Psalm 49 Message: The reality in this world of wicked men who are also powerful is a dreadful one.
We know that God is all-powerful and that he hates evil. And yet, he seems to at least permit the existence of wicked men in this world – who are not only allowed to exist in God’s world – but they’re also really rich and powerful and influential. They oppress people – righteous people – God’s people.
And so, God’s people can struggle with how to deal with the presence and reality of rich, powerful wicked men in this life. Should we fear them? Does their presence indicate that God is somehow deficient in his operating of this world? Should we even abandon our faith and adopt the principles and practices of these wicked men who seem to have so much success in this life? Maybe if we emulate their behavior, we’ll have the same degree of success in this life!
Well, Psalm 49 is going to answer these questions – and will do so in the negative. So, let’s turn our attention to Psalm 49 – where we’re going to be told how to think about wicked powerful men.
Now, Psalm 49 is a reflective or meditative psalm. The psalmist here is going to be leading us in meditating on the following fact – We Shouldn’t Fear Powerful Wicked Men… Because They Will Die Some Day… but God Will Redeem You from Death. (maybe repeat…)
And let me ask – are you aware of some wicked men who are in positions of tremendous power these days? Really, I think it’s hard to find a powerful man who isn’t wicked in our day, unfortunately. Not impossible, but difficult. So, this psalm is aimed at 1) helping us think about these people and 2) to live even though the presence of these people can be so discouraging.
Now, the structure of the psalm – just like every reflective or meditative psalm – is in three parts – an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. And we’ll see each of these in this psalm as we go through studying it.
Psalm 49 Message: Superscription
We’ll start by just reading the superscription and then moving on from there.
<[To/For] the [chief Musician/Choir Director/music director],
A Psalm [for/of/by] the [sons of Korah/Korahites].>
Psalm 49 Message: Introduction/Ramp-Up | 1-4
And now we’re going to see the psalmist preparing us for what he’s about to say in this psalm. And he takes verses 1 through 4 to do this.
In other words, this section that constitutes the psalmist trying to grab our attention takes up about 1/5 or 20% of this psalm of 20 verses. So, I’d say that this is pretty important in the psalmist’s mind – that we get good and ready to hear what he’s about to say.
Psalm 49 Message: Everyone Everywhere Listen Up! | 1
So, first of all, everyone – no matter where they live – must receive this psalm.
KJV Psalm 49:1 [Hear/Listen to] this, all [ye people/peoples/you nations!];
[give ear/Pay attention], all ye inhabitants of the world:
So, this psalm isn’t just for Israel. It’s for all people or even all nations. It’s for all the inhabitants of the world. Its intended audience is universal.
Psalm 49 Message: Everyone Listen Up No Matter Social Standing | 2
Furthermore, everyone – no matter their social standing – must receive this psalm.
2 Both low and high,
rich and poor, together.
And in light of the fact that this psalm is aimed at helping the righteous to think about wicked and rich people – I think it’s really interesting that the rich themselves are called on to pay attention to this psalm. The ones about whom this psalm is written are the very ones who also need to hear this message – that tells everyone in the world that they shouldn’t be feared – because these wicked ones are just going to die – while the righteous on the other hand will be redeemed from death.
So, the psalmist has established that everyone needs to hear the message of this psalm.
Psalm 49 Message: Why Listen? | 3
OK – so why is everyone – no matter their social standing or location – why do they need to listen to this psalm? What are we all to expect from Psalm 49?
3 [My mouth/I] [shall speak/will speak/will declare] [of wisdom/wisdom/a wise saying];
and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. [I will share my profound thoughts…]
So, what we can expect in this psalm is wisdom. This psalm will make us wise – if we let it.
And we do need wisdom from God – don’t we? We are so ignorant and our minds and hearts are so off. We need God to calibrate our thinking and affections. We need Psalm 49 and the wisdom that God is wanting to impart through it!
Psalm 49 Message: Gained Wisdom will be Imparted | 4
Now, there’s really only one way that a person is able to impart wisdom. And that’s to first gain it. Right? You can’t give something you haven’t first received and possessed yourself.
And that’s what the psalmist says that he’s done already in verse 4.
4 I will [or probably “have”…] [incline mine ear to/learn] a [parable/proverb/song that imparts wisdom]:
I will [open/express/then sing] my [dark (not morally…) saying/riddle/insightful song] [upon the/on the/to the accompaniment of a] harp.
