Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The title to this psalm is the same essentially as the title to Psa 42:1-11; 44; 45; Psa 46:1-11; Psa 47:1-9. On the meaning of the terms occurring in the title, see the notes at the title to Psa 42:1-11.
The "author" of the psalm is unknown. There is no evidence that it was composed by David; and, in fact, the presumption is that he was not the author, as his name is not prefixed to it.
It is, of course, impossible to ascertain the "occasion" on which it was composed. It would seem from the psalm itself (see the notes at Psa 49:5) that it was written in view of some evil or wrong which the author was suffering from rich oppressors, and that he sought consolation in his trials from the reflections which he makes in the psalm - to wit, from the fact that wealth constitutes no security - that it gives no permanence to the projects of its owners and that it really possesses no "power" in carrying out the plans of those who abuse it to purposes of oppression and wrong. The wealthy man, no matter how great his possessions may be, cannot redeem a brother from the grave; he cannot save himself from the tomb; he cannot make his possessions permanent in his family; he cannot take his riches with him when he dies. There is really, therefore, nothing to "fear" from the man of wealth, for whatever such a man can do must be temporary. The higher interests of the soul cannot be affected permanently by anything so uncertain and transitory as riches. It is not improbable that this train of thought was suggested by an actual occurrence in the life of the psalmist, whoever he was; but the reflections are of universal importance in regard to riches considered as a means of power, and to their real value as it respects the great interests of man.
The contents of the psalm are as follows:
I. An introduction, calling attention to the general subject as worthy of the consideration of all classes of persons, both low and high; as conveying lessons of wisdom; and as being the result of much reflection, Psa 49:1-4.
II. The main subject in the psalm, or the point to be illustrated; to wit, "that the righteous have no reason to be afraid when rich oppressors compass them around; or when the rich oppress and wrong them," Psa 49:5.
III. Reasons for this; or, reasons why those who are possessed of wealth, and who glory in the self-importance derived from wealth, should not be feared, Psa 49:6-20.
(1) no one can by his riches save another - not even his own brother - from the grave, for all (whatever may be their condition) must die, and leave their wealth to others, Psa 49:6-10.
(2) they cannot, by any wisdom or skill make their possessions "permanent," or secure, Psa 49:11-12.
(3) they will not learn wisdom on this subject from the experience of the past, but the coming generation is as foolish as the one that went before, Psa 49:13.
(4) all must go down to the grave, however rich they may be, Psa 49:14.
(5) there is a better hope for the righteous, and though he goes down to the grave, he will live hereafter, Psa 49:15.
(6) the rich can carry none of their wealth with them when they go to the grave. All must be left behind, and pass into the hands of others, Psa 49:16-20. The conclusion from the whole, therefore, is, that we should not be "afraid" when one is made rich - when the glory of his house is increased, for the possession of wealth by another, though an enemy, gives him no such permanent power as to make him an object of dread. In our real, our highest interests, we must be safe, whatever the rich oppressor may do.
Hear this, all ye people - That is, What I am about; to utter is worthy of universal attention; it pertains equally to all mankind. The psalmist; therefore calls on all the nations to attend to what he is about to say. Compare the notes at Isa 1:2.
Give ear - Incline your ear; attend. Compare the notes at Psa 17:6. See also Isa 37:17; Isa 55:3; Dan 9:18; Pro 2:2.
All ye inhabitants of the world - The truth to be declared does not pertain exclusively to any one nation, or any one class of people. All are interested in it. The term here rendered "world" - חלד cheled, - means properly "duration of life, lifetime;" then, "life, time, age;" and then it comes to denote the world, considered as made up of the living, or the passing generations.
Both low and high - Those alike of humble and those of exalted rank, for it pertains equally to all. On the meaning of the "terms" employed here, see the notes at Isa 2:9. These truths pertained to the "low;" that is, to those of humble rank, as teaching them not to envy the rich, and not to fear their power; and they pertained to those of exalted rank, as teaching them not to trust in their riches, and not to suppose that they could permanently possess and enjoy them.
Rich and poor together - As equally interested in these truths; that is, What the psalmist was about to say was adapted to impart useful lessons to both classes. Both needed instruction on the subject; and the same class of truths was adapted to furnish that instruction. The class of truths referred to was derived from the powerlessness of wealth in regard to the things of most importance to man, and from the fact that all which a man can gain must soon be left: teaching those of one class that they should not set their heart on wealth, and should not pride themselves on possessing it, and teaching the other class that they should not envy or fear the possessor of riches.
