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49. Psalm 49

Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:

2Both low and high, rich and poor, together.

3My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.

4I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.

5Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?

6They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

7None 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:)

9That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

10For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.

11Their 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.

12Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.

13This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

14Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

15But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.

16Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;

17For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.

18Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.

19He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.

20Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.

14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed them 227227     This is also the reading of the Septuagint, “Θάνατος ποιμανεῖ αὐτούς,” “Death shall feed them as a shepherd,” and of Jerome, “Mors pascet eos;” and this is the view taken by Dr Kennicott, Dr Hammond, and Bishop Horsley. Hammond’s explanation of this clause is as follows. He observes, that the Hebrew word רעה, raah, means to give the sheep pasture, or to look to them when they are feeding, Genesis 29:7, and 30:32; and that this feeding of sheep is very different from feeding on them. He farther observes, that the word is frequently used for ruling or governing “In this place,” says he, “the metaphor of sheep must needs rule the signification of it. As sheep are put into a pasture, there to continue together in a common place, so men are put into שאול, ἅδης, the state of the dead, mentioned in the former words, and to that regularly follows — Death ידעם, [shall feed them,] — is as the shepherd that conducts or leads them into this pasture, those Elysian fields: — an excellent piece of divine poesy, to signify, how men like sheep, like beasts, go by flocks and herds out of this life, or more plainly, that men die as ordinarily and regularly as sheep are led to their pasture.” Some, however, read, “Death feedeth upon them.” “רעה signifies not only to feed, but to feed upon and lay waste; and thus we render it in Micah 5:6, ‘They shall waste Assyria with the sword.’ See also Psalm 80:14.” — Appendix to the Notes in Merrick’s version, No. 4, p. 304. This verb also signifies to feed upon in Isaiah 44:20, and Hosea 12:2. Fry’s translation is,
   “They are set apart like sheep for Hades;
Death feedeth upon them, and they go down to them;”

   and he thinks that the idea here is, that Death and Hades are the two monsters for whose consumption the flock is destined. This is a personification which we frequently meet with in the Latin poets. Cerberus is often represented by them as feasting on the bodies of men in the grave; Thus, notwithstanding the strong desires which worldly men have for immortality in this world, they shall become the victims of the grave, and the prey of death.
The figure is striking. They go down into the grave as sheep are gathered into the fold by the shepherd. The entire world might not seem vast enough for men of a haughty spirit. They are so swollen with their vain imaginations, that they would engross universal nature to themselves. But the Psalmist, finding the wicked spread as it were far and wide, in the boundless pride of their hearts, collects them together into the grave, and hands them over to death as their shepherd. He intimates, that whatever superiority they might affect over their fellow-creatures, they would feel, when too late, that their boasting was vain, and be forced to yield themselves up to the irresistible and humiliating stroke of death. In the second part of the verse, the Psalmist points out the very different fate which awaits the children of God, and thus anticipates an obvious objection. It might be said, “Thou tellest us that those who place their confidence in this world must die. But this is no new doctrine. And why convert into matter of reproach what must be considered as a law of nature, attaching to all mankind? Who gave thee a privilege to insult the children of mortality? Art thou not one of them thyself?” This objection he meets effectually, by granting that on the supposition of death being the destruction of the whole man, he would have advanced no new or important doctrine, but arguing that infidel worldlings reject a better life to come, and thus lay themselves justly open to this species of reprehension. For surely it is the height of folly in any man for a mere momentary happiness — a very dream — to abdicate the crown of heaven, and renounce his hopes for eternity. Here it must be apparent, as I already took occasion to observe, that the doctrine of this psalm is very different from that taught by the philosophers. I grant that they may have ridiculed worldly ambition with elegance and eloquence, exposed the other vices, and insisted upon the topics of our frailty and mortality; but they uniformly omitted to state the most important truth of all, that God governs the world by his providence, and that we may expect a happy issue out of our calamities, by coming to that everlasting inheritance which awaits us in heaven. It may be asked, what that dominion is which the upright shall eventually obtain? I would reply, that as the wicked must all be prostrated before the Lord Jesus Christ, and made his footstool, His members will share in the victory of their Head. It is indeed said, that he “will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father,” but he will not do this that he may put an end to his Church, but “that God may be all in all,” (1 Corinthians 15:24.) It is stated that this will be in the morning 228228     In the morning, that is, says Dathe, in the time of judgment. He thinks there is here an allusion to the usual time of holding courts of justice, which was in the morning. See Psalm 73:14, and 101:8; and Jeremiah 21:12. — a beautiful and striking metaphor. Surrounded as we are by darkness, our life is here compared to the night, or to a sleep, an image which is specially applicable to the ungodly, who lie as it were in a deep slumber, but not inapplicable to the people of God, such being the dark mist which rests upon all things in this world, that even their minds (except in so far as they are illuminated from above) are partially enveloped in it. Here “we see only as through a glass darkly,” and the coining of the Lord will resemble the morning, when both the elect and reprobate will awake. The former will then cast aside their lethargy and sloth, and being freed from the darkness which rested upon them, will behold Christ the Sun of Righteousness face to face, and the full effulgence of life which resides in him. The others, who lie at present in a state of total darkness, will be aroused from their stupidity, and begin to discover a new life, of which they had previously no apprehension. We need to be reminded of this event, not only because corruption presses us downwards and obscures our faith, but because there are men who profanely argue against another life, from the continued course of things in the world, scoffing, as Peter foretold, (2 Peter 3:4,) at the promise of a resurrection, and pointing, in derision, to the unvarying regularity of nature throughout the lapse of ages. We may arm ourselves against their arguments by what the Psalmist here declares, that, sunk as the world is in darkness, there will dawn ere long a new morning, which will introduce us to a better and an eternal existence. It follows, that their strength, or their form, 229229     The LXX. read, ‘Η βοήθεια αὐτῶν, their help, conceiving the word צותם, tsuram, to be derived from צור, tsur, a rock, and metaphorically, confidence, aid Ainsworth reads, “their form,” their figure, shape, or image, with all their beauty and proportion; or “their rock,” that is, their strength “The Hebrew tsur,” says he, “is usually a rock; here it seemeth to be all one with tsurah, a form or figure; and this is confirmed by the writing, for though by the vowels and reading it is tsur, yet, by the letters, it is, tsir, which is an image, Isaiah 45:16.” (for the Hebrew word צורה, tsurah, is susceptible of either meanings) shall wax old If we read strength, the words intimate, that though at present they are in possession of wealth and power, they shall speedily decline and fall; but I see no objection to the other meaning, which has more commonly been adopted. Paul tells us, (1 Corinthians 7:31,) that “the fashion of this world passes away,” a term expressive of the evanescent nature of our earthly condition; and the Psalmist may be considered as comparing their vain and unsubstantial glory to a shadow. The words at the close of the verse are obscure. Some read, The grave is their dwelling; and then they make ם, mem, the formative letter of a noun. But the other interpretation agrees better both with the words and scope of the psalm, that the grave awaits them from his dwelling, which is put for their dwelling; such a change of number being common in the Hebrew language. They reside at present in splendid mansions, where they rest in apparent security, but we are reminded that they must soon come out of them, and be received into the tomb. There may be a covert allusion to their goings abroad to places of public resort with gaiety and pomp. These, the Psalmist intimates, must give place to the sad procession by which they must be carried down to the grave.


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