Human beings, despite their wealth, do not endure;
They are like the beasts that perish.
Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
When the splendor of their houses increases;
For they will take nothing with them when they die,
Their splendor will not descend with them
Psalm 49:12, 16-17
The Sons of Korah, who penned this psalm, offer pointed words of wisdom about wealth, possessions, and human life. Looking around, it is all too easy to envy the wealth of others; to wish that I had what they had or could do what they can do. In the economic system of our society, which is built upon the principles of consumerism and buying-power, one’s identity and status is so often equated with what you have or can do based on wealth.
But in Psalm 49, a number of helpful reminders are offered. First off, wealth does not change the reality that we will die just like any other animal. While this may seem insulting or even rude, the statement made in verse 12 is ultimately true. We will die. Don’t ignore it or trick yourself into believing otherwise. Whether you are rich or poor, wise or foolish, our bodies will fail us and we will exhale a final breath some day.
A second reminder we find here in Psalm 49 is that wealth cannot be brought with us into the grave. Not only are we all going to die, but the wealth – or poverty, for that matter – that we accumulate on this side of the grave cannot come into the grave with us. Now, we all know stories of people who cram endless possessions or unique items into their caskets with them. We find it amusing and laugh because of the novelty of it, but also because we know it is a vain attempt at keeping the treasures of this life with us in death. The only help extra baggage in a coffin offers to a dead body is giving it a little extra weight to help bring it into the ground faster.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler, who struggled with following Christ because of his wealth. Jesus told His disciples: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23).