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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.

6. They trust in their wealth. We are now furnished with the reason why the suffering children of God should dismiss their apprehensions, and keep themselves from despondency, even when reduced to extremity by the violence and treachery of their enemies. Any boasted power which they possess is fleeting and evanescent. The Psalmist would convince us that the fear of man is unwarrantable; that it argues ignorance of what man is even at his best; and that it were as reasonable to startle at a shadow or a spectre. They boast themselves, he adds, in the multitude of their riches, and this is an error into which we are disposed to fall, forgetting that the condition of man in this world is fluctuating and transitory. It is not merely from the intrinsic insufficiency of wealth, honors, or pleasures, to confer true happiness, that the Psalmist proves the misery of worldly men, but from their manifest and total incapacity of forming a correct judgment of such possessions. Happiness is connected with the state of mind of that man who enjoys it, and none would call those happy who are sunk in stupidity and security, and are destitute of understanding. The Psalmist satisfactorily proves the infatuation of the wicked from the confidence which they place in their power and wealth, and their disposition to boast of them. It is a convincing sign of folly when one cannot discern what is before his eyes. Not a day passes without forcing the plain fact upon their notice, that none can redeem the life of another; so that their conduct is nothing less than insanity. Some read, A man shall not be able to redeem his brother; which amounts to the same meaning, and the text admits of this translation. The Hebrew word אח, ach, which I have rendered brother, is by others translated one; but I do not approve, although I would not absolutely reject, this reading. The Psalmist adds, that none can give a price to God for the ransom of another, where he adverts to the truth that men’s lives are absolutely at the disposal of God, and that they never can be extended by any human arrangement one moment beyond the period which God has fixed.

He enforces the same lesson in the verse which follows, where he states that the redemption of their soul is precious, an expression not to be understood as implying merely that it is an event of rare occurrence, but that it never can take place, as 1 Samuel 3:1, where the word of the Lord is said to have been precious under the priesthood of Eli, when it is evidently meant that it had ceased altogether. The Psalmist would assert that no man can hope to purchase an immortality either for himself or others in this world. I have rendered the close of verse 8, And their continuance for ever; but others, who construe the Hebrew word חדל, chadal, as a verb, meaning to cease, read, And ceaseth for ever, as if the Psalmist meant that no price was sufficiently great to answer the purpose, and that it must therefore cease for ever, as what could never obtain the end desired. I consider that which I have given to be the real meaning of the word, having had occasion already to observe upon Psalm 39:5, that it signifies the fixed term of human life. The words in verse 9, That he should still live for ever, more fully express the truth, that it is not merely impossible to redeem the life of men when they are dead, but impossible while they are yet living, to extend the term of their existence. A definite limit has been assigned to every man’s life. This he cannot pass over, and the Psalmist would impress the fact upon us as one which stamps folly upon the conduct of the wicked, who will cherish their unfounded confidence even at the moment when they are upon the brink of the grave. In all this, it may strike the reader that he has not announced any thing which merits being called a dark saying, and has rather been treating a popular subject in a very plain style of language; but if he consider that David here condemns, as by a voice issuing from the awful judgment-seat of God, the stupidity of such as forget that they are men, he will not be disposed to reckon the expression inapplicable. Again, we have seen that he has opened his dark saying, it being the divine will that instruction should be delivered in a form adapted to the meanest capacity.


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