My mouth shall speak of wisdom - That is, I will utter sentiments that are wise, or that are of importance to all; sentiments that will enable all to take a just view of the subject on which I speak. This indicates "confidence" in what he was about to utter, as being eminently deserving of attention.
And the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding - What I reflect on, and what I give utterance to, in the matter under consideration. The idea is, that he had meditated on the subject, as to what was real wisdom in the matter, and that he would now give utterance to the result of his meditations. It was not wisdom in general, or intelligence or understanding as such on which he designed to express the results of his thoughts, but it was only in respect to the proper value to be attached to wealth, and as to the fact of its causing fear Psa 49:5 in those who were not possessed of it, and who might be subjected to the oppressive acts of those who were rich.
I will incline mine ear to a parable - The phrase "I will incline mine ear" means that he would listen or attend to - as we incline our ear toward those whom we are anxious to hear, or in the direction from which a sound seems to come. Compare Psa 5:1; Psa 17:1; Psa 39:12; Isa 1:2. On the word rendered "parable" here משׁל mâshâl - see the notes at Isa 14:4. Compare Job 13:12, note; Job 27:1, note. The word properly means similitude; then, a sentence, sententious saying, apophthegm; then, a proverb; then, a song or poem. There is usually found in the word some idea of "comparison," and hence, usually something that is to be illustrated "by" a comparison or a story. The reference here would seem to be to some dark or obscure subject which needed to be illustrated; which it was not easy to understand; which had given the writer, as well as others, perplexity and difficulty. He proposed now, with a view to understand and explain it, to place his ear, as it were, "close to the matter," that he might clearly comprehend it. The matter was difficult, but he felt assured he could explain it - as when one unfolds the meaning of an enigma. The "problem" - the "parable" - the difficult point - related to the right use, or the proper value, of wealth, or the estimate in which it should be held by those who possessed it, and by those who did not. It was very evident to the author of the psalm that the views of people were not right on the subject; he therefore proposed to examine the matter carefully, and to state the exact truth.
I will open - I will explain; I will communicate the result of my careful inquiries.
My dark saying - The word used here - חידה chı̂ydâh - is rendered "dark speeches" in Num 12:8; "riddle," in Jdg 14:12-19; Eze 17:2; "hard questions" in Kg1 10:1; Ch2 9:1; "dark saying" (as here) in Psa 78:2; Pro 1:6; "dark sentences," in Dan 8:23; and "proverb" in Hab 2:6. It does not elsewhere occur. It means properly "something entangled, intricate;" then, a trick or stratagem; then art intricate speech, a riddle; then, a sententious saying, a maxim; then a parable, a poem, a song, a proverb. The idea here is, that the point was intricate or obscure; it was not well understood, and he purposed "to lay it open," and to make it plain.
Upon the harp - On the meaning of the word used here, see the notes at Isa 5:12. The idea here is, that he would accompany the explanation with music, or would so express it that it might be accompanied with music; that is, he would give it a poetic form - a form such that the sentiment might be used in public worship, and might be impressed upon the mind by all the force and power which music would impart. Sentiments of purity and truth, and sentiments of pollution and falsehood also, are always most deeply imbedded in the minds of people, and are made most enduring and effective, when they are connected with music. Thus the sentiments of patriotism are perpetuated and impressed in song; and thus sentiments of sensuality and pollution owe much of their permanence and power to the fact that they are expressed in corrupt verse, and that they are perpetuated in exquisite poetry, and are accompanied with song. Scenes of revelry, as well as acts of devotion, are kept up by song. Religion proposes to take advantage of this principle in our nature by connecting the sentiments of piety with the sweetness of verse, and by impressing and perpetuating those sentiments through associating them with all that is tender, pure, and inspiriting in music. Hence, music, both vocal and that which is produced by instruments, has always been found to be an invaluable auxiliary in securing the proper impression of truth on the minds of people, as well as in giving utterance to the sentiments of piety in devotion.
Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil - This verse is designed evidently to state the main subject of the psalm; the result of the reflections of the author on what had been to him a source of perplexity; on what had seemed to him to be a dark problem. He "had" evidently felt that there was occasion to dread the power of wicked rich men; but he now felt that he had no ground for that fear and alarm. He saw that their power was short-lived; that all the ability to injure, arising from their station and wealth, must soon cease; that his own highest interests could not be affected by anything which they could do. The "days of evil" here spoken of are the times which are referred to in the following phrase, "when the iniquity of my heels," etc.
