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This Psalm is penned upon the same occasion with Psalms 39:0; Psalms 73:0, to wit, upon the contemplation of the afflictions of God’s people and of the prosperity and glory of ungodly men The design is to justify God’s providence in this dark dispensation, and to show that, all things being considered, good men have no cause for immoderate dejection of spirit, nor wicked men for glorying in their present felicities.
The psalmist having stirred up all men to attention, Psalms 49:1-5, showeth their vain trust in riches, Psalms 49:6-14; and the contrary trust of the faithful in God, Psalms 49:15; exhorteth them not to fear the prosperity of the wicked, for it cannot deliver him from the grave, Psalms 49:16-20.
All ye people, Heb. all people; Jews or Gentiles; for all are concerned in this matter, as being apt to stumble and murmur at it.
It concerns you diligently to attend to me, for I am about to speak not of vulgar and trivial things, or such as come suddenly into my mind, and rush as hastily out of my mouth, but of such things as are the result of my most serious and considerate thoughts, and such as, if you observe them and lay them to heart, will make you truly wise, and keep you from those errors, and follies, and mischiefs, which the generality of mankind, for want of a right understanding, do run into.
I will incline mine ear: this is another argument to persuade them to hearken to him: I will hearken what God by his Spirit speaks to me, and that and nothing else will I now speak to you; and therefore it is well worth your hearing. I also shall join with you in attending to it, that whilst I teach you, I myself may learn the same lesson. For as ministers now teach themselves whilst they teach others, so the holy prophets did ofttimes search into and study to find out the meaning of their own prophecies, as appears plainly from 1 Peter 1:10,1 Peter 1:11. The phrase is thought to be taken from the musicians, who lay their ear close to the instrument when they tune it, and by their ear try how the voice and instrument agree.
To a parable; which properly is a figurative and allegorical speech, but is oft more largely taken for any excellent, and important, and withal dark or difficult, doctrine or sentence: see Numbers 23:7; Numbers 24:3,Numbers 24:15; Psalms 78:2, compared with Matthew 13:35.
I will open, i.e. I will not smother it in my own breast, but publish it to the world.
My dark saying; so he justly calls the following discourse, because the thing in question is and ever hath been thought difficult and hard to be understood.
He speaks in his own person, because he had now said that he would incline his ear, Psalms 49:4, i.e. learn and practise what he was teaching others; but his meaning is more general, that there is no sufficient cause why he or any good man should fear; which is to be understood of excessive or immoderate and prevailing fear, causing dejection or despondency, or distrust of God’s providence and goodness, or discontent with his condition; in which sense men are bid not to fear, Genesis 1:19; Matthew 28:5, compared with Mark 16:6. Thus Genesis 45:5, Be not grieved, to wit, inordinately; for otherwise they ought, and he would have had them to grieve for their sin. Thus to lead a man into temptation, Matthew 6:13, is to suffer him to be overcome by it, by comparing 1 Corinthians 10:13. And the object or cause of this forbidden fear is double; the one, the afflictions of good men, here following; the other, the prosperity of the ungodly, as it is declared Psalms 49:16, and of which he begins to treat in the very next verse, and continues the discourse of it to the end of the Psalm.
In the days of evil; either,
1. Of sin; when iniquity of all sorts abounds; which is many ways grievous and vexatious to every good man. Or,
2. Of misery; in times of great distress and calamity, either public or private, when wicked men flourish, (of which he speaks in all the rest of the Psalm,) and good men are oppressed and persecuted.
The iniquity of my heels; by which he understands either,
1. His afflictions; which he might justly call the punishment of his sinful actions; for iniquity is commonly put for the punishment of it, and the heels are put for a man’s footsteps, and metaphorically for one’s ways or actions, as Psalms 56:6; Psalms 89:51. Or,
The iniquity, i.e. the violent and injurious designs and practices of his ungodly and malicious enemies, who, as he here saith,
did compass him about; whereby he notes their prosperous success against him, and his being endangered and vexed by them, as this phrase implies, Job 16:13; Psalms 17:9,Psalms 17:11; Psalms 22:12; Psalms 140:9; Habakkuk 1:4; and withal their intention and endeavour to vex and persecute and destroy him, as this phrase is used, Psalms 17:9; Psalms 22:12,Psalms 22:16, and in many other places. This sense is favoured both by the Syriac and Arabic interpreters; whereof the former renders the words thus, the iniquity of mine enemies hath compassed me, and the latter thus, when mine enemies shall compass me about; and by the main scope of the Psalm, which is to comfort himself and other good men against that great scandal of the prosperity of the wicked, and the oppressions and miseries of the righteous. But all the difficulty is why or how he calls this the iniquity of his heels. For the clearing whereof, it is humbly proposed to consideration, that this genitive case, of my heels, seems to note not the efficient or meritorious cause of this iniquity, or punishment of it, but the object about which this iniquity is exercised; as nouns in the genitive case are frequently taken. Thus the spoil of the poor, Isaiah 3:14, is not that spoil which was made by them, but upon them; and the violence of the children of Judah, as it is in the Hebrew text, Joel 3:19, is that which was done against them, as we truly translate it. See also Daniel 4:27; Matthew 10:1; Acts 4:9. In like manner here,
the iniquity of my heels, is the iniquity wherewith they compass and seek to trip up my heels; for we shall find David oft speaking of the malicious practices of his enemies, with respect to his heels, feet, or steps. So he tells us they pierced his hands and feet, Psalms 22:16, they compassed, and marked, and prepared a net for his steps, Psalms 17:11; Psalms 56:6; Psalms 57:6; as Jeremiah also complains of his enemies, that they hid snare for his feet, Jeremiah 18:22. And therefore it is not strange that the iniquity of his enemies is here noted to be exercised about his heels or footsteps as this word signifies; either because they did malignantly observe all his steps or ways, that they might find occasion to load him with reproaches in order to his ruin; or because they purposed to trip up his heels, or to overthrow his goings, as he complains, Psalms 140:4. Besides, the words may be rendered, the iniquity of my supplanters; for the Hebrew word rendered heels may be, and is by some learned interpreters taken for a particle of that verb, which signifies to supplant or trip up the heels, or circumvent, from whence Jacob had his name And this character fitly agrees to David’s enemies, who were not only most malicious, but also very deceitful and treacherous, as he every where complains.
