A Meditation Upon a Meditation
These are indeed times fraught with consternation and trouble, especially for those committed to the Word of God. Men everywhere reject their Creator and persist in doing “that which is right in their own eyes.” Our current gang of elected officials in the nation’s capitol ignore their constituents and march in mindless progression towards the abyss of a totalitarian socialism. Meanwhile, the external enemy of Islamofascism actively seeks our total destruction in any way, shape, or form they can while our Fearless Leader deludes himself into believing that we can stop their murderous rampage if only we would stop being so superior and just appease them. It is a pessimist’s heyday.
Despite all the apparent reasons for depression, the biblical Christian can still have a firm confidence in the ultimate triumph of God over His enemies and the salvation of His people. The key to this confidence is having a biblical worldview constructed from an accurate reading of the Word of God. One place containing an exposition of such insight and understanding is Psalm 49, a meditation from one of the sons of Korah. The psalmist sets the stage thus:
1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah. Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
Having gotten our attention, that is, the attention of all levels of society, the psalmist proceeds to ask the key question he will set about answering:
5 Wherefore [Why] should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
The first half of this question is easily understood, and it is interesting because these days we would more likely have phrased it, “Why should not I fear, because the days are evil?” The way the question is stated is already a subtle assertion of faith in God: “Why should I fear in the days of evil?”
The second part of the question is harder to understand the way it is rendered in the KJV. Comparing other translations and commentaries, we find the Hebrew is somewhat difficult, but the most likely rendering is something along the lines of the NASB: “when the iniquity of my foes surrounds me.” Thus, the psalmist finds himself surrounded by evil and by enemies engaged in lawless attacks upon him, yet he has a confidence in God’s protection and salvation in the midst of all this.
The psalmist then continues to tell us why he has this confidence, and it has to do with the worldview he has obtained from God’s Word:
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious [costly], and it ceaseth for ever:)
9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish [senseless] person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
That worldview is one which encompasses the long view and the ultimate consequences of our actions in light of eternity and not just the here and now. First, he notes that money doesn’t buy anything of eternal importance, particularly the redemption of a soul. Nor will money prevent death, despite desires and efforts to the contrary. In other words, in light of death and eternity thereafter, those who are placing their confidence in their wealth are living in a fantasy separate from reality, and will be in for a rude awakening moments after their inevitable death as they find themselves standing before their Judge.
Having thus declared the fate of those trusting in their wealth to protect them regardless of their unrighteousness, he then turns to mankind in general:
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
Having an honorable reputation will not save one who is not upright, i.e., honorable in truth and character. Others’ estimation of our worth won’t stop death, the ultimate equalizer. One’s so-called “legacy” in the eyes of man will mean nothing in God’s eyes, and He is the One we need to be considering in our calculations of how to conduct our lives (in the totality of all of life’s dimensions). In contrast to those engaged in foolishly ignoring God, the upright in His sight have some precious promises here, including ultimate shared dominion and redemption from the power of the grave (all consistent with multiple other passages of Scripture).
The last set of verses contains a set of admonitions to the upright in light of this eternal perspective:
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.
Do not focus upon, dwell on, or be envious of those who appear successful in this life while ignoring God in a pursuit of riches and power. “They shall never see light.” That is a condemnation that may not seem too bad until you meditate on what it truly means. In 1 John 1:5 we are told “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Here is one place where the idea that hell is separation from God finds a Scripture warrant. And, incidentally, the absence of God does not mean the presence of all your ungodly friends in an eternal drunken orgy of your favorite perverse pastimes. It is a separation from God, light, and all peace, with the presence of what God calls, among other things, “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). No, do not envy such. (For more on this and how to escape God’s coming wrath, see my page on Our Theology.)
The Psalmist concludes the matter thus:
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
This is not an evolutionary justification of the incorrect idea that man is just another animal. The phrase “understands not” clearly shows that in context, the Psalmist is referring to man’s rational abilities. Someone who is basking in the glow of man’s praise, not understanding his final destiny in and after death, is as stupid as any member of the non-sentient animal kingdom.
Finally, let me close with this, one of my favorite quotes on the sovereignty of God:
Did we believe that so potent and fearful a thing as sin had broken into the original holy order of the universe in defiance of God’s purpose, and is rioting in defiance of His power, we might well surrender ourselves to terror and despair. Unspeakably comforting and strengthening is the Scriptural assurance of our Standards (Westminster Confession V:4) that beneath all this wild tossing and lashing of evil purposes and agencies there lies, in mighty and controlling embrace, a Divine purpose that governs them all. Over sin as over all else, God reigns supreme. His sovereign Providence “extendeth to the first fall and all other sins of angels and men,” so that these are as truly parts and developments of His Providence as are the movements of the stars or the activities of unfallen spirits in heaven itself. Having chosen, for reasons most wise and holy though unrevealed to us, to admit sin, He hath joined to this bare permission a “most wise and powerful bounding” of all sin, so that it can never overleap the lines which He has prescribed for its imprisonment, and such an “ordering and governing” of it, as will secure “His own holy ends,” and manifest in the final consummation not only His “almighty Power,” but His “unsearchable Wisdom” and His “infinite Goodness.” *
God is the One in control, not the Democrats, Republicans, or any man. Don’t forget it, and don’t let their machinations and gyrations and lies persuade you otherwise. (Cf. Psalm 2)
* E. W. Smith, The Creed of Presbyterians, page 177, quoted by Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 1965, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, Philadelphia, pages 240-241