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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.

4. I will incline my ear 214214     Bythner and Fry are of opinion, that “the inclining of the ear” is a metaphor taken from the position of the minstrel, who, in accommodating his words to the tune, brings his ear close to the harp, that he may catch the sounds. Thus the Psalmist expresses the sense he himself had of the importance of his subject, and his purpose of giving to it the most serious attention. to a parable The Hebrew word משל, mashal, 215215     This word is of great latitude in its signification. It signifies primarily any similitude by which another thing is expressed. Thence it comes to denote a figurative discourse, either in the form of fiction and fable, such as riddles or significant apologues, as that of Jotham, Judges 9:7, or in which application is made of some true example or similitude, as when the sluggard is bidden “go to the ant,” and the impenitent sinner to consider the “swallow and crane,” which return at their certain seasons, and so are fitted to give a lesson to sinners to repent. And, finally, it belongs to all moral doctrine, either darkly or sententiously delivered; wise men, in ancient times, having been in the habit of delivering their lessons in short concise sentences, sometimes in schemes and figures, and sometimes without them, as we see in the Proverbs of Solomon, many of which are plain moral sayings without any figure or comparison. Of this sort is that which is here introduced to our attention; it is a moral theme not much veiled with figures, nor so concise as proverbs usually are, but which contains the most instructive lessons on the vanity of the prosperity of all wicked men. See Hammond in loco. which I have translated parable, properly denotes a similitude; but it is often applied to any deep or weighty sayings, because these are generally embellished with figures and metaphors. The noun which follows, חידת, chidoth 216216     This word is derived from an Arabic root which signifies to bend a thing aside, to tie knots, etc.; and thus it means an intricate species of composition, a riddle It is used for a riddle in the story of Samson, Judges 14:14, 15; and for difficult questions, as those put by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, 1 Kings 10:1. See Lowth’s Lectures on Sacred Poetry, volume1, p. 78. Accordingly, it is here rendered by the Septuagint, “τὸ πρόβλημά μου,” “my problem or difficult question,” which is not only asked in the fifth verse, but also answered in the subsequent verses. The word, however, is also applied to poetical compositions of a highly adorned and finished style, in which nothing enigmatical appears, but which contain weighty and important matter set forth in the parabolic style to secure the reader’s or the hearer’s attention, Psalm 78:2. See Gesenius’ Lexicon. In the subject-matter of this psalm there does not appear to be any thing peculiarly intricate. It treats of the vanity of riches, and the folly of those who trust in them; their insufficiency to save from the power of death; and the final triumph of all the suffering people of God over their rich and haughty persecutors. This is indeed a dark theme to the worldly-minded man; but it contains nothing occult or mysterious to those who are taught of God. and which I have rendered an enigma, or riddle, is to be understood in nearly the same sense. In Ezekiel 17:2, we have both the nouns with their corresponding verbs joined together, חור חידה ומשל משל, chud chedah umshol mashal, the literal translation being, “Enigmatize an enigma, and parabolize a parable.” I am aware that the reference in this place is to an allegorical discourse, but I have already adverted to the reason why, in Hebrew, the name of enigmas or similitudes is given to any remarkable or important sayings. The Psalmist, when he adds that he will open his dark saying, shows that nothing was farther from his intention than to wrap the subject of his discourse in perplexing and intricate obscurity. The truths of revelation are so high as to exceed our comprehension; but, at the same time, the Holy Spirit has accommodated them so far to our capacity, as to render all Scripture profitable for instruction. None can plead ignorance: for the deepest and most difficult doctrines are made plain to the most simple and unlettered of mankind. I see little force in the idea suggested by several interpreters, of the Psalmist having employed his harp, that he might render a subject in itself harsh and disagreeable more engaging by the charms of music. He would merely follow the usual practice of accompanying the psalm with the harp.

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