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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 49

Verses 1-2

The psalmist urged all people to listen to what he had to say in this poem. All kinds of people need to be aware of the insight he revealed here: both the low (with small estates) and the high (with large estates), the rich and the poor. This applies to the wicked as well as the righteous.

Verses 1-4

1. Invitation to hear wisdom 49:1-4

Verses 1-20

Psalms 49

The writer reflected on the problem that the prosperity of the wicked poses in this wisdom psalm (cf. Psalms 73). He observed that there are many ungodly people who enjoy many physical blessings. Still, he concluded that the righteous are better off because they have a sure hope for the future.

"The psalm is an encouragement to the godly who are haunted by the power and influence of the rich." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 366. See also Brueggemann, pp. 106-10.]

Verses 3-4

What follows is wisdom, but a person must have insight to appreciate it. It is a riddle or dark saying in this respect. Spiritual illumination helps us perceive the truth.

"The language of the prelude, the call to mankind, uses many of the terms which open the book of Proverbs, and proclaims this a wisdom psalm, offering instruction to men rather than worship to God." [Note: Kidner, p. 182.]

Verses 5-6

This rhetorical question sets forth the folly of fearing when wicked people oppose the righteous. It introduces the revelation that the prosperous ungodly enjoy a false security (Psalms 49:7-12).

"It’s good to have things that money can buy, if we don’t lose the things money can’t buy. It’s sad when people start to confuse prices with values." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 187.]

Verses 5-12

2. Observation of the prosperity of the wicked 49:5-12

Verses 7-9

Material wealth cannot prevent death. No one has enough money to buy life back when God claims it in death. The point here is that we cannot buy our way, or anyone else’s way, out of dying. The psalmist was not speaking of purchasing eternal salvation here. That comes later in Psalms 49:15 (cf. Matthew 20:28).

Verses 10-12

Everyone dies eventually, even though some live with the illusion of immortality. The fact that people try to perpetuate their reputations on the earth forever shows that they want to live forever. However, man-like the animals-will eventually go into the grave. Of course, the psalmist did not mean that man’s fate is identical to that of animals in all respects. He only meant that both die. Later revelation, that saints living at the time of the Rapture will experience translation without dying, does not negate the psalmist’s point.

Verses 13-14

The writer marveled at the folly of the proud wicked. How silly it is to live only for the present! Death will bring to an end all the good things the wicked live for. The wicked may dominate the upright in this life, but a new day is coming in which God will turn the tables.

"The Bible is not against riches per se but the attitude of self-sufficiency and self-confidence so often associated with riches. The rich come under condemnation for their insensitivity, scheming, deception, and attitude that they rule the world (Psalms 49:5; cf. James 5:1-6)." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 370.]

The Bible does not condemn the godly rich who received their wealth as a blessing from God (e.g., Job, Abraham, David, et al.).

Verses 13-20

3. Encouragement to trust in God 49:13-20

Verse 15

"The great But God . . . (15) is one of the mountain-tops of Old Testament hope." [Note: Kidner, p. 182.]

God will free the righteous from the power of the grave and will receive them on the other side of the grave. This is one of the Old Testament passages that reveal that believers living when the psalmist did had hope of life after death (cf. Job 19:25; Hebrews 11:10; et al.). [Note: See T. D. Alexander, "The Psalms and the Afterlife," Irish Biblical Studies 9 (1987):2-17.] Revelation of the bodily resurrection, however, was obscure until Jesus Christ’s resurrection and His apostles’ revelations on that subject (1 Thessalonians 4; 1 Corinthians 15).

"It is possible that the psalmist is looking at ultimate eschatological realities, anticipating his own resurrection and a time when the righteous, not the rich, will rule on earth. However, it is more likely that the ascendancy of the righteous refers to their vindication in this life, a well-attested theme in the Psalter, especially in the wisdom psalms (see, e.g., Psalms 1, 34, 37, , 112, as well as the discussion above). In this case Psalms 49:15 refers to God’s preserving the psalmist through ’evil days’ (cf. Psalms 49:5) by keeping him from premature, violent death at the hands of the oppressive rich and from the calamity that overtakes them. ’Morning’ (Psalms 49:14), which brings to mind the dawning of a new day after a night of darkness, aptly symbolizes the cessation of these ’evil days.’" [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 285.]

Verses 16-19

It is foolish to be jealous of wicked unbelievers. Their prosperity is only temporary. The wise person should not allow the wealth of the ungodly to intimidate him or her.

"We can’t take wealth with us, but we can send it ahead.

"It isn’t a sin to have wealth, provided we earned it honestly, spend it wisely, and invest it faithfully in that which pleases the Lord." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 188.]

Verse 20

The psalmist repeated his concluding statement in the previous section (Psalms 49:12), but here he changed it slightly. Here he stressed the wicked person’s lack of understanding. There he stressed his lack of endurance.

We who are believers should not envy the ungodly who prosper in this life. We should not feel inferior to them either. All that they are living for will perish with them. Those who fear God, however, can expect a glorious future with the Lord beyond the grave. [Note: See Daniel J. Estes, "Poetic Artistry in the Expression of Fear in Psalms 49," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:641 (January-March 2004):55-71, for an analysis of how the psalmist expressed and overcame his fear.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 49". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/psalms-49.html. 2012.