February 8: Psalm 49


February 8: Psalm 49

Call to Wisdom

77.77 D                     Take my Life and Let it Be Consecrated Lord, to Thee
Aberystwyth (Jesus, Lover of My Soul), p. 189

Hear this, all ye peoples hear;

Earth’s inhabitants, give ear;

All of high and low degree,

Rich and poor, give ear to me.

For my mouth shall wisdom speak:

Knowledge with my heart I’ll seek.

Lend to parables my ear,

With the harp make dark things clear.

Why should I to fear give way

When I see the evil day?

When with wickedness, my foes

Shall surround me and oppose?

They that trust in treasured gold,

Though they boast of wealth untold,

None can bid his brother live,

None to God a ransom give.

Life’s redemption—high its price!

Nothing can for it suffice,

That from death one should be free

And corruption never see.

For alike before their eyes

Die the foolish and the wise;

Then their riches’ hoarded heap,

Other hands in turn shall keep.

Yet within their heart they say

That their houses are for aye,

That their dwelling places grand

Shall for generations stand.

To their lands they give their name,

In the hope of lasting fame;

But man’s honor quickly flies,

He, like beasts that perish, dies.

Though this folly marks their ways,

Though the world their sayings praise,

In the grave like sheep they’re laid;

Death their shepherd there is made.

O’er them soon shall rule the just,

All their beauty turn to dust;

But from death God will retrieve,

To Himself my soul receive.

Let no fear disturb your peace;

Though one’s house and wealth increase,

Death shall all his glory end;

Naught shall after him descend.

Though the world his praise will tell,

When to self he doeth well,

And though while of life possessed,

He his soul has always blessed.

With his fathers, he shall lie,

Where no light shall meet his eye.

Man in honor when not wise,

Like the beasts that perish, dies.

Here this, all ye peoples, hear;

Earth’s inhabitants, give ear;

For my mouth shall wisdom speak:

Knowledge with my heart I’ll seek.

Psalm 49 is a meditation on a theme having to do with the pursuit of wisdom. Its tone and direction are universal, characterized by a broad and general perspective. It calls upon the human mind, any human mind, to think deeply about certain universal facts and phenomena of human life. The psalmist invites all humanity to meditate with him on a specific but universal problem. Indeed, this psalm is one of those places where the wisdom tradition of the Bible touches universal philosophy, humanity’s perennial quest for understanding. Not once in this melodic poem does the psalmist refer to God’s special revelation to the Chosen People. No appeal is made to the divine words spoken on Sinai or to the Prophets. Here we find, rather, the God-inspired thought of biblical teaching addressing the human mind on its own terms. This psalm is one of those places where the Bible forsakes, as it were, the greater heights of divine truth in order to concentrate our attention on the lowest steps to its ascent. The fear of the Lord, the psalmist tells us elsewhere (in Psalm 111) is the very beginning of wisdom, and Psalm 49 is a plain, straightforward summons to a godly fear. (Reardon, p.95-96)

After beginning our psalm-singing with a few psalms about wisdom and God’s revelation, we will now sing several psalms that carry this theme of wisdom forward in a catechetical (that is, a teaching) manner—by use of acrostic form in the original Hebrew. Because the nature of these acrostic psalms is not able to be recognized in their English translations, the next three metrical psalms are set here with a similar English acrostic pattern, using the letters of the English alphabet. The use of such a form served as a teaching tool for the Hebrews, and the most extensive psalm which employs this method is Psalm 119, where every single verse within each section begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The next five psalms in this reader are all acrostic psalms in the original (only three, however, are given here as English acrostics), and they establish a worldview of wisdom for those who walk with God.