Genesis 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” The earth started out as a barren wasteland. There was “chaos, confusion, and disorder, all things that are opposed to the organization, direction, and order that God demonstrated” in the seven creative days that followed (H8414). We know from Genesis 1:2 that darkness preceded light on earth. Darkness is associated with disorder. Whether used in a physical or a symbolic sense, darkness describes confusion and uncertainty. “Although God created darkness (Isaiah 45:7) and uses it to judge his enemies (Exodus 10:21, 22), He enlightens the darkness of His people (Isaiah 9:2); bringing them out of desperate situations” (H2822). Genesis 1:3 states, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The Hebrew word that is translated light, owr (ore) means “illumination or (concrete) luminary (in every sense, including lightning, happiness, etc)” (H216). The English term luminary usually refers to a person who has attained eminence in his or her field. In a biblical sense, the term luminary may refer to an object or a celestial body that gives off light, but it means more than that because the Hebrew word owr is also associated with happiness. The Bible Dictionary defines light as, “that ethereal agent or matter which makes objects perceptible to the sense of seeing, but the particles of which are separately invisible. It is now generally believed that light is a fluid, or real matter, existing independent of other substances, with properties peculiar to itself.” The sun was not the original source of light on earth. It was created after light came into existence (Genesis 1:16). It could be that the illumination that God initially created emanated from his own being. Jesus told his followers, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Greek word that is translated light in this verse is phos (foce), which means “(to shine or make manifest, especially by rays); luminousness.” Phos speaks of light as emitted from a luminous body, but figuratively, it speaks of “moral and spiritual light and knowledge which enlightens the mind, soul or conscience; including the idea of moral goodness, purity and holiness, and of consequent reward and happiness. Generally, true knowledge of God and spiritual things” (G5457).
When God created the heavens and the earth, he made them out of nothing (H1254). Likewise, when God created every living creature, God brought them into being from previously nonexistent material. The distinction that God made when he created man was that he formed his body out of the loose earth on the ground. Genesis 2:7 states, “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” When God breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life, it was somewhat like performing mouth to mouth resuscitation. God transmitted his own breath of life into the man in order for him to become a living creature. The Hebrew word nᵉshamah (nesh-aw-mawˊ) means “a puff or vital breath, divine inspiration, intellect” (H5397). Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man “in his own image.” The Hebrew word that is translated image, tselem (tsehˊ-lem) “means image in the sense of essential nature: human nature in its internal and external characteristics rather than an exact duplicate…reflecting some of His perfections: perfect in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and with dominion over the creatures (Genesis 1:26)” (H6754). After Adam disobeyed God, he was told, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
Adam and Eve were similar to God, but were not like him in every way. The serpent told Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would be like God, “knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their consciences were activated. It says in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked.” The Hebrew word that is translated knew, yada (yaw-dahˊ) means “to know by observing and reflecting (thinking), and to know by experiencing” (H3045). Before Adam and Eve sinned, the only thing they knew by experience was good (Genesis 1:31). Afterward, they knew that they had done something wrong and expected to suffer the consequences. It says in Genesis 3:8-10, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’” The fear that Adam felt had to do with his submission to God’s authority. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372).
Fear of God is appropriate because of his great power and his ability to do supernatural things, but there is more involved in having a relationship with God than just the fear that he can punish you for doing something wrong. The thing that makes us want to be close to God is his ability to bring us out of the darkness into the light, to ransom our souls from the pit of hell, but there are many people that believe they don’t need God, that they can save themselves. Psalm 49 addresses the issue of self-sufficiency and the end result of trusting in your wealth instead of God. The psalmist begins by stating:
Hear this, all peoples!
Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
rich and poor together!
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. (Psalm 49:1-4)
The psalmist addresses his message to “all the inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor” (Psalm 49:1-2) and tells them that he is going to “speak wisdom” (Psalm 49:3). Wisdom or chokmah (khok-mawˊ) in Hebrew “is the knowledge and the ability to make the right choices at the opportune time…The prerequisite is a desire to follow and imitate God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ” (H2451). The psalmist indicated that he would solve his riddle. This meant that he was going to talk about one of life’s enigmas and he intended to offer an explanation for its occurrence.
The psalmist asked, “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?” (Psalm 49:5-6). The psalmist’s use of the Hebrew word yare (yaw-rayˊ), suggests that he was talking about the fear or reverence of God (H3372) when he asked, “Why should I fear?” The psalmist’s question could be restated, “Why should I fear God in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me (those who trust in the wealth and boast of their riches) surrounds me?” The enigma that the psalmist wanted to focus on had to do with God’s justice system. The point that the psalmist seemed to be making was that reverence of God didn’t have any effect, but he went on to present the other side of the coin so to speak and said, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (Psalm 49:7-9). The conundrum that we begin to see unfolding in the psalmist’s riddle is that a wealthy person can get away with causing trouble for those around him who are less fortunate than himself, but his wealth is insufficient to purchase eternal life.