When the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about - It would be difficult to make any sense out of this expression, though it is substantially the same rendering which is found in the Vulgate and the Septuagint. Luther renders it "when the iniquity of my oppressors encompasses me." The Chaldee Paraphrase renders it, "why should I fear in the days of evil, unless it be when the guilt of my sin compasses me about?" The Syriac renders it, "the iniquity of "my enemies." The Arabic, "when my enemies surround me." DeWette renders it as Luther does. Rosenmuller, "when the iniquity of those who lay snares against me shall compass me around." Prof. Alexander, "when the iniquity of my oppressors (or supplanters) shall surround me." The word rendered "heels" here - עקב ‛âqêb - means properly "heel," Gen 3:15; Job 18:9; Jdg 5:22; then, the rear of an army, Jos 8:13; then, in the plural, "footsteps," prints of the heel or foot, Psa 77:19; and then, according to Gesenius (Lexicon) "a lier in wait, insidiator."
Perhaps there is in the word the idea of craft; of lying in wait; of taking the advantages - from the verb עקב ‛âqab, to be behind, to come from behind; and hence to supplant; to circumvent. So in Hos 12:3, "in the womb he held his brother by the heel" (compare Gen 25:26). Hence, the word is used as meaning to supplant; to circumvent, Gen 27:36; Jer 9:4 (Hebrew, Jer 9:3) This is, undoubtedly, the meaning here. The true idea is, when I am exposed to the crafts, the cunning, the tricks, of those who lie in wait for me; I am liable to be attacked suddenly, or to be taken unawares; but what have I to fear? The psalmist refers to the evil conduct of his enemies, as having given him alarm. They were rich and powerful. They endeavored in some way to supplant him - perhaps, as we should say, to "trip him up" - to overcome him by art, by power, by trick, or by fraud. He "had" been afraid of these powerful foes; but on a calm review of the whole matter, he came to the conclusion that he had really no cause for fear. The reasons for this he proceeds to state in the following part of the psalm.
They that trust in their wealth - The first reason why there was no cause of alarm is drawn Psa 49:6-10 from the "powerlessness" of wealth, as illustrated by the fact that it can do nothing to save life or to prevent death. He refers to those who possess it as "trusting" in their wealth, or "relying on" that as the source of their power.
And boast themselves - Pride themselves; or feel conscious of safety and strength because they are rich. It is the "power" which wealth is supposed to confer, that is alluded to here.
In the multitude of their riches - The abundance of their wealth.
None of them can bid any means redeem his brother - None of those who are rich. This verse might be literally rendered, "a brother cannot by redeeming redeem; a man cannot give to God his own ransom." The passage, therefore, may mean either, as in our version, that no one, however rich, can redeem a brother - his own brother - by his wealth; or, that a brother - one who sustains the relation of a brother - cannot rescue another from death. On the word "redeem," see Psa 25:22, note; Isa 43:3, note. It means here that he could not rescue him, or save him from the grave; he could not by his wealth preserve him in life. The whole expression is emphatic: "redeeming he cannot redeem;" that is - according to Hebrew usage - he cannot "possibly" do it; it "cannot" be done. There is here no particular reference to the "means" to be employed, but only an emphatic statement of the fact that "it cannot by any possibility be done." The object is to show how powerless and valueless is wealth in regard to the things that most pertain to a man's welfare. It can do literally "nothing" in that which most deeply affects man, and in which he most needs help. There is no allusion here to the redemption of the soul, or to the great work of redemption, as that term is commonly understood; but it "is" true, in the highest sense, that if wealth cannot "redeem" life, or keep our best and nearest friend from the grave, much less can it avail in that which is so much more important, and so much more difficult, the redemption of the soul from eternal ruin. Here, also, as in the matter of saving from the grave, it is absolutely true that wealth can do "nothing" - literally, "nothing" - in saving the soul of its possessor, or in enabling its possessor to save his best friend. Nothing but the blood of the cross can avail then; and the wealth of the richest can do no more here than the poverty of the poorest.
Nor give to God a ransom for him - This would be more literally rendered, "a man cannot give to God his ransom;" that is, he cannot, though in the possession of the most ample wealth, give to God that which would purchase his own release from the grave. On the word "ransom," see as above, the notes at Isa 43:3. Compare Mat 16:26.
