Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm. The psalm imparts wisdom about the vanity of life that is based on acquiring wealth. Thus the basic theme of this psalm is the futility of trusting in worldly possessions. Worldly possessions are left behind with death and they cannot buy forgiveness of sins nor buy back life. It aligns with the teaching of book of Ecclesiastes. The way the psalm flows is by calling upon the attention of the lowly and high, the rich and the poor to share wisdom, which stands true for all. According to him, life is a mixture of good and evil days. When evil things happen and one is close to death, the riches one has make no difference. Even the greatest of riches cannot buy back life. One is bound to face death just like a mere beast. He cannot take his possessions with him. All things living and non living will one day perish. This is the fate of both the wise and the foolish. Then he puts forth the truth that one who has understanding of God and loves him, he will take such a person to himself.
One significant image is of the richest and prominent person that perishes just like the beasts. The image is pretty powerful. What comparison is there between a president of the most powerful nation in the world and a beast! A president lives a life of significance. He travels, makes important decisions and is honored by all. Yet he faces the same fate as a beast that lives all its life as a parasite. He has no honor or dignity of its own. This is pretty stark image that two opposite creatures would face the same fate if the salient one does not choose what is right in the sight of God.
In this psalm I see a strong parallelism between the wealth that satisfies worldly appetite and the wealth that gives eternal life. There is this wealth that gives one splendor and honor as long as he is alive but he cannot take it along with him to the grave. Even if he buried along side with him, what use would that be of. On the other hand, there is the richness in understanding God, which affects us eternally. It says that the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough. Not even the wealthiest individual can pay for his life. And there is the ransom that Christ paid which bought our life in full price. Thus the richness that acquires worldly possessions is counted loss and the richness of seeking God brings gain.
The application in my life of the psalm is to not treasure and desire worldly possession over the real things that God delights in. I have to be constantly reminded of this truth- hoarding treasures are in vain. It’s like trying to grasp sand, the more you try to get, the more it escapes from your hand. There has to be a balance though. Money in itself is not an evil thing; it becomes evil due to what people make of it. God uses money to bless us and others. It becomes evil when people start hoarding and not using it for the expansion of God’s kingdom or to bring glory to God. Reading this psalm is a reminder that I cannot take any possession along with me when I die. It is the choice that I have made in Christ that counts.