Because it’s not what you would call a “feel good” Psalm, you rarely hear it quoted. That’s a pity, because sometimes what we need to hear the most, aren’t the easiest things to hear.
This Psalm gives us some very important warnings about our personal finances and wealth in general. Before I give my thoughts, I would like preface things by saying that these are merely my personal opinions on how interpret these verses. I completely respect if you may read them differently.
Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle:
The introduction is quite clear. This message applies to all of us; myself, yourself, and “all who live in this world.” That means we all need to pay close attention to what follows.
Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me– those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him– the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough– that he should live on forever and not see decay.
If I had to summarize the message here, I interpret it as being that foolish people place their trust in money. The wickedness in the fallen world we live in deceives us into placing our trust in wealth… and that will never work.
Whether we like to admit it or not, all of us are guilty of doing this to at least some degree, myself included. Instead of trusting in God to take care of us, our trust begins to drift into things like the stock market and our home value. The past few years have been strong reminders of why we can’t place our trust in such worldly wealth.
Furthermore, our society is obsessed with boasting about riches and that only perpetuates the problem. I remember a few months ago when I was at the airport looking at magazines, I realized that practically all of them had a cover about getting rich. Those in the entertainment category had covers about how much given celebrities were making and spending. The business magazines had headlines that when taken out of context, sounded like something you would hear on a get-rich-quick infomercial. Even the covers of those in the science category were about how to cash in on the next big technologies. Talk about being surrounded by deceit!
With that type of mentality being shoved down our throats, I guess it’s no surprise how the name of the game these days is all about boasting of your worldly wealth. When you think about it, this deceit is what’s responsible for causing most financial problems – we aim to acquire more (on credit) so we have more to boast about. Being that I operate a credit card message board, you may be surprised to hear that I feel the same way as Peter about credit cards, who loves and hates them. On one hand, when used responsibly (as in, paying in full and not overspending) earning cash back, gas rebates, or other types of credit card rewards might be desirable, as long as its on spending you would be doing anyway. However on the flip side, the problem is that many people use credit cards in a different manner… to overspend and buy frivolous things that they don’t have the cash for. When you boil it down, the reason people are motivated to do this is because our twisted culture instills the “more is better” mentality practically from the day we are born, deceiving us to believe that we need to trust in and boast about our worldly wealth and status.
For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. 12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. “Selah” Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. 15 But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. “Selah”
In these verses we dive into the contrast between those who place their faith in God and those who place it in worldly riches… and what ultimately happens to each group.
It’s interesting (in a sad way, of course) how true this rings today with the wealthiest people in the world, many of whom do not believe in Christ. For them, they think the way to endure and avoid the grave is to indeed have “named lands after themselves” (whether its cities, company names, impressive buildings, universities, etc). Steve Jobs is an example of this… someone that [in this life] has everything, but afterward he will be one that is “far from their princely mansions.” That is, if he remains an atheist.
A personal finance lesson here is that no matter how much you acquire in life, it is ultimately worthless in the end. Remember, whether you are rich or poor, if you are a believer you already have the biggest prize of all. As someone that probably overworks myself, I am constantly having to remind myself this lesson and recommend you do the same, if you have also have an unhealthy obsession with work.
Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed– and men praise you when you prosper– he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light [of life]. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
Peter discussed Psalm 49:16-20 a couple years back. These verses are the ones I want to discuss the most, because if you haven’t already learned this lesson, you can learn from my mistake.
Like many kids in America these days, I grew up idolizing money and material possessions. Part of this was because I grew up in a single-parent household where we didn’t have much and the other part was probably just because of the unhealthy culture which teaches us this message. As a kid, I am ashamed to say I had the utmost respect and admiration for those who were successful in life, by worldly standards. Ironically after being exposed to those people and that lifestyle which I thought I wanted, I realized what a huge “scam” it was, because most of those people honestly have nothing!
The tiny rural Michigan town I was born and raised in is a far cry from Beverly Hills, California, which is where I found myself working as a young adult. I have many, many specific stories which I will save for another post but in short, these people are the poster children for these verses. They are those who:
- Grow rich with the splendor of their houses increasing
- By worldly standards, they are counted as blessed and even praised (sometimes worshipped!) by others.
- However these great riches come without understanding of the truth
What’s the lesson here? As the verse says “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich.” We see these ultra-wealthy people living in mansions, flying on Gulfstream jets, and paying for everything with a black American Express credit card and think to ourselves… I want to be like them! Trust me… you don’t! For the vast majority of them, that entire splendor will only exist in this lifetime.
So if your personal finance goals are to be like these modern idols, you need to rethink your goals… don’t be deceived! I have known the mighty and have known the meager and what Jesus said is true… the least is the greatest.
This is an article by Mike, the creator of CreditCardForum, a place for credit card reviews and discussion.