Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, attempted to pick up the discipline. I got part-way through that month, and so after a long hiatus, am determined to get going. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the 17th of September 2023, here’s Psalm 49:
1 Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,
2 both low and high,
rich and poor alike:
3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
4 I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle:
5 Why should I fear when evil days come,
when wicked deceivers surround me—
6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches?
7 No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them—
8 the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough—
9 so that they should live on forever
and not see decay.
10 For all can see that the wise die,
that the foolish and the senseless also perish,
leaving their wealth to others.
11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
12 People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
14 They are like sheep and are destined to die;
death will be their shepherd
(but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.
16 Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendor of their houses increases;
17 for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendor will not descend with them.
18 Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
and people praise you when you prosper—
19 they will join those who have gone before them,
who will never again see the light of life.
20 People who have wealth but lack understanding
are like the beasts that perish.
What is this Psalm about?
This Psalm contrasts a life focused on human things, with a life focused on Godly wisdom. It has echoes of Proverbs, and is addressed not to God, nor even perhaps primarily to God’s people, but to anyone who is listening. This Psalm challenges people to consider the foundations of their lives, the kind of wisdom they live out of, and the possibility that they are little better than beasts.
What does this Psalm teach about God?
God is not the explicit focus of Psalm 49, at first reading, but God is undoubtedly present. Verse 7 suggests that God is one to whom redemption, ransom and price can be paid. This finds an echo in verse 15 – wherein God is the one who redeems. This redemption is apparently from death – suggesting that God is a God of life, who is present to and with his people: “he will surely take me to himself“.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
Psalm 49 might seem not to have much to say to God’s people today, but I think it offers a number of deeply practical things. Firstly, it reminds us that God’s Word and God’s way is wise and best, and is for everyone – and we can invite others to consider it! Secondly, it contrasts wealth and wisdom – not suggesting, I don’t think, that wealth is inherently bad, but pointing to the infinite value of wisdom. Thirdly, with God not being quite so obvious, I wonder if Psalm 49 is an encouragement to recognise that there will be times when His presence is less clear, and that that is not to be unexpected. Similarly, even when we do not know, still God is there, redeeming and drawing his people to himself.
A prayer drawn from Psalm
Lord, thank you that provide wisdom which is the way of life. Thank you for the challenge to share the hope I have in you, with those around me. Help me to see that you are there, that you are redeeming and rescuing, and that you will surely take me to yourself. Give me understanding, and help me to share it widely, so that others will not perish like beasts. Amen.