Why should human beings live in a righteous relationship to God? Look around. Observe. Don't those who forget God prosper? Don't they become rich, have great houses and lands, many children, happiness? Why worry about God when it doesn't seem to bring prosperity?
The people of Israel, like ourselves, needed reminding of these basic questions from time to time. They needed, as we also do, to live daily in conscious realization of the answers. With this psalm to start the day, the people could return down Mt. Zion to their ordinary lives contemplating the answers. Perhaps we need to do the same.
And this is a psalm for ALL to consider - low and high, rich and poor alike. It should begin with contemplation of an event everyone has to face - the final event of death. The worshippers at Zion hear themselves singing, "Why should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity at my heels surrounds me?" It's just telling them that all their iniquities follow them and finally catch up to them ("surround" them) at their time of death - they're going to have to face them at that final juncture. But the question is whether that's something to fear.
A possible reason for just such fear follows: "Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches - none of them can by any means redeem his brother (or himself, either)." Such a redemption is too costly even for the rich in this world, yet all without exception will indeed make a final journey to the pit (hades, the place of the dead). What awaits them there? The psalm continues, "For he sees the wise men die; likewise the fool and the senseless perish, and leave their wealth to others."
Of course most people haven't thought of themselves that way during their lives on this earth. Deep in themselves they felt that their houses would last forever, that their real estate would be named after them and their wealth would be their permanent foundation. What they didn't consider, though, is that they're going to perish just like the beasts of field and forest- death comes to all.
But after they perish in death, it isn't the end. The song goes on and they must hear these words: "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning (at the resurrection), and their beauty (riches, lands, houses) shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling." All those "permanent" things weren't so permanent!
But for those who trust in the salvation of the covenant God through His Messiah, it isn't that way. On a triumphant note, those worshipers can sing, "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me!"
People like that don't have to worry about the fact that they weren't rich. They can say, "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." Those who trust in riches are locked into darkness even while they live. The song says that "a man who is in honor (in this life) yet does not understand, is like the beasts that perish." In other words, they just don't realize the unavoidable end that's coming to that earthly honor. But to those who trust in God earthly riches don't have lasting value anyway, because such people seek far greater and eternal riches in Christ.
The lesson of the psalm, then, is a simple one. It's expressed well in the words of another Psalm, the ninetieth: "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Will you live your life today with eternity in view? Will you go about your business with the awareness that one day you're going to face God, and that you're going to live eternally either with Him or without Him? Which will it be? Is your most important savings account in the bank, or is it in heaven?