Psalm 49 — A Shepherd in Sheol — Reading the Psalms


For the Chief Musician; a Psalm of the sons of Korah.

1 Hear this, all ye peoples;
Give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
2 Both low and high,
Rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak 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 iniquity at my heels compasseth 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 costly,
And must be let alone for ever:)
9 That he should still live alway,
That he should not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die,
The fool and the brutish together 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 But man abideth not in honour:
He is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly:
Yet after them men approve their sayings.    Selah
14 They are appointed as a flock for Sheol;
Death shall be their shepherd:
And the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;
And their beauty shall be for Sheol to consume, that there be no habitation for it.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol:
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 praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself,
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers;
They shall never see the light.
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not,
Is like the beasts that perish.

This psalm is one of my favorites. How many times have I said that? I try to be careful with cliches, but how can one ignore the indomitable image of death shepherding the rich in Sheol?

The psalm presents itself as the word of wisdom and the revelation of reality: riches matter not one bit. This theme is a bore to the world, yet oft proclaimed by it, though without any substance.One will not take this idea seriously if they cannot see a solid alternative. The psalm shows this futility by proclaiming God, who exists outside all these vain things, sustains us past these vain things.

Money cannot redeem life. It can buy better doctors or technological treatments, but this can only forestall the inevitable. God, on the other hand, can redeem my soul from the power of Sheol. This was the great work of God’s Son! All these carnal momentary feats of power cannot be carried far. They wear thin and weary with using. All our efforts are vain without God.

Let us not read this psalm with contempt or scorn for the rich, but wary for our own hearts. Let us be motivated to see clearly, with a single eye, rather than be distracted by the here and now. Let us praise God, not riches.


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