PSALM 49 Title: An Intimation of Immorality part 3
by John Lowe
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 the grave from their dwelling.
Now he reverses the image of God as the Good Shepherd gathering his trusting “sheep” into the fold. Death, the Grim Reaper, the Great Leveler, is now the shepherd of the Hedonist (reprobate; degenerate), and he will sweep all HIS sheep into their true home—Sheol! But, with God all things are possible: “Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:24-27, NIV). God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol (something that no man, either secularist or believer, can do for himself, v. 7), and he will receive me (v. 15). The righteous are assured of triumph in “the morning” of God’s coming day, that is, God’s day of reckoning—the tables will be turned, as with the rich man and Lazarus. Remember that Abraham said to the rich man: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:25).
Here the psalmist depicts these wealthy money lovers descending to the “grave” without two nickels to rub together (penniless), their flesh succumbing to the rot and disintegration that occurs when a heart stops beating. The gruesome picture he depicts shows the humiliation of these men who were once so secure and proud, whose wealth had “shepherded” them. Now, however, they are shepherded only by the “death” dealing processes of disintegration; their once handsome bodies have been reduced to mere dung, and their glory has become like the dust of the earth.
We are also told, “Their beauty shall consume the grave Sheol from their dwelling. A person may spend a fortune at the beauty parlor. A person may put on all kinds of lotions, powders, and creams; they may spend thousands of dollars on facelifts; but what they look like after a few years in the “grave” is not a pretty sight. Death is not a beautiful thing by any means.
The picture we are presented with here is of a flock of “sheep,” with “death” as their shepherd—which for a season are fed in large and sweet pastures, but at the shepherd’s pleasure are put together in small and uncomfortable folds—and led away to the slaughter, not knowing where they are going (to the “grave” and then Sheol). In Sheol, death shall feed on them; the first death shall consume their bodies in the grave, and the second death shall devour their souls. They might have had the Lord as their Shepherd; instead, they have death. What a horrifying picture! On that resurrection “morning” when the dead in Christ shall rise, the righteous, so despised now by the unrighteous rich, will triumph at last. Talk about being robbed! What a contrast to Psalm 23:1! The moment of resurrection glory is not far away, with its songs of triumph; lift up your heads, you’re redemption draweth nigh.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
The second meaning of “death” (vs. 10-13) has now become clear. To live in fellowship with God is really life itself, as we have already seen a number of psalm writers assert. Therefore to live a self-satisfied life, one which leaves God out, is in fact the death of the spirit. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you come and follow me.” Physical death for God’s “little ones” is only a falling asleep, as Jesus said of Jairus’ daughter. That simple child, we discover, did not need to be rescued from the power of Sheol.
The psalmist has maintained that Sheol, the land of the dead, is the common experience of mankind. He has just now vividly pictured what happens to the life that is wealth-centered when death shepherds it in Sheol, but is that the fate of the righteous as well? How about the man who has moral discernment and lives by it? Here it is that our author takes a leap of faith. The psalmist who is just such a man, is aware in his own life of a relationship with God that death cannot end. “The grave shall not have power to hold me, but shall be forced to give me up into my Father’s hands; and hell shall have no power over me.” This unique Hebrew approach to faith in immortality, appears here in shadow form. No man can buy his way out of experiencing death. But God can take His own out of the realm of the dead. Only profound religious experience—vital fellowship of the believing, trusting “soul” with God—can inspire such a thought.
The hope of the righteous is redemption “from the power of the grave.” The pious are delivered from that power—literally, “the hand,” of death, and are taken under God’s care; for God “shall receive me.” This is one of the strong intimations of immortality in the Psalms. One explanation for “What the psalmist is saying is that the inequalities of this life will be rectified in the next. The wicked may have good fortune here, but the miseries of Sheol are all that he can look forward to; whereas the righteous may have suffering here, but here after he will have bliss, for God will take him to Himself,” He will deliver his soul from the disembodied state and reunite it with his resurrected body .
The psalmist will live forever; his redeemed and ransomed soul will be received into the mansions of Glory by the Creator Himself. No wonder we meet with another “Selah” at this fantastic statement. Selah indicates a pause at this point so that you can think over what you have read. There, what do you think of that! One man robbed, the other man rewarded, one man dead and damned, the other man raptured and redeemed. Who was the REAL rich man?