Psalms 49

PSALM XLIX

All men are invited to attend to lessons of wisdom relative to

the insufficiency of earthly good to save or prolong life; to

secure the resurrection frown the dead, 1-9.

Death is inevitable, 10.

The vain expectations of rich men, 11-13.

Death renders all alike, 14.

The psalmist encourages and fortifies himself against envying

the apparently prosperous state of the wicked, who are brutish,

and die like beasts, 15-20.

NOTES ON PSALM XLIX

The title, To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah,

has nothing particular in it; and the Versions say little about

it. One of the descendants of the children of Korah might have

been the author of it; but when or on what occasion it was made,

cannot now be discovered. The author aimed to be obscure, and has

succeeded; for it is very difficult to make out his meaning. It is

so much in the style of the Book of Job, that one might believe

they had the same author; and that this Psalm might have made

originally a part of that book. "It seems," says Dr. Dodd, "to be

a meditation on the vanity of riches, and the usual haughtiness of

those who possess them. As a remedy for this, he sets before them

the near prospect of death, from which no riches can save, in

which no riches can avail. The author considers the subject he is

treating as a kind of wisdom concealed from the world; a mystery,

an occult science with respect to the generality of mankind." Dr.

Kennicott has given an excellent translation of this Psalm,

which is very literal, simple, and elegant; and by it the reader

will be convinced that a good translation of a difficult passage

is often better than a comment.

Verse 1. Hear this, all ye people] The four first verses contain

the author's exordium or introduction, delivered in a very pompous

style and promising the deepest lessons of wisdom and instruction.

But what was rare then is common-place now.

Verse 4. I will incline mine ear to a parable] This was the

general method of conveying instruction among the Asiatics. They

used much figure and metaphor to induce the reader to study deeply

in order to find out the meaning. This had its use; it obliged men

to think and reflect deeply; and thus in some measure taught them

the use, government, and management of their minds.

My dark saying upon the harp.] Music was sometimes used to

soothe the animal spirits, and thus prepare the mind for the

prophetic influx.

Verse 5. The iniquity of my heels] Perhaps akebai, which

we translate my heels, should be considered the contracted plural

of akebim, supplanters. The verse would then read thus:

"Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, though the iniquity

of my supplanters should compass me about." The Syriac and Arabic

have taken a similar view of the passage: "Why should I fear in

the evil day, when the iniquity of my enemies compasses me about."

And so Dr. Kennicott translates it.

Verse 7. None of them can by any means redeem his brother]

Wealth cannot save from death; brother, however rich, cannot save

his brother; nor will God accept riches as a ransom for the life

or soul of any transgressor. To procure health of body, peace of

mind, redemption from death, and eternal glory, riches are sought

for and applied in vain.

Verse 8. For the redemption of their soul is precious] It is of

too high a price to be redeemed with corruptible things, such as

silver or gold, and has required the sacrificial death of

Christ.

And it ceaseth for ever] This is very obscure, and may apply to

the ransom which riches could produce. That ransom must be for

ever unavailable, because of the value of the soul. Or this clause

should be added to the following verse, and read thus: "And though

he cease to be, ( vechadal,) during the hidden time, (

leolam;) yet he shall live on through eternity, (

vichi od lanetsach,) and not see corruption." This is probably

the dark saying which it was the design of the author to utter in

a parable, and leave it to the ingenuity of posterity to find it

out. The verb chadal signifies a cessation of being or

action, and olam often signifies hidden time, that

which is not defined, and the end of which is not ascertained,

though it is frequently used to express endless duration. This

translation requires no alteration of the original text, and

conveys a precise and consistent meaning.

Verse 10. For he seeth that wise men die] Though they may be

rich, and their wisdom teach them the best method of managing

their riches so as to derive all the good from them they can

possibly produce, yet they die as well as the fool and the poor

ignorant man; and their wealth is left to others who will be

equally disappointed in their expectation from it.

Verse 11. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall

continue for ever] Thus, by interpolation, we have endeavoured to

patch up a sense to this clause. Instead of kirbam, their

inward part, the Septuagint appear to have used a copy in which

the second and third letters have been transposed kibram,

their sepulchres; for they translate: καιοιταφοιαυτωνοικιαι

αυτωνειςτοναιωνα "For their graves are their dwellings for

ever." So six or seven feet long, and two or three wide, is

sufficient to hold the greatest conqueror in the universe! What a

small house for the quondam possessor of numerous palaces and

potent kingdoms!

