UNSAVED MAN IS “LIKE THE BEASTS THAT PERISH”
Updated - 3/4/09
We read two verses in Psalm 49 that have been offered as proofs of annihilation:
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
We read in these two verses that unsaved man is “like the beasts that perish”.
The argument is made that since when the beasts perish they cease to exist, then these two verses are teaching that when unsaved man perishes from this world he ceases to exist.
Or, another argument is that since the beasts do not have a spirit, when they die they cease to exist. Then, these two verses are teaching that unsaved man does not have a spirit and when he dies he ceases to exist also.
The problem with these two arguments is that we have to learn how God uses the word “like” in the Bible.
We read in Psalm 49:12 & 20 that the unsaved are like the beasts that perish.
We have to study the context of these verses and the rest of the Bible to understand in what way do the unsaved perish like the beasts that perish.
Are Psalm 49:12 & 20 saying that:
Unsaved man is a beast?
In every way unsaved man is like a beast that perishes?
In some ways unsaved man is like a beast that perishes?
We have to study both Psalm 49 and other parts of the Bible to learn what God means when He says “like the beasts that perish”.
Maybe we read Psalm 49:12 & 20 and assume that these verses are teaching that the unsaved do not have a spirit, like beasts do not have a spirit. Or, maybe we read these verses and conclude that they teach that the unsaved cease to exist upon death from this world like beasts.
However, to come to truth, we have to understand in what way the unsaved perish like the beasts perish.
Let’s look at another verse that is well known that also uses the word “like”:
We read in Psalm 1:3:
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
God says that the true believer is like a tree planted by the rivers of water.
Yes, in some ways the true believer is like a tree planted by the rivers of water. The tree is nourished by the waters like the true believer is nourished by the Gospel, the living water.
As indicated in Psalm 1:3 the tree brings forth fruit in his season like the true believer brings forth the fruit of the Spirit.
However, the true believer is not like the tree planted by water in every way.
The true believer is made in the image of God and has spirit-essence. The tree is not made in the image of God and does not have a spirit.
The true believer will exist forevermore. The tree will not.
So, when we read in Psalm 1:3 that the true believer is like a tree planted by water we do learn some truths about the true believer by examining the tree. However, the true believer is not like the tree in every way.
In the same way, as we read in Psalm 49:12 & 20 that the unsaved perish like the beasts, we can learn similarities between the unsaved and the beasts, but there are differences.
In the same way the true believer is like the tree in some ways, but not like the tree in other ways, so the unsaved are like the beasts in some ways, but not like the beasts in other ways.
For example, we cannot use Psalm 1:3 as a proof text that the true believer does not have a spirit and is not made in the image of God, because he is like a tree planted by the waters. They are alike in some ways, but not in every way.
In the same way, we cannot use Psalm 49:12 & 20 as a proof text that the unsaved do not have a spirit and are not made in the image of God. They are alike in some ways, but not in every way.
We can examine the tree and learn some things about a true believer, but we cannot look at the tree and determine everything about the true believer.
Likewise, we can examine the beasts and learn some things about the unsaved, but we cannot look at the beasts and determine everything about the unsaved.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Job says the following in Job 30:19:
He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes.
Job is talking about how the wrath of God has come upon him. God is the “He” to whom Job refers.
Job says that he is like dust and ashes.
Job is not literally dust and ashes. God is guiding Job to uses these words to teach spiritual truth about Job’s condition under the wrath of God. However, we cannot say that Job was literally dust and ashes. Job was a man that was speaking.
In the same way, when we read Psalm 49:12 & 20 we learn some truth about the unsaved by examining the perishing of the beasts. However, we cannot use those verses to say that the unsaved are literally beasts. Just like, we cannot say that Job was literally dust and ashes. Just like we cannot say that true believers are literally trees.
Let’s examine Psalm 49 to see what we can learn.
What can we learn about unsaved man by looking at the perishing of the beasts?
To answer this question, let us consider the context of Psalm 49. We read in verses 6-11:
6 ¶ They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
Psalm 49:6-11 helps set the context of the discussion of Psalm 49.
