Psalm 89:48

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 48. What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? All must die. None of our race can answer to the question here propounded except in the negative; there is none that can claim to elude the arrows of death.

Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Neither by strength, wisdom, nor virtue can any man escape the common doom, for to the dust return we must. Since then we must all die, do not make this life all wretchedness, by smiting us so long, O Lord. Thy Son our covenant Head died, and so also shall we; let us not be so deserted of thee in this brief span that we shall be quite unable to testify to thy faithfulness: make us not feel that we have lived in vain. Thus the brevity of life and the certainty of death are turned into pleas with the Most High.

Selah. Here we rest again, and proceed to further pleadings.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 48. What man. Mi gheber, says the original; it is not Is he, which is the first name of man, in the Scriptures, and signifies nothing but a sound, a voice, a word, a musical air which dies, and evaporates; what wonder if man, that is but Ishe, a sound, should die too? It is not Adam, which is another name of man, and signifies nothing but red earth; let it be earth red with blood, (with that murder which we have done upon ourselves,) let it be earth red with blushing, (so the word is used in the original), with a conscience of our own infirmity, what wonder if man, that is but Adam, guilty of this self murder in himself, guilty of this inborn frailty in himself, die too? It is not Enos, which is also a third name of man, and signifies nothing but a wretched and miserable creature; what wonder that man, that is but earth, that is a burden to his neighbours, to his friends, to his kindred, to himself, to whom all others, and to whom myself desires death, what wonder if he die? But this question is framed upon more of these names; not Ishe, not Adam, not Enos; but it is Mi gheber, Quis vir; which is the word always signifying a man accomplished in all excellencies, a man accompanied with all advantages; fame, and a good opinion justly conceived, keeps him from being Ishe, a mere sound, standing only upon popular acclamation; innocency and integrity keeps him from being Adam, red earth, from bleeding, or blushing at anything he hath done; that holy and religious art of arts, which St. Paul professed. That he knew how to want, and hvw to abound, keeps him from being Enos, miserable or wretched in any fortune; he is gheber, a great man, and a good man, a happy man, and a holy man, and yet Mi gheber, Quis homo, this man must see death. --John Donne.

Verse 48. This Psalm is one of those twelve that are marked in the forehead with Maschil; that is, a Psalm giving instruction. It consisteth of as many verses as the year doth of weeks, and hath like the year, its summer and winter. The summer part is the former; wherein, the church having reaped a most rich crop (the best blessings of Heaven and earth) the Psalmist breaketh forth into the praises of their gracious Benefactor, I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: so it begins, and so he goeth on a great way. Who now would expect anything but mercies, and singing, and summer all the way? But summer ceaseth, and winter commences, at Psalms 89:38 : But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth, with thine anointed. Mercies and singing are now turned into troubles and mourning. But nothing shall you hear but bitter querimonies and expostulations till you come to the last verse. There the good man's come to himself again. Though God were angry with his people, he cannot part with God in discontent. Though God had laden them with crosses, he lifts up his head, and presents God with blessing; Blessed be the Lord forevermore. Amen, and Amen. He blesseth him as well for winter as for summer, for troubles as for mercies. And thus the last verse of Psalm having as much affinity with the first in matter, as the last day of the year hath with the first in season; if we circle the Psalm, and bring both ends together, we find a fit resemblance between the year and it.

The text is one of the Psalmist's winter drops; a black line from that pen, which erstwhile was so filled with joy, and wrote nothing but rubrics. He complains in the next precedent verse, of the brevity of his own life (it was like a winter's day, very short); in this, of the instability of man's life; as though he had said, I am not the only mortal. Other men's lives, though haply clothed with more comforts than mine, are altogether as mortal as mine; for his interrogations are equivalent to strong negations. As to see sleep is to sleep; so to see or taste death, is to die. There is no surviving such a sight Death says, as God once to Moses, "There shall no man see me and live." Exodus 33:20 . --Thomas Du-gard, in a Funeral Sermon, 1648.

Verse 48. Death spares no rank, no condition of men. Kings as well as subjects, princes as well as the meanest rustics are liable to this fatal stroke. The lofty cedars and low shrubs; palaces and cottages are alike here. Indeed, we read that Julius Caesar bid the master of the ship wherein he was sailing, take courage notwithstanding the boisterous tempest, because he had Caesar and his fortunes embarked in his vessel, as much as to say, the element on which they then were could not prove fatal to an emperor, to so great a one as he was. Our William surnamed Rufus said, he never heard of a king that was drowned. And Charles the Fifth, at the Battle of Tunis, being advised to retire when the great ordnance began to play, told them that it was never known that an emperor was slain with great shot, and so rushed into the battle. But this we are sure of, it was never known or heard that any king or crowned head escaped the blow of death at last. The sceptre cannot keep off `the arrows that fly by day, and the sickness which wastes at noonday;' it is no screen, no guard against the shafts of death. We have heard of great tyrants and usurpers who vaunted that they had the power of life and death, and as absolutely disposed of men as Domitian did of flies; but we have heard likewise that in a short time (and generally the shorter the more furious they have been) their sceptres are fallen out of their hands; their crowns are toppled off their heads, and they are themselves snatched away by the King of Terrors. Or, if we speak of those royal personages that are mild and gentle, and like Vespasian are the darlings and delight of the people, yet these no less than others have their fatal hour, and their regal honour and majesty are laid in the dust. The King doth not die, may be a Common law maxim, but it is a falsehood according to the laws of God and Nature, and the established constitution of heaven. For God himself who hath said, Ye are gods, hath also added, Ye shall die like men. In the Escurial the palace of the Kings of Spain, is their cemetery too; there their royal ashes lie. So in the place where the kings and queens of England are crowned, their predecessors are entombed: to tell them, as it were, that their crowns exempt them not from the grave, and that there is no greatness and splendour that can guard them from the arrest of death. He regards the rich and wealthy no more than the poor and necessitous: he snatches persons out of their mansion houses and hereditary seats, as well as out of almshouses and hospitals. His dominion is over masters as well as servants, parents as well as children, superiors as well as inferiors. -- John Edwards.

Verse 48. --

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave, Await alike the inevitable hour -- The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Can storied urn, or animated bust, Back to its mansions call the fleeting breath? Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust, Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death? --Thomas Gray, 1716- 1771.