So, this wisdom that the psalmist is about to impart in this psalm is something that he’s already had to personally learn.
And beyond that – he’s going to not just speak this wisdom – but he’s made it into a beautiful musical arrangement – which of course God hasn’t seen fit to let that survive through the transmission process. And that’s OK, of course. But it would have been set to music originally.
So, the psalmist views what he’s about to say as extremely important. So important – in fact – that all the world needs to hear it. So important – that he’s not only learned the lessons of this psalm – but he’s also going to speak it and even take the time to arrange it to music.
Psalm 49 Message: Body | 5-19
So now, the psalmist is going to deliver the matter about which he’s been meditating – the wise sayings that all of us need to know.
And here it is – We Shouldn’t Fear Powerful Wicked Men.
5 Wherefore should I [fear/be afraid] in [the days of evil/days of adversity/times of trouble],
when the [iniquity/sinful deeds] of [my heels/my foes/deceptive men] [shall compass me about/surrounds me/threaten to overwhelm me]?
Now, “my heels” speaks of the enemies of the psalmist.
I think that terminology that the psalmist uses to describe his enemies is related to the statement from another psalm to the effect that “he who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”
We also have Jacob whose name has to do with grabbing the heel. He was one who grabbed the heel of his brother Esau. In that sense, he was his enemy.
And now here the psalmist poetically pictures these enemies of his as one big heel that’s turned against him and is now ready to kick at him sinfully.
Psalm 49 Message: What These Enemies Are Like | 6
And from there the psalmist goes on to describe what these people – these heels – these enemies of his – are like.
And he kind of answers his own rhetorical question from verse 5. Why fear these “heels” – these enemies of his?
Because they’re wealthy and powerful!
6 They that trust in their wealth,
and boast themselves in the [multitude/abundance] of their riches;
So, proud boastful rich people who have made themselves our enemies. We must not fear them.
But why? And how? I mean, people with power and wealth who are against you can elicit a great deal of fear – and not without reason! They sometimes have power in this life to destroy us.
Yes, they do – in this life. But the psalmist wants to give us a more eternal perspective of the situation.
Psalm 49 Message: They Can’t Escape God or Death | 7
And that’s this – that despite the wealth or power of these men – none of them is a match for God. And one day he’s going to recall what he’s given them – that is, their life. And they won’t be able to escape.
7 [None of them/No man] can [by any means/certainly not] [redeem/rescue] his brother,
nor [give/pay] to God [a ransom/an adequate ransom price] for him:
And this idea of redeeming a brother harkens back to the book of Exodus 21. You can turn there if you want or just listen. I’ll read three verses from God’s Law for Israel. It’s about what to do when a person’s animal kills someone, which is a strange idea for us but not so much if you live in a n agrarian society like ancient Israel.
First of all, if an ox kills someone with no previous history of doing that, the owner loses his ox but he’s not held accountable for its actions.
28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.
But the second aspect is that if the owner knew that the ox had tendencies to gore, both the ox and its owner need to die.
29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.
But – there then is given an option for this man to redeem his life. He can pay a set ransom price and – as it were – buy back his life.
30 If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.
And I assume that this ransom price is set by the family of the deceased – but it’s not totally clear.
But anyway – in a very real sense, this owner of the ox can purchase back his life.
But the psalmist in Psalm 49 is saying that there’s a time in every man’s life when God – as it were – sets a ransom on a man’s life – and there’s no possibility of paying it. It’s kind of a poetic way to speak of death.
And so, the psalmist is saying that there’s a time when these rich powerful and evil men die. As rich as they are, they cannot redeem their lives – or the lives of their brothers for that matter.
Now, we’re left hanging a little bit at the end of verse 7. Because we’re told about the impossibility of wicked men redeeming their brother by paying a ransom to God for that brother.
But the question is – what’s this hypothetical price being paid for? And I’ve already answered it because I’ve gone a bit ahead of the psalmist and explained some things that he hasn’t gotten to yet.
Psalm 49 Message: The Ransom for a Life | 8
But, that’s just what the psalmist continues to reveal in verse 8. What is this ransom being paid for?
