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Deeper Commentary

Psa 49:1 For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by the sons of Korah- "By" can as well be "for", so the Psalm may still be Davidic, but is dedicated to the memory of the sons of Korah. Korah had died in rebellion against God, but his children had been preserved (Num. 26:9-11); they therefore became representative of all who had overcome bad background to worship Yahweh independently, regardless of the sins of their fathers. They were therefore inspirational to the righteous remnant amongst the exiles in Babylon. Or these "sons of Korah" may refer to a group of musicians who were to perform the Psalm, the Levitical singers mentioned in 1 Chron. 26:1,2; 2 Chron. 20:19. Or if we insist on reading "by", it could have been a Davidic Psalm edited and as it were released by a group called "the sons of Korah" during the captivity in Babylon.


Hear this, all you peoples. Listen, all you inhabitants of the world-
David, or whoever the Psalmist was who used his Psalm, was interested in appealing not just to Israel but to the Gentiles. The message of rejection of materialism was to be presented to them too. The moral teachings of the true God were and are attractive to secular Gentiles.

Psa 49:2 both low and high, rich and poor together-
Trust in wealth and materialism, which this Psalm addresses, is a problem not just for the wealthy but in fact for all of society, including the poor.


Psa 49:3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom, my heart shall utter understanding-
This appears to be a claim to direct Divine inspiration in the truths about materialism which are now to be sung about.


Psa 49:4 I will bend my ear to a proverb, I will open my riddle on the harp-
It seems that :1-4 are an introduction, and the song begins from :5 onwards. The mention of the harp reminds us that the Psalm at least originated in David (Ps. 72:20). But as noted on :1, the Psalm may have been directed to the exiles in Babylon, who were tempted towards materialism. Their wealth, hinted at in the conclusion of the book of Esther, was what likely stopped the majority from obeying the call to return to the land and rebuild God's Kingdom there on the ruins left from the Babylonian invasion.


Psa 49:5 Why should I fear in the days of evil, when iniquity barks at my heels, surrounding me?-
If we read "days" as an intensive plural, the idea would be that a great day of evil is coming upon "me", all of us, when sin finally catches up with us like a dog barking at our heels, and we must die. In that day, wealth cannot save us- that is the theme to be developed now throughout the Psalm.


Psa 49:6 Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches-
The Lord and Paul appear to allude here in saying that those who trust in riches will find entrance to the Kingdom very hard (Mk. 10:24; 1 Tim. 6:17).


Psa 49:7 none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give God a ransom for him-
We may well ask as to why the Psalm doesn't simply say that the wealthy cannot save themselves from death. But instead the angle taken is that they cannot redeem their brother from death. The reason perhaps is to raise the suggestion that there is in fact a redeemer who can redeem his brother, but not by wealth. David would have understood that redeemer as God, but in reality His redemptive work was to be achieved in His Son, whose redeeming blood is far more costly than secular wealth (1 Pet. 1:18,19). We note that this redemption therefore is for His brothers rather than universal.

The language of redeeming life with money is based upon the law's regulations that in some cases, such as if an ox gored a man to death, the guilty party could pay money to avoid the death penalty (Ex. 21:30; Num. 35:31). This seems to be in view, because the same language is used. But the point is that ultimately, death itself is inevitable and cannot be staved off by money. And perhaps the idea is that the offender personally had to pay from their own money, and no relative could pay for them. Whereas the redemption God could and would provide was for others, because we simply cannot pay ourselves.


Psa 49:8 For the redemption of their life is costly, no payment is ever enough-
A temporary stay of execution for money is one thing (see on :7). But no payment can ultimately redeem a person from death itself. This recognition of utter bankruptcy in the face of death was being used by the Psalmist to appeal even to Gentiles (see on :1), because awareness of this is a subconscious truth for all men. The Davidic origin of the Psalm is indicated by the way that Saul used the same phrase of David's saving of his life: "My soul was precious in your eyes" [s.w. "life is costly"] (1 Sam. 26:21). David is alluding to this; Saul's human life had been precious or costly to him, but he was unable to redeem Saul eternally. Only God could do that, if Saul by faith accepted God's grace. David wished that Solomon would have the same perspective, considering the soul or life of people to be "precious" or "costly" (Ps. 72:14). But sadly Solomon abused his people later, as it were whipping them with whips. In the restoration context, God appreciated the preciousness of the soul or life of His people, and offered to eternally redeem them (s.w. Is. 43:4). See on :15.


Psa 49:9 that he should live on forever, that he should not see corruption-
David clearly saw death as "corruption" and as the cessation of life. Unlike many around him at the time, he rejected the idea of an immortal soul and conscious survival of death.


Psa 49:10 For He sees that wise men die; likewise the fool and the senseless perish, and leave their wealth to others-
It is secular wisdom which is in view; for these apparently wise men still have the same basic human assumption that they will somehow survive death (:11).