For the redemption of their soul is precious - The word "soul" here means "life," and not the immortal part. The only question which the psalmist here considers is the value of wealth in preserving "life," or in saving man from the grave. The phrase, ""their" soul," refers doubtless to the man and his brother, as alluded to in the previous verse. The idea is that neither can the man of wealth ransom his own life from the grave, nor the life of his brother. Wealth can save neither of them. The word "precious" means "costly," "valuable." The word is applied Kg1 10:2, Kg1 10:10-11 to gems, and then to the costlier kinds of stones employed in building, as marble and hewn-stones, Ch2 3:6. Compare the notes at Psa 36:7. The idea here is, that the rescue of the life, or the saving from the grave, would be too "costly;" it would be beyond the power of all wealth to purchase it; no amount of silver or gold, or raiment, or precious stones, could "constitute" a sufficient "price" to secure it.
And it ceaseth for ever - That is, Wealth forever comes short of the power necessary to accomplish this. It has always been insufficient; it always "will" be. There is no hope that it "ever" will be sufficient; that by any increase in the amount - or by any change in the conditions of the bargain - property or riches can avail for this. The whole matter is perfectly "hopeless" as to the power of wealth in saving one human being from the grave. It must always "fail" in saving a man from death. The word rendered "ceaseth" - חדל châdal - means "to leave off, to desist, to fail," Gen 11:8; Exo 9:34; Isa 2:22. As there is no allusion here to the redemption of the "soul" - the immortal part - this passage affirms nothing in regard to the fact that the work of redemption by the Saviour is completed or finished, and that an atonement cannot be made again, which is true; nor to the fact that when salvation through that atonement is rejected, all hope of redemption is at an end, which is also true. But though there is, originally, no such reference here, the "language" is such as is "adapted" to express that idea. In a much higher and more important sense than any which pertains to the power of wealth in saving from the grave, it is true tint the work of the atonement ceased for ever when the Redeemer expired on the cross, and that all hope of salvation ceases forever when the atonement is rejected, and when man refuses to be saved by his blood; nothing then can save the soul. No other sacrifice will be made, and when a man has finally rejected the Saviour, it may be said in the highest sense of the term, that the redemption of the soul is too costly to be effected by any other means, and that all hope of its salvation "has ceased" forever.
That he should still live for ever - That his brother whom he could not redeem - or that he himself - should not die, Psa 49:8. The idea is, that the price of life is so great that no wealth can rescue it so that a man shall not die.
And not see corruption - Should not return to dust, or moulder away in the grave. See the notes at Psa 16:10.
For he seeth that wise men die - He must see this; he does see it. He perceives that no one can be saved from death. It comes on all alike - the wise and the unwise. Nothing saves from it. The allusion is here especially to the "rich," whether "they" are wise or whether they are fools and "brutish." The simple fact, as stated, is that no matter what may be the character of the man of wealth, whether wise or foolish, he must certainly die His wealth cannot save him from the grave. The possessor of wealth himself "sees" this. It cannot be concealed from him.
Likewise the fool - The rich man who is a fool, or who is destitute of wisdom. He who is rich and who is wise - wise in the things of this life and wise unto salvation - (or who is gifted with a high degree of intelligence and who evinces wisdom in respect to the higher matters of existence) - and the rich man who is a fool - (who is regardless of his highest interests, and who evinces no special intelligence, though possessed of wealth) - all, all die alike.
And the brutish person - The rich man who is stupid and dull; who lives like a brute; who lives to eat and drink; who lives for gross sensuality - "he" dies as well as he who is wise. Wealth cannot in either case save from death. Whether connected with wisdom or folly - whether carefully husbanded or lavishly spent - whether a man employs it in the highest and noblest manner in which it can be devoted, or in the indulgence of the most low and debasing enjoyments - it is alike powerless in saving people from the grave.
And leave their wealth to others - It all passes into other hands. It "must" be so left. It cannot be carried away by its possessor when he goes into the eternal world. It not only cannot save him from the grave, but he cannot even take it with him. All his houses, his lands, his title-deeds, his silver, his gold, his parks, gardens, horses, hounds - all that he had accumulated with so much care, and worshipped with so idolatrous an affection, is not even his own in the sense that he can take it with him. The title passes absolutely into other hands, and even if he could come back to earth again, he could no longer claim it, for when he dies it ceases to be his forever. How powerless, then, is wealth in reference to the great purposes of human existence!
