Psalm 49 is just as pertinent today as it was when it was written. We live in an age when man has become increasingly confident in what riches can accomplish. We also live in a time when there is great adversity worldwide, taking many forms. Many currently feel that if you want to create change you must have money to do so. This is the philosophy of so many of the wealthiest people and countries these days. The prevailing idea is that you make money so that you can in turn solve whatever problem you want – you can become God. Intelligence, determination and wealth is trusted to save humanity.
We are lucky to have this psalm as a reminder of how to face adversity and the brevity of life. The psalmist is evidently facing great adversity at the hands of others and their sins. Because of this adversity, he’s turning to a proverb and we see that he is seeking to speak truth, meditating on understanding, and expressing the riddle (the problem) through music.
As I read verses six through nine I can’t help but think of the adversity that is at times created by the wealthy because of the power grabbing and narcissism they unleash upon the world. This happens when man starts to trust in himself, his riches and the knowledge he thinks he has. I agree with the psalmist when he reminds himself that he shouldn’t fear. How can one redeem a soul? One can’t. Only God can do that.
No amount of money can buy your eternity. In a world of vast material inequality, death is the great equalizer. The miracles and discoveries we see today are undoubtedly amazing. Humanity’s acquisition of knowledge has extended life by quite a few years, but the end is still inevitable. Death will overtake us all.
When we look at verse ten it’s plainly stated: We’re all gonna die and we all know it… At least that’s how I took it! Somehow wealth clouds this fact for people. Verse 11 hints at the vanity of the wealthy and the vanity of thinking we’ll live forever by passing something we’ve built on to the next generation. In verse 12 we are reminded of the fanfare that accompanies those that have money. They get all the press and are a part of all the big events. This won’t last. Nobody will remember what they’ve done.
Verses 13-14 remind us how foolish it is to follow this path. There’s no trust in God, but only in oneself, this puts the foolish on the path to Sheol.
Finally, we see that only God can draw us out of the darkness of Sheol in verse 15. He will receive us as we submit ourselves to him and place our trust in him and not our riches or knowledge
If you’ve had relative success in this world, you may be tempted to rest in the self-confidence that typically accompanies successful moments. You may also be allured (I know I am) by the temptations of gaining more knowledge or placing hope in the solutions that technology – the product of riches and knowledge – offer us. I’ve spent a lot of time googling for answers in many different areas rather than stopping, praying and reminding myself of truth.
As Americans we are just automatically put in this “foolish” position. It’s hard to accept that. We live in a country where exponential wealth is now possible and amazing feats of new technology are revealed seemingly every day. We see in the last few verses that when people do well they congratulate themselves and are even congratulated by others. We see this all the time today (think handshakes, high fives and names on buildings).
As I think about verse 16 in our context, there are many ways that we can “be afraid when a man becomes rich” we can be afraid of what they’ll do with that power, we can also become afraid at our apparent lack compared to them, or we can be afraid of how their iniquity will affect us.
May this wisdom psalm remind us that we need not fear those outcomes. We can put our trust and faith in the one that “receives us” and “redeems our souls from the power of Sheol.”
Jared Hartman is the Campus Impact Worship & Leadership Pastor. He got involved in Campus Impact as a student way back in 2002, then served as a worship intern. He and his lovely wife Sarah have a beautiful 1 year old daughter. This summer they are looking forward to BBQing and gardening. You can reach Jared at email@example.com