Rich, But Poor
Hear this, all peoples;Listen carefully, all inhabitants of the world, Both low and high,Rich and poor together: My mouth will speak wisdom,And the meditation of my heart will be understanding. I will incline my ear and consent to a proverb;On the lyre I will unfold my riddle. Why should I fear in the days of evil,When the wickedness of those who would betray me surrounds me [on every side], Even those who trust in and rely on their wealthAnd boast of the abundance of their riches? None of them can by any means redeem [either himself or] his brother,Nor give to God a ransom for him— For the ransom of his soul is too costly,And he should cease trying forever— So that he should live on eternally,That he should never see the pit (grave) and undergo decay. For he sees that even wise men die;The fool and the stupid alike perishAnd leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is that their houses will continue forever,And their dwelling places to all generations;They have named their lands after their own names [ignoring God]. But man, with all his [self] honor and pomp, will not endure;He is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who are foolishly confident,And of those after them who approve [and are influenced by] their words. Selah. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead);Death will be their shepherd;And the upright shall rule over them in the morning,And their form and beauty shall be for Sheol to consume,So that they have no dwelling [on earth]. But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol,For He will receive me. Selah. Be not afraid when [an ungodly] man becomes rich,When the wealth and glory of his house are increased; For when he dies he will carry nothing away;His glory will not descend after him. Though while he lives he counts himself happy and prosperous—And though people praise you when you do well for yourself— He shall go to the generation of his fathers;They shall never again see the light. A man [who is held] in honor,Yet who lacks [spiritual] understanding and a teachable heart, is like the beasts that perish.
Wistfully the young wife sighed as she waved goodby to some older wealthy friends- “Someday we may be rich.” To which her husband wisely replied, “Honey, we are rich. Someday we may even have money.”
The young groom had caught the essence of Psalm 49- having money does not make you rich, nor does lacking money make you poor.
The of Psalm 49 on true wealth has a universal application. Both wealthy and poor, high and low can benefit from its message. The psalmist appears to exude confidence that these words will bring wisdom and understanding. Hopefully they will do so for us.
Psalm 49 asks only one question even though we might be tempted to ask the opposite one: “Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me- those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?” We might want to ask, “Why shouldn’t I?”
It’s important to note that the psalmist doesn’t categorically condemn wealthy people- only the arrogant, self- sufficient, and unscrupulous who have “riches without understanding.” It’s one of the difficulties of life for the righteous when they observe the wicked prospering while they struggle.
But we must decide what kind of a person we want to be. That’s what Psalm 49 really asks. In the natural the choice is a no-brainer. Why not be wealthy and have everything you want, go for the thrills of life, forget any duty or cross-bearing, and insulate yourself from pain, adversity or loss? However, it would be wise before choosing the way of the hedonist who insulate themselves from the pain of others in order to enjoy their own bubble world to consider the aspects of true poverty:
The most important question to ask is: “Do I own, or am I owned?”
Psalm 49 targets the wealthy who consider themselves in charge. They possess things but they themselves have no sense of their need to belong to God and thus lack a sense of need for redemption. This was the case of the rich man in the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man had made provision for this world and “fared sumptuously” but made no provision for his eternal soul. The beggar had little in this world but had made provision for eternity. Psalm 49 addresses those who focus only on this life and it’s things and fail to make provision for their eternal souls.
Biblical redemption is a concept related to the original owner buying back property which had fallen out of his hands into the hands of another. Through sinful choices, humanity ceases to belong to God. Psalm 49 speaks of the “rich” who refuse to believe they are detached from their true Owner.
The first and most elementary blessing Jesus pronounced is upon “the poor in spirit.” Everyone who enters the kingdom of God depends entirely upon Christ who has given Himself as their Redeemer. Psalm 49 admits, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough- that he should live on forever and not see decay”(verse 7). But what no man can do Jesus the Son of the Living God did by paying the ransom with His own blood that was costly but all- sufficient.
No human wealth can buy a relationship with God, nor forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Only Jesus offers such salvation and outside Him there is nothing but decay; something the self-sufficient should consider.
Everyone faces death for it is inevitable and all will leave everything of this world behind. There may be those who leave their names on monuments, lands, or mansions but in the final conclusion those are no better than animals for they all perish.
In eternity things are upside down in comparison to this life. One of the emphasis of Psalms and indeed the whole of Scripture is upon trust. Whether experiencing terrible or terrific times, the traveler who relies on the only true source of trust-God. All the thing of life that may be our pillars: health, strength, family, friends, and such- get knocked out but the life supported by trust in the Lord will not collapse.
This is not the case of the “wealthy.” Psalm 49 tells us that they are “destined for the grave, and death will feed on them….their forms will decay in the grave far from their princely mansions.”
It is vastly different in the end for the “upright”. God redeems their life from the grave and takes them to Himself.”
What lesson are we to learn from the poverty of the wealthy? First, worldly magnificence is only temporary. The praise and wonder of others soon fades away and the splendor will soon be gone, therefore we should not be overawed by external glamour and glitz of this world.
Psalm closes not by hammering the rich but condemning “wealth without understanding.” If, in order to be wealthy in this world’s things, I find it necessary to deceive or take that advantage of someone else, or trust myself rather than God, try to accomplish my goals my way rather than His, then I will do so only to find this so-called wealth will ultimately ruin me.
Psalm 49 says that those who don’t get its message are a beasts that perish. As Jesus tells of the man who lived his life solely to gain more of this world’s wealth and gave no thought to his soul. One night as he went to bed, his thoughts were on how he would increase his wealth. That night his life on earth came to an end and his eternity was doomed not because he was wealthy in worldly things but because he was in poverty in spiritual things. We might enjoy all the things of this life at the expense of our souls- Jesus says that makes us fools. We might enjoy all the things of life but choose our relationship with God first. Abraham did. It’s not so much about how much we have as it is about what has us.
If we see the things God has blessed us with as temporary and understand they are for our use and for the ability to be a blessing to those in need, wealth is a great gift. But if our lives are centered around our possessions and they dictate and control us, then we are actually impoverished. True wealth and liberty comes to those who identify with Abraham- a pilgrim looking for a city who’s builder and maker is God.
Can God trust you with wealth? Only if you have trusted Him with your heart.
Dr. John Thompson