Psalm 49 Study Notes
49:1-4 The terms in these verses identify this psalm as a wisdom psalm, providing instruction for those who pay attention.
49:5 Usually the psalmist referred to enemies who surrounded him, but here the emphasis is on their iniquity.
49:7-9 Redeem and ransom fit the theme of money and what it can buy. To see the Pit is to experience death (7:15; 16:10; see note at 28:1). The point of 49:8 is that a person cannot buy life, so it is pointless to try. In Jesus’s words, it is possible for someone to “gain the whole world” but still “lose his life” (see Mt 16:26; Lk 9:25). “Ransom” is an especially significant word in light of how it is used in the NT to describe Jesus’s payment through his sacrifice (Mt 20:28).
49:10-12 This section as well as vv. 16-20 are similar to the arguments in other Wisdom texts, especially Ecclesiastes, about the futility of wealth: it is left to others (39:6; Ec 2:18), graves are the permanent homes of the wealthy (Ec 12:5), they are like . . . animals that perish (Ec 3:19), they will take nothing with them (Jb 27:19; Ps 49:17), and they praise themselves (v. 18; Dt 29:18; Lk 12:19).
49:13 Those who trust in material wealth are arrogant and surround themselves with people who say “yes” at their words.
49:14 The sheep and shepherd imagery is used in positive contexts where God shepherds his people (see note at 23:1); it is used negatively when describing evil leaders who misdirect God’s people and lead them into sin (Ezk 34:2-10). Here it is clearly a negative image personifying Death as the shepherd of those who trust in their wealth. It leads them into Sheol, Death’s realm.