In verse 6 God is talking about the unsaved. Unsaved man trusts in his wealth. That is contrasted to the true believer that trusts in the Lord.
The unsaved are looking at this present world for their riches. The true believers are looking to the Lord and the heavenly riches that God has promised.
Verse 9 indicates that unsaved man will have to give up all his wealth in this world. He will die from this world and his body will sleep in the dust and fall to corruption.
Unsaved man is going to lose everything that he has, since all of his possessions are in this world.
Verse 10 repeats this truth. The unsaved will die from this world and lose everything that they have. They will lose all of their wealth and have to leave it to others.
Verse 11 provides a big help in understanding what God is talking about in verses 12 & 20.
Verse 11 teaches the truth that unsaved man would somehow like to continue to have this world forever. If he personally cannot have it, at least his family or children can have this world forever. That is to what the reference “their houses shall continue for ever” is pointing.
The “house” of the unsaved is their family; their children. They are hoping that they can continue their family line forever somehow. In that way, they can keep a hold on this world.
Verse 11 also talks about how the unsaved name lands after themselves. In this way, they think they can hold onto this world somehow, at least through their family name and through their children.
Let’s consider Mr. Smith, a typical person of this world
For example, Mr. Smith buys a piece of land and calls it the “land of Smith”. He leaves it to his children who are also called “Smith”. This land continues to be called the “land of Smith” long after Mr. Smith has died from this world.
Following the thinking of Psalm 49:11, Mr. Smith thinks that somehow his “house” or family line will continue forever and they will have the “land of Smith” to possess in this world forever. The land of Smith is their “dwelling place” that they want to keep for all generations. By doing these things, Mr. Smith thinks that he somehow keeps a hold on this world forever.
Note that God uses the word “for ever” in verse 11. The unsaved somehow think that, through their house or family line, they can keep hold of this world “for ever”.
However, when Mr. Smith died, he lost everything that he had. Everything that he had was based upon this world and he lost it all. In that way, Mr. Smith perishes like the beasts perish. But, Psalm 49 does not address what happens to Mr. Smith on the other side of the grave.
Like Mr. Smith, while a beast is in this world it receives provision from this world. Some animals even mark out their territory with urine. That land becomes the possession of that animal, at least from all of the other animals of the same kind.
However, when that animal dies, what happens to all of the provision that it had in this world?
It loses all that it had in this world. Even the animals that mark portions of land lose all of that land. When the animal dies, it loses everything that it had in this world, all the food, all the provision, etc.
Unsaved man is like the beasts in that way. The portion of unsaved man is in this world. Unsaved man receives all of his provision from this world. Unsaved man looks to this world for all of his provision. In a real sense, the beasts also look to this world for their provision.
However, the unsaved man is like the beast that perishes in the sense that unsaved man and the beast lose everything that they have when they die.
Psalm 49 tells us some of the similarities between the perishing of the beast and the unsaved man, but it does not tell us the whole story. Mainly, it tells us that when unsaved man perishes from this world, he loses everything he had, just like the beast when it perishes.
In the same way, Psalm 1:3 tells us some of the similarities between the true believer and a tree, but it does not tell us the whole story.
Psalm 49:12 & 20 are not teaching us that unsaved man is alike a beast in all ways. Just like Psalm 1:3 is not teaching us that the true believers are alike a tree planted by the waters in all ways.
Is Psalm 49 teaching us that unsaved man does not have a spirit-essence?
When we read Psalm 49:12 & 20 we might jump to the conclusion that it teaches that the unsaved do not have a spirit-essence because the beasts do not have a spirit.
However, we have to remember how God uses the word “like” in the Bible. The true believer is “like” a tree by the waters in some ways according to Psalm 1:3. However, he is not “like” a tree in every way. The believer has a spirit-essence and is made in the image of God. The tree is not.
In a similar way, the unsaved are “like” the beasts that perish in some ways, but not in every way. Unsaved man is still made in the image of God and as we will see, unsaved man still has a spirit-essence as well as a body.
