Psalm 49

“Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together! My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.”
Psalm 49:1-9 (ESV)

The Psalmist starts this chapter with a call to pay attention. It is like he is saying: “Everyone, listen up!  Whether you are rich or poor, considered important or unimportant; it doesn’t matter. What I am about to say is significant for all humanity!”

And what is it that the Psalmist offers? Wisdom and understanding into a problem, but not mere human insight. He is giving godly insight. The author of Proverbs defines wisdom as the fear of the Lord (see Proverbs 1:7) and we shall see that the Psalmist agrees with this.

In v5-6 the Psalmist states the problem: “the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches…” We can see that problem in today’s world as well. Many people trust in the power of their wealth and possessions, with the irony that many gained their wealth and possessions (especially recently) through cheating and corruption. Where has truth and justice gone?

Part of the answer is in the fate of all humankind – death. What a sobering thought! No person can pay his way into escaping death or keeping a loved one from it. Death will come to all – rich, poor, famous, infamous, Caucasian, Black, Indian, Chinese and Coloured.

Death certainly levels everyone, but it is not really comforting to those who “fear in times of trouble”. It is rather that which comes after death. All humans have an eternal reality awaiting them. Those destined for Hell will have complete and eternal abandonment from God’s presence, which is the second death. But for those destined for Heaven, God will ransom their souls from the power of Sheol (death) and receive them into His dwelling.

What makes the difference? Surely it cannot be anything in humanity, otherwise we’d have just cause to boast about our wealth, power or influence. No. Humanity is dead in its sin and has no power over death or hell.

The difference is found in the person of Jesus Christ.  If there was ever anyone who could have boasted in his wealth, power or influence, it would have been Jesus – Him being “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).  And yet,  “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, emphasis added).

Through Jesus’ sacrificing, atoning and wrath-bearing death on the cross, He paid the price that no human being could ever pay, so that those who are in Christ Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life (see John 3:16) and this is the only thing that can truly comfort us “in times of trouble”.

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