John T. Willis

Monday, December 05, 2016

Human Beings cannot Abide in their Pomp--Psalm 49

The composer of Psalm 49 is a "wise" person. The spokesperson says in Psalm 49:3:
          "My mouth shall speak WISDOM;
                  the meditation of my heart shall be UNDERSTANDING."
Also, in Psalm 49:4, the poet says:
          "I will incline my ear to a PROVERB;
                   I will solve my RIDDLE to the music of the harp."
These verses and the entire Psalm show that this is a Wisdom Psalm. There are several Wisdom Psalms sprinkled throughout the Psalter.
The theme of Psalm 49 is very clear, because the recurring refrain appears in Psalm 49:12, 20:
          "Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
                   they are like the animals that perish."

Psalm 49 falls into three paragraphs.

1. The psalmist summons "all people," "all inhabitants of the world" to hear his/her poem. Psalm 49:1-4.
     a. All the speakers and composers of the Hebrew Bible have a strong vision of Yahweh's presence and work in the whole world, not merely in the land of Canaan. Many texts emphasize Yahweh's concerns for all peoples on earth. 49:1.
     b. The psalmist addresses "both low and high," "rich and poor together." Where a person is powerful or weak, rich or poor, he/she is a human being created in the image of God. To assume that a powerful person is more important than a common person is a huge mistake. To assume that a person who is rich has a great advantage over a poor person is a terrible delusion. 49:2.
     c. This poet has meditated on what he/she has learned, and will now share this will all his/her hearers. 49:3.
     d. To incline one's ear evidently means to be instructed by divine inspiration. As one contemplates experiences and thoughts, it is very helpful to have a soothing instrument humming or playing in the background. Here, the psalmist solves his/her riddle to the music of the harp. 49:4.

2. The poet has no fear of his/her persecutors. Psalm 49:5-12.
     a. The psalmist declares that it is foolish to be afraid of his/her persecutors, people who feel they have the upper hand in the community because they are wealthy and rich. 49:5-6.
     b. All human beings will die. No one on earth can pay enough money or possessions to keep from dying and living on forever. "There is no price one can give to God for it." 49:7-9.
     c. The wise and the foolish die. Those who are wealthy leave their wealth to others. They may have named their estates or ranches, but their graves are their homes forever. At death, the richest people on earth become poor in this world's goods. Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish. 49:10-12.

3. Material wealth is not a fundamental element to human existence. Psalm 49:13-20.
    a. Fools are pleased with their lot on earth. Death will be their shepherd which shall lead all people to Sheol=the grave, which will be their eternal home. 49:13-14.
    b. But the poet in Psalm 49:15 boldly declares:
        "God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me." Old Testament speakers and composers declare that God will receive righteous people to him into eternal life.
        1. Psalm 49:15 is closely connected with Psalm 49:8. God "ransoms" the soul of the psalmist. While the rich cannot give God enough money to bribe him to ransom him from death; God will ransom the righteous from death by his own power.
        2. The psalmist proclaims that he will die like all other human beings (Psalm 49:10), but when he dies, something else will happen--God will receive him to himself.
        3. If Psalm 49:15 has in mind only divine deliverances in this life, the psalmist is no better off than the wicked rich, because, like everyone else, he will die and descend to the grave, where he/she will live forever.
        4. The Hebrew word laqach, "to receive," appears also in the account of Enoch's departure from earth: "God TOOK [RECEIVED] him" (Genesis 5:24), and in the account of Elijah being caught up into heaven in 2 Kings 2:1: "The Lord was about to TAKE [RECEIVE] Elijah up to heaven."
     c. In bold contrast to the psalmist, he/she tells his/her audience "Do not be afraid" when some become rich, when their wealth increases, for when they die, they will carry away nothing from earth, and their wealth will not go down to Sheol=the grave. 49:16-17.
     d. The rich and wealthy may consider themselves happy, soon they will join their deceased ancestors, and will never see the light on earth again. 49:18-19.
     e. The poet concludes with the recurring refrain or chorus:
          "Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
                  they are like the animals that perish."

It is very important to recognize the brevity and certainty of death. By doing this, one may live a sober life with bold resolution.

Share YOUR concerns and questions and suggestions and determinations and perceptions with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis



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