The Puzzle of Providence
By Franklin L. Kirksey, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort, Alabama, and author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice.
These expositions by Dr. Kirksey are offered to suggest sermon or Bible study ideas for pastors and other church leaders, both from the exposition and from the illustrative material, or simply for personal devotion.
Drs. John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890) comment on Psalm 49, “All that we can learn from the title is that the Psalm was given to the chief musician to arrange suitable music for it, and then left for the Sons of Korah to sing. Mention of the harp in verse 4, identifies the Psalm as another of David’s wonderful odes. Here, the renowned poet-musician sings, to the accompaniment of his much-loved harp, the burden of his song being the despicable character of those who trust in their wealth, and the Divine consolation oppressed believers can expect.”
After reading through many commentaries and study notes, there seems to be a discrepancy about the human penman of Psalm 49. Some commentators say it is David and others say it is the Sons of Korah. Regardless, of your understanding, remember the words of 2 Timothy 3:16a, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” Also we read in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
Rev. Henry J. Swallow (1850-1922), Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and author several books to include his Hawthorn Homilies, warns, “Take care how you open a dark saying. The dark saying is any question difficult to answer or hard to solve. Notice that David does not say, I will close up my dark saying—I will fold the serpent up in my bosom, and let it sting me. He says, ‘I will open my dark saying.’ Often enough a man’s peace of mind depends upon the way in which he opens his dark saying. Too often he has to open it himself, without sympathy or help from any one. It may save us some disappointment if we settle it as a general rule that a providential thing does not mean a pleasant thing. The ultimate end of Providence is the sanctification of the human heart, and it is not probable that God will sanctify us by letting us have our own way. We frequently apply the term Providence loosely. When we reap worldly advantage we say, It is quite providential. When trouble comes we omit the word. The opposite of this is true as a rule. Prosperity will never wean us from this world, but adversity may. When dark sayings trouble us, let us pray to the Father of lights that He may guide us into all truth. We are vexed and mystified by second causes, because we forget that He is the Great First Cause of all. His providence to us is like a piece of tapestry reversed. We see that a hand has been at work, but the threads are massed in confusion. In the day of account we shall see the other side.”
Rev. Matthew Poole (1624-1679) explains, “This Psalm is penned upon the same occasion with Ps 39:1-13; 73:1-28, to wit, upon the contemplation of the afflictions of God’s people and of the prosperity and glory of ungodly men. The design is to justify God’s providence in this dark dispensation, and to show that, all things being considered, good men have no cause for immoderate dejection of spirit, nor wicked men for glorying in their present felicities.”
From our text we read in Psalm 49:1-5, “Hear this, all peoples; / Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, / Both low and high, / Rich and poor together. My mouth shall speak wisdom, / And the meditation of my heart shall give understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; / I will disclose my dark saying on the harp. Why should I fear in the days of evil, / When the iniquity at my heels surrounds me?”
Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe comments, “The writer spoke from his heart (v. 3; see 45:1) the wisdom and understanding that the Lord gave him, and he dealt with an enigma that only the Lord could explain (v. 4). The enigma was life itself and its puzzling relationship to the distribution of wealth and the power that wealth brings. How should believers respond when they see the rich get richer? Should they be afraid that the wealthy will abuse the poor? Should they be impressed by the wealth that others possess and seek to imitate them? The writer gives us three reminders to help us keep our perspective in a world obsessed with wealth and the power it brings.”
The call of God through the psalmist is for everyone to listen, namely, the “low and high, rich and poor”. While some wealthy people are truly wise and godly, this is not always the case. There is a constant pull to place trust in uncertain riches rather than the living and true God. Therefore, we present a warning to the wealthy fool. Allow me to share three things about the wealthy fool.
I. First, note the limitations of the wealthy fool.
We read in Psalm 49:6-9, “Those who trust in their wealth / And boast in the multitude of their riches, / None of them can by any means redeem his brother, / Nor give to God a ransom for him— / For the redemption of their souls is costly, / And it shall cease forever— / That he should continue to live eternally, / And not see the Pit.”
Dr. Walter A. Elwell shares, “Without envy or complaint, in a cool philosophic mood, a teacher of wisdom propounds a moral lesson for all concerned, namely, that the wealthy die like other men, like the beasts that perish. Great wealth makes men boastful, self-confident, ostentatious, yet no wealth can redeem a brother or oneself from death. Since even the wise die, how much more will fools who trust in their wealth leave it behind! Even the social influence which wealth bestows ends with the grave. In contrast, the upright will win in the end. God can and will redeem the soul of the wise, and take him to himself. Essentially, the poet compares temporary and eternal values, material and spiritual blessedness, by the test of what outlives the grave.”
Remember there are things money cannot buy.
A. Money cannot buy rest. Someone said, “Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.” The wealthy fool lives a restless life and sadly will find no rest in eternity.
B. Money cannot buy redemption. The Psalmist states in our passage that the wealthy can boast of an accumulation of riches but they can never purchase the redemption of a soul. Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 1:18-19, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” Dr. J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988) explains, “Redemption [to some theologians] has come to mean a cold business transaction, devoid of the personal element.”
