To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah
1 Hear this, all ye people: give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom: and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
5 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches:
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names.
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave: death shall feed on them: and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning: and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for He shall receive me. Selah.
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased:
17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers: they shall never see light.
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
Riches won’t buy you heaven, but God will.
Some psalms have less emotional content than others. Still, our hearts must engage with a psalm such as this that excels in deep wisdom. We are not impressed with the riches of men who are on their way to hell. When you set God’s currency next to the rich man’s millions, you know that only God can buy your soul from the clutches of eternal death. This psalm produces in us a confident rejoicing in God and the certainty of the resurrection. We should also enjoy our freedom from the clutches of the idolatry of materialism.
Verses 1–4. This psalm is an ideal exhortation for our modern world, where most people live in the lap of luxury. Yet it is intended for every person who has ever lived in this world— rich and poor alike. For it establishes what is really of value in this world. In a world of millions of books and billions of opinions, only the Bible gives us the dark sayings, the nuggets of gold hidden in the dark corners of caves. These nuggets are well worth the effort of excavation.
Verse 5. Here the Psalmist introduces the big question that everybody needs to face. There isn’t a person alive that will not experience the evil day in the valley of the shadow of death. We will all meet our day of trial and tribulation. Indeed, there will be times when we will be surrounded by our “Jacobs.” That is the Hebrew word used for “deceivers” or “heels.” What will we do in the day where we are facing those who want to trip us up and destroy us? Will we be afraid? Now, the Psalmist contrasts those that have reason to fear with those that do not have reason to fear.
Verses 6–13. First, the Psalmist takes up the rich man. Too many rich men want to trust in their wealth. But there are only certain things that money can buy, and there isn’t enough money in the world to buy a man’s soul. Because of the word “ransom” used in this section, you need to think of the soul as captured or kidnapped by the enemy deceivers. When someone is kidnapped, the kidnappers usually ask for a ransom of the family and friends of the victim. In a similar manner, our souls have been captured by the devil and sin, and we will certainly be destroyed unless somebody pays that ransom price. If a kidnapper were to take one of our children, we would do everything that we could to pay the ransom, because our children’s lives are very precious to us. This is how the Psalmist speaks of the souls of God’s people in verse 8. They are precious to God, and He sent His Son in order to pay the ransom for those precious souls.
There is a limited period of time in which our souls may be ransomed from death, which is the final enemy to rally against us. Rich and poor alike will die, and the money of the richest people on earth will do them no good in that day. Then, those that trust in their riches will live in their tombs forever, a poetic reference to everlasting death. Everybody wants to live forever.
They want to see that their lives have some lasting value. That is why they name streets and lands after themselves. But those who die without God will never rise out of the grave again. They go to the land of everlasting death. What a hopeless, miserable prognosis for those who trust in themselves! Although the Psalmist does not bring out the word “hell,” or describe it in as graphic of terms as Jesus does in the Gospels, we should conclude that this is the most dreadful place from which everyone should wish to escape.
Verses 14–20. Now comes the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. While death is eternally eating away the souls of the wicked, the righteous will not only live, but will rule with Christ forever. This blessing comes upon us only because God paid the price by sacrificing His only begotten Son. The Psalmist says with faith, “I know that my God will take me to Himself.” Not all of Israel held to this belief in the resurrection. Sadducees in the Gospels questioned whether there would be any resurrection of the bodies and souls of believers.
The psalm ends with a warning not to be too impressed with rich people, for riches in this fallen world are of such little value. Comparatively, wisdom is of far greater value than riches. In fact, a man who collects millions of dollars and dies without God is like a cow that dies without honor. Who would bother arranging a funeral to honor a cow?
1. Everybody rests on something to get them through life. Do you trust in yourself and your riches or do you trust in God? When things go badly for someone living in our day, it is far too easy for him to look at his nice house and well-endowed bank account, and say, “Well, at least I have this retirement account that I can rely on in my old age.” Men’s hearts tend to trust in their own riches. Conversely, the response of the true man of faith to the prospects of disaster must be, “At least I have God.”
2. The value of your life would be worthless without faith in God, even if you were president of the United States or saved up several billion dollars. What makes your life worthwhile is living it to the glory of God, by faith in Jesus Christ. Only God can buy your soul, and He can do it because His Son paid the price.
1. It may seem strange to sing about proud, rich people in worship songs to God. What we sing is a testimony of what we believe concerning God and the world around us. Worship includes this testimony of faith. That is why we can write hymns about what we believe concerning Christ and His life, especially if those hymns are rooted in the truth of God’s Word.
2. Worship celebrates the resurrection of Christ, and basks in the certainty of our own resurrection. While this psalm reminds us of the uncertainty and temporality of riches, it also exalts in the truth of the resurrection. Since Christ was the first fruits of this resurrection, Christians have worshiped on the first day of the week to commemorate this grand event. Unfortunately, this practice of meeting for worship on Sunday has fallen into disuse of late, because the resurrection is hardly an emphasis in the Christian gospel anymore. When Christians are asked to summarize the Gospel, they will tell you that Christ died on the cross for our sins. Rarely do they finish the statement as the Apostles did in the New Testament: “Christ died on the cross for our sins, He was raised for our justification, and now He sits on the right hand of the Father and will rule until all of His enemies are brought under His footstool.”
1. What does “Jacob” mean?
2. Who should sing psalms like this one?
3. Who has kidnapped us and who pays the ransom?
4. In what do rich people trust?
5. What happens to rich people who trust in their riches?
6. How does this text teach us the doctrine of the resurrection?
1. What do we instinctively look to for security and salvation in the day of trouble? Do we review our insurance policies and our savings accounts, or do we get on our knees and pray to God for His protection and deliverance?
2. Do you have confidence in the resurrection? Is your soul precious to God, and would He pay the ransom for you?