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Like the Beasts that Perish

Dead dog

by Dennis Pollock

If we didn’t know any better, we might suppose that God would include mostly positive words, views, and proclamations in the Scriptures. We might think that He would, to use the words of that ancient tune, “accentuate the positive,” and “eliminate the negative,” especially when it comes to the eternal destinies of men and women. But in reading the Bible we do not find this to be the case. God seems as free with His predictions of suffering and torment for the wicked as He is with His promises of blessings and future bliss for the godly.

There are two major reasons for this. One of the reasons is that He has no desire to see the wicked remain in their wicked state and pay the price for their ungodly lives in eternity. When men and women are determined to pursue selfish, cruel, and greedy aims, He will not leave Himself without witness. He will warn, He will rebuke, He will spell out in vivid colors precisely what the outcome of such a lifestyle will be.

The Old Testament prophets were a prime example of this. These men were professional “warners.” They thundered forth with eloquence and vehemence the demands of Israel’s holy God, and spelled out coming disasters and judgments that Israel was sure to face if they did not repent and turn from their wicked ways. And in a sense, the entire Bible serves in this capacity to all people, everywhere. From Moses to Isaiah to Paul to Peter to John, and certainly confirmed by our Lord Jesus, the prophets and apostles were never content merely to promise blessings and rewards to God’s people. They also boldly and plainly declared that where repentance and submission to God were absent, misery and ruin would be the eternal result. The apostle Paul wrote: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” (Romans 2:5), and summed up his reason for preaching Christ to men and women with these words: “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Reminder to Believers

But there is another reason why God sees fit to portray the future misery of the wicked in His word so often and with such vivid imagery. He recognizes that godly people often become discouraged when they see the ungodly prospering, happy, and often attaining to positions of honor that far surpass those praying, Scripture-reading children of God. Knowing, as they do, that all that we have is a gift from God, the natural question becomes, “Why do they have so much and I have so little?” And therefore God has found it necessary to place certain passages throughout the Bible which remind us that our short lives here on the earth do not tell the whole story.

The final verses of Psalm 49 are a perfect example of this. The psalmist declares, “Do not be afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased.” This is a rather strange thought – “Don’t be afraid when you see wicked men doing exceedingly well in this life, and prospering far beyond you!” But why would anyone become afraid, seeing a sinful man growing rich? Within the word “afraid” seems to be the idea of being intimidated, or depressed, or even awed. God is saying, “Don’t let it shake you, to see cruel, rude, angry, selfish, demanding people doing very nicely in this life.”

Certainly we have all seen this. It might be nice to suppose that meek, gentle, compassionate people would all get rich, and mean, harsh people would all be at the bottom rung of society. But of course it just isn’t so. Our Creator knew this would be problematic for His children, and so He warns us, “Don’t let it get to you.”

When He Dies

After telling us not to be afraid at the prosperity of the ungodly, the psalmist goes on to say, “For when he dies he shall carry nothing away. His glory shall not descend after him.” As much as we love to suppress the very idea of death, God loves to remind us that this is the destiny of every man. He does not say of this rich, wicked man, “For if he dies…” He does not say, “For perhaps he may die…” No, God declares, “For when he dies…” Death is certain, for the wicked and the godly, for the rich and the poor, and it is always a when and never an if.

So what happens “when he dies?” The Scriptures declare that he shall carry nothing away. Not his gold nor his silver nor his house nor his family nor his expensive wardrobe nor his favorite foods nor anything else. We are told that he shall carry exactly nothing away. His soul shall slip into that place of the dead, that place where men and women are assigned who cross the line between the dead and the living without a covenant relationship with their Creator. Not only will he carry no thing, but we are told that his glory shall not descend after him. All his fame, all his popularity, all the honor and status that people accorded him as one of the elites of his society will remain above ground. He may have been a powerful man on the earth, he may have been prominent, famous, respected, and even held in awe by those around him, but in Hades all his power, fame, and honor will be left behind. He shall be merely one more sinner descending into that place of darkness, torment, and regret, without God and without hope.

