The first four verses of Psalm 49 are a call to the peoples and the worshippers to listen to the words of wisdom about to be spoken. This message is for those who are both “low and high.” Regardless of status or class, all people can learn from the words of this psalm. Immediately we see that this psalm is different than all the other psalms. This psalm begins more like a proverb than a song. These words of wisdom are for “all who live in this world.”
I. Why Trust In Riches?
A. The futility and foolishness of riches (49:5-12)
- The psalmist makes many arguments in verses 5-12 to show the foolishness of riches. I believe the writer gives us six reasons why riches are foolish to seek after and foolish to put our trust in.
- Cannot purchase our lives. The psalmist begins by noting that wealth cannot purchase our lives. “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him.” When we talk about our own lives and the lives of those we love, money becomes worthless. Unfortunately, we usually do not realize this until we find our lives in dire circumstances. It is when terminal illness strikes the rich man that the rich man realizes that his money is of no value to him. This point is one of the main messages of Jesus’ parable concerning the rich man who had built his bigger barns. His wealth was useless when it came to the time to meet God. Why trust in riches when it will not help us in our defense before God in judgment.
- Wealth is no cushion. The psalmist is trying to help us see that wealth provides no cushion for people. We try to insulate ourselves from harm and abandonment by heaping up wealth. Our television shows try to convince us that money is the way to keep bad things from happening to us. Also, society tries to make us believe that money will keep us happy if bad things for some reason do happen. Does anyone think Donald Trump has lived a life that we would want to have? He has had numerous blown marriages, financial problems and worries, family troubles, and who knows what other difficulties that have not been reported. Yet everyone wants to be like him because they have forgotten that Trump’s wealth has not kept him from great troubles. The rich and poor experience problems alike. In fact, Ecclesiastes argues that the rich experience more problems than the poor.
- All will experience death. What advantage do the rich have in this world? They will experience death just like the poor man. “For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish.” We are sometimes deceived into thinking that riches are able to prevent the inevitable. It is a well-known proverb that there are two sure things in life: death and taxes. Yet it is the world’s pursuit to try to cheat death. Now the rich think they can put their bodies on ice and live again when technology is good enough to bring them back to life. These are the thoughts of desperate people who have not found a purpose for living. They need more time to enjoy the mundane things of this world. Why trust in riches when death is assured to the rich as it is to the poor? There is no advantage to rich concerning death.
- Wealth is left to others. The teacher in Ecclesiastes saw the folly of accumulating wealth when all the hard work is lost when the wealth is given to another who will waste it away. The psalmist notes the same problem. The rich perish and leave their wealth to others. What joy is there in working so hard to accumulate wealth only to leave it for another? The dead cannot enjoy nor experience the fruit of their labors. We may have money in the bank. So what? We may have stocks, bonds, options, CDs, and other financial instruments. So what? We may have large houses, multiple cars, and numerous possessions. So what? What does it mean to our lives? Nothing, for these things are emptiness.
- The grave becomes our home. Though the rich have large homes and fine estates, the grave becomes everyone’ s home. All of us will have a tomb for our bodies to decay in. So we have fine homes. What good does it do for us? Our final resting place is no different than the poor.
- Despite riches, people perish like animals. Verse 12 really drives the reality of the point home. In the end, we are no different than the animals in regards to the outcome of our physical bodies. Our physical bodies must die, just the animals. Our physical bodies must decay, just like the animals. There is nothing we can do to stop the reality of what will happen to us. As much as we like to think that death is avoidable when we are young and that we will never age as our parents have, no one has cheated death. Death will be experienced by all.
B. The fate of those who trust in riches (49:13-20)
- The second half of the psalm describes the end result of those who decide to put their hope and trust in the riches of this world. The outcome is not good for those who trust in wealth. We are to see the fate of the rich and not go down the same path.
