A call for attention. (1-5) Folly of worldlings. (6-14) Against fear of death. (15-20)
Verses 1-5 We seldom meet with a more solemn introduction: there is no truth of greater importance. Let all hear this with application to ourselves. The poor are in danger from undue desire toward the wealth of the world, as rich people from undue delight in it. The psalmist begins with applying it to himself, and that is the right method in which to treat of Divine things. Before he sets down the folly of carnal security, he lays down, from his own experience, the benefit and comfort of a holy, gracious security, which they enjoy who trust in God, and not in their worldly wealth. In the day of judgment, the iniquity of our heels, or of our steps, our past sins, will compass us. In those days, worldly, wicked people will be afraid; but wherefore should a man fear death who has God with him?
Verses 6-14 Here is a description of the spirit and way of worldly people. A man may have wealth, and may have his heart enlarged in love, thankfulness, and obedience, and may do good with it. Therefore it is not men's having riches that proves them to be worldly, but their setting their hearts upon them as the best things. Worldly men have only some floating thoughts of the things of God, while their fixed thoughts, their inward thoughts, are about the world; that lies nearest the heart. But with all their wealth they cannot save the life of the dearest friend they have. This looks further, to the eternal redemption to be wrought out by the Messiah. The redemption of the soul shall cost very dear; but, being once wrought, it shall never need to be repeated. And he, the Redeemer, shall rise again before he sees corruption, and then shall live for evermore, Re. 1:18 . This likewise shows the folly of worldly people, who sell their souls for that which will never buy them. With all their wealth they cannot secure themselves from the stroke of death. Yet one generation after another applaud their maxims; and the character of a fool, as drawn by heavenly Wisdom itself, Lu. 12:16-21 , continues to be followed even among professed Christians. Death will ask the proud sinner, Where is thy wealth, thy pomp? And in the morning of the resurrection, when all that sleep in the dust shall awake, the upright shall be advanced to the highest honour, when the wicked shall be filled with everlasting shame and contempt, ( Daniel 12:2 ) . Let us now judge of things as they will appear in that day. The beauty of holiness is that alone which the grave cannot touch, or damage.
Verses 15-20 Believers should not fear death. The distinction of men's outward conditions, how great soever in life, makes none at death; but the difference of men's spiritual states, though in this life it may seem of small account, yet at and after death is very great. The soul is often put for the life. The God of life, who was its Creator at first, can and will be its Redeemer at last. It includes the salvation of the soul from eternal ruin. Believers will be under strong temptation to envy the prosperity of sinners. Men will praise thee, and cry thee up, as having done well for thyself in raising an estate and family. But what will it avail to be approved of men, if God condemn us? Those that are rich in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, have something of which death cannot strip them, nay, which death will improve; but as for worldly possessions, as we brought nothing into the world, so it is certain that we shall carry nothing out; we must leave all to others. The sum of the whole matter is, that it can profit a man nothing to gain the whole world, to become possessed of all its wealth and all its power, if he lose his own soul, and is cast away for want of that holy and heavenly wisdom which distinguishes man from the brutes, in his life and at his death. And are there men who can prefer the lot of the rich sinner to that of poor Lazarus, in life and death, and to eternity? Assuredly there are. What need then we have of the teaching of the Holy Ghost; when, with all our boasted powers, we are prone to such folly in the most important of all concerns!
Psalms 49:1-20 . This Psalm instructs and consoles. It teaches that earthly advantages are not reliable for permanent happiness, and that, however prosperous worldly men may be for a time, their ultimate destiny is ruin, while the pious are safe in God's care.
1-3. All are called to hear what interests all.
world--literally, "duration of life," the present time.
4. incline-- to hear attentively ( Psalms 17:6 , 31:2 ).
parable--In Hebrew and Greek "parable" and "proverb" are translations of the same word. It denotes a comparison, or form of speech, which under one image includes many, and is expressive of a general truth capable of various illustrations. Hence it may be used for the illustration itself. For the former sense, "proverb" (that is, one word for several) is the usual English term, and for the latter, in which comparison is prominent, "parable" (that is, one thing laid by another). The distinction is not always observed, since here, and in Psalms 78:2 ; "proverb" would better express the style of the composition (compare also Proverbs 26:7 Proverbs 26:9 , Habakkuk 2:6 , John 16:25 John 16:29 ). Such forms of speech are often very figurative and also obscure (compare Matthew 13:12-15 ). Hence the use of the parallel word--
dark saying--or, "riddle" (compare Ezekiel 17:2 ).
open--is to explain.
upon the harp--the accompaniment for a lyric.
5. iniquity--or, "calamity" ( Psalms 40:12 ).
of my heels--literally "my supplanters" ( Genesis 27:36 ), or oppressors: "I am surrounded by the evils they inflict."
6. They are vainglorious.
7-9. yet unable to save themselves or others.
8. it ceaseth for ever--that is, the ransom fails, the price is too precious, costly.
9. corruption--literally, "pit," or, "grave," thus showing that "soul" is used for "life" ( Psalms 49:8 ).
10. For he seeth--that is, corruption; then follows the illustration.
wise . . . fool--( Psalms 14:1 , Proverbs 1:32 , 10:1 ).
likewise--alike altogether--( Psalms 4:8 )--die--all meet the same fate.
11. Still infatuated and flattered with hopes of perpetuity, they call their lands, or "celebrate their names on account of (their) lands."
12. Contrasted with this vanity is their frailty. However honored, man
abideth not-- literally, "lodgeth not," remains not till morning, but suddenly perishes as (wild) beasts, whose lives are taken without warning.
13. Though their way is folly, others follow the same course of life.
14. Like sheep--(compare Psalms 49:12 ) unwittingly, they
are laid--or, "put," &c.
death shall feed on--or, better, "shall rule"
them--as a shepherd (compare "feed," Psalms 28:9 , Margin).
have dominion over--or, "subdue"
them in the morning--suddenly, or in their turn.
their beauty--literally, "form" or shape.
shall consume--literally, "is for the consumption," that is, of the grave.
from their dwelling--literally, "from their home (they go) to it," that is, the grave.
15. The pious, delivered from "the power of the grave."
power--literally, "the hand," of death, are taken under God's care.
16-19. applies this instruction. Be not anxious ( Psalms 37:1 , &c.), since death cuts off the prosperous wicked whom you dread.
18. Though . . . lived, &c.--literally, "For in his life he blessed his soul," or, "himself" ( Luke 12:19 , 16:25 ); yet ( Psalms 49:19 ); he has had his portion.
men will praise . . . thyself--Flatterers enhance the rich fool's self-complacency; the form of address to him strengthens the emphasis of the sentiment.
20. (Compare Psalms 49:12 ). The folly is more distinctly expressed by "understandeth not," substituted for "abideth not."