Their inward thought is - Their secret expectation and feeling is that they have secured permanency for their wealth in their own families, though they themselves may pass away. The essential thought in this verse is, that the rich people referred to in the foregoing verses imagine that their possessions will be perpetuated in their own families. The word rendered "inward thought" - קרב qereb - means properly "the midst, the middle, inner part;" and hence it comes to mean the heart, or the mind, as the seat of thought and affection: Psa 5:9; Psa 64:6. It means here, their hope, their calculation, their secret expectation; and the whole verse is designed to show the value or importance which they attach to wealth as being, in their apprehension, suited to build up their families forever.
That their houses shall continue "for ever - Either the dwellings which they rear, or - more probably - their families.
And their dwelling-places to all generations - Margin, as in Hebrew, "to generation and generation." That is, forever. They expect that their possessions will always remain in the family, and be transmitted from one generation to another.
They call their lands after their own names - They give their own names to the farms or grounds which they own, in the hope that, though they must themselves pass away, their "names" may be handed down to future times. This practice, which is not uncommon in the world, shows how intense is the desire of people not to be forgotten; and at the same time illustrates the main thought in the psalm - the importance attached to wealth by its possessor, as if it could carry his "name" down to future times, when he shall have passed away. In this respect, too, wealth is commonly as powerless as it is in saving its possessor from the grave. It is not very far into future times that mere wealth can carry the name of a man after he is dead. lands and tenements pass into other hands, and the future owner soon ceases to have any concern about the "name" of the former occupier, and the world cares nothing about it. A man must have some other claim to be remembered than the mere fact of his having been rich, or he will be soon forgotten. Compare the notes at Isa 22:15-19.
Nevertheless, man being in honor abideth not - No matter to what rank he may rise, no matter how much wealth he may accumulate, no matter how fixed and secure he may seem to make his possessions, he cannot make them permanent and enduring. He must pass away and leave all this to others. The word rendered "abideth" - ילין yālı̂yn - means properly to pass the night; to remain over night; to lodge, as one does for a night; and the idea is, that he is not to lodge or remain permanently in that condition; or, more strictly, he will not lodge there even for a night; that is, he will soon pass away. It is possible that the Saviour had his eye on this passage in the parable of the rich fool, and especially in the declaration, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee," Luk 12:20.
He is like the beasts that perish - He is like the beasts; they perish. This does not mean that in all respects he is like them, but only in this respect, that he must die as they do; that he cannot by his wealth make himself immortal. He must pass away just as if he were an animal of the inferior creation, and had no power of accumulating wealth, or of laying plans that stretch into the future. The squirrel and the beaver - animals that "lay up" something, or that, like people, have the power of "accumulating," die just like other animals. So the rich "man." His intelligence, his high hopes, his far-reaching schemes, make no difference between him and his fellow-men and the brute in regard to death. They all die alike.
This their way is their folly - This might be rendered, "This is their way or course of life. It is their folly;" or, such is their folly. On the word "way," see the notes at Psa 1:6. The idea is, that it is folly for a man to cherish these hopes; to feel that wealth is of so much importance; to imagine that it can deliver from the grave; to suppose that he can perpetuate his own name, and secure his possessions in his own family upon the earth. And yet the world is still full of people as foolish as were those in the time of the psalmist; people who will not be admonished by the suggestions of reason, or by the experience of 6,000 years in the past. This is one thing in which the world makes no progress - in which it learns nothing from the experience of the past; and as the beaver under the influence of instinct builds his house and his home now in the same way that the first beaver did his, and as the brutes all act in the same manner from generation to generation, accumulating no knowledge, and making no advances from the experience of the past, so it is with people in their desire to grow rich. On other points the world accumulates knowledge, and profits from experience, garnering up the lessons taught by past experiment and observation, and thus becoming wiser in all other respects; but in regard to the desire of wealth, it makes no progress, gains no knowledge, derives no advantage, from the generations of fools that have lived and died in past ages. They now engage in the pursuit of gold with the same zeal, and the same expectation and hope which were evinced in the first ages of the world, and "as if" their own superior skill and wisdom could set at nought all the lessons taught by the past.
Yet their posterity - The coming generation is as confident and as foolish as the one that went before.
Approve their sayings - Margin, "delight in their mouth." That is, they delight or take pleasure in what proceeds from their mouth; in what they say; in their views of things. They adopt "their" principles, and act on "their" maxims; and, attaching the same importance to wealth which "they" did, seek as "they" sought to perpetuate their names upon the earth.
