Psalms 49

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

1 [a]Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world,
2 both low and high, rich and poor alike:
3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
4 I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle:
5 Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—
6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?
7 No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—
8 the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—
9 so that they should live on forever and not see decay.
10 For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others.
11 Their tombs will remain their houses[b] forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had[c] named lands after themselves.
12 People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish.
13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.[d]
14 They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.
15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.
16 Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases;
17 for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them.
18 Though while they live they count themselves blessed— and people praise you when you prosper—
19 they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.
20 People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.

Psalms 49 Commentary

Chapter 49

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!

Cross References 39

  • 1. Isaiah 1:2
  • 2. Psalms 78:1
  • 3. S Psalms 33:8
  • 4. Psalms 62:9
  • 5. S Psalms 37:30
  • 6. Psalms 119:130
  • 7. Psalms 78:2; Proverbs 1:6; Ezekiel 12:22; Ezekiel 16:44; Ezekiel 18:2-3; Luke 4:23
  • 8. S 1 Samuel 16:16; Psalms 33:2
  • 9. S Numbers 12:8
  • 10. Psalms 23:4; Psalms 27:1
  • 11. S Job 22:25; Psalms 73:12; Jeremiah 48:7; Job 31:24
  • 12. S Psalms 10:3
  • 13. S Job 36:19
  • 14. S Numbers 35:31
  • 15. Matthew 16:26
  • 16. Psalms 22:29; Psalms 89:48
  • 17. Psalms 16:10
  • 18. Ecclesiastes 2:16
  • 19. Psalms 92:6; Psalms 94:8
  • 20. S Job 27:17
  • 21. Ecclesiastes 2:18,21; Luke 12:20
  • 22. Mark 5:3; Luke 8:27
  • 23. Psalms 106:31
  • 24. Genesis 4:17; S Deuteronomy 3:14
  • 25. S Job 14:2
  • 26. ver 20; 2 Peter 2:12
  • 27. Luke 12:20
  • 28. Jeremiah 43:11; Ezekiel 31:14
  • 29. Numbers 16:30; S Job 21:13; Job 24:19; Psalms 9:17; Psalms 55:15
  • 30. Isaiah 14:2; Daniel 7:18; Malachi 4:3; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 2:26
  • 31. Psalms 56:13; Hosea 13:14
  • 32. S Genesis 5:24; Psalms 73:24
  • 33. 1 Timothy 6:7
  • 34. S Psalms 17:14; 1 Timothy 6:7
  • 35. Deuteronomy 29:19; Psalms 10:6; Luke 12:19
  • 36. S Genesis 15:15
  • 37. S Job 33:30
  • 38. Proverbs 16:16
  • 39. S ver 12; Ecclesiastes 3:19

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. In Hebrew texts 49:1-20 is numbered 49:2-21.
  • [b]. Septuagint and Syriac; Hebrew "In their thoughts their houses will remain"
  • [c]. Or "generations," / "for they have"
  • [d]. The Hebrew has "Selah" (a word of uncertain meaning) here and at the end of verse 15.

Chapter Summary

Psalms 49 Commentaries