Psalm 49: The Fate of the Foolhardy

After last’s night celebration and praise break, this evening’s psalm, Psalm 49 brings us back to face the complexity of the issue of death in the face of power and wealth. In the middle of this psalm is a riddle. In verses 5 and 6 we are presented with a riddle that can be summed up by saying, “Why should I fear?” The obvious answer, just as in any riddle, is not the whole story. The obvious answer is handed to us in verse five in the middle of the riddle – we should fear because of the iniquity of our persecutors. This word in Hebrew is used more than 30 times in the Psalter and indicates hurtful or violent acts from one human to another human. Should, the psalmist asks, fear those who commit violent acts because of power or wealth?

We get an answer in verse 7, “truly, no ransom avails for one’s life.” We cannot buy our way out of death, and death is the great equalizer. Dust we are, and unto dust we shall return. It is, as it says in verse 13, “the fate of the foolhardy” to be pleased and satisfied with our earthly wealth, power, or prestige.

The fate of the foolhardy, is of course, easy to say and hard to imagine in a world where the boastful rich seem to be governing the world, creating laws, and refusing to ban assault rifles less than a week after the latest school shooting.

The answer to the riddle, “why should I fear?” in Psalm 49 reveals this truth: the people of God have no reason to fear those who let their lives be governed by their power or their wealth, for they cannot earn God’s favor. Walking in the path of God’s favor is not full of powerful decisions and is hardly flushed with cash, rather, walking in the path of God’s favor leads one to hope and the wisdom of life; it is caring for the poor and the oppressed even if it does not yield favor upon the earth.

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