Psa 49.1-20 is another psalm written by the sons of Korah. They recognized that monetary greed is the root of evil and in their final psalm they talk about the relationship between man’s material possessions and man’s spiritual mission and the true meaning of life. It also teaches about faith in a future life and that is why it is placed after the preceding psalm that ends, “He will guide us in this world and the next.” The heading reads, “For the Conductor, by the sons of Korah, a Song.”
Psa 49.1-4 is an introduction and it begins, “Hear this (wisdom) all peoples (everyone relying on money) give ear (listen) all inhabitants of decaying earth, both sons of Adam (lowly) and sons of man (Ish in Hebrew and denotes all the great men-Isa 2.9). The psalmist is going to speak wise sayings and the meditations of his heart and it will be insightful.
He will incline his ear to a parable and express (solve) his riddle (a dark saying) on the harp (kinor). The harp is synonymous with the soul in Prov 20.27. The more God plucked David’s heart with affliction the more beautiful his songs were. The soul is stimulated in the same way as a harp. Mark 5.1 says that Yeshua and the others “came to the other side of the sea.” The Sea of Galilee is shaped like a harp and Yeshua did much teaching there. The Sea of Galilee is also called “Kinneret” from the Hebrew “kinor” meaning harp, and there was a town by that name (Josh 19.35; Num 34.11; Deut 3.17. It was changed to “Gennesaret” in Luke 5.1 and Yeshua ministered there (Matt 14.34; Mark 6.53). The harp is the only instrument that can be played by “the wind” (ruach). In the same way, our hearts are “plucked” by the Ruach Ha Kodesh (see Psa 33.2 notes). That is why Yeshua used the setting of the sea that is shaped like a harp for many of his teachings (v 1-4).
Psa 49.5-9 gives us the things money cannot buy, the righteous have no fear of the day of evil like the wicked (v 5). Those who trust in their wealth cannot save themselves or redeem anyone, and they cannot redeem themselves from sin and death (v 6-7). The redemption of the soul is “costly” (impossible) by a rich man, but not with God (1 Pet 1.18; 1 Tim 2.6). The rich shouldn’t even try (v 8). Though a rich person should live a long time (“a thousand years twice”-Ecc 6.6), and not see the pit of corruption, he still couldn’t redeem his brother (v 9).
Psa 49.10-12 says that he sees wise men die, along with the foolish and stupid, so this should not convince the rich man that he can’t redeem anyone (v 10). They devise plans so their estates last forever, and they can call land after themselves, like Egypt is “Mizraim” in Hebrew (a person) and Ethiopia is “Cush” (after a person). Alexandria is named after Alexander the Great. It is futile for men to immortalize himself and his memory.
There is a poem by the English poet Percy Shelley that illustrates this verse called “Ozymandias.” It talks about the inevitable decline of kings, princes, rulers and nobles who have a tendency to overstate their greatness. The poem paraphrases an inscription at the base of a statue that said, “King of Kings am I, Ozymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.” Ozymandias means ‘tyrant” and is the Greek name for Ramses II. The poem reads as follows, “I met a traveler from an antique land who said, ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; and on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; look on my works, ye mighty ang despair!’ Nothing besides remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.” This poem illustrates the truth the psalmist is trying to convey in this psalm.
Psa 49.13-15 says that the foolish follow their ways because they think it is the right way, and so do those who follow them (v 13). Like sheep they will die and give no thought to their fate. Death will be their shepherd (rule over them). But the righteous will rule over them when the “sun of righteousness” calls them in the resurrection, and their body will be for Sheol (grave) to consume (v 14). God will redeem us from death because he trusts (putting his faith to action) in the Lord (v 15).