They call their lands after their own names.] There would have

been no evil in this if it had not been done on an infidel

principle. They expected no state but the present; and if they

could not continue themselves, yet they took as much pains as

possible to perpetuate their memorial.

Verse 12. Man being in honour abideth not] However rich, wise,

or honourable, they must die; and if they die not with a sure hope

of eternal life, they die like beasts. See on Ps 49:20.

Verse 13. Their posterity approve their sayings.] Go the same

way; adopt their maxims.

Verse 14. Like sheep they are laid in the grave] lishol,

into sheol, the place of separate spirits.

Death shall feed on them] maveth yirem, "Death shall

feed them!" What an astonishing change! All the good things of

life were once their portion, and they lived only to eat and

drink; and now they live in sheol, and Death himself feeds them!

and with what? Damnation. Houbigant reads the verse thus: "Like

sheep they shall be laid in the place of the dead; death shall

feed on them; their morning shepherds rule over them; and their

flesh is to be consumed. Destruction is to them in their folds."

Verse 15. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the

grave] miyad sheol, "from the hand of sheol." That is,

by the plainest construction, I shall have a resurrection from

the dead, and an entrance into his glory; and death shall have no

dominion over me.

Verse 16. Be not thou afraid when one is made rich] Do not be

envious; do not grieve: it will do you no harm; it will do him no

good. All he gets will be left behind; he can carry nothing with

him. Even his glory must stay behind; he shall mingle with the

common earth.

Verse 18. He blessed his soul] He did all he could to procure

himself animal gratifications, and he was applauded for it; for it

is the custom of the world to praise them who pay most attention

to their secular interest; and he who attends most to the concerns

of his soul is deemed weak and foolish, and is often persecuted by

an ungodly world.

Verse 19. They shall never see light.] Rise again they shall;

but they shall never see the light of glory, for there is prepared

for them the blackness of darkness for ever.

Verse 20. Man that is in honour] The rich and honourable man who

has no spiritual understanding, is a beast in the sight of God.

The spirit of this maxim is, A man who is in a dignified official

situation, but destitute of learning and sound sense, is like a

beast. The important place which he occupies reflects no honour

upon him, but is disgraced by him. Who has not read the fable of

the beautifully carved head? It was every thing that it should be,

but had no brains.

This verse has been often quoted as a proof of the fall of man;

and from yalin, (in Ps 49:12,) which signifies

to lodge for a night, it has been inferred that Adam fell on the

same day on which he was created, and that he did not spend a

single night in the terrestrial paradise. Adam, who was in a state

of glory, did not remain in it one night, but became stupid and

ignorant as the beasts which perish. But we may rest assured this

is no meaning of the text.

ANALYSIS OF THE FORTY-NINTH PSALM

The doctrine taught by this Psalm is the following: That rich

men be not proud of their wealth, nor poor men dejected nor

humbled at their mean estate, since all men are mortal; and it is

not the wealth of the one can make them happy, nor the poverty of

the others can make them unhappy, there being another life by

which the condition of both is to be judged.

The Psalm has three parts:-

I. An exordium or preface: Ps 49:1-4.

II. The matter proposed, debated, and argued, Ps 49:5-16.

III. The advice or admonition given, Ps 49:16-20.

I. In the exordium:-

1. He calls together his auditory: "All people, all nations,

low, high, rich, and poor;" because what he speaks concerns all.

2. Then he calls them to be attentive. "Hear, give ear."

3. He labours to make them teachable, by commending the matter

of which he treats; they are not frivolous, but weighty and

important things: 1. "My mouth shall speak of wisdom," &c. I will

speak of what I know, and speak so that others may understand. 2.

"I will incline my ear." I will teach you nothing but what I teach

myself. 3. It is a parable which I am about to deliver, and will

require all your attention. 4. That it may be brought to your ear

with more delight, I shall accompany it with the harp: "I will

open my dark saying upon the harp."

