Friday, March 30, 2012

In the End, the Rich Have Nothing

[To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah]

1 Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:

2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together.

3 My mouth shall speak of 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 the iniquity of my heels shall compass 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 precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)

9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person 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 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: 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 will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.

19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.

20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.

—Psalm 49 KJV Bible

This is a psalm of wisdom. Rather than to praise God, the psalmist wrote this psalm to instruct the people. The psalmist calls on the world to hear the truth concerning the temporary glory and false security of the wicked rich, whose doom is certain, in contrast to the everlasting hope of the righteous.

It is not certain who the psalmist is. Some think that he lived at a time when many people in Israel and Judah were very rich. These rich were not kind to the poor, but instead exploited them. The poor thought the rich could buy a long life on earth, while they could not. The psalmist tells all the people, whether rich or poor, that only God can stop anyone from truly dying.

The psalm superscription states it is for the "sons of Korah." The three sons of Korah—Assir, Elkanan and Abiasaph—were loyal to God (Exodus 6:24; Numbers 26:11). The descendants of these were also described as the "sons of Korah." Some later became singers in the Temple choir (2 Chronicles 20:19). Twelve of the psalms (42-49, 84-85, 87-88) are specifically dedicated to the "sons of Korah," possibly because of their musicality, or possibly as a reference to those who remain faithful to God even in the most difficult times.

The Hebrew "selah" is used after verses 13 and 15 of the psalm. The word is thought to be a musical notation to the choir director and musicians. It loosely translates as a break in the song or an instruction to pause and reflect, perhaps with a musical interlude. Some translators suggest the phrase "stop and listen." Others say that a more concise translation would be "let those with eyes see and with ears hear." The word "selah" has been compared to the word "amen" in that it stresses to the listener the importance of the preceding passage. The word "selah" is used in thirty-nine of the psalms.

In verse 1 through 4, the psalmist calls on the world to hear the truth. In verse 4, the psalmist describes his teaching as a "parable," sometimes translated as a "proverb," and as a "dark saying," sometimes translated as a "riddle." Basically, the psalmist is sharing important information for living, but in a way that requires careful listening and some explanation. The psalmist then goes on to explain.

In verse 5 through 14, the psalmist points out the temporary glory and false security of the wicked rich. In verses 7 through 9, the psalmist explains that no one can purchase from God additional days in order to extend his life. The psalmist goes on to explain in verses 10 through 14 that even the rich, whether they are wicked or righteous, cannot bring someone back from the dead. In verse 12, the psalmist reminds the listener that the hopes of the wicked are restricted to this life. In verse 14, the psalmist tells the listener that Death is guiding the foolish, like sheep, directly to "sheol"—Hebrew for the physical grave, or the place where all souls go after death. The righteous will ultimately triumph over the wicked, either in this life or "in the morning"—in the life to come.

In verses 15 through 20, the psalmist calls attention to the everlasting hope of the righteous. In verse 15, the psalmist reminds the listener that God can do what we are not able to do. God can pay the ransom which we cannot pay.

Father, so often in this life it seems that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When I stress about money, help me to remember that money is not everything. And after this life, it is nothing at all. Help me to focus on You; to rely on You. You are the true life, now and forever.


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