In the introduction to Psalm 49 I pointed out that, because the Bible is a progressive revelation, it is often the case that a New Testament passage is a commentary on an Old Testament text. In the case of Psalm 49 it was the other way around; the psalm can be viewed as exposition of Jesus' well-known parable of the rich fool. Psalm 50 is an example of the normal pattern. Its theme is developed in 1 Peter 4:7, where Peter writes, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" A theme like this calls for sober reflection by God's people.

In this stage in the history of biblical revelation it would be too much to suggest that the psalmist anticipated the redemption of sinners by the death of Jesus Christ, as the New Testament presents it, for example, in Romans 3:22-24 ("There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus"), or in 1 Peter 1:18, 19 ("For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect"). Nevertheless, "redeem” is exactly the right word to use in this context.

Those who trust God. The most remarkable thing about this section, indeed of the psalm as a whole, is the statement of verse 15, which expresses faith in life for the righteous after death. Its first words, "But God,” are one of the great "but God" contrasts of the Bible. They teach that those who trust riches will die, be buried and soon be forgotten, while those who trust God will be redeemed by him and be taken to him to enjoy personal life and fellowship with him forever.

After these wise observations the psalmist ends the first half of the poem with a couplet that will be repeated with some slight but significant variations at the end (vv. 12 and 20): “But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.”

The outline of Psalm 49 is not obscure, which means that nearly all commentators divide it into the same five parts, though they sometimes combine them under comprehensive headings. They are: 1) the introduction (which we have already touched on); 2) the foolishness of trusting riches (vv. 5-9); 3) the inescapability of death (vv. 10-12); 4) the contrast between those who trust riches and those who trust God (vv. 13-15); and 5) an appeal to all persons to be wise (vv. 16-20).