Psalm 49 (NIV)
1 Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,
2 both low and high,
rich and poor alike:
3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
4 I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle:
5 Why should I fear when evil days come,
when wicked deceivers surround me—
6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches?
7 No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them—
8 the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough—
9 so that they should live on forever
and not see decay.
10 For all can see that the wise die,
that the foolish and the senseless also perish,
leaving their wealth to others.
11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
12 People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
14 They are like sheep and are destined to die;
death will be their shepherd
(but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.
16 Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendor of their houses increases;
17 for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendor will not descend with them.
18 Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
and people praise you when you prosper—
19 they will join those who have gone before them,
who will never again see the light of life.
20 People who have wealth but lack understanding
are like the beasts that perish.
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This psalm is one of a class of wisdom psalms that is addressed to the entire world: “Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike” (vv. 1–2). Wisdom psalms do not appeal to Scripture or divine revelation, but seek to speak to the world in terms that are universally known. The wisdom of this psalm is to declare that the entire world stands in either the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness. The two worldviews of the wise and the foolish are set forth in bold relief. The wicked live only for this life. This is what we would call today in our society the “naturalistic worldview.” They “trust in their wealth” and have “named lands after themselves.” The “splendor of his house increases” and they consider themselves “blessed” (vv. 6, 11, 16, 18). The naturalists only see things from the perspective of this world, valuing only the things they accumulate and the experiences they have.
However, the psalmist rebukes the naturalistic worldview by showing them the futility of their final end. He looks beyond the ever-changing appearances of this life and sees death as the great leveler. Everyone in the world knows that they will eventually die. The psalmist appeals to the naturalists to realize that, despite their current worldly security, they will end their life in the grave with no hope; “[they] will take nothing with [them] when [they die]” (v. 17). In the end, if we continue to cling to a naturalistic worldview, we will end up no different from the beasts of the field that perish (vv. 12, 20). In contrast, the wise may face difficulties in this life, but know that the Lord will vindicate them, because they have embraced an eternal perspective, which places God’s reality and redemptive action at the center. He will “redeem my life from the grave” (v. 15). We have no power to redeem anyone. Redemption requires a divine intervention. The psalmist didn’t fully know how God would redeem him from death, but he knew that if we were united to an eternal God, then he must have a plan for us.
That plan, and redemption’s fulfillment, was found in the birth of Jesus Christ. We have a great hope that lies beyond the grave. This is a great perspective to remember in our lives. We must patiently await God’s final deliverance and the vindication of those who put their trust in him. Yet, through whatever trials we face, we know that our lives are linked to eternal verities, we have been ushered into an eternal perspective, we are in relationship with an eternal God, and we will dwell with him forever!