Al Mohler recalls talking to a pastor who, during the course of the conversation, said to him, “You know, one day, they’re going to put us in a box and they’re going to lower us into the ground and they’re going to throw dirt over us and they’re going to go back to the church and eat potato salad.”
It’s a sobering, if humorous, anecdote, which highlights an important reality: We are all dispensable. No matter how valued or valuable we might be in this life, our usefulness carries an expiration date.
This is the central theme of Psalm 146. The writer calls his readers to place their trust in God, not in men. He writes, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (v. 3). Instead, we should hope in Yahweh, who reigns forever (v. 10). Robert Grant captured it well:
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!
The writer’s burden is clear: He wants his readers to forsake ultimate trust in humans and instead place that trust in God. As you read the psalm, he offers at least four reasons that ultimate trust in human beings is misplaced.
First, people are fallible. “There is no salvation” in human beings (v. 3). In other words, people can’t always deliver on what we need. Of course, this is not an absolute truth; people sometimes do deliver what we need. Your accountant may deliver on your tax returns. Your doctor might make a correct diagnosis, which may lead to a quick recovery. Your estate agent might find you the perfect house just when you need it. The writer’s intention is not to suggest that human beings never deliver what they promise, but that they cannot (unlike God) infallibly do so. At some point, human wisdom will fail to deliver what you need.
Second (it is implied) people are flawed. The psalmist implies this when he writes of God, “who keeps faith forever” (v. 6). In other words, God always keeps his promises. He never disappoints his people. Human beings, on the other hand, do disappoint. They may do their best, and many people may be largely reliable, but nobody perfectly keeps faith. Your spouse genuinely loves you, but he or she will not always love you as you need to be loved. Your parents genuinely want what is best for you, but they sometimes make mistakes. Your pastors genuinely care for your soul, but they are flawed and will sometimes disappoint you.
Third (again by way of implication) people fail. By “fail,” I mean that people sometimes sin. Unlike God, who always executes justice for the oppressed (v. 7), humans sometimes add to the oppression of the oppressed. In vv. 7–9, the psalmist lists a series of ways in which God proves to be a righteous God. They are also ways in which people sometimes prove unrighteous. The point is this: God never wrongs anybody; human beings do. Your friends may be generally trustworthy, but they are sinful people who will sometimes sin against you.
Fourth, people are fleeting. “When his breath departs, he returns to the earth” (v. 4). It is foolish to place ultimate trust in humans because every human being has an inescapable appointment with death and cannot help you beyond the grave. Only Yahweh will reign forever (v. 10). Only he is worthy of our full trust.
Human beings are fallible. They are flawed. They sometimes sinfully fail. Their lives are fleeting. For all these reasons, and perhaps for others, eternal hope is terribly misplaced when it is placed in human beings. Be thankful for reliable, trustworthy friends and family in your life, but allow Psalm 146 to remind you that, for all the reasons stated above, your eternal hope must be placed in Yahweh alone. He is your Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.