Psalm 49 The Redemption Psalm
(Scripture translation TLV)
Psalm 49:1-4” For the music director: a psalm of the sons of Korah. Hear this, all you peoples. Give ear, all you inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together. My mouth speaks wisdom, My heart’s meditation is understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb. I will utter my riddle on the harp.”
This wisdom Psalm by the Sons of Korach is meant as encouragement for those haunted by the power of death and the grave. What makes this passage unique is that the language is not restricted to Israel but unto the entire world. It is all encompassing for Jew and Gentile, for the rich and the poor, and for the common and the noble. Anyone searching for hope will find it when they seek the G-D of Israel.
Psalm 49:5-6 “Why should I fear in evil days? when the iniquity of my deceivers surrounds me? Or those trusting in their wealth, boasting about their great riches?”
The author poses a question as a teacher to his students. “Why should I fear death when evil comes?” When those with power in this world seek to abuse or destroy me what great hope is there against them? It is a question we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives. The author is essentially asking the question “do not all fear the uncertainty of the future and darkness of the grave? What is available to us to ease our fears? Will the gathering of wealth and materialism make things any better?” Though they flaunt their wealth and power we have a greater hope.
Remember these are the Sons of Korach! They know a thing or two regarding the corrupting influence of power and how it can destroy. In Numbers 16 a son of Levi gathered together some of the sons of Rueben to rebel against Moses and Aaron. “Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and sons of Reuben—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth— rose up against Moses and took 250 men from Bnei-Yisrael, men of renown who had been appointed to the council. They assembled against Moses and Aaron.” They rebelled against Aaron and Moses out of jealousy of G-D’s choosing of Aaron as High Priest over Israel. Korach likely though Moses was playing favorites with his brother. It was easy to gather a large supporting cast from the sons of Rueben as they likely will felt embittered because of Jacob choosing Joseph as the inheritor of the double portion of the first born.
Let’s look at the laws of the sin offering for a moment.
In Leviticus 4, three times Moses uses the Hebrew “im”- “if” a person sins. In verse 22 when referencing a leader of Israel Moses uses the Hebrew “asher”-“when” a person sins. In other words being a leader is an occupational hazard. There are extra temptations and accountabilities that come with the job description. There are two wise explanations for this. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno speaks of those who have advantages over others, through wealth and power, can lose their moral sense. Rabbenu Bahya suggests that rulers tend to become more arrogant and prideful. We do not need to look very far into Israel’s history to find examples of this type of corruption. Israel’s first king, King Saul, became so corrupted by power that the spirit of G-d departed from him.
“1 Samuel 16:14-15 “Now the Ruach Ad-nai had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Ad-nai terrified him. So Saul’s courtiers said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from G-d is tormenting you.”
The same evil spirit that corrupted King Saul also corrupts many in American politics, business, athletes, and the world of celebrities. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with this corruption.
Let us return to the Redemption Psalm.
Psalm 49:7-14 “No man can redeem his brother, or give to G-d a ransom for him. For the redemption of a soul is costly—so, one should stop trying forever. Will he live forever—and never see the Pit? Surely he must see, even wise men die. The fool and the brutish will alike perish, leaving their wealth to others. Their inward thought is: Their houses are eternal, their dwellings for generation after generation. They name their lands after themselves. But the pompous man will not endure—he is like the beasts that perish. Such is the way of the self-confident, and their followers who approve their sayings. Selah Like sheep they are destined for Sheol. Death will be their shepherd and the upright will rule over them in the morning. Their image will decay in Sheol— far from its lofty place”.
Verse 7 begins with the confident answer “no man can save himself, nor can money redeem him the grave.” No man can live forever so all must face death at some time, no matter how grandiose or poverty stricken their lives are. Even the wise will die along with the foolish and senseless. In each case the results are the same. The powerful, the wealthy, and the famous will also die. But when that day comes there is a reckoning. The secret wish of most of many is that this world is all you get. If this is all you get than live it up! Social Darwinism knows no boundaries, survival of the fittest.
So far the emphasis of the Psalmist is on the mortality of us all. All too quickly life is over and we are like the “beast that perish” in the field. We are destined for the grave like a “heard of sheep”.
Psalm 49:15-20 “But G-d redeems my soul from the power of Sheol— for He receives me. Selah Do not be afraid when a man gets rich, when his house’s splendor increases. For when he dies he takes nothing away. His splendor will not follow him down. Though during his life he congratulates himself, and men praise you when you do well for yourself— He will still join his fathers’ company, who will never see the light. A pompous man, without understanding— he is like the beasts that perish.
With verse 15 we come to the heart of this Psalm. Confidence breaks through the Psalmist with the words “but G-D”. The wording is explicit “But G-D will redeem my life”. Not man, wealth, or power. Only G-D will redeem me from the grave and take me to Himself. Let me put it another way “rather than demand a ransom from the dead, G-D Himself will pay the ransom”. It is a price none of us could pay on our own. Death is the result of sin. It is what we have earned. But because He redeemed us we belong to Him. We have been bought and paid for.
I Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Ruach ha-Kodesh who is in you, whom you have from G-d, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify G-d in your body.”
The redemption price from death is death.
“Death is redeemed by death”.
What was the final judgment to fall upon Egypt? Why the death of the firstborn, even down to the livestock? Wasn’t it Pharaoh who had increased the harsh labors? The obvious answer is that G-D is G-D, and His ways are not our ways But let me speculate a little. Most Egyptian dynasties were set up in a hierarchal fashion in which the first born of each family would hold authority. The Pharaoh as firstborn of the previous Pharaoh was firstborn of firstborns. The firstborns of Egypt would have authority over the rest of Egypt who had authority over the slaves. The death of the firstborn was a necessary part of redemption.
The Lamb sacrificed as a Karban (atonement) and whose blood was placed on the doorframes of Jewish homes served as a word picture for the innocent substitute needed in my stead to affect my redemption.
If not for the blood placed on the door frames the firstborn of Israel would have died like the firstborn of Egypt. In place of the firstborn of Israel was the Passover Lamb. For every generation following the one that came out of Egypt, the first born of every womb, whether animal or man, was set apart unto G-D. In fact the Torah commands that the firstborn male be redeemed from G-D. The redemption of the firstborn is a constant reminder that redemption cost the Almighty Father His Firstborn. While the firstborn son of an Israelite family was spared by the substitute of the lamb at Passover, the Son of the Most High was not spared. He carried His cross to Golgotha as payment for our redemption. In fullness of the prophecy in Psalm 49 the L-RD delivered His Son unto death so that we may be redeemed unto life eternal.
Death has no hold on Him so He rose and lives, and because He lives we shall live.