PSALM 49 Title: An Intimation of Immorality

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

• Psalm 49: An Intimation Of Immorality Series
Contributed by John Lowe on Dec 19, 2020

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Scripture: Psalms 49:1-20
Denomination: Baptist
Summary: This psalm is classed as a wisdom psalm the subject of which is the prosperity of the wicked, as contemplated by the righteous; that is to say, why do the wicked prosper, while the righteous are poor and afflicted? This was a frequent cause of wonder to these Hebrew thinkers (compare Psalm 37).
July 3, 2015
Tom Lowe
PSALM 49
Title: An Intimation of Immorality
(A psalm for the sons of Korah)
Theme: The end of those who boast of their riches.
Psalm 49 (KJV)
1 Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
5 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
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 in the grave from their dwelling.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
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.
Introduction
This psalm is classed as a wisdom psalm the subject of which is the prosperity of the wicked, as contemplated by the righteous; that is to say, why do the wicked prosper, while the righteous are poor and afflicted? This was a frequent cause of wonder to these Hebrew thinkers (compare Psalm 37). And the psalmist presents to us the only consolation within the reach of those times—that the glory and success of the ungodly was only temporary, and would pass away like a shadow; while the righteous might count upon an eternity of unbroken blessedness in the presence of God. The purpose of the author, like that of other writers of wisdom psalms, is to instruct and exhort men about the fundamental issues of life. The instruction which the psalmist offers here as the solution for the issue, “why do the wicked prosper, and the righteous suffer,” came to him as he brooded over the matter, more by a mystical communication or by inspiration than by the process of reason.
This is an anonymous psalm. Sometimes the anonymous psalms are called “orphan psalms” because they stand alone on the page of Scripture without their human parentage being known. All we know about this psalm is that it was “for the sons of Korah,” who descended from a father who perished under the wrath and curse of God because of his arrogance and pride. The fact that he was a Levite, the grandson of Kohath, great-grandson of Levi, and kin to Moses and Aaron, only aggravated his fault. The psalm serves to underscore the wickedness and pride of the rich man who makes money his god. The psalm does not make being rich a sin. The sin lies in trusting in riches. In the long run it is stupid to trust in money rather than in the Lord! That is the gist of the message of Psalm 49. It is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of it.
The inequities of life may never be corrected here in this world. But death is the great equalizer. Rich and poor, high and low, prince and pauper, all come to the same end. Once men grasp the fact that riches hold no assurance for eternity, much of the problem disappears. The fundamental idea is, that the pious have no reason to fear under such circumstances in this transitory world, because the poor rich man—people who have money, but that is all they have; family, fortune, friends, and future; nothing matters but money—cannot with all his gold purchase exemption from death, but by his vanity and foolishness becomes more and more like mere animals that perish. The money of the rich before whom men are awed, can buy all that the world has to offer, but it cannot buy off death. They can offer no ransom the price of one’s life great enough to free themselves from the common plight of men. The psalmist proclaims a very necessary truth which is more pointedly set forth in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:6-21).
It will quickly become evident that Psalm 49 does not exactly philosophize about the uncertainty of riches, and the shortness of life; it is not just a sweet little dissertation which bids us to bear bravely our perils and our sufferings, and tells us that virtue is its own reward, and that justice will triumph at the end. Rather, this psalm shows us not only the vanity of riches but the end of those who boast about themselves and their riches. This psalm may sound a bit revolutionary to you according to the thinking of today, but it is one that should be given special consideration in the days in which we live.
Commentary
1 Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
The unknown psalmist begins in verses 1-2 by summoning all to listen, both “low (poor) and high (rich).” He deals with one of the thorniest problems of Hebrew “wisdom,” that is, the balance between personal character and one's lot in life. He has agonized over the leading problem with evil and has come up with conclusions to which he attaches great value. He is captivated by what he has to say, and as he opens his psalm, he seeks to capture the attention of all mankind of all nations, the inhabitants of the world, the rank and file of men, including the nobility. He has a bit of wisdom to express—a product of his own mind (put there by the Holy Spirit), and it concerns the problems of life—which he states in a serious moralistic “poem”—the literary product of his own struggle with life’s problems. He sings his psalm with the accompaniment of music, which he views as an aid to incite and interpretation. Prophetic utterances were sometimes accompanied with music (1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Kings 3:15), but nowhere else are we informed that “instruction” was accompanied by music.
The psalmist not only speaks of what he has heard with his ears—he sings about what he has learned from God—even His darkest sayings. He explained that the words, though wise, would be “dark,” that is, they would be like a riddle in that discernment and understanding are necessary for perception. Indeed many of life’s difficulties require spiritual perception to forestall despair. The expression dark saying denotes (1) an enigma or “riddle”; (2) a parable or simile; (3) any profound or obscure utterance. The prosperity of the godless was one of the great enigmas of life to the pious Israelites, demanding a solution which could only be partially given before the fuller revelation of Christ brought life and immortality to light.

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