Psalm 49 The Trouble with Wealth

This Psalm is very much an encouragement to Christians today.  We do not need to fear others who have worldly wealth and influence because while they may look impressive, their end is the same as the beast of the field.

1.  The Introduction (49:1-4)

49 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

Hear this, all peoples!

Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,

both low and high,

rich and poor together!

My mouth shall speak wisdom;

the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.

I will incline my ear to a proverb;

I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

The Psalmist invites everyone to listen to his teaching and benefit from his instruction.  He writes that his words are for the rich and poor alike.  He tells us all that he is about to speak wisdom to all who will listen.

2.  The Psalmist’s Question (49:5-6)

Why should I fear in times of trouble,

when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,

those who trust in their wealth

and boast of the abundance of their riches?

The setting for the Psalmist’s teaching is that hard times have come upon everyone the
future is uncertain.  Maybe it’s a time of war or a plague whatever it is, the writer tells us that the rich seek to avoid their trouble by amassing more and more wealth.  They think money can keep the enemy away.  Can money keep old age away?  Can money keep cancer away?  Those who place their trust in wealth will also be the ones who cheat and deceive others to get more.  His point is do not be afraid of those who gather wealth and who may take advantage of others to do so…their end is coming.

3.  Wealth Cannot Keep Us from the Grave (49:7-12)

Truly no man can ransom another,

or give to God the price of his life,

for the ransom of their life is costly

and can never suffice,

that he should live on forever

and never see the pit.

10  For he sees that even the wise die;

the fool and the stupid alike must perish

and leave their wealth to others.

11  Their graves are their homes forever,

their dwelling places to all generations,

though they called lands by their own names.

12  Man in his pomp will not remain;

he is like the beasts that perish.

Death is the common experience of all mankind.  Everyone, whether rich or poor will

experience death.  Here the rich cannot gain an advantage over the poor.  The rich cannot use his money to redeem himself from the grave.  His money cannot purchase a servant to go to the grave for him.

Death is the great leveler.  The foolish and those without sense are the people who hoard up wealth for themselves and have given no thought to…who will receive it once they are gone and who are not rich toward God.

Luke 12:16–21 (ESV)

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The rich fool cannot use his wealth to his advantage at death.  He had only taken comfort in his wealth while never thinking about eternal life.  He was rich but his soul was poor and destitute.   

Who are some wealthy people today?  If they are not believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they are so stupid…they’re fools.

11  Their graves are their homes forever,

their dwelling places to all generations,

though they called lands by their own names.

The wealthy have places named after them.  Maybe a hall at a university or even a city or a road.  While their names are written on plaques in their honor, sadly their names are not written in heaven.  When they die, their memorial will be a sad reminder of their poverty toward God.

So much better to be rich toward God through faith in Jesus Christ.  So much better to have wealth stored up in Heaven as an inheritance.  Laying up treasure in heaven is far better.

One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. (Mark 10:21)

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven . . . Woe to you rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:20)

Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:25)

A person’s life does not consist in the possessions that he has. (Luke 12:15)

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses in heaven. (Luke 12:33)

Zacchaeus . . . said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. . . .” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:8–9)

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

Jesus saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.” (Luke 21:1)

Laying up treasure in heaven is magnifying the worth of Jesus Christ.  He is our treasure forever.  It involves letting earthly wealth go in order to follow Christ.  Not holding on to earthly wealth so tight that you can’t be a generous giver.  All these things are concerned with laying up treasure in heaven.

4.  Wealth is a Fool’s Security (49:13-14)

13  This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;

yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah

14  Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;

death shall be their shepherd,

and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.

Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.

Here we must acknowledge that money is not of itself sinful.  The sin arises when the

wealthy trust and find their security in their money.  The rich come under scrutiny for the divisiveness, dishonesty, scheming and self-sufficiency because they have gone from having money to not only having it but to worshipping and trusting in it for security.

In verse 14 we see that death is figuratively called a shepherd that leads the rich like sheep to the slaughter.  Those who have only cared for themselves and their money in this life will enter into the punishment of God in sheol or hell.  The rich who have had everything in this life will have nothing in the life to come.

Notice the divine twist in verse 14…the rich ruled over God’s people in this life but symbolically, in the life to come the upright will rule over them.  This is to say that all their former glory and power has been taken away.

Also look with me and see that before they had cities and halls and streets named after them but now they have no place to dwell.

5.  The Amazing Resolution to the Question (49:15-20)

15  But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,

for he will receive me. Selah

16  Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,

when the glory of his house increases.

17  For when he dies he will carry nothing away;

his glory will not go down after him.

18  For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed

—and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—

19  his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,

who will never again see light.

20  Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

The original question…

Why should I fear in times of trouble,

when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,

those who trust in their wealth

and boast of the abundance of their riches?

The Psalmist passes his sage wisdom on to us.  The reason we do not need to fear times of trouble and times when the rich cheat us, or seem to have all the advantages is because God will redeem us.  God will raise us up on the last day.

15  But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,

for he will receive me. Selah

It’s here that God’s people have the advantage and it is an eternal advantage.  No amount of money can purchase redemption.  Their money has clouded their judgment and blinded their eyes.  They may be rich but they have no faith and in that department they are bankrupt.

John 6:40 (ESV)

40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus’ resurrection marks the first time in history that someone rose from the dead never to die again. Others who were resurrected eventually died a second time (see 1 Kings 17:17–242 Kings 4:32–37Mark 5:39–42John 11:38–44). Jesus’ resurrection was a true and total defeat of death. As the Holy Son of God, Jesus overcame death once and for all, as Peter explained: “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). The triumphant, risen Christ said, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Keys are a symbol of authority. Jesus is sovereign over death. Christ’s conquest of death was permanent and eternal.

Christ conquered death because He was sinless. The curse upon mankind in the Garden of Eden, brought about by their sin, was plainly stated: “You will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Ever since, we have seen the truth of Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” But Jesus Christ had no sin (1 Peter 2:22); therefore, death had no power over Him. Jesus’ death was a voluntary sacrifice for our sin, and, given His sinless perfection, His resurrection logically followed. “I lay down my life,” Jesus said, “only to take it up again” (John 10:17).

The fact that Christ has conquered death has eternal consequences for us. The good news—the gospel—is grounded in Christ’s victory over death. Without the resurrection, there is no gospel; indeed, there is no hope for us at all: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But Christ has risen, and, as fellow conquerors with Him, Christians “have passed from death to life” (1 John 3:14). Christ “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

It is here, that our faith must triumph over our fear.  Wealth is worthless when one comes to the grave.

17  For when he dies he will carry nothing away;

his glory will not go down after him.

The rich and all their fame and glory will die with them.

While the righteous will see resurrection, the Psalmist places the rich in the grave with no hope.  They will not see the light ever again.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 (ESV)

15 And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

The purpose of Psalm49 is to instruct us in how to view wealth.  The danger of trusting in it.  Also, to not envy those who have money but do not have Christ, theirs is a very sad state.

20  Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

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