Working for Eternal Treasure
(15) Surely God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me (Selah). (16) Do not be afraid when a man gains riches, when the glory of his house increases, (17) for when he dies, he will carry nothing away. His glory will not descend after him. (18) Though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed – and men praise you when you prosper – (19) he will join the generation of his fathers who will never see light. (20) Man, in his pomposity, yet without understanding, (is) like the beasts that are cut off.
This final paragraph of Psalm 49 picks up and ties together the themes of the previous three segments. The first verse repeats the word “ransom” and reaffirms that God will rescue the believer from death’s power (cf. vs. 15 with vss. 7 & 8). The remaining verses restate the central message of the psalm that wealth counts for nothing when death inevitably takes us (vss. 16-20).
We cannot hold on to anything we possess on earth when we pass into eternity. If we are trusting in what we have accumulated rather than in the promises of God, we face a bleak future expressed in the phrase “never see light” (vs. 19). The last verse virtually repeats verse 12 to remind us that without God we are like the beasts when death comes, cut off from the land of the living (cf. vss. 12 & 20).
When death comes:
- those who trust in God will receive eternal life. (15)
- those who trust in their own resources will be cut off. (16-20)
Trusting in God, not in our wealth, saves us when death inevitably overtakes us.
The wisdom we receive from Psalm 49 ought to change how we order our lives here on earth. No longer should we strive to accumulate, to store up, to hold on to what seems to belong to us. We should, instead, put forth every effort to deepen our relationship with God and serve others rather than seek to build up our portfolios and our material holdings.
Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount gave his disciples the following admonition: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). The issue really boils down to choosing between amassing treasures on earth which will soon perish as opposed to accumulating treasures in heaven which will last for eternity. This seems so obvious if we take Jesus’ warning to heart. Yet, we all struggle to live this way.
Years ago, the Readers Digest published a brief anecdote about a wealthy American who stopped to visit a famous Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim, who had authored several widely read books in the late 19th Century. He was amazed to find the author living in a simple cabin. The room in which they met was furnished simply with only a table, a chair, a bench for visitors, and walls lined with shelves filled with books. Their conversation took only a moment:
American: “Rabbi, where is your furniture?”
Rabbi: “Where is yours?”
American: “Mine? But I’m just passing through.”
Rabbi: “So am I.”