Monday, March 14, 2011

Psalm 49

“Everybody listen to me” (vs. 1-4)—Poetry is a marvelous thing. Here the writer takes four verses to say, in effect, “everybody listen to what I’m about to say.” His message will be put to music (v. 4); he will speak wisdom (v. 3), and he emphasizes that “low and high, rich and poor together” should hear him. That includes the whole world. And indeed, his subsequent message is full of light and wise advice. However, the world would not listen in his day, and is not listening today, either.

The foolishness of worldliness (vs. 5-15)—The writer starts his thoughts by saying that there is no reason to be afraid when surrounded by sin (v. 5)—“when the iniquity of (at) my heels shall compass me about,” a lovely, poetic way to express it. The implication from here on is that the wealthy are mostly the cause of the sin we should not be afraid of. That is a general truth; because of their wealth, they have more free time to get into mischief. Others are working hard just to survive. That was certainly true in the subsistence farming era the psalmist lived in. Verses 6 and 7 state the theme of Psalm 49: “Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him.” In short, money cannot buy salvation. The psalmist immediately puts his finger on what is truly important and lasting—spiritual things, not worldly. Trusting in wealth rather than God will cost a man his soul (vs. 8-9). “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). What is more important to us than salvation? To some, it is money. But that is vanity.

The “he” of verse 10 is a little vague; perhaps the psalmist is speaking of himself. But he states here the reason that wealth is so vain—wise men die, foolish men die, the wealthy die “and leave their wealth to others.” The fruits of all that hard work will be enjoyed by others. They certainly don’t mean it to be so and never really consider spiritual things. They think they will live “forever” (on earth), and even “call their lands after their own names” (v. 11). That’s a bit of a hyperbole; everyone knows that they will eventually die, but again, what is truly important to these people are things of this earth. Such a one may have “honor” from other like-minded individuals (an honor that “does not remain”), but “he is like the beasts that perish” (v. 12). Recognizing that and avoiding the pitfalls of wealth is true wisdom, indeed.

But, they are foolish, and so are all those who exalt them, even in future generations (v. 13). They shall die and “their beauty shall be consumed in the grave” (v. 14). On the other hand, the righteous will be redeemed by God “from the power of the grave” and “He shall receive me” (v. 15). Faithfulness to God, not gold, is the standard accepted in heaven.

The final word of advice (vs. 16-20)—So, going back to his initial statement (v. 5), don’t be afraid of what the wealthy can do to you (v. 16). Keep your eyes on the true prize and realize that when the rich man dies “he shall carry nothing away” and his glory shall not descend after him”—descend, not ascend (v. 17). He and the world may think he’s a hotshot (v. 18), but he will follow his fathers into eternity, an eternity where “they shall never see light” (v. 19). The man who is honored by the world, but doesn’t understand these thoughts, “is like the beasts that perish” (v. 20). A dumb, ignorant, brute beast—that’s what the psalmist calls those who refuse to heed the Lord and His eternal message.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Psalm 48

Praise for God in Jerusalem (vs. 1-14)—Jerusalem was the seat of Israel’s government during the United Kingdom, and then Judah’s when the country divided. The Psalmist here encourages the people of the city to praise God. He calls Jerusalem a “holy mountain” (v. 1) and “Mount Zion” (v. 2); the stability and strength of a mountain is the key here. It is the city of the great King (v. 2), the refuge of His people (v. 3).

Much of the reason for this praise is found in verses 4-7, the protection the Lord gave the city from “the kings assembled” (v. 4). They “passed by” (v. 4), “saw it” (Jerusalem), “marveled” and “were troubled” and thus “hastened away” (v. 5). They became fearful (v. 6), and the psalmist attributes this to the power of Jehovah, who can “break” the mightiest of ships with ease (v. 7). In an age of strong, ruthless empires, when a relatively minor city like Jerusalem is left alone, there is cause for rejoicing. The city will eventually be sacked, of course, in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians, but God’s purpose for Jerusalem, the Jews, and mankind would continue until the Messiah came—which was the point of it all. Jerusalem would be established “forever” (v. 8), that is, for as long as God has use for her. And, indeed, the city still exists, though its divine purpose is unknown to us.

The source of this heavenly protection was the “lovingkindness” of the Lord; reminders of that were daily illustrated in “Your temple” (v. 9)—the fact that He had set up a sacrificial system so that the people might have atonement for their sins. The Lord is a righteous God, deserving of “praise to the ends of the earth” (v. 10). The city and country should rejoice “because of your judgments” (v. 11). The reference in verse 11 to Judah and not all of Israel may imply that the division has already happened. We do not know the exact date or circumstance of the writing of this song.

The writer then closes the psalm with a boast about the strength of the city—look at her towers, bulwarks, and palaces, and pass the message on to future generations (vs. 12-13). But he correctly attributes this to “our God,” who “will be our guide even to death” (v. 14). Our protection from evil in this life comes from the Lord, and it is something we should be thankful for and give Him praise. Indeed, many times He works in His providence to protect us (from others and ourselves) and we may not even know it, because the harm that might have come did not come. Jehovah is worthy to be praised for what we see Him do—and what we do not see.