Does the Bible teach whether or not the unsaved have a spirit-essence?
God gives us help to see that the unsaved have a spirit-essence in 1 Peter 3:19. We read there:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
This is referring to the unsaved people living during the days of Noah. The Holy Spirit preached the Gospel through Noah to those unsaved people before the flood. Those unsaved people are referred to as “spirits in prison”.
Unsaved man is a spirit in prison. He is also a body in prison. Unsaved man is in bondage to sin in both his body and spirit.
God here is teaching that the unsaved have a spirit-essence just like they have a body. The unsaved exist, both in body and spirit. The unsaved are “spirits in prison”. Therefore, they must have a “spirit”.
1 Peter 3:19 teaches us that just as unsaved man has a body, he also has a spirit.
We read in Psalms 78:8:
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
This is talking about the sad state of the unsaved Israelites. God said their spirit was not stedfast with God. They were in rebellion against God. Notice God indicates that they had a spirit. The unsaved Israelites had spirits. Their spirits were not “stedfast” or did not “believe” in God.
But, nevertheless, they had spirits.
This is another proof that unsaved people have existence in both their body and their spirit.
We read in 1 Corinthians 5:5:
To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Here is someone who is under church discipline. There is hope that he might become saved. Notice that it says he “may be saved”. In this verse, God talks about the hope that the spirit of this unsaved man might be saved from the wrath of God. When we become saved, we are first saved in our spirit and then in our bodies at the Rapture.
This verse also indicates that they unsaved have a spirit as well as a body.
In 2 Chronicles 36:22 we read that God stirred up the spirit of king Cyrus of Persia. That shows that Cyrus had a spirit, but there is certainly no evidence in the Bible that he became saved.
We read there:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
God talks about His wrath upon the unsaved in Isaiah 65:14. We read there:
Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit.
Isaiah 65:14 teaches that the unsaved will experience “vexation of spirit” at Judgment Day. This also shows that the unsaved have a spirit-essence.
These are some of the verses that teach that unsaved man has a spirit-essence along with his body. We can know with certainty that the unsaved also have a spirit-essence.
Psalm 49 is not teaching that unsaved man does not have a spirit-essence. Rather, it is teaching that unsaved is “like” a beast that perishes in some ways. One notable way is that the unsaved, like the beasts, lose everything they had when they perish from this world.
Psalm 17:13-14 also stresses that the nature of unsaved man is to have his hope in this world. We read there:
13 Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword:
14 From men which are thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.
We read in verse 14 that the “portion” of the unsaved is in this world. Their hope and desire is focused upon the things of this world. All of their possessions are in this world.
Therefore, when unsaved man dies from this world, he loses everything that he had in this world. In that way, he is like the beasts that perish.
Psalm 49:8 has been offered as a proof of annihilation
We read in Psalm 49:8:
(For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
This verse is talking about the redemption of the soul of unsaved man. We also read that “it ceaseth”.
It is said that this means that the soul of the unsaved “ceaseth” to exist. That seems like a proof of annihilation.
However, this same Hebrew word, with the exact same spelling, is found in Isaiah 53:3 speaking about the Lord Jesus. We read there:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
In Isaiah 53:3 this same Hebrew word, that is found in Psalm 49:8 translated as “ceaseth”, is translated “rejected”. The spelling is exactly the same in both verses.
Isaiah 53:3 is teaching that the Lord Jesus was “rejected” by men. The Lord Jesus was not annihilated by men. Rather, the Lord Jesus was “rejected” by men.
In the same way, the soul of the unsaved will be “rejected” for ever by God according to Psalm 49:8.
Psalm 49:8 is not teaching annihilation. Rather, it can be teaching that God rejects for ever the soul of the unsaved at Judgment Day.
Psalm 49:12 & 20 both have a word commonly translated “parable” in them, helping us to see that the unsaved man is not literally a beast that perishes. Rather, these verses are earthly stories with spiritual truth.
This cannot be clearly seen in our English Bible, but in the original Hebrew text of both Psalm 49:12 & 20 there is the Hebrew word “mashal” that is frequently translated “parable” or “proverb”. It is Strong’s number <04911>.