Psa 49:11 Their inward thought is that their houses will endure forever, and their dwelling places to all generations. They name their lands after themselves-
This is profound psychological insight into how the unspoken, subconscious assumption is that somehow, we will exist beyond death; and our wealth and secular achievement can guarantee this. It is this subconscious eagerness to believe this which explains the huge popularity of the false doctrine of an immortal soul in most religions. And this is why the hard truths of the Bible in this area are unpopular. Even if we are in some form remembered for a few millennia- this too shall pass. And death remains death. Only Divine redemption can change this.

We may well enquire how David thought he knew the state of heart [AV "inward part"] of his enemies and wealthy people (Ps. 5:9; 36:1; 49:11; 62:4; 64:6). Perhaps it was a result of his reflection upon how he had only had a right spirit or heart given by God "within" him as a result of his repentance (Ps. 51:10 s.w.). His enemies were impenitent, and so perhaps on that basis he knew what was in their hearts. Or this may simply have been the result of Divine inspiration (see on :3).


Psa 49:12 But man, despite his riches, doesn’t endure. He is like the animals that perish-
See on :11. We could not wish for a clearer statement of conditional immortality and a denial of the immortal soul concept. This sublime truth is repeated twice in this Psalm (:12,20). And remember that is it being used in order to preach good news to Gentiles (:1). Likewise in Is. 40, the good news is that "all flesh is as grass". For those fearing immortal torment after death, this was in a sense good news; but the true good news is that if we accept this truth, then we can turn to God for the redemption intimated in :8. This theological attack on the immortal soul concept was relevant for the exiles, who were tending to accept the Babylonian theology on these issues, and thus lose their focus upon the final day of Israel's Hope as the resurrection of the dead.


Psa 49:13 This is the destiny of those who are foolish, and of those who approve their sayings. Selah-
The "wise" of :10 are hereby declared fools. As are all who look to the wealthy as wise. The readership of "follow my example to get rich" books is huge. But this is presented as approving foolishness. Sin is associated by God with utter and derisible foolishness (e.g. Num. 12:11; 2 Tim. 3:9); but this isn't how man in his unwisdom perceives it at all. Indeed, to him self-denial is inexplicable folly and blindness to the essentials of human existence.  The folly of sin is only fully evident to God.


Psa 49:14 They are appointed as a flock for Sheol. Death shall be their shepherd-
The implication is that they are experiencing a living death, they are following the shepherd "death" to an eternal grave. The implication as noted on :8 is that there is another shepherd and another flock- leading to life.

The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. Their beauty shall decay in Sheol, far from their mansions- Again we have the implication (see on :8) that the tragedy of eternal death need not be so for all. "The upright" will reappear "in the morning". A morning is coming- for the upright. The day of resurrection from the dead to eternal life.


Psa 49:15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah-
David here states clearly that although no man can redeem his brother, nor himself, yet God can. God is therefore presented as a redeemer, an understanding to be articulated through the future work of His Son. "Receive" is the same word translated "carry away" in :17. Secular man carries nothing away from this life, ultimately. But God carries away His people, although they are unconscious; they are in His care, and shall be revived again at the resurrection. In this life, David felt his prayers had been "received" (s.w. Ps. 6:9). His experience of answered prayer was therefore a foretaste of his faith that God would finally receive or accept him (Ps. 49:15; 73:24 s.w.).


Psa 49:16 Don’t be afraid when a man is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased-
Why does secular man fear when others become rich? Because they fear that actually the materialistic dream will not in fact be true for them. They consider that wealth is a kind of lottery- if another man wins it, then there's less chance we shall win it. Again we have a powerful insight into modern day psychology when it comes to wealth. These ancient words are intensely, bitingly relevant to modern man- in a way that only Divinely inspired words could be.


Psa 49:17 For when he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him-
It was common in Egypt and Babylon to bury a man's wealth with him. His glory did descend after him- but he could not carry it away anywhere. For death is total unconsciousness.


Psa 49:18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul- and men praise you when you do well for yourself-
This again is an observation so true to life. Spend a fortune on an expensive cruise- and you will be praised by your neighbours. The wealthy and successful become the pinups of the poor. The wealthy congratulate themselves on their wealth, and are congratulated by others. But the perceptive minority will see through this, and it is to these people worldwide (see on :1) that the Psalm / song is addressed.


Psa 49:19 he shall go to the generation of his fathers. They shall never see the light-
The Psalm is addressing Gentiles (:1), who would not be resurrected as they are not responsible to Divine judgment. Yet they were being offered the opportunity of redemption from death, if they accepted the good news of Israel's God and His covenant.


Psa 49:20 A man who has riches without understanding is like the animals that perish
- We could not wish for a clearer statement of conditional immortality and a denial of the immortal soul concept. This sublime truth is repeated twice in this Psalm (:12,20). And remember that is it being used in order to preach good news to Gentiles (:1). Likewise in Is. 40, the good news is that "all flesh is as grass". For those fearing immortal torment after death, this was in a sense good news; but the true good news is that if we accept this truth, then we can turn to God for the redemption intimated in :8. This theological attack on the immortal soul concept was relevant for the exiles, who were tending to accept the Babylonian theology on these issues, and thus lose their focus upon the final day of Israel's Hope as the resurrection of the dead.