You Cannot Buy *Heaven

Psalm 49

An EasyEnglish Translation with Notes (about 1200 word vocabulary) on Psalm 49

Gordon Churchyard

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

Words marked with a *star are described in the word list at the end.

The translated Bible text has yet to go through Advanced Checking.


Jesus told them this story. The ground of a certain rich man gave him lot of fruit. This is what the rich man thought. "What shall I do? I have nowhere to put the fruit". Then he said, "This is what I will do. I will pull down my buildings, and make bigger ones. There will I put all my fruits and the things that I grow on my land. I will tell myself, You have a lot of things that will help you for many years. Do not work hard any more, but eat and drink and be very happy!" But God said to him, "You fool. Tonight you will die. Then, to whom will all these things belong?" (Luke 12:16-20)

Psalm 49

  (This is) for the (music) leader.
(It is) a psalm for the *sons of Korah.

v1   Hear this, people from every country.
  Everybody that is passing through this world, listen!

v2   (Listen) together,
  whether you are important or not,
  or whether you are rich or poor.

v3   I will speak to you words of wisdom.
  I will tell you how my *heart understands things.

v4   There is a question that I have heard.
  I will (make music on) the *harp while I start to answer the problem.

v5   Must I be I afraid when bad things happen
  and bad people are all round me?

v6   (These bad people) think that their money will help them.
  They are always saying how rich they are.

v7   A man cannot pay the price for any man.
  He cannot give to God what (his life) costs.

v8, v9   The life (of someone) costs very much.
  He can never pay enough:
  ·   so that he can stay alive *for ever
  ·   so that he will not see the *Pit.

v10, v11   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.

v12   So, even if a man has riches, he will not live *for ever.
  He will die, just *like the animals.

v13   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.   *SELAH

v14   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!

v15   For God will buy me back from the hand of *Sheol.
  He will hold me (in his own hand).  *SELAH

v16   Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich
  and his house gets even better.

v17   He cannot take it with him when he dies.
  Nothing will go down (to *Sheol) with him, (not even his) fame!

v18   Though good things happened to him in his life
  (and people will say good things to you when you have a lot of money)

v19   he will go to his fathers and people *like that.
  He will never see the light again.

v20   So, even if a man has riches, he will not (always) understand.
  He will die, just *like the animals.

The Story of Psalm 49

We 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.

We are not sure if this *psalmist believed in life after death with God in *heaven. But he did believe in *Sheol. This was a dark place under the earth where people went when they died. In a corner of *Sheol was the *Pit. That is where very bad people went.

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!

What Psalm 49 means

The *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.

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

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

Verse 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.

Verses 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?

Verse 7: The Jews wrote their Bible in Hebrew. This was their language. Some verses of Psalm 49 are difficult to translate into English. This is one of them. Bible students are not sure if it should be "pay the price for his brother" or "pay the price for himself". Our translation could mean both!

Verses 8 – 9: "for ever" means "always". The *psalmist probably meant "for a long time", but for Christians it means "and never end". This is because Jesus made a change to the way we understand the Old Testament. He taught us that we could always live with God. We call this "life that lasts *for ever" or "everlasting life". This life is in *heaven, where God lives.

Verse 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.

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

Verse 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. The words in brackets ...( )... make it easier to understand. They are not in the Hebrew Bible. This is true all through the psalm. If you can find other translations, you will find other ideas for what this verse means. "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".

Verse 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.

Verse 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.

Verse 19: "people *like that" are members of his family that lived before the *psalmist did.

Verse 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!

Something to do

Accept the gift of life from God. Then learn to say verse 15 without looking at the words.

Word list

for ever (and ever) ~ always, with no end.

harp ~ an instrument (thing) that makes music.

heart ~ part of our body; the Jews thought that you used your heart to think; so to know it ‘in your heart’ or ‘by heart’ means that you remember it.

heaven ~ the home of God.

like ~ another word for ‘as’.

pit ~ a hole in the ground (the *Pit was a hole in the corner of *Sheol where very bad people went after they died).

psalmist ~ the person that wrote a psalm.

SELAH ~ a word often used in the psalms; we do not know what it means, probably stop and think, or pray, or make music.

Sheol ~ where the Jews thought that dead people went.

sons of Korah ~ the people that sang in the *Temple (look in Psalm 43).

temple ~ a special building where people *worship God.

trust ~ (noun, or being something) believing that someone will help.

trust ~ (verb, or doing something) believe that someone will help.

wise ~ always making a good and right decision.

worship ~ say that someone is very wonderful.


© 2000-2001, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words)

July 2001

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