And God seems to feel that we, His children, need reminding of this. It is so easy for us to become overawed and too easily impressed by success, wealth, and celebrity. Too often we find ourselves unwittingly envying or even admiring the godless celebrities and beautiful people of this world, when we should be feeling sorry for them. Not only are they without Jesus Christ (and therefore without God) in their lives, but their very wealth and success make it extremely unlikely that they will ever humble themselves to receive Jesus and be granted the gift of eternal life. And while some are too easily impressed by wealthy, successful sinners, other believers can sometimes allow themselves to become discouraged at what seems to be a flagrant cosmic inequity.

In the Dark

But the psalmist is not done yet. He goes on to say of the wealthy, wicked man: “He shall go to the generation of his fathers. They shall never see light.”  How sad to think of multiple generations of sinners! Just as Daddy died and slipped into the region of the damned, soon the son will follow in his father’s footsteps. And if grace does not break through this tragic pattern, it is highly likely that his children, raised without the knowledge of God, will eventually come to the same end. The Bible tells us, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). But those who die without Jesus Christ in their lives will find themselves in pitch-black darkness. Jesus spoke of the wicked being cast into an “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In the last verse of Psalm 149 the psalmist concludes and summarizes his warning with these words: “A man who is in honor, yet does not understand, is like the beasts that perish.” There is nothing more pathetic than a dead dog lying on the side of the road. It has no future; it has no prospects of a meaningful life. However cute it may have been while alive, however many “dog-friends” it may have had as it roamed happily along the streets in earlier days, now all of that is gone. No one is interested, no one stops to try to do anything for the dog. No one attempts to rush the dog to the hospital for possible resuscitation. It is beyond all hope.

This is the picture the psalmist paints of the dead sinner. Regardless of how elaborate the casket, regardless of how large the funeral, regardless of how many nice lies people have said over him in tribute, soon the world will go on without him, and he will face an appointment with his God and be forced to give account of his Christ-less, God-less, hopeless life. The honor that was accorded to him while he was alive will mean exactly nothing.

confusedNotice the term the psalmist uses for this individual: “A man who is in honor, yet does not understand…” His biggest problem was not that he was a liar or a cheat, or that he was unfaithful to his wife, or that he was harsh in his dealings with his subordinates. His real problem was simple: he just did not understand. He did not understand about God and Christ and the cross and the resurrection, and the judgement that all men and women will eventually face, to give account of their lives on earth and their deeds. He may have understood about Wall Street, he may have had wonderful insights into politics, he may have had perfect understanding about computers – but he understood nothing at all about God. Somehow, with his university degrees, and the various courses he took to improve his skills and advance in his professional life, he never got around to acquiring the greatest knowledge of all – the knowledge of the Holy One of Israel and His Son Jesus Christ.

The Other Case

But if it is profitable for the people of God to consider the outcome of the ungodly, it is equally profitable for us to recognize that for the children of God, the reverse is the case. The one thing we do have in common with the sinner is that we, too, will die. Just as with the sinner it is not a matter of if but when. But after that everything is reversed. Whereas the sinner could not carry anything with him, we who are in Christ, can indeed take stuff with us. No, not our laptops or televisions or high-tech electronic gadgets, of course. But we can take much with us. In one of the apostle John’s amazing visions recorded in the Book of Revelation, he describes a voice from heaven saying, “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

No, our bank accounts do not follow us, but our works do – that is the works we do in Christ’s name and for His glory. In heaven we will be rewarded for every single good work that we do in our service to Jesus. Jesus tells us that even giving a cup of water to a child will have its heavenly compensation. But also through the sharing of the gospel of Christ, we have the incredible reward of bringing our friends and others that we meet with us to heaven. What a thrilling thought this is — to think that there will be men and women who will be in heaven with us throughout eternity, who are there because we took enough courage to open our mouths and tell them about Jesus, and how He died on the cross for our sins and then rose again. It may have been merely a fifteen-minute conversation followed by a one-minute prayer, and yet it has resulted in someone having the privilege of living with Christ in heaven for billions and billions of years – and forever and ever after that.

And while the sinner was referred to as one who did not understand, we who are in Christ are those who do understand. He ignored the knowledge of God; we pursued that knowledge and found that in knowing Jesus Christ we come to know God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

Like the beasts that perish” – that is how the sinner is referred to in his death. But for the Christian the terminology is vastly different. We are called “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).


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