Theme: The Great Contrast: Those Who Trust Riches
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
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.”
It is a recurring theme in much ancient literature, not only in the Bible, that to live without understanding is to live like an animal, since it is the ability to think and reason that sets human beings apart from the remainder of creation. Yet how animal-like we are when we fail to consider the shortness of our days and prepare for how we will spend eternity. The Hebrew text is more powerful than the translations at this point, for the phrase “does not endure” literally means “does not pass the night.” It suggests that in view of death a person’s position in life is not as secure even as a traveler who turns into an inn for the night. In our case, life is so short that we do not even make it to the morning. Yet there will be a bright “morning” for some whom the psalmist calls “upright” (v. 14).
This brings us to the second half of the psalm, to a section that introduces a contrast between those who trust riches and those who trust God (vv. 13-15). It is a contrast we have been expecting. For although thus far the psalmist’s words have been entirely about foolish persons who trust riches and refuse to think about death, the writer is nevertheless speaking to those who should be wise enough to listen to him and learn from him.
Those who trust riches. The first part of this contrast involves those he has been discussing all along, the rich who trust riches. But verse 13 adds a new and very important element, that is, “their followers.” It is a way of saying that not all who are foolish are rich; there are also foolish people who follow them, aspire to be like them and approve their sayings or philosophy of life. You do not have to have wealth to perish because of wealth. You can perish equally well merely by making money your goal and forgetting spiritual things.
For that is part of the contrast—not merely the goals of those who are materialistic and those who are upright, but also their ends. The person who is preoccupied with money has security, health, long life and a lasting reputation as his goals. But the true end of such a person is death—and not only physical death, but spiritual death too.
Verse 14 is interesting. It compares the foolish to sheep destined for slaughter, itself an apt image. But then it also adds literally, “Death shall shepherd them.” Alexander Maclaren has a suggestive sermon on this verse in which he compares the shepherding of death with the good shepherding of Jesus, suggesting that the psalmist may have been thinking of the well-known words of Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd,” when he wrote, “Death is their shepherd” in this psalm. Maclaren contrasts the two shepherds, the two flocks and the two folds.5
Compare and contrast both the goals and ends of those who trust in riches and those who trust in God.
What interesting element is found in verse 14? How does Alexander Maclaren work with this theme in teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ?
Application: How could you handle your money and belongings in a more God-honoring way?
For Further Study: For more on the foolishness of trusting in wealth, which is destined to perish, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Jesus and the Rich Young Man: What’s in It for Us?” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
5Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 1, pp. 365-375.