8 (For the [redemption/ransom price] [of/for] [their/his/a human] [soul/life] is [precious/costly/too high],
and [it ceaseth/he should cease trying] for ever:) [people go to their final destiny…]
So, if we’re talking about a wealthy wicked man – he can buy just about anything. But there’s no price that he can pay to redeem the life of his brother. He can’t keep his brother alive by paying money.
And obviously, there are medical treatments today that can extend a person’s life.
On a personal level, when my appendix ruptured back in 2014 – without the lifesaving surgery I had the privilege of receiving, I would not be here with you right now.
And the psalmist wouldn’t have had access to that kind of medical technology that we have today. And yet, the reality is that surgeries and vitamins and whatever modern medicine can do or will ever be able to do will never do what the psalmist mentions in the next verse.
Psalm 49 Message: You Can’t Avoid Death | 9
All the money and power in the world can never have this effect on the brother of a wicked man…
9 That he should [still live/live on/continue on] [for ever/eternally],
and not [see corruption/undergo decay/experience death].
Psalm 49 Message: Everyone Knows This | 10
And that’s because everyone dies – a fact which surely these rich wicked men would know if they would only pay attention.
10 [For/Surely] he seeth that [even…] wise men die,
[likewise/alike/all] the [fool/stupid] and the [brutish person/senseless/spiritually insensitive people] [perish/pass away],
and leave their wealth to others.
So, everyone knows that everyone dies – wise men, fools, spiritually insensitive individuals – everyone dies. And all that accumulated wealth that these wealth wicked men store up just goes to someone else.
And it doesn’t matter to whom it goes. The fact is – it goes! And it doesn’t go with you. You leave it all here.
Psalm 49 Message: As If They Will Never Die | 11
And yet, even though the inevitability of death is so obvious, the psalmist wants to give us insight into the mindset of the wealthy wicked of this world.
And what we’re told is that these men – despite the obvious inevitability of death – their minds work as though they will never die.
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.
And that’s the proof that they think they’re invincible – they name their lands after themselves as if they permanently own the place!
And yet, the closest these men will get to having permanent real estate is the grave in which their bodies are laid.
Psalm 49 Message: Like Animals, They Die | 12
And ultimately, these men will die just like animals.
12 [Nevertheless/But] man [being in honour/in his pomp/despite his wealth] [abideth not/will not endure/do not last]:
he is like [the beasts/animals] that perish.
And the content of this verse serves as something of a refrain for this psalm – because we see very similar wording at the end of the psalm in verse 20.
Psalm 49 Message: The Followers of the Wicked | 13
Now, despite the obvious flaws in the thinking and lifestyle of the wicked – yet, they have those who follow after them as if their life and philosophy were worthy to be emulated.
13 This [their way/is the way/is the destiny] [is their folly/of those who are foolish/of fools]:
[yet their posterity/and of those after them/and of those] [approve their sayings/who approve their words/who approve their philosophy].
So, amazingly, after all the ridicule that the psalmist has been pouring on the way of wicked wealth men – and after we’ve seen how foolish their way truly is – after all of that we’re reminded that – as crazy as it sounds – these men actually have followers – those who approve their sayings.
And that points to one reality that you’ve probably noticed in this life. Sometimes there’s just no changing a person. Provide all the evidence you want that warns them that their rebellious ways will result in nothing good – and they’ll persist in those ways – in fact, they might take up those ways with new gusto and vigor! Hey – they might even win followers to those ways of theirs! And the followers are just as stubborn and set in their ways, which are contrary to God and will end in disaster. No matter what you say.
So, these wicked wealthy men amazingly amass followers to themselves.
Psalm 49 Message: Death is their Shepherd | 14
And because these men have rejected the Good Shepherd their whole lives, they’ll have their own shepherd – that is not at all good. And that shepherd is death.
14 Like sheep they [are laid in the grave/are appointed for Sheol/will travel to Sheol];
death shall [feed on them/be their shepherd];
And it’s not just death that will exercise control over these men. Those whom they’ve oppressed in this life will have the upper hand someday…
and the upright shall [have dominion/rule] over them [in the morning/when the day of vindication dawns];
and their [beauty/form/bodies] shall consume in the grave from their [dwelling/impressive houses].
Now, some would deny that verse 14 is speaking of a resurrection, but I think it’s pretty unavoidable that the psalmist is speaking of the resurrection here.
