Praying with the Psalms – Sunday 21st June

Listen!

Psalm 49

  1. Hear this, all you peoples;
    listen, all you that dwell in the world,
  2. You of low or high degree,
    both rich and poor together.
  3. My mouth shall speak of wisdom
    and my heart shall meditate on understanding.
  4. I will incline my ear to a parable;
    I will unfold my riddle with the lyre.
  5. Why should I fear in evil days,
    when the malice of my foes surrounds me,
  6. Such as trust in their goods
    and glory in the abundance of their riches?
  7. For no one can indeed ransom another
    or pay to God the price of deliverance.
  8. To ransom a soul is too costly;
    there is no price one could pay for it,
  9. So that they might live for ever,
    and never see the grave.
  10. For we see that the wise die also; with the foolish and ignorant they perish
    and leave their riches to others.
  11. Their tomb is their home for ever, their dwelling through all generations,
    though they call their lands after their own names.
  12. Those who have honour, but lack understanding,
    are like the beasts that perish.
  13. Such is the way of those who boast in themselves,
    the end of those who delight in their own words.
  14. Like a flock of sheep they are destined to die; death is their shepherd;
    they go down straight to the Pit.
  15. Their beauty shall waste away,
    and the land of the dead shall be their dwelling.
  16. But God shall ransom my soul;
    from the grasp of death will he take me.
  17. Be not afraid if some grow rich
    and the glory of their house increases,
  18. For they will carry nothing away when they die,
    nor will their glory follow after them.
  19. Though they count themselves happy while they live
    and praise you for your success,
  20. They shall enter the company of their ancestors
    who will nevermore see the light.
  21. Those who have honour, but lack understanding,
    are like the beasts that perish.

Reflection

Psalm 49 reads more like a Proverb than a Psalm. It was written by the Sons of Korah after they recognised that their father’s greed for wealth was the root of his downfall and death.

It is a message all people can learn from, regardless of status or class. Verse 1: “Hear this all you peoples, listen all who live in this world both low and high, rich and poor alike.”

We are immediately called to hear and to listen! This is important, and no one is excluded from hearing this message. It is not just for the rich: the poor can be just as materialistic as the rich, because materialism is a desire.

This Psalm is very matter of fact. it is a philosophical Psalm, which makes its appeal to the human mind – to any human mind, in any time or any place. “Hear this all you peoples, listen all who live in this world.”

The Psalm says nothing about the chosen people, or the Messiah, or salvation. Instead it calls upon the human mind – any human mind – to think deeply about certain universal facts and happenings in our life as human beings. The Psalmist is asking us to meditate – to think deeply with him about one universal problem.

Four times he declares what he going to do:

  1. My mouth will speak words of wisdom.
  2. The meditation or concern of my heart will give understanding.
  3. I will turn my ear to a proverb or the puzzle.
  4. I will explain in a song (my harp will expound my riddle).

Now the thing that most strikes the Psalmist about our human existence is that it ends in death, and if we forget or neglect this truth then we are but fools. But also, that as human beings we take wealth and all the other sorts of honour this world gives too seriously, because death will make it all come to nothing.

Confidence in these things, he tells us, is no basis for a wise life. The Psalmist repeats this theme throughout the Psalm. Making honour, reputation, admiration, pride our goal in life, we have failed to understand and are compared instead to beasts that perish.

Graves that are dug roughly the same depth and size are a great leveller, for whoever we are – rich and poor alike – we all end in the same small plot of land. So, you might say cemeteries are very democratic places!

Some individuals can become so powerful and famous that regions of the world are called after them, but the Psalmist suggests that whatever claims they make on the earth eventually the earth will make its claim on them. Worldly power takes itself very seriously and throws its weight around, but no amount of status or wealth can save a man from death itself.

So, God’s faithful servant does not fear what such people can do to him. In contrast to the wealthy arrogant man who cannot redeem his soul he sings out: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead when he takes me to himself.”

This Psalm is all about the sad fate of those who substitute honour and wealth for a Godly understanding of life and reality. Wisdom, on the other hand, is to do with the pursuit of justice. Proverbs 9.10 tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Reflection by Tina Nicholson
Associate Hub Leader (Central Hub)