This psalm begins much like our text yesterday morning in Isaiah 34 (see Isaiah 34:1). The world is being called together to consider something. The psalmist informs us that he is going to expound a riddle which begins with the question, “Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?” (Psalm 49:5-6) This is a rhetorical question; the answer is an assumed, “I shouldn't.” But the reasons may surprise you.
I might expect an answer something like, “Because God is going to stop them from harming you.” Or, “Because God will deliver you supernaturally and you will not experience suffering.” But that is not the answer the psalmist gives. The answer he gives actually informs us more about biblical religion (using religion in the right sense of the word, i.e. worship and faith), than the other answer would have. The answer comes in two parts and is followed by a conclusion.
First, in Psalm 49:7-12, we are informed of a problem that seemingly has nothing to do with the question. “No one can redeem the life of another, or give to God a ransom for him.” That is a problem, no doubt, but what does it have to do with why I don't need to fear when evil days come? Nothing yet; but stay with him. He informs us of a serious problem we all have: we need a solution for death. In short, riches cannot buy your way out of death. Now that creates a problem for the enemy that surrounds me in vs. 6, “those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches.” However, it doesn't solve the problem I face when at any given point I might be surrounded by those intent on harming me.
Secondly, it begins to apply this truth to the situation which might normally cause great anxiety and fear (quite understandably), in Psalm 49:13-15. This application comes in two parts: 1) All who trust in themselves are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them; 2) The upright (those who trust in the Lord, not themselves) will rule over them in the morning (on the other side of the grave... resurrection), as God will redeem my life from the grave and take me to Himself.
While no one can redeem the life of another, because all must die themselves, God can redeem me, and indeed will (which came through Jesus Christ), so that the problem of death is solved. Now, on the other side of the grave, there is a reversal of fortunes, so to speak, a change of status or position.
The conclusion? Don't be overly impressed with success. Don't get too caught up in earthly mansion and splendor. For it is not how people count your life on this side of the grave that matters, it is how they will count it on the other side. Will they count you blessed then? (Psalm 49:16-20) Man, without understanding, perishes...and death will feed on him. What understanding do we need? The Gospel truth of how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.
Either we are feeding on the Bread of Life and going to live forever, or death will be feeding on us, forever. That is why I need not fear. Not because I won't suffer, for I might well suffer, but because of how things will be when all is said and done. God is watching and will set things straight.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,