Psalm 49: When the Book Comes to an End

Read Psalm 49.

Every night before bed, my son Jude and I snuggle up with a good book. Lately, it’s been a selection from Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series. If you don’t have small kids and you’re not in the know, Elephant Gerald and Piggie are best friends. Gerald is cautious and careful, while Piggie is outgoing and carefree. It’s a hoot.

Jude’s current favorite read is called We Are in a Book! In this one, Gerald and Piggie break the fourth wall and discover they are in a book and are being read. They have a good time getting the reader to say the word banana. But as the story moves forward and the page number increases, they begin to worry that the book will soon come to an end. Panic ensues when they realize there’s nothing they can do to stop it.

Piggie wisely notes, “All books end.” Before they reach the final page, though, the pair comes up with a plan. Rather than succumb to the inevitable death of the final page, they take advantage of the newly broken fourth wall and ask the reader to read the book again, thus ensuring a continuous cycle of rebirth, cheating the demise of the closed cover.

If only it were that simple in life! The page numbers eek higher and higher. Every one of us is closer to the end of our own story than we were yesterday. There’s no going back, no starting over, and no slowing things down.

Like sage Piggie, the psalmist recognizes that all books end. “For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:11). Death comes to everyone.

While in this life, the wealthy seem to be able to buy their way out of trouble, but there is nothing their money or influence can do about death: “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay” (vv. 7–9).

When I read these verses, I want to interrupt the psalmist. My heart shouts, “But Jesus!” He paid the price to redeem many, many people from death. His payment was enough. You and I and all who know Him will indeed live on forever and not see decay. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Yet, the psalmist is right: No mere human being can redeem the life of another. No sinful soul can pay the price to escape death. Only the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, could offer up such a payment.

But that’s the joy of reading the Old Testament in light of the New. The psalmist didn’t yet know what God would do, but he trusted God would do something. He writes, “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49:15). There is no hint of the resurrection at the end of history yet—that is still a mystery to be revealed—but he knows that Sheol will not be his final destination. Those who trust Yahweh will find themselves in His presence at the end of the book.

What is this all about?

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