Psalm 49

Listen Closely

Listen to this, all you people!
    Listen closely, all you citizens of the world—
    people of every kind,
    rich and poor alike!
My mouth speaks wisdom;
    my heart’s meditation is full of insight.

That wise and selfless man, Dr. William Gibson, was passing through the small town of Jamestown, Pennsylvania one day, when he decided to stay and open an apothecary/pharmacy.  He began offering, for a small fee, a miracle cure for urinary ailments.  As specimen vials and money came addressed to the ‘Water Doctor,’ he dumped their contents untested, outside, and sent out his miracle powder, and made a small fortune.

Some jealous people called him a quack but that didn’t stop him from becoming the local postmaster.  Then he founded the Jamestown and Franklin Railroad, and after that a bank.  Having locked up most of the business in town he also built an opera house.

Of course, an important man like Dr. Gibson required no ordinary house.  He and his wife moved into a thirteen-room mansion that dominated the downtown.

In 1867 the Gibsons joined an excursion to Europe and the Holy Lands that included Mark Twain.  Gibson was like a character out of Twain, but absurdly, terribly real.  Twain considered him ‘an innocent old fool who eats for four … and never uses a one syllable word when he can think of a longer one.  Twain caught him one day trying to describe a Mediterranean sunset:

        Well, that’s gorgis, ain’t it!  I consider that them effects is on account of the superior refragibility, as you might say, of the sun’s dirambic combination with the lymphatic forces of the perihelion of Jupiter.’  As Twain observed, ‘serene, overpowering humbug!’

Now every great man wants to be remembered.  He donated to the Presbyterian Church a pulpit supposedly made out of African teak.  Congregants later discovered it was local lumber.

In the end he decided to erect a monument for himself, commensurate with his character and accomplishments.  It is the largest private memorial in the United States.  A bronze lion guards the twelve step staircase to the tomb.  The pedestal goes up seventy-feet topped by a fifteen-foot statue of Hope.

It cost $100,000 and was shipped to him on his own railroad.  When it arrived, some locals said, he took a hammer and chipped the top of the statue so that he might have the price discounted for damage in transit.

How is Dr. Gibson remembered today?  Well, he had no children to inherit that vast, rambling house.  It later became an inn, then a restaurant.  At present it is vacant, going to ruin.  The bank and the opera house closed years ago.  The monument that Gibson built to himself still stands, a curiosity mostly of interest to pigeons.          [story by Lawrence Wood in News to Me]

Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm, a word of insight for rich and poor alike.  It is echoed later in New Testament writers like James (see chapter 4).  Our psalmist insists that rich and powerful human beings, despite their illusions of grandeur and the status accorded them by others, are not really in control of the world, or even of their own lives and destinies.  Only God is in control (v.15). 

15 But God will save my life from the power of the grave,
    because he will take me. 

While the foolish or wealthy person rules today, they too die, and tomorrow the humble, upright person will rule. 

This is my father's world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet