This Psalm was probably written by one of the descendants of the sons of Korah, during the Babylonian captivity.
B. Blayney, Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with John Canne, Browne, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, vol. 1 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.), 376.
This psalm is about poor rich people—people who have money, but that is all they have.
Family, fortune, friends, and future—nothing matters but money.
These people are the orphans of eternity.
When life’s moorings are untied they will be cast adrift to be tossed upon the waves of a shoreless sea—without chart or compass, without sun or star, forever driven before the howling winds of God’s wrath deeper and deeper into the dark.
It is somehow fitting that an orphan psalm should be dedicated to such people.
John Phillips, Exploring Psalms 1–88: An Expository Commentary, vol. 1, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Ps 49.
I. Words of Wisdom for the World (Ps.
A. The Poet's Appeal for Audience (v. 1).
The word “world” is the translation of an unusual Hebrew word that means “the total human scene, the whole sphere of passing life,” not unlike “world” in 1 John 2:15–17.
The writer spoke from his heart (v.
3; see 45:1) the wisdom and understanding that the Lord gave him, and he dealt with an enigma that only the Lord could explain (v.
The enigma was life itself and its puzzling relationship to the distribution of wealth and the power that wealth brings.
How should believers respond when they see the rich get richer?
Should they be afraid that the wealthy will abuse the poor?
Should they be impressed by the wealth that others possess and seek to imitate them?
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 180–181.
B. The Persons to Whom this Wisdom Applies (v. 2).
C. The Promise of Prophecy in this Wisdom (v.
D. The Parable for Understanding (v. 4).
Most of us in the West, even when we are very active in Christian work, are materialistic.
That is, we think in terms of the things we see rather than spiritual realities we cannot see, and we are inclined to trust wealth or what we can accomplish with it.
Not many years ago, the well-known Christian psychiatrist and writer John White wrote a book titled The Golden Cow, in which he faithfully exposed the blatant materialism of the twentieth-century Western church.1
1 John White, The Golden Cow: Materialism in the Twentieth-Century Church (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979).
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 409.
Riches Cannot Redeem a Life (Ps.
A. There Is a Path of Peacefulness in the Day of Death (v. 5).
B. Wealth & Riches Cannot Provide this Personal Peace (v. 6).
C. Wealth & Riches Cannot Provide this Peace to Others (v. 7).
D. Wealth & Riches Are Powerless to Ransom a Priceless Soul (v.
The French atheist and scourge of Christianity, Voltaire, was a very rich man.
He was the most famous person of the European enlightenment in the sophisticated eighteenth century, and his writings, particularly his satirical attack on Christianity, Candide, were read everywhere.
Yet when Voltaire came to die, it is reported that he cried to his doctor in pained desperation, “I will give you half of all I possess if you will give me six months more of life.”
But, of course, it was beyond the doctor’s ability to do that, and all Voltaire’s great wealth could not slow death’s advance.
He died despairing.
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 410.
All People Will Perish (Ps.
A. Corruption Comes to All (v.
B. Regardless of Intellect or Education (v.
C. Regardless of Whether or Not One Believes it Will Happen to Them (v.
D. Regardless of Position or Station in Life (v.
It isn’t a sin to be wealthy if we acknowledge God as the Giver and use what He gives to help others and glorify His name (1 Tim.
But an increase in wealth often leads to an increase in evil.
It’s good to have things that money can buy, if we don’t lose the things money can’t buy.
It’s sad when people start to confuse prices with values.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 181.
God Will Ransom the Upright (Ps.
A. The Path of Those Who Trust in Riches Is Folly (v.
B. Their Shepherd Is Death (v.
C. Their Doom Is the Second Death (v.
D. My Hope of Resurrection Is in God Alone (v.
The writer pictured wealthy lost people as dumb sheep being led to the slaughterhouse by Death, the shepherd, who would devour them.
(See Luke 16:14, 19–31.)
For the believer, death is only a valley of temporary shadows, and Jesus is the Shepherd (23:4).
There is coming a “morning” when the dead in Christ will be raised and share the glory of the Lord (1 Thess.
4:13–18; see Ps. 16:10–11; Isa.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 182.
V. Riches Do Not Follow a Person in Death (Ps.
A. Fear Not Those Who Temporarily Prosper By Trusting in Riches (v.
B. Their Glory Will Not Last Forever (v.
C. Earthly Empires Will Decay in Eternal Darkness (vv.
The rich man’s glory is founded in the wrong world.
The Pharaohs thought they could take their wealth with them to another world.
They built tombs to defy the tooth of time and embalmed their bodies to defy the corruption of the grave.
They loaded their burying places with the wealth of this world on the premise that they would need this wealth in the next one.
When archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the intact tomb of Tutankhamen, Egyptologist James Breasted declared that the treasure represented the greatest single discovery of concentrated wealth of all time and estimated that ten years would be needed simply to record it and move it to the Cairo Museum.
Tutankhamen was a mere eighteen-year-old boy who reigned for only ten years and, as Pharaohs go, was a nonentity.
Yet he left all that enormous wealth behind—every last piece was eventually hauled away to be put on display in a museum, to be gazed at by millions, and to be carried around the world to show to millions more.
His tomb was robbed in death as his soul was robbed in life.
Not one glittering ornament profited the Pharaoh in the land beyond his guilded tomb.
Death robs the rich man of the wealth that makes him forgetful—forgetful of the basic truth that “the things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal.”
John Phillips, Exploring Psalms 1–88: An Expository Commentary, vol. 1, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Ps 49:16–18.
D. Count the Cost (v.
For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Here is wisdom concerning Wealth and the Fate of the Wicked