The psalmist identified two important aspects of salvation that need to be considered when a person decides whether or not to fear God in times of trouble. He said, “Truly no man can ransom another” (Psalm 49:7). That meant that “one life could not be redeemed by the life of another” (H6299). In other words, I can’t exchange my life for yours, I can’t die in your place. The second thing that the psalmist mentioned was that a wealthy person was unable to give God a sufficient amount of money to pay for or redeem his or another’s soul from eternal destruction because of the human soul’s costly price tag. He said, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (Psalm 49:7-9). Jesus dealt with both of these problems when he gave his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). “Christ paid the ransom to God, to satisfy violated holiness and righteousness. He did not pay the ransom to Satan or to some impersonal power such as death, or evil. That Christ gave up His life in expiatory sacrifice under God’s judgment upon sin and thus provided a ‘ransom’ whereby those who receive Him on this ground obtain deliverance from the penalty due to sin, is what Scripture teaches” Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 involve the essential character of the Lord’s death. “In these passages the preposition is anti, which has a vicarious significance, indicating that the ‘ransom’ holds good for those who, accepting it as such, no longer remain in death since Christ suffered death in their stead. The change of preposition in 1 Timothy 2:6, where the word antilutron, a substitutionary ‘ransom,’ is used is significant. There the preposition is huper, ‘on behalf of,’ and the statement is made that He “gave Himself a ransom for all,’ indicating that the ‘ransom’ was provisionally universal, while being of a vicarious character. Thus the three passages consistently show that while the provision was universal, for Christ died for all men, yet it is actual for those only who accept God’s conditions, and who are described in the Gospel statements as ‘the many’” (G3083).
The Apostle Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that eternal life is the end result of sanctification and is God’s free gift to all who accept Jesus’ atonement for their sins (Romans 6:22-23). Proverbs 11:4 tells us, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated righteousness, tsᵉdaqah (tsed-aw-kawˊ) is used in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham, “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 11:5 states, “The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.” The term wicked refers to someone that is guilty of hostility to God and His people (H7563). Proverbs 11:7 indicates that the wicked depend on their wealth for satisfaction in life, but it is useless to them when they die. It says, “When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of his wealth perishes too.”
“In the Old Testament, God’s people were treated as a national unit, and their sustenance and material prosperity were often affected by the sins of the minority (cf. Joshua 7:1, 4-11, 16-26). Consequently, God was just when he spoke of ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’ (Exodus 20:5)” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32). Ezekiel 18:1-32 notes a significant turning point in the history of the nation of Israel when God changed the way he viewed his chosen people. This passage focuses on a miscellaneous law that is found in Deuteronomy 24:16 which states, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” Quoting a proverb from the book of Jeremiah, the LORD told Ezekiel, “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die…Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:2-4, 29-32). This passage “looks beyond material ramifications and considers the eternal results of sin. This is implied by the use of the term ‘soul’ (v. 4) and the command to ‘make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (v. 31)” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32).
The psalmist pointed out in Psalm 49:10-12 that everyone suffers from the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin in that all will die and perish to the extent that their natural lives will cease to exist. The psalmist stated:
For he sees that even the wise die;
the fool and the stupid alike must perish
and leave their wealth to others.
Their graves are their homes forever,
their dwelling places to all generations,
though they called lands by their own names.
Man in his pomp will not remain;
he is like the beasts that perish.
The Hebrew word that is translated graves, qereb (kehˊ-reb) “denotes the center or inner part of anything, e.g. the middle of a battle (1 Kings 20:39); middle of the streets (Isaiah 5:25); but especially the inner organs of the body” (H7130) where the heart resides. What the psalmist likely meant by their graves are their homes forever; their dwelling places to all generations was that the souls of unregenerate persons, which are separated from their bodies at death, would remain detached from their bodies forever. “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the after life [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (Psalm 49:8; H5315). The Hebrew word that is translated perish in Psalm 49:12, damah (daw-mawˊ) means “to be dumb or silent” (H1820), suggesting that when the unregenerate person dies he will lose his ability to express himself.
The psalmist clearly differentiates between those who are perishing and those who have been redeemed from the power of the grave. He indicates that the lost person has foolish confidence and is appointed for hades, the world of the dead (H7585). Psalm 49:13-15 states:
This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me. Selah
Foolish confidence “is a false self-trust or stupidity” (H3689). The psalmist identifies foolish confidence as a path or pattern of life (H1870). People with foolish confidence are admired by others (Psalm 49:13) and yet, the psalmist says that they are like sheep that are appointed for Sheol. When Jesus referred to the people of Israel collectively, he called them sheep and told his disciples when he sent them out to minister, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Later, Jesus told a Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). The term lost sheep had to do with people’s need for a shepherd or spiritual leader to guide them in the right pattern of life. The stupidity of a person with foolish confidence is that he thinks he can evade the negative consequences of his sin.
Speaking to all the inhabitants of the world, the psalmist states:
Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
his glory will not go down after him.
For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
—and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
who will never again see light.
Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. (Psalm 49:16-20)
The psalmist says that the person with foolish confidence counts himself blessed while he lives because he receives the praise and adoration of others. The phrase do well for yourself has to do with worldly success. The thing that the psalmist wanted everyone to realize was that your soul, the immaterial part of you, is the only part of you that moves into the after life (H5315), unless you have been born again (John 3:3). The psalmist says of the person with foolish confidence, “his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:19-20). The psalmist’s declaration that the person with foolish confidence will never again see light implies that this person will spend eternity in darkness. Jesus referred to the place that unregenerate souls go after death as outer darkness and said in his parable of the wedding feast, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:11-13).