II. Second, note the legacy of the wealthy fool.
We read in Psalm 49:10-13, “For he sees wise men die; / Likewise the fool and the senseless person perish, / And leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses will last forever, / Their dwelling places to all generations; / They call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain; / He is like the beasts that perish. This is the way of those who are foolish, / And of their posterity who approve their sayings. Selah”
There are at least two parts of the legacy of a wealthy fool.
A. First, we see the wealthy fool and his savings.
Someone asked an accountant for the late John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), “Say just how much did he leave behind?” The accountant replied, “He left it all. He didn’t take a thing with him.” Paul the apostle warns, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7).
B. Second, we see the wealthy fool and his sayings.
We read in Proverbs 18:2, “A fool has no delight in understanding, / But in expressing his own heart.”
III. Third, note the loss of the wealthy fool.
- A. The wealthy fool and his loss of power.
We read in Psalm 49:14-15, “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; / Death shall feed on them; / The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; / And their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, / For He shall receive me. Selah /
- B. The wealthy fool and his loss of prestige.
We read in Psalm 49:16-20, “Do not be afraid when one becomes rich, / When the glory of his house is increased; / For when he dies he shall carry nothing away; / His glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lives he blesses himself / (For men will praise you when you do well for yourself), / He shall go to the generation of his fathers; / They shall never see light. A man who is in honor, yet does not understand, / Is like the beasts that perish.”
We read in Psalm 14:1a, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Literally, he says, “No God for me, thank you.”
The general loss of the wealthy fool is a lack of satisfaction in the soul. The Book of Ecclesiastes provides the account of a very wealthy king named Solomon, who found life under the sun, empty.
The greatest loss of the wealthy fool is a lack of salvation of the soul.
Dr. Luke writes in Luke 12:13-21, “Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ ‘So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’”
We could describe the man in Jesus’ parable as a hoarder. A television show called “Hoarders” reveals some of the unsavory elements of such a lifestyle.
Flattery fuels the misplaced confidence of the wealthy fool as we read in Psalm 49:18b, “For men will praise you when you do well for yourself.”
Matthew records in Matthew 16:24-26, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Jim Elliot (1927-1956) wrote in his journal on October 28, 1949, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Dr. Elon Foster (1833-1898) shares, “[Martin] Luther [1483-1546] tells of a nobleman at Vienna who made a great supper, and in the midst of his mirth, exclaimed, ‘If God will leave me this world to live and enjoy my pleasure therein for a thousand years, then let him take his heaven to himself!’ This man spoke what most men think.”
Rev. E. Paxton Hood (1820-1885) states, “Good it is sometimes to utter the dark saying to the harp rather than to others; it composes, allays, and tranquilizes the mind while we utter it. Therefore, says David, ‘I will open my dark saying upon the harp.’ David was a master of the harp, and we see, plainly enough, that to him life was full of dark sayings, uttered with more or less of clearness, coming upon him with more or less gloom. His dark sayings are abundant. We have often thought together of that wonderful summary of holy genius, the Book of Psalms. He would seem to have given everything to his harp; everywhere, as in the words of the text before us, ‘he was inclining his ear to a parable.’ To him, it would seem, nature was a great harp, framed, touched and moved by the finger of God, and every object became jubilant, and even prophetic.”
Rev. Hood recalls, “There is a picture I have often turned to look at in the chapel in one of the old palaces of France, and I have sometimes looked, as the dear dreamer said, till the water has found its way to my eyes; it is suspended over the altar—it is the cloud of eternity, and the Ancient of Days is there, and the Lamb is there, and round the circle the harpers harping with their harps—everyone robed in white, and every brow bound with the crown—‘kings and priests unto God and to the Lamb for ever’; every eye fixed on ‘the Lamb, as it had been slain,’ and every crowned form bearing a harp, and striking it ‘to Him that hath loved.’ ‘To them were given harps.’ Why, what does it mean? Oh, it tells how the lost life will regain and be restored to its unity. This is that harp, all the chords of the being one, and for ever one. Then, indeed, may we say, ‘I will praise thee on the harp, O God, my God.’”
May the Lord grant to us an extra measure of His grace, mercy, and peace as we encounter the puzzle of providence.
John Mason Neale and Richard Frederick Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. II (London: Joseph Masters, MDCCCLXIII ), pp. 131-144 [Cited by Herbert Lockyer, Sr., A Devotional Commentary: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), p. 194]
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, The Psalms, Vol. II, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, n. d.), p. 493
Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Bible, WORDsearch Corp.
Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – Wisdom and Poetry. pp. 186-188 WORDsearch Corp.
Baker Commentary on the Bible, ed., Walter A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), p. 381, Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.
J. Vernon McGee, Ruth: The Romance of Redemption, (Pasadena, CA: Thru the Bible Books, n. d.), p. 6
[From a photo facsimile of a hand written note from the pen of Jim Elliot, Available from:
Jim_Elliot_no_fool_quote_bgc_archives Accessed: 06/27/12]
Elon Foster, New Cyclopedia of Prose Illustrations Adapted to Christian Teaching (New York: W. C. Palmer, Jr., & CO., 1875) #3800, p. 438
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, The Psalms, Vol. II, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, n. d.), p. 494
By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527
Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on Amazon.com and WORDsearchbible.com
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