Like sheep they are laid in the grave - The allusion here is to a flock as "driven" forward by the shepherd; and the meaning is that they are driven forward to the grave, as it were, in flocks, or as a flock of sheep is driven by a shepherd. The word rendered "are laid" - שׁתוּ śatû - is probably not derived from the verb שׁות śûth, or שׁית śı̂yth, as our translators seem to have supposed, but from שׁתת śâthath, to set, or place; and the meaning is, "Like sheep they put them in Sheol, or the grave;" that is, they thrust or drive them down there. In other words, this is "done," without intimating by whom it is done. They are urged forward; they are driven toward the tomb as a flock of sheep is driven forward to the slaughter. Some influence or power is pressing them in masses down to the grave. The word rendered "grave" is "Sheol." It is sometimes used in the sense of the grave, and sometimes as referring to the abode of departed spirits. See Job 10:21-22, note; Psa 6:5, note. It seems here to be used in the former sense.
Death shall feed on them - The word rendered "feed" here - רעה râ‛âh - means properly to feed a flock; to pasture; then, to perform the office of a shepherd. The idea here is not, as in our translation, "death shall feed on them;" but, death shall rule over them as the shepherd rules his flock. The allusion to the "flock" suggested this. They are driven down to the grave, or to Sheol. The shepherd, the ruler, he who does this, is "death;" and the idea is not that death is a hungry monster, devouring them "in" the grave, but that the shepherd over that "flock," instead of being a kind and gentle friend and protector (as the word "shepherd" naturally suggests), is "death" - a fearful and grim Ruler of the departed. The idea, therefore, is not that of "feeding," specifically, but it is that of ruling, controlling, guiding. So the Septuagint, θάνατος ποιμανεῖ αὐτούς thanatos poimanei autous. The Vulgate, however, renders it, "mors depascet eos;" and Luther, "der Tod naget sie;" death gnaws or feeds on them.
And the upright - The just; the righteous. The meaning of this part of the verse undoubtedly is, that the just or pious would have some kind of ascendancy or superiority over them at the period here referred to as the "morning."
Shall have dominion over them - Or rather, as DeWette renders it, shall "triumph" over them. That is, will be exalted over them; or shall have a more favored lot. Though depressed now, and though crushed by the rich, yet they will soon have a more exalted rank, and a higher honor than those who, though once rich, are laid in the grave tinder the dominion of death.
In the morning - That is, very soon; tomorrow; when the morning dawns after the darkness of the present. See the notes at Psa 30:5. There is a time coming - a brighter time - when the relative condition of the two classes shall be changed, and when the upright - the pious - though poor and oppressed now, shall be exalted to higher honors than "they" will be. There is no certain evidence that this refers to the "morning" of the resurrection; but it is language which well expresses the idea when connected with that doctrine, and which can be best explained on the supposition that that doctrine was referred to, and that the hope of such a resurrection was cherished by the writer. Indeed, when we remember that the psalmist expressly refers to the "grave" in regard to the rich, it is difficult to explain the language on any other supposition than that he refers here to the resurrection - certainly not as well as on this supposition - and especially when it is remembered that death makes no distinction in cutting down people, whether they are righteous or wicked. Both are laid in the grave alike, and "any" prospect of distinction or triumph in the case must be derived from scenes beyond the grave. This verse, therefore, may belong to that class of passages in the Old Testament which are founded on the belief of the resurrection of the dead without always expressly affirming it, and which are best explained on the supposition that the writers of the Old Testament were acquainted with that doctrine, and drew their hopes as well as their illustrations from it. Compare Dan 12:2; Isa 26:19; Psa 16:9-10.
And their beauty - Margin, "strength." The Hebrew word means "form, shape, image;" and the idea here is, that their form or figure will be changed, or disappear, to wit, by consuming away. The idea of "beauty," or "strength," is not necessarily in the passage, but the meaning is, that the form or figure which was so familiar among people will be dissolved, and disappear in the grave.
Shall consume in the grave - Hebrew, "in Sheol." The word probably means here "the grave." The original word rendered "consume," means literally to make old; to wear out; to waste away. The entire form of the man will disappear.
