“Hear this, all you peoples. Pay attention, all you inhabitants of the world.” (Psalm 49:1)
Okay. It better be good.
“Both small and great, Rich and poor alike. My own mouth will speak wisdom, And the meditation of my heart will show understanding.” (vs 2-3).
More of the same. You could even take it for immodesty, if you hadn’t already decided it’s not going to be that way.
“I will pay attention to a proverb; I will expound my riddle with the harp.” (vs 4)
There will be music.
“Why should I fear during times of trouble, When I am surrounded by the evil of those trying to overthrow me?” (vs 5)
Okay, now we’re getting down to it. And it looks like it is going to be a good, fine way to counter anxiety.
“Those who are trusting in their wealth And who boast about their great riches,” (vs 6)
People do tend to be like this. What makes the world go round? What trail should do they say you should always follow to see how things are happening? The ‘money trail?’ Not that it’s bad stuff. ‘A protection’ is what Ecclesiastes 7:12 calls it, even as it says ‘wisdom’ is a better protection, since it “preserves the life of its owner.” What can money do and what can’t it do?
“None of them can ever redeem a brother Or give to God a ransom for him, (The ransom price for their life is so precious That it is always beyond their reach); That he should live forever and not see the pit.” (7-9)
Here are verses that are such a slam-dunk for explaining the ransom of Christ—how the death of one man can redeem a brother by giving a ransom for him, in fact not just one, but countless ones: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16)—that we usually go straight there, such as here in the Enjoy Life Forever guide.
Let’s stay more on the lines of what the psalmist would have thought. He wouldn’t have known of that future application. He would have confined his observations to the ‘here and now’ limitations of money. Here’s an article that goes that way.
On a street of massively imposing homes, one householder assured me that, “You have no idea what goes on behind these doors.” Money may hide woes, but it by no means alleviates them. ‘They’re lives are a mess,’ one hairdresser told me—to whom they unhesitatingly spill. Expand the list of how the wealthy cannot ‘redeem even a brother’ to destruction from drugs, alcohol, or depravity. Often wealth better enables those paths.
Alas, the wealthy one, who has bought university wisdom with his wealth, “sees that even wise people die; The stupid and the unreasoning perish together, And they must leave their wealth to others. Their inner wish is that their houses will last forever, Their tents to generation after generation. They have named their estates after themselves.” (vs 10-11)
Even park benches they name after themselves, I reflect, as I set my rear end on one. Maybe not the ‘wealthy’ do this as much as the ‘wannabe wealthiest.’ Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, for otherwise I would be standing, but—talk about a meager consolation prize!
“But man, although honored, will not remain; He is no better than the beasts that perish. This is the way of the stupid ones And of those who follow them, who take pleasure in their empty words. (vs 12-13)
Whoa! Why not say what you think? For the first time, the wisdom of the wise, who ‘boast of their great riches,’ is likened to ‘the way of the stupid ones’ spewing ‘empty words!’—words to the effect that this life is all there is.
They overlook that “They are assigned like sheep to the Grave. Death will shepherd them; The upright will rule over them in the morning. Every trace of them will fade away; The Grave rather than a palace will be their home.” (vs 14)
Whereas, for the one who puts his trust in God? “God will redeem me from the power of the Grave, For he will take hold of me.” (15)
“Do not be afraid because a man becomes rich, Because the splendor of his house increases,” (vs 16)
The words would not be here if they didn’t reflect a truth—that people do become afraid. I am in awe of the publishers of the city congregation I once attended who would screw up every ounce of their courage to chase out to the suburbs and witness to ones of staggering wealth compared to theirs. They could have sat it out. Everyone would have understood. But they didn’t.
Sometimes there was even a racial component to it. Larry King interviewed someone who recalled his liberal background as one who would ‘call a charity if he saw Blacks on TV but call a cop if he saw one on his street.’ I think too of Bobby, a white man as uneducated as could be—even by our standards—who regularly placed magazines with a lofty fellow out in the burbs. Send a more educated brother out there and the fellow wouldn’t give him the time of day. ‘Yeah, some of them like to show off their superiority,’ Ruth muttered.
“For when he dies he can take nothing with him; His splendor will not go down with him. For during his lifetime he congratulates himself. (People praise you when you prosper.)” (vs 17-18)
Why do I think of the Billie Holiday song, ‘God Bless the Child?’
And when you got money,
You got a lots of friends
Crowdin' 'round your door
When the money's gone
And all you're spendin' ends
They won't be 'round any more.
I first heard Chicago sing this song. That is the version that sticks with me. In these touchy times, however, the group might be declared guilty of ‘cultural approbation.’ Holiday considered it a uniquely Black song—or has it been assigned that role retroactively? Leave it to someone else to track this down. It was 80 years ago. Either way, it’s a good song.
“But he finally joins the generation of his forefathers. They will never again see the light.” Even when you do succeed in holding onto the big dough, which is more often than not, the end is the same.” (19)
The psalmist concludes by, once again, throw sensibilities to the wind.
Why do I think of those who were once believers and exchanged it for today’s trendy atheism? Why do I liken them to the fellow who loses millions in the stock market? ‘They were only paper gains, anyway,’ he tells himself, and whoops it up with the hundreds he still has left.
****** The bookstore