As that which can and will secure them from God’s judgments, and from the calamities of human life. The psalmist having said that he and other good men had no sufficient cause of fear from their present sufferings from ungodly men, now he proceeds, on the contrary, to show that his ungodly enemies had no reason to be secure and confident because of their present riches and prosperous success.
Redeem, to wit, from death, as appears from Psalms 49:9,Psalms 49:10 &c.; neither from the first death, nor from the second, which he points at Psalms 49:14,Psalms 49:19.
His brother; whom he would do his utmost to preserve in life; and consequently not himself. But he seems to mention his brother rather than himself, because when his brother is sick, he being in health hath the full command and free use of all his wealth, and strength, and wit, and all other means of redeeming his brother; which he hath not, when he himself is dangerously or desperately sick.
Nor give to God; the only Lord of life. and the Judge who hath passed upon him the sentence of death.
Of their soul, i.e. of their life, as soul is commonly used.
Is precious, i.e. rare, as the word is used, 1 Samuel 3:1; Daniel 2:11, hard to be obtained. But he doth not call it simply impossible, because Christ hath purchased this privilege for his true disciples, that in some sense they shall not see death, John 8:51.
It ceaseth for ever, i.e. it is never to be accomplished, to wit, by any mere man, for himself or for his brother.
Or, the pit, or the grave, i.e. not die, as that phrase is oft used, as has been noted before.
He seeth; an impersonal expression. Every man sees and knows it; it is visible and evident, both from reason and from universal experience, that all men die, without any difference between wise and fools, good and bad. To others; he saith not, to sons or kindred; but indefinitely, to others because he is wholly uncertain to whom he shall leave him, to friends, or strangers, or enemies; which he mentions as a great vanity in riches. They neither can save him from death, nor will accompany him in and after death, and after his death will be disposed he knows not how nor to whom.
Their inward thought is; though they are ashamed to express it, yet it is their secret opinion, and hope, and wish.
Their houses; either,
1. Their posterity, oft called men’s houses 2 Samuel 7:11, &c.; Psalms 113:9; Psalms 115:12. Or,
2. Their mansion houses, as it is explained in the next clause, which also serve for this purpose, to preserve a man name for ever.
Shall continue for ever; not to them in their own persons, but to them and theirs in succeeding generations, as it follows.
They call their lands after their own names; fondly dreaming by this means to immortalize their names and memories.
Notwithstanding all these fine fancies and devices
man being in honour, living in all the splendour and glory above mentioned,
abideth not. The Hebrew word properly signifies to lodge for a night, as Genesis 32:21; Judges 19:10; and thence to abide for a long or considerable time, as Psalms 25:13; Psalms 55:7; Proverbs 15:31. All his dreams of perpetuating his name and estate shall vanish and be confuted by experience.
That perish, i.e. that are utterly lost and extinct. So he is in reference to all his wealth and honour, of which he here speaks.
This their way, i.e. their counsel and contrivance to immortalize themselves.
Is their folly; though to themselves and some otters it seem to be wisdom, yet in truth it is apparent folly and madness. For they neither obtain that immortal name which they seek and hope for; nor, if they do, doth it yield them any comfort or benefit. Their sayings, Heb. their mouth, i.e. their counsels and suggestions, which they gave them concerning these matters. The mouth is oft put for the words which come out of it, as Numbers 35:30; Job 7:11.
Like sheep; which for a season are fed in large and sweet pastures, but at the owner’s pleasure are put together in close and comfortless folds, and led away to the slaughter, not knowing nor considering whither they are going.
In the grave; or, in hell; for the Hebrew word signifies both.
Death shall feed on them; the first death shall consume their bodies in the grave, and the second death shall devour their souls.
The upright; good men, whom here they oppressed and abused at their pleasure.
