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The Ruin of Reliance on Riches (Ps. 49)

Savoring the Psalter  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Words of wisdom concerning earthly riches and the destiny of the wicked.

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Introduction:

Luke 12:13–21 KJV 1900
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
A Psalm. This Psalm was probably written by one of the descendants of the sons of Korah, during the Babylonian captivity.
B. Blayney, Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with John Canne, Browne, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, vol. 1 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.), 376.
This psalm is about poor rich people—people who have money, but that is all they have. Family, fortune, friends, and future—nothing matters but money. These people are the orphans of eternity. When life’s moorings are untied they will be cast adrift to be tossed upon the waves of a shoreless sea—without chart or compass, without sun or star, forever driven before the howling winds of God’s wrath deeper and deeper into the dark. It is somehow fitting that an orphan psalm should be dedicated to such people.
John Phillips, Exploring Psalms 1–88: An Expository Commentary, vol. 1, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Ps 49.

I. Words of Wisdom for the World (Ps. 49:1-4).

A. The Poet's Appeal for Audience (v. 1).

Psalm 49:1 KJV 1900
Hear this, all ye people; Give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:
The word “world” is the translation of an unusual Hebrew word that means “the total human scene, the whole sphere of passing life,” not unlike “world” in 1 John 2:15–17. The writer spoke from his heart (v. 3; see 45:1) the wisdom and understanding that the Lord gave him, and he dealt with an enigma that only the Lord could explain (v. 4). The enigma was life itself and its puzzling relationship to the distribution of wealth and the power that wealth brings. How should believers respond when they see the rich get richer? Should they be afraid that the wealthy will abuse the poor? Should they be impressed by the wealth that others possess and seek to imitate them?
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 180–181.

B. The Persons to Whom this Wisdom Applies (v. 2).

Psalm 49:2 KJV 1900
Both low and high, Rich and poor, together.
James 1:9–11 KJV 1900
Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
Revelation 6:15–17 KJV 1900
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

C. The Promise of Prophecy in this Wisdom (v. 3).

Psalm 49:3 KJV 1900
My mouth shall speak of wisdom; And the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.

D. The Parable for Understanding (v. 4).

Psalm 49:4 KJV 1900
I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
Most of us in the West, even when we are very active in Christian work, are materialistic. That is, we think in terms of the things we see rather than spiritual realities we cannot see, and we are inclined to trust wealth or what we can accomplish with it. Not many years ago, the well-known Christian psychiatrist and writer John White wrote a book titled The Golden Cow, in which he faithfully exposed the blatant materialism of the twentieth-century Western church.1
1 John White, The Golden Cow: Materialism in the Twentieth-Century Church (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979).
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 409.

II. Riches Cannot Redeem a Life (Ps. 49:5-8).

A. There Is a Path of Peacefulness in the Day of Death (v. 5).

Psalm 49:5 KJV 1900
Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, When the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?

B. Wealth & Riches Cannot Provide this Personal Peace (v. 6).

Psalm 49:6 KJV 1900
They that trust in their wealth, And boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

C. Wealth & Riches Cannot Provide this Peace to Others (v. 7).

Psalm 49:7 KJV 1900
None of them can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him:

D. Wealth & Riches Are Powerless to Ransom a Priceless Soul (v. 8).

Psalm 49:8 KJV 1900
(For the redemption of their soul is precious, And it ceaseth for ever:)
The French atheist and scourge of Christianity, Voltaire, was a very rich man. He was the most famous person of the European enlightenment in the sophisticated eighteenth century, and his writings, particularly his satirical attack on Christianity, Candide, were read everywhere. Yet when Voltaire came to die, it is reported that he cried to his doctor in pained desperation, “I will give you half of all I possess if you will give me six months more of life.” But, of course, it was beyond the doctor’s ability to do that, and all Voltaire’s great wealth could not slow death’s advance. He died despairing.
James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 410.