From their dwelling - Margin, "the grave being a habitation to every one of them." Septuagint, "and their help shall grow old in the grave from their glory." So the Latin Vulgate. The whole expression is obscure. The most probable meaning is, "they shall consume in the grave, "from its being a dwelling to him;"" that is, to each of them. Sheol, or the grave, becomes a dwelling to the rich man, and in that gloomy abode - that which is now his dwelling - he consumes away. It pertains to that dwelling, or it is one of the conditions of residing there, that all consume away and disappear. Others render it, "so that there is no dwelling or habitation for them." Others, and this is the more common interpretation, "their form passes away, the underworld is their habitation." See DeWette in loc. This last rendering requires a slight change in the punctuation of the original. DeWette, Note, p. 339. The "general" idea in the passage is plain, that the possessors of wealth are soon to find their home in the grave, and that their forms, with all on which they valued themselves, are soon to disappear.
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave - literally, "from the hand of Sheol;" that is, from the dominion of death. The hand is an emblem of power, and it here means that death or Sheol holds the dominion over all those who are in the grave. The control is absolute and unlimited. The grave or Sheol is here personified as if reigning there, or setting up an empire there. Compare the notes at Isa 14:9. On the word "redeem," see the references in the notes at Psa 49:7.
For he shall receive me - literally, "he shall take me." That is, either, He will take me from the grave; or, He will take me "to" himself. The general idea is, that God would take hold of him, and save him from the dominion of the grave; from that power which death exercises over the dead. This would either mean that he would be preserved from going down to the grave and returning to corruption there; or, that he would hereafter be rescued from the power of the grave in a sense which would not apply in respect to the rich man. The former evidently cannot be the idea, since the psalmist could not hope to escape death; yet there might be a hope that the dominion of death would not be permanent and enduring, or that there would be a future life, a resurrection from the grave. It seems to me, therefore, that this passage, like the expression in Psa 49:14, "in the morning," and the passages referred to in the notes at that verse, is founded on the belief that death is not the end of a good man, but that he will rise again, and live in a higher and better state. It was this consideration which gave such comfort to the psalmist in contemplating the whole subject; and the idea, thus illustrated, is substantially the same as that stated by the Saviour in Mat 10:28, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul."
Be not thou afraid when one is made rich - Do not dread the power derived from wealth; do not fear anything which a man can do merely because he is rich. The original is, "when a "man" becomes rich." The allusion is not necessarily to a bad man, though that is implied in the whole passage, since there is no reason for fearing a "good" man, whether he is rich or poor. The only thing that seems to have been apprehended in the mind of the psalmist was that power of doing injury to others, or of employing means to injure others, which wealth confers on a bad man. The psalmist here changes the form of the expression, no longer referring to himself, and to his own feelings, as in the former part of the psalm, but making an application of the whole course of thought to others, showing them, as the result of his own reflection and observation, that no man had any real cause for dread and alarm when riches increased in the hands of the wicked. The reasons why this power should not be feared are stated in the following verses.
When the glory of his house is increased - Rich people often lavish much of their wealth on their dwellings; on the dwelling itself; on the furniture; on the grounds and appendages of their habitation. This is evidently referred to here as "the "glory" of their house;" as that which would be adapted to make an impression of the power and rank of its possessor.
For when he dieth - He must die. His wealth cannot save him from the grave. It is always to be "assumed" of rich people, as of all other men, that they "will" have to die. The point is not one which is to be argued; not one about which there can be any doubt. Of all people, whatever else may be said of them, it may always be affirmed that they must die, and important inferences may be always drawn from that fact.
He shall carry nothing away - It is not improbable that the apostle Paul had this passage in his eye in what he says in Ti1 6:7, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out." See the notes at that passage. Compare Job 27:16-19.
His glory shall not descend after him - His wealth, and those things which have been procured by wealth, as indicating station and rank, cannot accompany him to the other world. This is said to show that he is not to be "feared" on account of his wealth. The argument is, that whatever there is in wealth that seems to give power, and to afford the means of doing injury, must soon be separated from him. In respect to wealth, and to all the power derived from wealth, he will be like the most poor and penniless of mortals. All that he possesses will pass into other hands, and whether for good or for evil, it will no longer be in his power to use it. As this "must" occur soon - as it "may" occur in a moment - there is no reason to "fear" such a man, or to suppose that he can do permanent injury by any power derived from wealth. Compare the notes at Isa 14:6-7, notes at Isa 14:10-11.
Though while he lived - Margin, as in Hebrew, "in his life." More literally, "in his lives." The idea is, as long as he lived.