In the morning; either,
1. Suddenly, or within a very little time, as this phrase is oft used, as Psalms 30:5; Psalms 46:5; Psalms 101:8; Psalms 113:8. Or,
2. In the day of general judgment, and the resurrection of the dead. For death being called the night, John 9:4, and sleep in many places, that day is fitly compared to the morning, when men awake out of sleep, and enter upon that everlasting day. But whether this or the former be the true meaning of the phrase, it is sufficiently evident the thing here spoken of is not done in this life, but in the next; for,
1. This proposition and privilege being general, and common to all upright persons, is not verified here, it being the lot of many good men to be oppressed and killed by the wicked, as is manifest both from Scripture, as Psalms 44:22; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Ecclesiastes 9:2, and from the experience of all ages of the church.
2. This dominion of the just over the wicked happens after the wicked are laid in their grave, as is here expressed, and consequently supposeth their future life and resurrection; for when one person rules over another, both are supposed to exist or have a being. Nor is there any argument against this sense, but from a vain and absurd conceit which some men have entertained, that the saints in the Old Testament had no firm belief nor expectation of the recompences of the life to come; which is against evident reason, and against many clear places of the Old Testament that cannot without force be wrested to any other sense, and against the express testimony of the New Testament concerning them, Hebrews 11:0, and in many other places.
Their beauty; or, their form or, their figure, or image; all which come to one, and seems to intimate that all their glory and felicity had in this life was rather imaginary than real, and indeed but a shadow, as it is called, Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 8:13.
Shall consume, Heb. is to consume, or to be consumed, i.e. shall be consumed; the infinitive verb being here put for the future, as it is Psalms 32:8; Zechariah 3:4; Zechariah 12:10.
From their dwelling i.e. they shall be hurried from their large, and stately, and pleasant mansions, into a close and dark grave. But those words are by divers interpreters rendered otherwise, and that peradventure more truly and fitly to this purpose, word for word,
the grave (or rather hell, as before and this word sheol is confessedly oft used in the Old Testament, but no where more conveniently than here) shall be a dwelling, or for a dwelling, unto him, or them, or every one of them; which in the prophet’s phrase is called dwelling with everlasting burnings, Isaiah 33:14, and in the phrase of the New Testament, to be cast into and abide in the lake of fire and brimstone, Revelation 20:10.
Though no man can find out a ransom to redeem himself or his brother, yet God can and will redeem me.
My soul; either properly; or myself or life; for all comes to one.
Of the grave; or, of hell; for he speaks of that sheol in which the wicked are left. The grave shall not have power to retain me, but shall be forced to give me up into my Father’s hands; and hell shall have no power to seize upon me.
He shall receive me, or take me, out of this vain, mortal, and miserable life, unto himself, or into heaven, as this phrase is used, Genesis 5:24; Psalms 73:24; Acts 7:59.
Afraid, i.e. discouraged or dejected. The prosperity of the sinners is oft matter of fear and dread to good men; partly because it enables them to do more mischief; and partly because it shakes their faith in God’s providence and promises, and is apt to engender suspicions in men’s minds, as if God did not regard the actions and affairs of men, and made no difference between the good and the bad, and consequently all religion were vain and unprofitable. See Psalms 73:12,Psalms 73:13.
For as he will shortly die, so all his wealth, and power, and glory will die with him, and thou wilt have no cause either to envy or fear him.
He blessed his soul, i.e. he applauded himself as a wise and happy man: compare Luke 12:19.
Men will praise thee: and as he pleaseth and flattereth himself, so he meets with parasites that applaud and flatter him for their own advantage. For he still speaks of the same man, as is manifest from the foregoing and following words, though there be a sudden change of the third into the second person; which is most frequent in these books.
When thou doest well to thyself; when thou dost indulge and please thyself, and advance thy own worldly interest. For the name of good in Scripture is oft ascribed unto the pleasures and profits of this life, as Job 21:13; Psalms 4:6; Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 11:9.
Now he returns again to the third person. Such sudden and repeated changes are frequent in this book.
To the generation of his fathers, i.e. to the grave and hell, where he shall meet with his wicked parents, who by their counsel and example led him into his evil courses; as the godly also are said to be gathered to their fathers, Genesis 15:15; Deuteronomy 32:50; Judges 2:10.
Never see, i.e. never enjoy, as seeing is oft taken.
Light; neither the light of the living, as it is called, Job 33:30; Psalms 56:13; or of this life, to which they shall never return; nor of the next life to which they shall never be admitted, but they shall be cast into utter darkness, Matthew 8:12.
Understandeth not, i.e. hath not true wisdom, to know and consider what he is, and what his true business and interest in this world is, and what use he should make of his life, and of all his riches, and honour, and power, and whither he is going, and what course to take for the attainmerit of true and lasting happiness.
Is like the beasts that perish; though he hath the outward shape of a man, yet in truth he is a beast, or a brutish, stupid, and unreasonable creature, and he shall perish like a brute beast made to be destroyed, 2 Peter 2:12.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 49". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20