A Reflection on Psalm 49:16-20
16 Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. 17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. 18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself— 19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. 20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
An encouraging truth to reflect on: We have more than we could ever need in Christ.
For many of us, seeing the wealth of others around us wouldn’t cause us to think twice about our own state. However, I’m convinced that everyone has something, whatever it may be, that when we see others obtain it will cause us to evaluate our life and relationship with God. With the critical eye of an insurance adjuster examining the damage to a house after a storm, we will examine our own lives trying to determine the amount we need God to give us to restore us to our “proper condition.” God will graciously remind us that our relationship doesn’t work like that, but on the heels of this sobering moment we’ll wonder if our value is different because He withholds the thing(s) we desire most. Regarding this tendency in my own heart, I was encouraged by Psalm 49 today and I want to help you apply this text to where you might be in your life and relationship with Jesus today.
“…we’ll wonder if our value is different because He withholds the thing(s) we desire most.”
Look at the words “Be not afraid when a man [becomes rich].” Think about that. Maybe money isn’t a controlling desire for you. (It isn’t for me.) Maybe there is something else that you long for, that if God were to give you today, you would be almost uncontrollable in your expression of joy. Sometimes you may even daydream about the future moment you are granted the desire(s) of your heart, and in that moment you quietly say to yourself, “Then I could finally show everyone how good God is.” I want to lovingly confront that desire for you with the Holy, Inspired Word of God. Let’s try reading it this way first, “Be not afraid when a man __________.” Now think about your desires. Substitute whatever desires you find constantly resurfacing in your heart. A beautiful, Godly wife (or husband). A large, healthy family. Power and influence. Unlimited freedom. A fruitful ministry. A successful career. The list goes on.
The Psalmist’s aim is to encourage God’s faithful people to not be discouraged at the prosperity of those around them. It doesn’t specify if the “man” referred to possesses saving faith, but we’re left with some clues that what he possesses in this life is better than what he’ll possess in the next. Verse 19 says, “his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light.” This implies that this man’s eternal state will not be filled with the pleasures he enjoyed during his brief lifetime on earth. It’s worth noting that the prosperity of others can only be attributed to God’s wise, loving providence and common grace to all mankind in this life. He gives to some riches, to some poverty, and to others seasons of both, independent of their merit.
“It’s worth noting that the prosperity of others can only be attributed to God’s wise, loving providence and common grace to all mankind in this life.”
Be encouraged, beloved; the takeaway here is not, “don’t covet a rich man because he’s just going to die.” There is better truth to set our hearts upon. For us to understand the saying “be not afraid…[he] will never again see light,” we need to spot the breadcrumb the Psalmist leaves us earlier in the passage. This breadcrumb leads us along the trail of learning the life-altering truth of why God’s covenant people have something better than met desires or material prosperity. He says in verse 7, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” God, through the author of this Psalm, is telling His people that no amount of wealth, success, or good works can deliver a man from sin. Each of us is utterly powerless to remove the guilt and shame of our sin when standing before a Holy God. Logically, if we can’t remove our guilt before God, we can’t enjoy the blessings only available to God’s beloved people. Beloved, removal of guilt requires a sacrifice as a ransom, and we can sacrifice until we’re blue in the face but neither the blood of animals or our best intentions can wash our sins away. We need a Redeemer to pay our ransom! Here is where we must preach to our hearts and direct them toward Christ Jesus.
- Jesus is the wealth we desperately seek in our spiritual poverty. (Matthew 13:44; Philippians 3:7-11)
- Jesus is the perfect spouse who completes and beautifies us. (Isaiah 54:5, 62:3-5)
- Jesus created from Himself the spiritual family in which we enjoy the fullness of His household in joy and unity. (Ephesians 2:13-22)
- Jesus’ breath rests upon every molecule in Creation, and He uses His power and fame not to serve Himself but made Himself a servant of others. (Matthew 8:23-27, Philippians 2:3-11)
- Jesus, who as God is entirely independent and free, sacrificed His freedom to come into the world and take on our burden of sin, shame, and pain so that we could freely and safely enjoy His gifts of infinite grace for all eternity. (Romans 8)
- Jesus’ ministry of priesthood on behalf of His people is eternal, and the most fruitful ministry there ever has been and will be. (Hebrews 5:5-10)
- Jesus began his earthly career as an anonymous carpenter and finished as the Crucified and Resurrected King of Creation (Colossians 1:15-20)
Beloved, take heart today. We have more than we could ever need in Christ. He is all we need. In every day and in every circumstance, we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is enough, because He is. May we cry, like the Psalmist, “23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23-26)