He blessed his soul - That is, he blessed himself; he congratulated himself; he regarded his condition as desirable and enviable. He "took airs" upon himself; he felt that his was a happy lot; he expected and demanded respect and honor from others on account of his wealth. He commended himself as having evinced sagacity in the means by which he acquired wealth - thus imparting honor to himself; and he congratulated himself on the result, as placing him in a conditiOn above want, and in a condition that entitled him to honor. A striking illustration of this feeling is found in the parable of the rich fool, Luk 12:19, "And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry."
And men will praise thee - Others will praise thee. He not only blessed or commended himself, but he might expect that others would praise and congratulate him also. They would regard him as a happy man; happy, because he had been thus successful; happy, because he had accumulated that which was the object of so universal desire among people. Success, though founded on that which is entitled to no praise, and which is even the result of unprincipled conduct, often secures the temporary praise of men, while a want of success, though connected with the strictest, sternest virtue, is often followed by neglect, or is even regarded as proof that he who fails has no claim to honor.
When thou doest well to thyself - Well, in reference to success in life, or in the sense that thou art prospered. Your industry, your sagacity, your prosperity will be the theme of commendation. To a certain extent, where this does not lead to self flattery and pride, it is proper and right. The virtues which ordinarily contribute to prosperity "are" worthy of commendation, and should be held up to the example of the young. But what is evil and wrong in the matter here referred to is that the man's commendation of himself, and the commendation by others, all tends to foster a spirit of pride and self-confidence; to make the soul easy and satisfied with the condition; to produce the feeling that all is gained which needs to be gained; to make the possessor of wealth arrogant and haughty; and to lead him to neglect the higher interests of the soul.
He shall go to the generation of his fathers - To be gathered to one's own people, or to his fathers, is a common expression in the Old Testament in speaking of death. See Gen 25:8, Gen 25:17; Gen 35:29; Gen 49:29, Gen 49:33, Num 20:24, Num 20:26; Num 27:13; Num 31:2; Deu 32:50; Jdg 2:10. It means that they were united again with those who had gone before them, in the regions of the dead. Death had indeed separated them, but by death they were again united.
They shall never see light - He and the "generation" to which he has gone to be united, would no more see the light of this world; no more walk among the living: Job 33:30. Compare the notes at Isa 38:11; notes at Psa 27:13. The meaning is, that the rich sinner will die as others have done before him, leaving all his earthly possessions, and will no more be permitted to revisit the world where his forsaken possessions are, and will not even be permitted to "look" on what before had been to him such a source of self-confidence, self-gratulation, and pride.
Man that is in honor - Man that is in possession of wealth, or that occupies an exalted rank. See the notes at Psa 49:12.
And understandeth not - That is, who has no proper appreciation of what it is to be a man; of what is his true rank "as" a man; of his relations to God; of his condition as an immortal being - man that values himself only on the fact that he is rich; that lives for this world alone; that regards it as a sufficient distinction that he "is" rich; that degrades his nobler nature in the mere enjoyment of the pleasures of sense - is like the beasts - is in no way elevated above them.
Is like the beasts that perish - They live only for this life. They have no higher nature than that which pertains to the senses, and they live accordingly. The man who, though of exalted rank, lives for this life alone, herein resembles them. See the notes at Psa 49:12. Alas! what multitudes there are who thus live - whose only aim is to secure the wealth and the honors of this life - who have no more thought of a future state, and who form no more plans in regard to a future world, than do the brutes! For many there are in exalted stations, who are surrounded by all that wealth can give, yet who no more admit the thought of a future world into their hopes and plans than if they had no other endowment than the camel or the ox, and whose conduct in this respect would not be changed if all the higher endowments which constitute the nature of man were withdrawn, and they were at once reduced to the condition of a brute. While, therefore, the main purpose of this psalm is to show that wealth confers no "power" which is to be dreaded - that its possessor, though wicked, cannot permanently injure us, since he must soon pass away by death - the course of thought at the same time teaches us that we should not "desire" wealth as our portion; that we should not live for this, as the main object of life. The possessor of the most ample fortune must soon be laid in the grave. All that he has acquired will pass into other hands, and will be his no more. But he "has" a higher nature. He "may" live in a manner different from the brute that perishes. He "may" act with reference to a higher - an eternal - state of existence; and, when he dies, he "may" leave his earthly inheritance, whether great or small, only to enter on an inheritance that shall he permanent and eternal. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mar 8:36.