A Matter of Money
(H) For the director of the choir, of the sons of Korah, a psalm. (1) Hear this, all peoples. Listen, all inhabitants of the world, (2) both low and high, rich and poor together. (3) My mouth shall speak wisdom. The meditation of my heart (will give) understanding. (4) I will turn my ear to a proverb. I will explore my riddle with (the music of) the lyre. (5) Why should I fear in the days of evil when the iniquity of my adversaries surrounds me, (6) those who trust in their wealth and boast in the abundance of their riches?
This psalm opens in an unusual fashion with an extended invitation to all peoples of the earth to pay close attention to its message (vss. 1-4). Why? Because the author knows that the subject of this psalm addresses a universal concern regarding the unequal distribution of material wealth and how this inequality inevitably impacts our relationship with God.
After grabbing our attention (vss. 1-4), the psalmist poses a timeless question (vss. 5 & 6) which he will seek to answer with the remainder of the psalm. Why do those who love God seem to have so little materially while those who are indifferent or opposed to God seem to have so much?
I. An invitation to listen to wisdom (1-4)
II. An inquiry into the unequal distribution of wealth (5 & 6)
Why the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous seem to have so much less is a timeless question which commands universal interest.
A good introduction to any piece of literature or sermon should do two things. It should first capture our attention by addressing a genuine need all of us are feeling. Then, it should indicate how the author plans to address that felt need in a meaningful way.
Does the introduction to Psalm 49 accomplish this? It certainly captures our attention with the direct command, “Hear this,” and addresses a genuine, heart-felt need, namely, the material prosperity of Yahweh’s enemies while those who belong to Yahweh never seem to have enough. And, of course we are drawn to continue reading the rest of the psalm, anticipating that, as we do so, we will find meaningful answers to a question that has troubled God’s people for generations.
As we prepare to hear what the psalmist has to tell us, let us consider the words of Martin Luther, recorded by one of his disciples and published as one of his Table Talks. Remember, as we read this, that Luther’s intent was to spur his listeners to think deeply about important issues: “Wealth is the smallest thing on earth, the least gift that God has bestowed on mankind. What is it in comparison with God’s Word? What, in comparison with corporal gifts such as beauty and health, nay, what is it to the gifts of the mind such as understanding and wisdom? Yet, men are so eager after [wealth] that no labor, pains, or risk is regarded [as too great] in the acquisition of riches.”