II. Having now assembled his congregation; endeavoured to make

them attentive, docile, and well-disposed, lest any should suppose

that he was envious at the prosperity of the wicked, or had so

little trust in God that he lived in terror of his adversaries; he

says, "Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, though the

iniquity of my supplanters surrounds me?" He had no reason thus to

fear; but the wealthy and ambitious had. And this he demonstrates

two ways: for he takes away happiness from the one, Ps 49:6-15,

and places happiness in the other, Ps 49:16.

1. They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the

multitude of their riches, are not happy, Ps 49:6. For wealth

will not deliver in the evil day.

1. It will save no man's life: "None of them (the rich men) can

redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him." God will

not be bribed to save any man's life.

2. It will save no man's soul. The ransom required for that is

more valuable than any thing the earth can produce.

3. Suppose he was wise, and a long-lived man, yet he must die at

last: "For he seeth that wise men die; likewise the fool, and the

brutish."

4. Which sufficiently shows the vanity of their riches: 1. They

leave them. 2. They leave these great riches. 3. They leave them

to others; sometimes to children, but often to strangers, such as

they thought never would have entered into their labours.

5. "Their thoughts are vain." For, 1. "Their inward thoughts are

that their houses shall continue," &c. 2. To this end, "They call

their lands after their own names;" they not only study to be

rich, but they are vain-glorious also.

But their study is, 1. Vanity. 2. Folly.

1. Vanity: "Nevertheless, man being in honour, abideth not;" a

change there will be, and the most glorious man will be like the

beasts that perish.

2. Folly: "This their way is their foolishness." A great foolery

to place their chief good in riches; yet their posterity act in

the same way, tread in their steps, and pant after riches and

honours.

To correct this propensity, he lays before them certain

considerations relative to their future condition:-

1. "Like sheep they are laid in the grave." That is their common

condition; like sheep they are fatted for slaughter.

2. "Death shall feed on them." The second death; for, like

Dives, they shall be burned in hell; and the fire that cannot

be extinguished shall feed upon their souls and bodies.

3. In the morning of the resurrection, the "upright shall have

power over them." The righteous shall shine like the sun, when

they shall be Christ's footstool. The godly shall be placed on

the right hand, and seated on thrones to judge them; when they

shall be seated on the left, and be condemned.

4. "Their beauty shall consume in the grave." Their riches,

power, and glory, shall wax old as doth a garment: "For the figure

of this world passeth away." Therefore the rich of this world, and

the possessors of great glory, are not happy. He therefore sets

down the happy man: the man who trusts in God, and lives to him,

he is happy in life, notwithstanding his afflictions, and he shall

be happy for ever. Therefore he says, "God will redeem my soul

from the power of the grave," &c.

1. He shall redeem me. All good men's souls.

2. Not from the grave, for die we must; but from the hand, that

is, the dominion and power, of death: "Death shall not reign over

them."

3. The reason is, For he shall receive me-adopt me into his

family, and make me a partaker of the Divine nature.

III. On these considerations, relative to good and bad men, and

their different conditions, he admonishes the good that they be

not troubled at the prosperity of the wicked: "Be not thou

afraid," &c.

1. Not at the great wealth of the rich: "Be not afraid when one

is made rich."

2. Not at the glory and honour of the mighty: "Nor when the

glory of his house is increased."

And he repeats the former reason: "For when he dieth, he shall

carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him." Their

happiness, such as it was, was only momentary.

This he amplifies: Be it granted that they flattered themselves,

and were flattered by others.

1. "Though while he lived he blessed his own soul." "Soul, take

thy ease," &c.

2. Though men will praise thee, and sound in thy ears, Well

done! "so long as thou doest well to thyself,"-heapest up riches,

and followest after honour.

1. A mortal thou art, short-lived as all that went before thee:

"He shall go to the generation of his fathers." And,

2. If wicked, be cast into utter darkness: "They shall never see

the light."

3. Surely any man, however rich, however great, who understands

not thus much, must be a beast; and with this sentiment concludes

the Psalm; and it is doubled that it may be remembered: "Man who

is in honour, and understandeth not is like the beasts that

perish." Even while he lives, without this understanding, his life

is little more than the life of the beast.

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