Jun 4, 2019

Thoughts on Psalm 49

A number of the salient points in Psalm 49 stand undisputed. The universality of death is accepted in most, if not all, cultures and religions. There might be differences of opinion over what death is and if there is life after death but most do not deny that death is part of the human condition. Also, commonly accepted today is the notion that material riches cannot prevent death nor can they be taken with one to be utilized or enjoyed in the life hereafter.

Readers of some translations (e.g., ESV, KJV, NASB, NET, NLT, RSV) however, might struggle with vv. 7-9 that seem to teach that one cannot redeem or ransom another or himself. (Other translations handle the Hebrew a bit differently seeing the subject as wealth rather than people [e.g., CSB, NIV, CEB].) Doesn’t the fact that a person cannot redeem or ransom another conflict with the New Testament which teaches that redemption was indeed accomplished by Jesus, the God-man? Several points can be noted. (1) It is important to recognize that Jesus as God incarnate is fully man but not just a man. As St. Anselm has argued, “So, if . . . the heavenly kingdom must be filled with men, and if this cannot happen unless the satisfaction is made for sin — satisfaction which no one can make but God, and no one ought to make but man — then it is necessary for the God—man to make it.” (2) Redemption from sin and death cannot be made through material riches like silver and gold (1 Pet. 1:18). (3) While one can sacrifice their life for another, redemption from sin requires a sinless person to do it and that eliminates all except for Jesus.

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