Psa 49.16-20 tells us that we should apply the wisdom that the psalmist is giving. Don’t be afraid when a man grows rich and increases his house (v 16), he can’t take it with him. When he perishes his glory will not go with him (v 17). While he was alive he congratulates himself and flatterers came and made the rich man’s complacency even worse (v 18). He shall go to the wicked in Gehenna and they shall never see the light of eternal glory in the resurrection of the righteous, or what is called the “first resurrection” (v 19). man was created in the image of God and has potential in the Lord, but in his pursuit of wealth he is oblivious to this glory and does not understand it. He is still like the beats that perish or silenced animals (dead ones) because they don’t know God either (Isa 1.3). He has neglected his mission (v 20).
Psa 50.1-23 tells us that God instructs man through judgment, in the true nature of worship, exposing hypocrisy and encouraging the righteous. The heading reads, A Psalm of Asaph.” It is the first of his psalms and he was a singer and musician in David and Solomon’s day (1 Chr 15.17-19, 16.5-7, 25.6). He wrote eleven more psalms (73-83) and his name means “gatherer.”
Psa 50.1-6 begins with three names of God. The “mighty one (El), God (Elohim), the Lord (Yehovah) has spoken (issued a call) to all mankind to serve him” (v 1). He comes out of Mount Tzion (mark) for judgment (Isa 2.2-4, Mic 4.1-3). A fiery wrath will come from him and disperse justice in the earth, and he starts with those around him (Psa 89.8; 1 Pet 4.17) and closest to him (v 2-3). He calls the heavens (angels) and the kings of the earth to avenge his people (Deut 32.36, 43). Israel will be gathered to him (return from exile, etc), those who made a covenant with him at Sinai (Exo 19.5-6, 24.1-8). Only heaven can relate to God’s righteousness and he alone is the judge (v 4-6).
In Psa 50.7-15 he begins by addressing Israel and testifies against them. He does not reprove the their external korbanot (v 7-8) or any animal in worship. Every animal belongs to God that exists in the world (Psa 24.1; Matt 6.26). But he does say that along with the external worship they must have the right heart and attitude, faith, repentance and love. He wanted them to pay their vows and them call upon Yehovah in the “day of trouble” and he will rescue them and they will honor him (v 9-15).
The idea in these verses are not a new one. Isa 1.1-31 and Psa 51.19 talks about the same thing. The idea is this. The sacrificial system would appear brutal unless it is administered in an almost perfect religious environment. The people were missing the point. It is not the keeping of the Torah ceremonies that was the issue, but what they were putting into it. God looks at our desire to keep the Torah, not on our ability to keep every point of it perfectly. But the people in these verses did not have the heart, the essence, of what the commandment was even there for. The issue is, the mundane performance of the Torah commands that were void of their deeper concerns of love, mercy, justice and kindness towards God and others was not what God required. Yehovah required the korbanot along with a contrite heart. Without that, the sacrifices were a waste of time (v 14-15).
Psa 50.16-21 tells us that Yehovah rebukes the wicked (rasha) and those who disobey the Torah, “What right have you to tell of my statutes (Torah)?” They were unworthy to use the Torah because it had no effect on them. A scholar who has outward piety but fails to practice is a hypocrite. They fear man rather than God. The Torah has no personal effect on their desires (heart). They are only on his lips (v 16). Their hypocrisy can be seen because they hate discipline (the Torah boundaries and limitations. They say “I am free from the Law”) and they sin against the eighth (pleased with a thief), seventh (associate with adulterers) and ninth (bear false witness) commandments (v 17-20). He gave them time to repent (“I kept silence”) and they thought he was unaware of their concealed crimes, but God will indict them before their very eyes (v 21).
Psa 50.22-23 says that he wants them to understand the clear meaning of this rebuke, lest he “tear you in pieces” like a lion with none to deliver them (v 22). He who offers a korban honors Yehovah and to him who “orders his way aright” shall see the salvation of God. This is the true measure of the heart. There is an extra Hebrew letter “nun” (“n” sound) in the word “yechabdani” (glorifies, root is “kivod”) and this means that a thanksgiving sacrifice honors God twice. The letter “nun” in Hebrew means “continued life and activity.