The author of this psalm is about to share prophetic words from God, but he is quite certain of his own standing.
Why should I fear when trouble comes, when enemies surround me? NIV
The author will answer this very question later in the psalm, but he clearly excludes himself from the “them” and “they” of the rest of the poem.
While material possessions are not necessarily the problem, as human beings we get easily entangled with the “stuff” of this world. This is a form of idolatry; when one puts their “trust in wealth” and “boasts of great riches.”
No earthly thing can purchase your life or the life of someone you love. For unbelievers, this must be terrifying. To end your life with all the stuff in the world, and to leave the world with none of it.
However, our souls are bought and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
This can be fully understood in the New Testament when Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler and shows us how God sees our hearts. It is not material possessions, but what is in our hearts.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." Mark 10:17-27
Who knows what this rich young ruler ended up doing! Jesus loved him and knew his heart. He knew how hard the man tried to do the right thing, but also saw that his wealth and status were an idol stuck between him and his relationship with God. While the disciples seemed to lose hope, Jesus reminded them- and us- that all things are possible with God.
Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind. The grave is their eternal home, where they will stay forever. They may name their estates after themselves, but their fame will not last. They will die, just like animals. This is the fate of fools, though they are remembered as being wise. Interlude Psalm 49:10-13 NLT
Psalm 49 paints a picture of the person who puts everything they have, heart and soul, into this life, this world. We all know how that story goes. This isn’t just about the rich young ruler though, this is about the poor man who longs for more than he has. It’s about the person who chases fame and notoriety. The one who desires youth and beauty. It’s about the person who wants to follow God but cannot leave behind all that he has to do so.
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:11
King Solomon, the richest man to ever live, wrote these words toward the end of his life. As Solomon pondered the meaning, or meaninglessness, of life in the Book of Ecclesiastes, he came to the following conclusion at the very end:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
And Jesus said,
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21
We cannot buy God’s favor. Money will not buy a second more of life. Wealth will not bring back a loved one. No amount of money buys God’s forgiveness.
But God doesn’t want our money or our possessions; He wants our hearts. If He asks us to give up our worldly possessions, it is because they are in the way of us giving our hearts to Him.
Like sheep, they are led to the grave, where death will be their shepherd. In the morning the godly will rule over them. Their bodies will rot in the grave, far from their grand estates. But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave. Interlude Psalm 49:14-15 NLT
And here, my friends, is the Good News of the Gospel as told by a Son of Korah hundreds of years before Christ:
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Psalm 49:15 KJV But God will redeem my life from the realm of the dead: he will surely take me to himself. Psalm 49:15 NIV But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Psalm 49:15 ESV
The world will lead every person to the grave, to hell, to Sheol, like a flock of sheep. Death will be their shepherd. Satan will hold their hands as he leads them with a smile to an eternity of torment.
But God has ransomed His children through the blood of Jesus Christ. The author of Psalm 49 had no understanding of how this promise would play out. He didn’t know that literally our souls would be purchased by the blood of the Lamb of God.
But here we are… the price was paid, and the choice is ours.
“But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.”
So don't be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid. For when they die, they take nothing with them. Their wealth will not follow them into the grave. In this life they consider themselves fortunate and are applauded for their success. But they will die like all before them and never again see the light of day. People who boast of their wealth don't understand; they will die, just like animals. Psalm 49:16-20 NLT
Do not lose hope. Do not run after the things of this world, because they are all temporary.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 1 Timothy 6:7 KJV
Seek first the Kingdom of God, and He will care for all our needs. We have the Good News of the Gospel. We know with certainty that our God has redeemed our souls already. We have nothing to fear.
Father in heaven, thank you for the message of this psalm. Thank you that we can put our faith in you, the one who does not stumble or fade or leave us. Thank you for sending Jesus and for the Good News of His life, death, and resurrection. Help us to seek you every day of our lives, to put aside the worldly possessions and desires, and to run toward your outstretched arms. Amen.