- Like sheep appointed for the grave. It really is a terrifying image the psalmist draws to mind: “Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them.” What difference is there between man and animal if we reject God? The purpose of their lives becomes the same: to live and die. If riches are where we put our trust, our lives have as much value as a sheep. We will leave, we will enjoy some pastures, and then we will die. Our lives have no purpose except to go to the grave.
- The upright will rule, not the rich. God tells us that rule and power will be given to the upright and not to the rich of this world. What can man really rule? At best we see the powerful men and women of this world ruling a corporation or ruling a government/nation. Yet all the wealth belongs to God and God is in control of all the governments. Would you rather rule now for a few years over a small piece of land, or would you rather rule in the kingdom of God, which is far above all powers, rulers, and dominions eternally? The psalmist is encouraging us to keep our eyes on what is most important.
- God will not redeem their lives. The rich believe that God will redeem their lives. However, God says that they are mistaken. I suppose every rich man believes they are going to heaven. I suppose the rich believe that they are able to have the wealth of this world and will be able to be with God. We should not delude ourselves in anyway into thinking that we will be redeemed by the Lord when we are pursuing after the ways of this world. Everyone seems to think that everyone goes to heaven. God says that those who seek after riches will not be purchased by God but will remain in death, separated from God.
- Do not be in awe of them…they cannot take wealth with them. The psalmist reminds us not to be in awe of the rich, when the splendor of the house increases. Why should we not be in awe of the accumulation of wealth that the Bill Gates and Donald Trumps of the world have attained? The reason why we should not be in awe of them is because they cannot take it with them. Their wealth is for a moment but their judgment is for an eternity. Their glory and wealth will not go with them. No one glories in the wealth of those in the past. Who has heard of William Randolph Hearst? Who cares today about William Randolph Hearst? He was so rich that he built a huge mansion in northern California. The mansion is so large that there are multiple tours of his house because in one day you cannot see it. But no one cares about the wealth of the past. The rich cannot take their splendor with them.
- Though the rich seem to have it all, they will not see the light of life. The rich are missing out on the things that are most important in life. Though every one counted the rich man blessed and people praise these people for their prosperity, they simply join the millions of other men who had great wealth but never saw the light of true life. Be mindful of the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus: did the rich man care about his wealth when he entered torment? No, rather his only concern was to have relief from his pain. Lazarus had it good, though poor. The rich man had it painful, though wealthy.
- Not understanding these things makes us act as foolish as the beasts. When we do not understand these truths, we make foolish decisions. When we fail to realize that God truly matters in life and we begin to seek after the worldly pursuits of life, the decisions we make are irrational. How smart will it sound on the day of judgment to explain to the Lord and the cloud of witnesses that we thought it more important to put a few more dollars in the bank account rather than spend eternity with God? How foolish will be appear when we tell the heavenly hosts that heaven did not seem as good as pursuing the things of this world? We will look foolish and we will feel foolish for making such bad decisions.
A. Do not trust in riches
- The application of this psalm is rather straightforward: do not trust in riches. We need to stop thinking that wealth is so important. We must see that riches offer us no advantages. Wealth does not prevent death. Wealth will not save us from problems. Riches will not extend our lives. All our efforts will simply be wasted by others who come after us.
- Riches do not change the outcome of events. God is the only one who has any control or say in how things will turn out in life. To trust in riches is to trust in ourselves with the belief that we have the ability to change the course of this world with a few more dollars. But such thinking is foolishness.
B. Remember the end result
- So what can we do to help us remember not to trust in riches? I would like for us to try this exercise for the decisions we make: ask ourselves if it will sound foolish on the day of judgment. Will the choice that I am about to make sound foolish when I stand before God and the host of heaven? Will my explanation be reasonable against losing eternal life, eternal blessings, and eternal comfort?
- Are you ready to trade God’s power to redeem our lives from the grave so that we can have more in the bank account? Are you ready to sacrifice true joy and peace so that we can have a bigger house or another car? In this context, the decision to chase riches sounds foolish. So let us always keep riches in this context. The pursuit of riches is trading in God. Do not exchange the immortal and glorious God for the corruptible and temporary pleasures of this world.