III. All People Will Perish (Ps. 49:9-12).

A. Corruption Comes to All (v. 9).

Psalm 49:9 KJV 1900
That he should still live for ever, And not see corruption.
Hebrews 9:27–28 KJV 1900
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

B. Regardless of Intellect or Education (v. 10).

Psalm 49:10 KJV 1900
For he seeth that wise men die, Likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, And leave their wealth to others.

C. Regardless of Whether or Not One Believes it Will Happen to Them (v. 11).

Psalm 49:11 KJV 1900
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.

D. Regardless of Position or Station in Life (v. 12).

Psalm 49:12 KJV 1900
Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: He is like the beasts that perish.
It isn’t a sin to be wealthy if we acknowledge God as the Giver and use what He gives to help others and glorify His name (1 Tim. 6:7–19; Matt. 6:33). But an increase in wealth often leads to an increase in evil. It’s good to have things that money can buy, if we don’t lose the things money can’t buy. It’s sad when people start to confuse prices with values.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 181.

IV. God Will Ransom the Upright (Ps. 49:13-15).

A. The Path of Those Who Trust in Riches Is Folly (v. 13).

Psalm 49:13 KJV 1900
This their way is their folly: Yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

B. Their Shepherd Is Death (v. 14).

Psalm 49:14 KJV 1900
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.

C. Their Doom Is the Second Death (v. 15).

Psalm 49:15 KJV 1900
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: For he shall receive me. Selah.

D. My Hope of Resurrection Is in God Alone (v. 16).

Psalm 49:16 KJV 1900
Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, When the glory of his house is increased;
The writer pictured wealthy lost people as dumb sheep being led to the slaughterhouse by Death, the shepherd, who would devour them. (See Luke 16:14, 19–31.)
For the believer, death is only a valley of temporary shadows, and Jesus is the Shepherd (23:4). There is coming a “morning” when the dead in Christ will be raised and share the glory of the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13–18; see Ps. 16:10–11; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:3).
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Worshipful, 1st ed., “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 182.

V. Riches Do Not Follow a Person in Death (Ps. 49:16-20).

A. Fear Not Those Who Temporarily Prosper By Trusting in Riches (v. 16).

Psalm 49:16 KJV 1900
Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, When the glory of his house is increased;

B. Their Glory Will Not Last Forever (v. 17).

Psalm 49:17 KJV 1900
For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: His glory shall not descend after him.

C. Earthly Empires Will Decay in Eternal Darkness (vv. 18-19).

Psalm 49:18–19 KJV 1900
Though while he lived he blessed his soul: And men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. He shall go to the generation of his fathers; They shall never see light.
The rich man’s glory is founded in the wrong world. The Pharaohs thought they could take their wealth with them to another world. They built tombs to defy the tooth of time and embalmed their bodies to defy the corruption of the grave. They loaded their burying places with the wealth of this world on the premise that they would need this wealth in the next one.
When archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the intact tomb of Tutankhamen, Egyptologist James Breasted declared that the treasure represented the greatest single discovery of concentrated wealth of all time and estimated that ten years would be needed simply to record it and move it to the Cairo Museum. Tutankhamen was a mere eighteen-year-old boy who reigned for only ten years and, as Pharaohs go, was a nonentity. Yet he left all that enormous wealth behind—every last piece was eventually hauled away to be put on display in a museum, to be gazed at by millions, and to be carried around the world to show to millions more. His tomb was robbed in death as his soul was robbed in life. Not one glittering ornament profited the Pharaoh in the land beyond his guilded tomb. Death robs the rich man of the wealth that makes him forgetful—forgetful of the basic truth that “the things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal.”
John Phillips, Exploring Psalms 1–88: An Expository Commentary, vol. 1, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Ps 49:16–18.

D. Count the Cost (v. 20).

Psalm 49:20 KJV 1900
Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, Is like the beasts that perish.
For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Conclusion:

Here is wisdom concerning Wealth and the Fate of the Wicked
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