July 13, 2020
Daybreak: Psalms 49:1 through 50:23
“For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.” (Psalm 49:10)
More than a century has gone by since the luxury passenger liner RMS Titanic met its catastrophic end. One of the largest and most luxurious passenger ships of its day, the Titanic was considered by many to be unsinkable. However, on April 14, 1912, just four days into its maiden voyage, the ship collided with an iceberg. Within a few short hours, the vessel sank to the ocean floor, and more than 1,500 lives were lost in what has been termed one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history.
The Titanic’s passengers were divided into three separate classes, determined not only by the price of their tickets, but also by wealth and social status. The first-class passenger list was a “who’s who” of the rich and famous in 1912. They included members of the British aristocracy, millionaire businessmen, railroad presidents, actresses, politicians, high-ranking military personnel, industrialists, bankers, and professional athletes. Second-class passengers were predominantly leisure tourists. Some were academic scholars or members of the clergy. This group also included the ship’s musicians and many middle class English and American families. The third-class or steerage passengers were of diverse nationalities and ethnic groups, and were primarily people who had left England hoping to start new lives in the United States and Canada. Some were mothers travelling alone with their young children — most going to join their husbands who had already traveled to America to find jobs, and having saved up enough money, had finally sent for their families.
While those who perished in the Titanic disaster were diverse in wealth, social class, educational level, and occupation, they had one similarity: they all stepped into eternity empty-handed. Inequalities may exist in this life, but death equalizes all. In today’s focus verse, the psalmist alluded to that fact, saying that the wise man, the fool, and the brutish (or senseless) person all perish in the same manner. Earlier he reflected that the rich man with all his wealth could not buy off death (“redeem his brother”) nor provide a way to “live for ever, and not see corruption” (Psalm 49:7, 9).
One day, each of us will stand before our Maker. The only riches that will be ours in that moment are the “deposits” we made toward our eternal heritage during our lives here on this earth. Today is a good time to consider our spiritual investments. We can grow in closeness to God as we commune with Him, and accept with praise the rich gifts of love and wisdom that He lavishes upon us. We can look for ways to grow in kindness and thoughtfulness. We can do our best to make life better and happier for the people around us. We can cause our relationships to grow closer and more loving as we exemplify willingness to care about the other person as much as we care about ourselves.
If we make the effort to live daily lives of commitment, love, and service to God, our spiritual investments will grow, and when we pass from this life, we will be welcomed as faithful servants.
Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm with a dual theme: riches are not sufficient, and death is certain. Though traditionally credited to the “sons of Korah,” this psalm is a proverbial teaching for all people, rather than a song or a prayer. The conclusion reached is that while life often is inequitable, all are equal at death.
The psalm begins with a universal call to consider wisdom (verses 1-4), and the announcement of the psalmist that he will share his wisdom in a parable. The phrase “dark saying” in verse 4 denotes a statement that is profound or hard to understand.
Verses 5-13 point out the folly of those who trust in wealth, for human riches cannot delay death or purchase immortality. In contrast, the godly are assured of triumph “in the morning” of Christ’s return; this theme is developed in verses 14-15. Redemption, though it cannot be purchased by human riches, is purchased by God, who delivers the righteous from “the power of the grave.” The word translated “receive” in verse 15 indicates being taken up into the heavens in the same manner as Enoch was (see Genesis 5:24). This verse is one of the strongest allusions to immortality found in the Book of Psalms.
In verses 16-20, the writer goes back to his initial theme, asserting that the righteous need not fear when the wicked prosper. Death ultimately will strip the proud of their glory, because they cannot take their honor and possessions with them.
Psalm 50 presents God as the Judge of all the earth, and gives a scathing condemnation of formalism and hypocrisy in worship. It is possible that this psalm was written for Hakhel, an event held every seventh year during the annual Feast of Tabernacles. According to Deuteronomy 31:10-12, at Hakhel the priests were commanded to read the Law and explain its meaning to the people.
This is the first psalm titled “A Psalm of Asaph.” According to 1 Chronicles 15:16-19, Asaph sounded cymbals before the Ark of the Covenant when it was moved from the house of Obed-edom to Jerusalem. Asaph was appointed by David to be the chief Musician; his duty was to preside over the choral renditions that were part of the Temple worship (1 Chronicles 16:5). He was not only a musician, but also a celebrated poet, (see 2 Chronicles 29:30 and Nehemiah 12:46) and was the author or transcriber of twelve psalms. (Some scholars suggest that he may not have written the psalms himself, but rather, transcribed the words of David.) The Books of Chronicles give other biographical details as well. He was the son of Berechiah, brother to Zechariah, and a descendant of Gershom the son of Levi, so he was identified as a member of the Levites. His descendants were one of the three families given responsibility for music and song in the Temple (1 Chronicles 25:1-9).
In verses 1-6 of Psalm 50, God called all the earth to witness His judgment of His people, Israel. The combination of three of God’s names indicates the awesome nature of God. The command to “gather my saints,” refers to people bound to God through a covenant. The “heavens” were called to declare God’s righteousness, giving witness to the fact that His judgment would be absolutely just.
Retaining the courtroom imagery, verses 7-15 outline God’s complaint against His people: their devotion to Him had degenerated into hypocritical routine. Scholars note the emphasis on inward rather than outward religion in this psalm; it reflected an understanding that became more prominent in the prophetic books of the Old Testament.
In verses 16-21, God addressed the wicked, citing point-by-point indictments against them and condemning them for reciting His law with their lips, but deliberately disobeying Him in their actions. In verses 22-23, the writer summarized the kind of worshiper God is seeking — the one who honors God rightly through genuine worship and obedience.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. Book I (1:1 — 41:13)
II. Book II (42:1 — 72:20)
III. Book III (73:1 — 89:52)
IV. Book IV (90:1 — 106:48)
V. Book V (107:1 — 150:6)
A Closer Look
- In Psalm 49, what did the psalmist say that those who trusted in their riches could not do?
- In Psalm 50:14, why do you think the psalmist grouped these two commands together? What relationship exists between them?
- What will be some indicators in our daily lives if our focus is on spiritual investments rather than worldly riches?
There are temporal advantages in acquiring wealth, but those advantages will all disappear when we stand before God at the end of life. For that reason, we should focus on making spiritual investments which will last for all eternity.