Psalm 49:12 & 20 have the same word, often translated parable, that is also found two times in Ezekiel 17:2. We read there:
Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak <04911> a parable unto the house of Israel;
Both the words “speak” and “parable” are this same Hebrew word that is found in both Psalm 49:12 & 20.
In Ezekiel 17 God proceeds to give a parable involving two eagles and a vine.
Ezekiel 17 is truly a parable. God is not teaching about a historical account of two eagles and a vine. Rather, God is teaching spiritual truth about His Gospel program.
We learn spiritual truth by reading the parable of Ezekiel 17, however we are not to understand it as a literal event with two eagles and a vine.
In the same way, Psalm 49:12 & 20 teach us spiritual truth about unsaved man by using the illustration of beasts. However, unsaved man is not literally a beast, just like the true believer is not literally a tree (Psalm 1:3).
Unsaved man is still made in the image of God and, as we saw above, unsaved man has a spirit-essence.
The Hebrew word “mashal”, frequently translated “parable” and that is used in Psalm 49:12 & 20, is also found in these passages:
Ezekiel 18:2 What mean ye, that ye use <04911> this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
Ezekiel 18:3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use <04911> this proverb in Israel.
Ezekiel 24:3 And utter <04911> a parable unto the rebellious house, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Set on a pot, set it on, and also pour water into it:
If we examine Ezekiel 18 & 24 carefully, we see that they also are parables. We are not to understand them in a literal sense. In Ezekiel 18 God is not teaching us about sour grapes and children’s teeth. In Ezekiel 24 God is not teaching about pots with water.
Rather, we are to search for the spiritual truths of these two chapters.
In the same way, unsaved man is not literally a beast. But, we can study Psalm 49 and learn spiritual truths about unsaved man and particularly how he loses all of his possessions in this world when he dies.
In Psalm 73:22 the Psalmist calls himself a “beast”
In Psalm 73 the Psalmist represents a true believer as we read in verses 23-26:
23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
The language of Psalm 73:23-26 is that of a true believer.
Therefore, we can know that the Psalmist represents the true believer.
In Psalm 73 the Psalmist takes his eyes off of Christ and complains about how the unsaved can enjoy life so much and yet he, the true believer, is plagued and chastened (verse 14).
Then, starting in verse 17, the Psalmist comes to his spiritual senses as he recognizes the horrible condition of the unsaved.
Then we read in verse 22:
So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Psalmist, who represents a true believer, calls himself a “beast”.
There are those that say that Psalm 49:12 & 20 are teaching that the unsaved are like beasts in the sense that they don’t have a spirit-essence and/or they cease to exist upon death from this world.
However, if we use that reasoning in understanding Psalm 49:12 & 20, then to be consistent, we have to apply that reasoning to Psalm 73:22 also. We would then conclude that the Psalmist, who represents a true believer, is also a beast and does not have a spirit-essence and/or would cease to exist upon death from this world.
But that is not true.
Rather, Psalm 73:22 teaches that the Psalmist was thinking like a beast. But, the Psalmist was not literally a beast.
In the same way, Psalm 49:12 & 20 teach us that in some ways unsaved man perishes like a beast. But, unsaved man, like the Psalmist in Psalm 73, is not literally a beast.
Let’s consider another similar passage.
Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 has been offered as a proof of annihilation
We read in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21:
18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
This passage talks about mankind as beasts.
One can try to build a case that this text is a proof of the annihilation of the unsaved. However, there are different ways to read this passage.
We read in verse 18 that men should “see that they themselves are beasts.”
Someone might argue that this phrase in verse 18 shows that this passage is only talking about the unsaved, and that this passage teaches that the unsaved are annihilated, like beasts are annihilated.
However, we have to remember that Psalm 73:22 says the true believer is a “beast”. Yet, the true believer will not be annihilated. Therefore, the presence of the word “beast” in Ecclesiastes 3:18 is not a proof of the annihilation of the unsaved.
