Theme: The Great Contrast: Those Who Trust God
In this week’s lessons we learn about the foolishness of trusting in riches, and instead are told to trust in God, who alone is able to redeem our souls.
Scripture: Psalm 49:1-20
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.
Strangely, Peter C. Craigie, in other respects an excellent student of the psalms, takes verse 15 as a mistaken self-confident boast of the wicked, meaning, “Surely God will redeem my soul…” This leads him to conclude somewhat later that “the psalm, in keeping with the Psalter as a whole, has no explicit theology and hope of life after death.”6 But one can argue quite the other way. H. C. Leupold asks why the psalmist does not elaborate on this important matter if it is really so striking an insight of faith. He answers: “It must be that the hope of life with God was more real in Old Testament days than many commentators would allow for.”7 In other words, it was not a novelty to say that the upright would be preserved by God in order to have fellowship with him in the afterlife. It was a commonplace belief. Most if not all the Old Testament writers understood and believed this.
I would argue that the next line also suggests this, since the verb “take me” in the phrase “take me to himself” is used of Enoch in Genesis 5:24. That verse says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” It would have been known to all devout Jews. If Enoch “was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death” (Heb. 11:5), then there must be a life for the righteous beyond death, and it is this life to which the psalmist refers. His was not a well-informed faith, since Jesus had not yet come and no one could fully anticipate the significance of his triumphant resurrection. Yet it was a true faith found, once we know to look for it, in many Old Testament writers.8
Moreover, we need to give the fullest possible meaning to “the morning” in verse 14. This could refer only to a later day, as if the psalmist were saying that given enough time the materialist will die and the righteous will inherit his possessions. But that is not always the case. In this life the rich frequently outlive the upright. So although what I have just said is a possible interpretation, it is not the right one for the context, and the verse must mean that there is something beyond death. In other words, the older commentators were right when they suggested that the verse is actually an anticipation of the morning of the resurrection, when the saints shall be raised to glory and receive their spiritual rewards.
Here is an important question: What makes the difference in the fate of the upright? Why are they assured of seeing God, while those who trust only in their riches perish? The answer surely is not in what they do or can do, since that is the error of those who “trust in themselves” (v. 13). The difference is God, whom the upright trust. God “redeems” the soul of the righteous in contrast to men who cannot redeem another (v. 7) or themselves (vv. 8, 9).
How should we understand the term “the morning” in verse 14?
How does the difference in the future of the upright affect how they live in the present?
Reflection: Pray for opportunities to talk with people you know about the reality of death and the need to spiritually prepare for it.
6Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983) p. 361.7H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 386.8″Take me” is used again in Psalm 73:24, which is similar in many ways to this one. The Enoch story must have been understood by many as teaching an afterlife for Old Testament believers.