Psalm 49

49:0We call the person that writes a psalm ‘the psalmist.’ We do not know who this psalmist was. Bible students think that he lived when many people in Israel and Judah were very rich. These people were not kind to those that were poor. They exploited them, which means that they made them work but did not pay them much. These poor people thought that rich people could buy a long life on earth, but that poor people could not. The psalmist tells them that rich people cannot buy life. It is only God that can stop you from dying.

Sheol was a dark place under the earth where people went when they died.

When Christians read Psalm 49 they remember that there is life after death. Not just in Sheol, but with God in heaven! So, Christians say that the psalm means more than ‘rich men cannot buy life.’ We believe it says that money cannot buy you a place in heaven. But God can! He did this when, as Jesus, he died on the cross of Calvary. There he paid the price to buy us life in heaven. All we have to do is accept this life as a gift. So while the psalmist thought that God could stop him from dying (verse 15), Christians believe that God can stop them going to Sheol. They go to heaven instead!

You Cannot Buy Heaven

This is for the music leader.

It is a psalm for the sons of Korah.

49:0The sons of Korah sang the psalms in the Temple in Jerusalem. There is more about the sons of Korah in Psalm 43, and about the Temple in Psalm 4.

1 Hear this, people from every country.

Everybody that is passing through this world, listen!

49:1Verse 1: ‘passing through’ means that we come into the world when we are born and leave it when we die.

2 Listen together,

whether you are important or not,

or whether you are rich or poor.

3 I will speak to you words of wisdom.

I will tell you how my heart understands things.

49:3Verse 3: Wisdom (or being wise) means making good use of what we know. ‘My heart’ here means ‘me.’

4 There is a question that I have heard.

I will make music on the harp while I start to answer the problem.

49:4Verse 4: The psalmist says that he will make music on the harp while he answers the question asked in verse 5. A harp makes music.

5 Must I be afraid when bad things happen

and bad people are all round me?

6 These bad people think that their money will help them.

They are always saying how rich they are.

49:6Verses 5-6: The question is: Why am I afraid because rich people use their money to do bad things? Can they use their money to buy longer lives from God?

7 A man cannot pay the price for any man.

He cannot give to God what his life costs.

8-9 The life of someone costs too much.

Nobody can ever pay enough to save his own life:

He can never live for ever.

He cannot save himself from the power of death.

10-11 Does he not see that wise people will die?

Fools and people that are not wise will also die.

Their graves will be their homes for ever.

That is where they will always be.

They called their land by their own name,

but other people will get their money.

12 So, even if a man has riches, he will not live for ever.

He will die, just like the animals.

49:12Verse 12: This verse ends the first group of verses (1-12). Money cannot buy life! There is no need to be afraid that the rich can buy life and the poor cannot.

13 This is the way that people that trust in themselves will go.

This is also the way of the people that copy them,

that say that they are right.


49:13Verse 13: ‘trust in themselves’ means ‘do not ask anyone for help.’ ‘The way that people go’ is ‘the road to Sheol.’

14 They will go to Sheol, like sheep. They will feed death!

Their bodies will waste away in Sheol.

But good people will rule over them in the morning.

They will not stay in their big houses!

49:14Verse 14: This verse sees death as a person that eats people, just as people eat sheep. Death is not really a person. It is a picture of dying. ‘Their bodies will waste away in Sheol, they will not stay in their big houses’ is a bit of the psalm that is difficult to translate, like verse 7. ‘Good people will rule over them in the morning’ is difficult to understand. Many Christians believe that ‘in the morning’ means ‘when they wake up after dying.’

15 For God will buy me back from the hand of Sheol.

He will hold me in his own hand.


49:15Verse 15: Here the psalmist sees Sheol as having hands. These hands hold the people that are dead. When God buys us back, the hands of God hold us, not the hands of Sheol. Sheol with hands is another picture, like death as a person in verse 14.

16 Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich

and his house gets even better.

49:16Verse 16: This is the answer to the question in verse 5. There is no need to be afraid of rich people. They may do bad things to us, they may rob us, they may even hurt us, but their money cannot buy life. They cannot buy life here on earth, or in heaven with God when they die.

17 He cannot take it with him when he dies.

Nothing will go down to Sheol with him, not even his fame!

18 Though good things happened to him in his life

and people will say good things to you when you have a lot of money,

19 he will go to his fathers and people like that.

He will never see the light again.

49:19Verse 19: ‘people like that’ are members of his family that lived before the psalmist did.

20 So, even if a man has riches, he will not always understand.

He will die, just like the animals.

49:20Verse 20: This verse ends the second group of verses (13-20). Verse 20 is not quite the same as verse 12. It tells us that money does not give us help to understand God. Only God can give us that help!