I used to hate it when unbelieving scientists referred to humans as "animals." In so many ways, humans are a world apart from animals. The eighth Psalm is a reflection of how God elevated man and made him a little lower than God. Man, despite his physical size, has the God given capacity to subdue, govern, and rule righteously. In Genesis, we are taught that God created man in his own image.
Yet the Psalter gives us another picture of man in a riddle. In the 49th Psalm, the Psalmist declares twice than man is "like the beast that perishes." There is an affinity between man and animal. It is more than the fact that men and animals have eyes, organs, skin, skeletons, and in many cases limbs.
The 49th Psalm begins, "Give ear inhabitants of the earth." The word for "earth" is heled, which is an unusual one. It is not the typical word for earth, eretz, that you find in Genesis. Rather than earth, it means something more like "realm" or "dominion." It is similar to the Greek word, aion, which is often translated "age." So the Psalmist addresses not heavenly beings, but earthbound beings. It highlights the humanness of humans. Humans are not gods, they are flesh and blood like the animals. They bleed like the animals. They are often senseless like the animals. They die like the animals.
The Psalm is directed at those humans who trust in their human wealth, wisdom, fame, accomplishments, and things of this nature. They think they are indestructible. They will even name lands after themselves. Think of it, after a man named Ashur came the nation of Assyria. Or after a man named Amalek came the Amelekites. Does anything know anything about these men? Do people sing their praises and commemorate their deeds? No, they are dead, gone and forgotten. Another example close to home is Colonel Leavenworth, for which our own town is named after. Can anyone even tell his first name? Is he truly immortalized in the naming of a town after him? No, just like everyone else, he is dead and gone. The day will come when names such as Bill Gates, Howard Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, and yes, Anna Nichole Smith with be long forgotten.
This puts some perspective on life's pursuits. The 49th Psalm causes us to take a look in the mirror and consider what is truly important and what is lasting. No money, possessions, or fame that I accumulate will follow me to my grave. This is why Jesus tells us to store up treasure for ourselves in Heaven in places like Mark 10:21. How do we do this? Not by self-centered accumulation, but by giving it away. Since God is the Lord and creator, and since God has redeemed us and purchased us from our sin with the blood of his own sin, he owns us. All we are and all we have are on loan from God to carry out his will, not our own. Perhaps a reading of this Psalm should encourage us to consider the purpose of our activities and aspirations. Are they really important in the larger scheme of life on God's earth?