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Psalms 49:1 . Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world. The psalmist opens his song as a philosopher and a prophet, giving equal instruction to all mankind.
Psalms 49:3 . My mouth shall speak of wisdom. I will speak boldly of the schemes, the follies, and the best wisdom of mortal man; that a just portrait of his errors may direct his steps to the good way in which he ought to walk.
Psalms 49:4 . A parable; a succession of wise, moral, and divine maxims. It differs from allegory by the ænigma it contains.
Psalms 49:5 . The iniquity of my heels. Critics multiply readings here. Some by heels understand ways or footsteps. Others by heels understand the remains of human life, and infer the text to mean a caution: why should I take steps in the acquisition of wealth, which will occasion me pain at a future day. Bishop Lowth, taking עקבי akabey, and very correctly, for the present participle of the verb, will have the sense to be, “The wickedness of those that lie in wait for me.”
Psalms 49:8 . The redemption of their soul is precious. If once lost, it is lost for ever: there is no redemption in the grave. It is highly probable that our Saviour had this text in view, when he spake of gaining the whole world and losing the soul. Elihu said to Job 36:18, “Because there is wrath, beware lest he take thee away with a stroke; then a great ransom cannot deliver thee.” In both these passages more is meant than the loss of natural life. The Redeemer having paid this ransom by the price of his life for our lives, carries the redemption into effect by the power of truth and grace. And the day of grace is precious, for it is short: in the grave, it ceaseth for ever.
Psalms 49:11 . They call their lands after their own names, as illustrated in Genesis 10:0. They do the same with cities, as Nineveh from Ninus; Rome from Romulus; Antioch from Antiochus; Alexandria from Alexander; Constantinople, the city of Constantine the great. Yes, we see the city, we read the history, we inspect the monument; but where is the dust? We cannot now distinguish it; we are as water spilt on the ground. He only is wise who has a name written in heaven.
Psalms 49:12 . Man being in honour abideth not. The Hebrew, and our old bibles read, “man being in honour lodgeth not all night.” Hence some would infer that Adam fell on the day he was created; and they would prove it by our Saviour’s calling Satan a murderer from the beginning. This is all uncertain.
Psalms 49:14 . In the morning; that is early, or in the morning of the resurrection. Chrysostom prefers the former.
Psalms 49:15 . God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave. The prophet Hosea evidently alludes to this, in Hosea 13:14, where he speaks of the resurrection, which in the preseding verse of this psalm is called, the morning.
The holy prophet running the race of life, and studying human nature, here professedly writes of wisdom. Confident of having found the truth, and of being able to instruct the ignorant, he is bold in his assertions. He invites high and low, rich and poor, to the grand theatre of instruction. His first maxim of wisdom was not to fear the snares, plots, and oppressions of the rich and the great. Or in whatever sense we take the text, the righteous man has nothing to fear. His past sins are forgiven, grace will preserve his conscience pure, and the snares of the wicked shall but entangle their own feet.
He would not fear the wealthy, because in the day of visitation they could neither redeem a brother’s life, nor their own. The price was above the reach of their fortune; and so much so, as to cease for ever to be in their power. That price the Redeemer, the near kinsman of heavenly descent, alone could pay. Isaiah 53:10.
The good man was the less moved at the influx of opulence, pride and power, because of the infatuation which is too often attendant on wealth. The rich flatter themselves with immortality on the earth. They allow of death in word, but in sentiment dream that the whole of life is yet before them. Hence they call their villas and their lands after their own name; and the folly of their maxim is applauded by their children. But alas, man in honour abideth not. The family is presently extinct, the sons of strangers inherit their substance, their flesh is fattened as sheep for the slaughter, the worms riot on their pampered carcase, and beggars trample on their grave.
The good man was farther gratified by contrasting the luminous exit of the righteous, with the hopeless end of the wicked. Though wealth could not ransom the wicked, yet God will redeem his servants from the grave, having first received their souls to glory. Hence a hope founded on the promise, a hope full of immortality, cheers the good man at the hour of death, while a cloud of eternal darkness obscures the proud in oblivion and shame.
We should not grieve that the wicked first have their portion, for it is but a worldly portion; and God is about to strip the faithless stewards even of this. He will take away their honours and titles, and cover them with reproach. The panegyrists, a venal eloquence or false marble, may load their memory with fame; but true wisdom, lasting in its decisions, will class them with fools, who like the beasts that perish, choose a sensual paradise of meats and drinks. So like their foolish father, they shall never see the light of glory.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 49". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25