I have begun 2019 working through the Psalms. I came across Psalm 49, and I was struck at the timely word it gives—to everyone, and especially those in business. This Psalm warns of the pursuit of security and meaning in wealth. It may seem unusual to dedicate so much space to the whole text of the Psalm, but there is never anything of greater value we can give to each other than God’s own words about a subject:
Hear this, all peoples!
Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2both low and high,
rich and poor together!
3My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.
5Why should I fear in times of trouble,
when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
6those who trust in their wealth
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7Truly no man can ransom another,
or give to God the price of his life,
8for the ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice,
9that he should live on forever
and never see the pit.
10For he sees that even the wise die;
the fool and the stupid alike must perish
and leave their wealth to others.
11Their graves are their homes forever,
their dwelling places to all generations,
though they called lands by their own names.
12Man in his pomp will not remain;
he is like the beasts that perish.
13This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah
14Like 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.
15But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me. Selah
16Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
when the glory of his house increases.
17For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
his glory will not go down after him.
18For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
—and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
19his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
who will never again see light.
20Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish
The use of wealth is a constant challenge. We seek to be wise stewards of our resources. In that process we must navigate the twofold temptations of fear and greed. The psalmist makes an ironic observation that though the rich receive praise (18) and strive for immortality through legacy of named places and buildings (11), they will live much longer in the grave than in their nice homes (11,14). All their efforts vanish quickly. Without understanding, a man with money is no better than a beast (20).
So what understanding is the psalmist calling us to? This is not merely a morbid reflection, but a call to make a wise decision. The psalmist says we should look to God (15) rather than trust in wealth (6). While no billionaire can ransom his life with riches (7-9), God will do what is impossible for gold or silver to accomplish (15). God is more powerful than money. The psalmist trusts that God will ransom his soul from the power of Sheol (the place of the dead). What the psalmist dimly perceived, the New Testament boldly proclaims: Jesus Christ gave his life to ransom our souls from the just sentence of death due to our sin (Mark 10:45, Rom 3:25-27). Immortality is possible—and it is God’s gift!