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Like the Beasts That Perish

Psalm 49 is a song that calls all people, "both low and high, rich and poor together,” to listen to the wisdom of the psalmist.  The message of this psalm is essentially that old saying, "You can’t take it with you,” or as Job said, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21).  Likewise, Paul wrote, "For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1Tim. 6:7), and Solomon said,

As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came.  He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.  This also is a grievous evil – exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? (Eccl. 5:15-16)

We have all heard this message more times than we can count, and we may acknowledge its truth, but do we really believe it?

This true message is stated plainly in verses 5-9 of Psalm 49.  When it comes to the redemption of the soul and eternal life, earthly wealth has no value.   No amount of wealth is a ransom suitable to God to redeem a man or his brother.  Therefore, those who trust in their wealth have misplaced their trust in what is ultimately worthless.

In verse 10, the man who trusts in his wealth sees the evidence of this truth.  The wise and the stupid are both subject to death, and their wealth, whether great or small, is left to others.  This is the case every time for every man without exception.  No one lives on the earth forever.

Yet the man who trusts in his wealth still thinks that he will be the exception.  Verse 11 captures so well the height of man’s foolishness and arrogance: "Their inner thought is that their houses are forever and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names.”

The "inner thought” of verse 11 indicates the deepest belief within the heart of a man.  Regardless of what a man may say or do, the inner thought is his true core.  This inner thought may not even be articulated in words within the man so that he says to himself, "I trust in my wealth,” but it is the driving principle that will mold the choices he makes.  He may say, "I can’t take it with me,” but in his heart he thinks, "I will never leave it.”

This should raise our concern.  Do we only give lip service to the truth or are our inner thoughts sincerely trusting of God?  Maybe we give verbal acknowledgement to the fact that someday, if the Lord tarries, we will all die and leave behind all the material things we have accumulated, but are we prepared to face eternity?  Are you ready to die?

Verses 12-14 tell of the end of the man who trusts in his wealth.  Verse 12 states, "But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.”  His life has no more staying power than that of an animal, and then the grave will be his home.  Although his inner thought was that his house was forever (v. 11), in eternity he has "no habitation” (v. 14).

In contrast to that, the psalmist says, "But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for He will receive me” (verse 15).  Rather than trusting in worthless riches, he has placed his hope in God who will rescue him from the grave.  Through faith, the ransom is paid so that the one who trusts in God can be redeemed.  Christ is the Redeemer who paid it all.

The song closes by putting the foolish rich man in a proper perspective in verses 16-20.  Although he is rich, he is not to be feared more than any other man.  He has not escaped the law of death by acquiring wealth, and none of it will follow him when he dies.  Regardless of the praise he receives from himself or others, "he shall go to the generation of his fathers” (verse 19).  His foolish choice of the temporal over the eternal makes him "like the beasts that perish” (verse 20).  They have no eternal life, and neither does he.

Therefore, let us take this message to heart.  May our inner thoughts be of God and his redeeming power rather than the self-deceit of trusting in riches or any other temporal thing.  Only then can we rise above the fate of the beasts that perish and hope to become like God who lives eternally.

Stacey E. Durham



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