“In the morning” – in the context of the wicked men dying and their bodies consuming in the grave – after that consuming happens – or in other words “in the morning” – the righteous will rule over these wicked men.
And what a reason to not fear these men. These powerful wicked people in this life. They are being shepherded by death to their grave. They will forever be under the power of those who are – in this short temporary life – under their power. These people are to be pitied rather than feared.
Psalm 49 Message: My Redeemer Lives | 15
And what a contrast the psalmist is going to set up for us in verse 15.
On the one hand, wicked powerful men will die. They can’t redeem their brother and their brother can’t redeem them – despite all of the money that all of them have.
On the other hand, the righteous do have someone who can redeem them. He doesn’t need to pay money – he’s paid with the blood of his son. Verse 15.
15 But God will [redeem/rescue] my [soul/life] from the power of [the grave/Sheol]:
[for/certainly] he shall [receive/take/pull to safety] me.
So, the psalmist knows that he’s going to die. I mean, he’s already stated that everyone dies – both wise and fools. But here he’s recognizing that there’s a way to both die and to be redeemed from the power of death.
And that’s what we hear more about in the New Testament. We hear about the redemption that we have in Jesus Christ. Let’s just remind ourselves of some statements to that effect.
We are justified through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Christ has been made for us redemption. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law. He’s redeemed any of us who are under the Law so that we can receive the adoption as sons. This redemption came through Christ’s blood – that’s the payment! Our possessing the Holy Spirit is a sign that we have been truly redeemed. That Holy Spirit seals us to the day in which we’re totally redeemed. Forgiveness of sins is something that accompanies this redemption. Jesus Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed. This redemption is eternal. We’ve been redeemed by Christ’s blood.
So, the wicked will not be redeemed from death. The righteous will be. And for the New Testament Christian – we are already redeemed – redeemed from sin, from death, redeemed forever in Christ.
Psalm 49 Message: Don’t Be Afraid | 16
And so, in light of that reality, …
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich,
when [the glory of his house/his wealth] [is increased/multiplies];
Psalm 49 Message: Why No Fear? | 17
And we ask ourselves one more time – why should we not be afraid when wicked men increase their wealth and power and influence to the detriment of both righteous people and causes in this world?
17 For when he dieth he shall [carry/take] nothing [away/with him]:
his [glory/wealth] shall not [descend after him/follow him down into the grave].
Really, this kind of man is to be pitied. The thing that consumes his earthly life will be gone in an instant – and will be gone forever. He can’t take it with him.
It’s like the story of the two men standing by a grave as a casket was being placed in the ground. One turned to the other and said, “I’ve heard that this man was pretty wealthy. Do you know how much he left behind?” And the other man turns to him and says, “Everything.”
It doesn’t matter how much a man accumulates in this life. None of it comes with him. All of it is left behind – whether twenty dollars or twenty million dollars.
Psalm 49 Message: Self-Blessings | 18
And yet, in this life – that isn’t the thought of this kind of man – that you can’t take anything with you. No, instead…
18 Though while he lived he [blessed his soul/pronounces this blessing on himself]:
[“][and men will/may men] praise thee,
[when/for] thou doest well to thyself.[”]
Psalm 49 Message: His End | 19
But despite that kind of vain talk in this life, this is the end of such a man – as we’re reminded one more time…
19 He [shall go to/will join] [the generation of his fathers/his ancestors];
they shall [never/never again] see [light/the light of day].
And isn’t that a description of Hell? No light. God – who is light – is not there. It’s away from his presence. And so, a man who goes there will never see light.
Psalm 49 Message: Conclusion
And so, in light of the fact that everyone dies – fools and wise – but that only those who are truly wise and know the Lord through his son Jesus Christ – that only they are redeemed from death – the next time you’re tempted to worry about wicked men who are increasing their power in this life to your peril – remember this parting word of wisdom from the psalmist…
20 Man [that is in honour/in his pomp/that is wealthy], [and understandeth not/yet without understanding/do not understand],
[is/they are] like [the beasts/animals] that perish.
But on the contrary – you who know the Lord will never perish. You will be redeemed from death. You’re already redeemed from sin. And you’re redeemed forever. You will be with the one who dwells in unapproachable light. Forever.
So, you have nothing to fear. And let’s go to prayer with that thought in mind tonight.