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All Things Being Equal (Psalm 49:1-20)

Erik DiVietroErik DiVietro, 28 August, 2011
Part of the Nonserial Musings (Not Part of Any Series) series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

(We apologize for the lower-than-usual audio quality. This was a backup file recorded on Erik's iPad; the file we'd hoped to use was incomplete due to a power failure during today's tropical storm.)

Psalm 49 - All Things Being Equal

Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together! My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

As the psalm begins, we are reminded that wisdom begins with the heart. It is easy to talk. People with nothing to say do most of the talking we get exposed to. But the greatest truths of life are found not in the volume of speech but in the simplest of things.

  • Wisdom: חכמה practical, active wisdom. Direction in a skill or a process.
  • Understanding: תבון an intellectual understanding of how things work.
  • Proverb: משל a saying, a concise phrasing of truth
  • Riddle: חידה something out forth, set out. It takes thinking to solve it.

What can we learn about teaching, about God's Word? Even about Jesus, the living Word? There is a physical and an intellectual aspect. There is a simple AND a complex side to it. The truth is always in the tension. Jesus is the great paradox - both accessible and incomprehensible, both active and spiritual.

The same should be true of the way we teach, of the songs we sing, of the ministries we participate in. There must be a balance of simplicity and richness of thought. We must always be multi-dimensional and worth the investment of time and thought. Modern Christianity is often too easy to master, to simple to be real. It is surface level with none of the richness and beauty of the Scriptures.

Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.
This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah (5-15)
The psalmist begins his content with a look at the inequality of human existence. Even in 700 BCE there was class warfare. There were the rich and the poor, and the division was substantial. The rich were corrupt and the poor were unrepresented.
But no matter how much economic clout someone might have, what true power to they have? They might be able to take a life, but they can never affix value to life. In the end, no one can purchase
Life. No amount of money can buy your way out of death. Claim what you want. The only thing you own is your dwelling place in death.
The idea of ransom (פדה) is purchasing something that does not belong. Since the psalmist is using economic terminology, it makes sense to put the idea of salvation in those terms. It is not defined by this language. It is illustrated by it.
Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself— his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. (Psalm 49:16-20 ESV)

Anyone who thinks that being godly is the sure path to prosperity should consider this psalm. It is fairly clear that Israel's society at this time had it's have's and have not's. This have attitude is not restricted to only those with wealth. Any form of self-fulfilled, self-focused thinking fits.

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About Erik DiVietro: Teaching pastor of Bedford Road Baptist Church, Merrimack, New Hampshire. Check out his blog at Unorthodoxfaith.com.
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Psalm 49:1-20

1Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: 2Both low and high, rich and poor, together. 3My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. 4I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. 5Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about? 6They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; 7None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: 8(For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) 9That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. 10For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. 11Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. 12Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. 13This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah. 14Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. 15But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah. 16Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; 17For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. 18Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. 19He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. 20Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish. (KJV)

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