Rather, Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 is declaring that all men (both saved and unsaved) and all beasts finally have to die from this world and give up everything that they had in this world.
As far as having to die from this world and giving up everything possessed in this world, “man hath no preeminence above a beast”. Both man and beasts finally have to die from this world and give up what they had in this world.
We get help in seeing that the teaching of this passage applies to both believers and unbelievers if we look at Ecclesiastes 2:14-17. We read there:
14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
17 ¶ Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The “one event happeneth to them all” refers to dying from this world.
Notice that verse 15 is saying that this event, dying from this world, happens to both the fool, representing the unsaved, and the wise, representing the saved.
In other words, all mankind, both the saved and the unsaved, along with all beasts finally have “one event happeneth to them all”. They all die from this world and lose everything they had in this world.
Ecclesiastes 2:14-17 is emphasizing a theme of the book of Ecclesiastes that any hope in this world is vain, as we read in verse 17.
This applies to both the saved and the unsaved. Finally, all men, both saved and unsaved, along with all beasts, must die from this world and leave whatever they had in this world behind.
Ecclesiastes 2:14-17 helps us to understand Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. The message of Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 applies to the saved as well as the unsaved. The true believer also must give up whatever he had in this world and his body will go to the grave also.
We read in verse 21:
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
This also applies to the true believer. His body returns to the dust. It also applies to the unsaved, their bodies return to the dust. The same is true for beasts.
So, one theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is that finally, anything that anyone has in this world is vain. Finally, we all, believers and unbelievers, must give up whatever we have in this world. Therefore, there is no lasting value to anything of this world. It is all finally vanity.
This theme is emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2:14-17. It is also the point of Ecclesiastes 3:18-21.
In the sense that everyone must finally give up what they have of this world, “a man hath no preeminence above a beast”. The beasts die and return to the dust and they lose what God provided for them in this world. The same is true for all mankind, believers and unbelievers.
That is why “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again”.
Beasts and the bodies of men return to the dust.
Does the word “dust” in Ecclesiastes 3:20 prove that this passage is only speaking of the unsaved and that they are annihilated?
No. If we study the Bible, we see that God also talks about the believers as dust.
For example we read in Psalm 103:12-15:
12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
Verses 12 to 14 are talking about the true believers. Verse 15 begins a new context.
In verse 12 God is talking about His mercy towards the true believers.
Then, in verse 13 God continues to talk about His care for the true believers. God cares for the true believers like a father cares for his children.
Then, verse 14 continues the same context as verse 13. By this we know that verse 14 is also talking about the true believers. God also puts the word “for” at the beginning of verse 14 to tie it back as a further explanation of verse 13.
In verse 14 God says that He pities the true believers because He knows their “frame”. God understands that the true believers are “dust”.
The true believers are “dust” in the sense that they have a body that is weak and frail and that they need God’s help.
In Psalm 103:14 God refers to the true believers as “dust”. This is not teaching that they are only dust and that they do not have a spirit-essence. Rather, this verse is teaching that the true believers have a body that is made of the dust and is therefore weak and frail.
So, in Psalm 103:14 we see that God can refer to true believers as “dust” because they have a body made of dust. Therefore the presence of the word “dust” in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 or in any other passage is not a proof that the passage is only speaking of the unsaved nor it is a proof that the unsaved don’t have a spirit-essence.
We read another relevant verse in Genesis 18:27:
And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:
Here, Abraham refers to himself as “dust”. Yes, the true believers also have a body made of the dust of the earth. But, that does not mean that they do not have a spirit-essence.
In the same way, we read verses that talk about man being “dust”. This does not mean that those verses are only speaking of the unsaved nor are they teaching that the unsaved will cease to exist upon death from this world.
Therefore, if we examine Psalm 49:12 & 20 in light of the whole Bible, we learn that these verses do not teach that the unsaved are literally beasts without a spirit and subject to annihilation.
Rather, these verses teach, that like the beasts, unsaved man has all his possessions in this world and when he dies from this world, he loses everything that he had. These verses do not tell us what happens to unsaved man on the other side of the grave.