PSALM 49 Title: An Intimation of Immorality part 4
by John Lowe
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
The psalmist, warning against envy of the rich, emphasizes once more the fact regarding wealth—that “you can’t take it with you.” Though the man who depends upon his wealth may congratulate himself because of his prosperity, all those who lack moral discernment have to look forward to is the unilluminated darkness of Sheol. The Pharaohs thought they could take their wealth with them to another world. They built tombs to defy the tooth of time and embalmed their bodies to defy the corruption of the grave. They loaded their burying places with the wealth of this world on the premise that they would need this wealth in the next one.
“Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased.” The psalmist is now speaking to believers. He says the believer has nothing to fear from the pride, injustice, and oppression of the “rich” man—no matter how famous that rich man might be. The magnificence and splendor that accompanies worldly wealth can inspire awe and fear. The prosperity of sinners is often a matter of fear and dread to good men because it shakes their faith in God’s providence and promises, and is apt to engender suspicions in men’s minds, as if God was not concerned with the actions and affairs of men, and made no difference between the good and the bad, and consequently all religion was vain and unprofitable. But death awaits the rich man as well as the poor man, and death robs the rich man of the wealth that made him famous.
While the Bible doesn’t say that it is a sin to be “rich,” it does condemn trusting in riches rather than in the living God (and it is hard to have riches without trusting in them!). The Bible condemns the love of money. It condemns the accumulation of wealth through oppression and dishonesty. And it condemns the hoarding of riches in callous disregard of the needs of a lost and suffering world.
Verse 18 describes the self-satisfied humanist again—he “blessed his soul,” i.e., he applauded himself as a wise and happy man (Luke 12:19)—perhaps to emphasize the point that the “praise” of men is a poor substitute for having fellowship with the living God. Only God can keep a person out of the clutches of death and hell.
The “rich” man’s faith is placed in the wrong thing and is focused on the wrong world. As a result he is eternally doomed. “He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.” The godless dead go out into the blackness of darkness forever, to join the ranks of those irrevocably lost. One translator puts this verse: “But down he goes to where “his fathers” dwell who see no light for all eternity.” He is eternally doomed. In hell he shall meet with his wicked parents, who by their counsel and example led him into his evil ways. The godly also are said to be gathered to their fathers (Genesis 15:15; Deuteronomy 32:50; judges 2:10).
I prefer the way the NIV has translated verse 20: “People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.” The man who is said to “lack understanding” doesn’t often have enough wisdom to know and contemplate what he is, and what his true business and interest in this world is, and what use he should make of his life, and of all his riches, and honor, and power, and where he is going, and what path to follow in order to attain true and lasting happiness. He is “like the beasts that perish.” He may have the outward shape of a man, yet in truth he is a beast, or a brutish, stupid and unreasonable creature, and he shall “perish” like the brute “beasts” made to be destroyed—“But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish” (2 Pieter 2:12).
Rich people today are getting away with murder, and with adultery, and with all kinds of things, and they are elected to office. Poor people are not getting a fair shake in this world today. One of the reasons I cast my lot with the Lord Jesus is because He is going to judge the poor and the righteous. Someday I know I am going to get a fair shake.
This psalm has a missionary purpose. It is not addressed to believing Israel alone. What we find at verse 1 is: Hear this, all peoples! So we hear the loving Word of God to all the simple folk on earth, especially those who do not even know that there is a Gospel at all, that there is no reason for them to go down to Sheol unless, like these rich people in this psalm, they turn their back on what knowledge of God they have received, and worship their own selfish desires. Sheol, the afterlife or place of the dead, was always thought of as being “down.”
The Old Testament never thinks of death as an end of human experience. It is, however, an end of all that makes existence tolerable for the ungodly. Just like all the rest of the Old Testament, this psalm is concerned with this life, and with that fullness of life which God longed to give to his children now. That fullness of life belongs to eternity.
The purpose of this psalm is to challenge people to not allow themselves to become enamored by wealth and splendor. The privilege of the wealthy will not endure. Those who count on their riches have a common end. The upright, however had a different outlook (v. 15). Death is still a certainty, yet they can maintain the hope that God will not leave them in the grave