A Proverb in a Song: part 12

“Like sheep, they are directed toward Sheol,

death shall shepherd them,

and the upright one shall tread upon them through the morning.

Their rock images shall be destroyed in Sheol from His lofty abode.

Nevertheless, God will redeem my life from the hand of Sheol,

For He will take me—Selah!”

(Psalm 49:15-16 {Psalm 14-15 in English Bibles})

 

Here we have reached the climax of the psalm.  Though the wicked will be led to the grave and their idols will be destroyed, God will redeem His people—preserving them through the grave.  Beloved, if anyone ever tells you that the Old Testament is devoid of the Gospel, do point them to passages like this, for oh, these remind us of the richness of the promise that the Old Testament saints understood.  They may not have known the name or the timing of the one who would come as the Messiah, but they trusted and believed in his coming, and through faith in the promise they found life.

Bet let us not miss the deep truths contained within these verses.  First of all, notice the language of those who are entrenched in sin—these are led or directed toward Sheol.  The language of the verse is clear, the end to which their pathway leads is no accident—it is to the grave and into judgment.  Indeed, the psalmist says, death will be their shepherd.  Death is the first and primary result of sin—not just physical death but spiritual death as well.  When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they did not die physically that day, but lived many years after that.  Yet, they immediately died in a spiritual sense—they were immediately cut off with their relationship with God, the source of their life in the first place (was it not God who breathed life into them?).  Thus, without a relationship with a new shepherd, all men and women are bound to the old shepherd, death and are being led like sheep to Sheol.

So what is this Sheol place?  There have been many suggestions, but the most common two are either that Sheol is simply the grave or that Sheol is some sort of underworld place akin to Hades or Hell—the Greek translation of the Old Testament often renders this Hebrew word as either “inferno” or “Hades.”  The one thing that everyone agrees on is that this is the place to which the dead go.  In most cases, I think that we must allow context to provide us with the most natural reading of the text.  In most cases, I am more inclined to simply translate this as “the grave,” understanding that it is to the grave that our bodies go even though our spirits either enter into torment or into Christ’s presence immediately upon death.  I translate it this way also remembering that the great promise that we have is not simply that our spirits will go into Christ’s presence, but that our bodies will be raised as well (not left to the grave to eternally rot), but will be bodily resurrected at the second coming of Christ. 

Yet, in the context of this psalm, it does not seem unrealistic to translate “Sheol” as “Hades” or “Hell.”  The psalmist is speaking of eternal judgment as a result of sin and he is speaking how God will raise him up and not abandon him to such judgment.  That seems to imply that he is employing this idea of Sheol to convey a deeper, spiritual truth—one dealing with eternal torment, not just the corruption of decomposing in the grave. 

So what does it mean when the psalmist says the upright shall tread upon them in the morning?  There are two ways to explain this.  The first is in terms of a literal treading on the dirt that covers the grave.  This does not much help to explain the language of doing so in the morning, apart from the morning being a fresh part of the day, often associated with life.  The better option is to recognize this as a reminder that in the final judgment, Jesus has promised to share some of his authority in terms of destroying his enemies with believers.  In Psalm 2:9 we are given the picture of Jesus being given the rod by which he will break the nations; in Revelation 2:26-27 that same imagery is applied toward believers who have overcome the things of the earth in faith.  The principle is simple, what God gives the Son, the son gives to his bride.  And, in part, we have already engaged in doing just that through the proclamation of the gospel, but that which is in part now, will be brought to fullness at the time of the second coming.

And finally, not only will the sinners enter Sheol in judgment, but the idols that they worship (their rock images) will be destroyed in Sheol as well.  There are two levels by which this clause can be understood.  The first would be the simplest reading of the text to reflect the idea that while God is eternal, the creations of man will pass away over time.  These images that they worship are nothing more than the works of their hands—they are not immortal gods that they bow to but rock images—and will perish over time.  On a secondary level, there are times when false religions seem to act with some degree of power, and when we see such, we should always remember that these religions find their power in demonic sources.  Yet, even the demons will face God’s eternal wrath and are reserved for the torments of Hell right along with those who worship them.  Beloved, the lake of fire will be filled with all of God’s enemies—human and otherwise.

With all of this before us—the great pronouncement of condemnation upon all those who do not serve God in faith—the psalmist lets out a cry of confident joy.  He is saying, though you who serve false gods will be destroyed with those gods, I will be redeemed and preserved by my God, who lives forever.  The grave will not keep me—Hell has no claim on me—I belong to the King of Kings and he will not let me perish with his enemies!  And all we can say to that is Amen and Amen—and once again, I say, Amen!

Beloved, live, act, and sing with confidence, because you have been redeemed!  You and I will spend an eternity with our God and King while those who worship false idols or demons will spend an eternity with their gods in torment—what is there not to rejoice over.  At the same time, with such a message of good news, why do we not do like this psalmist and boldly proclaim it to all that we meet!  Oh, what words of wisdom are brought to us in this parable in song.

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!

Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

Redeemed through his infinite mercy,

His child, and forever, I am.

Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

Redeemed through his infinite mercy,

His child, and forever, I am.

-Fanny Crosby

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