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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician, a psalm for the sons of Korah.” See Introduction to Psalms 42:0. Both the author of the psalm, and the occasion on which it was composed, are unknown. “This psalm,” says Matthew Henry, “is a sermon, and so is the next. In most of the psalms we have the penman praying or praising; in these we have him preaching; and it is our duty, in singing psalms, to teach and admonish ourselves and one another.” The psalm meets the temptation, which arises to the righteous from the prosperity of the wicked (whose persecution it sets forth), with the very consolation which is presented for it throughout the Old Testament, viz., that the issue divides between the righteous and the wicked, that the glory and ascendancy of the latter are only temporary, that they end in terrors, while the righteous is delivered by God.”—Hengstenberg.
THE PREACHER OF WISDOM
The Psalmist appears as a preacher discoursing of wisdom, and in these verses, which are introductory to the main theme, he calls the attention of all men to what he is about to say. It was not of wisdom in general, but of wisdom in estimating the value of worldly wealth and honour, that he was about to speak.
I. The preacher of wisdom addresses himself to all peoples. “Hear this, all people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world.” This summoning all men to attention implies—
1. The great importance of the subject. It is common in Scripture when important announcements are made to call the whole world to listen (Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalms 1:1; Micah 1:2). How important is the message of the Gospel Preacher!
2. The universal applicability of the subject. The statements he was about to make pertained not to one nation or race only, but to all mankind. The gospel of Christ pertains to the whole race of man. All men need the gospel. The gospel is sent to all men. “Go ye into all the world,” &c.
II. The preacher of wisdom addresses himself to all classes. “Both low and high, rich and poor together.” “What the Psalmist has delivered, serves to the rich for warning, to the poor for consolation.” The poor are in danger from the inordinate desire of wealth, and the rich from an inordinate delight in it. Let the poor neither fear nor envy the rich; let the rich neither trust nor boast in their riches. The message of the Christian preacher is to all classes. The gospel is addressed to man as man, without regard to any distinctions of wealth or rank.
III. The preacher of wisdom duly considers his subject. “The meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.” “The idea is,” says Barnes, “that he had meditated on the subject, and that he would now give utterance to the result of his meditations.” And Matthew Henry: “It was what he had himself well digested. What his mouth spoke was ‘the meditation of his heart;’ it was what God put into his mind, what he had himself seriously considered, and was fully apprised of the meaning of and convinced of the truth of.” “I will incline mine ear to a parable,” saith the Psalmist, implying clearly that the wisdom he was about to “communicate is no self-sprung possession, but one that has been acquired by him.” מָשָׁל = similitude, parable, proverb. Hengstenberg translates it here, “similitude.” And Fuerst; a “sententious poem.” “The Psalmist will incline his ear to it. This intimates—
1. That he was taught it by the Spirit of God and did not speak of himself. Those that undertake to teach others must first learn themselves.
2. That he thought himself nearly concerned in it, and was resolved not to venture his own soul upon that bottom which he dissuaded others from venturing theirs upon.
3. That he would not expect others should attend to that which he himself did not attend to as a matter of the greatest importance. When God gives the tongue of the learned He first wakens the ear to hear as the learned.”—M. Henry. An unthoughtful ministry is a great curse. Meditation, patient and earnest thought, should ever precede the speech of the preacher.
IV. The preacher of wisdom deals With difficult questions. “Dark sayings.” “חִידָה= entwined, hence, (a) cunning, trickery (Daniel 8:23), i.e. dissimulation. (b) enigmas, riddles (Judges 14:12). (c) pointed, enigmatical speech that surprises, a proverb (Proverbs 1:6); a parable (Ezekiel 17:2); poesy (Psalms 49:5); oracle” (Numbers 12:8).—Fuerst’s Lexicon. It seems to us to mean in this place something which was obscure, or only imperfectly understood. Hengstenberg explains it thus: “riddle, a discourse of difficult comprehension, of deep sense.” There are “dark sayings,” difficult questions, in—.
1. The Scriptures, in which there are “things hard to be understood,” not a few.
2. The Providence of God. “Thy way is in the sea,” &c. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him.”
3. Every human life. “Man’s soul is written all over with dark sayings.” The preacher deals with these “dark sayings;” looks into them, exhibits their uses, explains their significance, endeavours to make them clear and luminous.
V. The preacher of wisdom deals with difficult questions poetically, musically. “I will open my dark saying upon the harp.” He would speak them in poetry, and attune them to music. “The most sorrowful people have known most and felt most the soul of music. The expression of the sorrows and aspirations of the soul in music ministers to our reserve, while it also flows forth in a stream, sad in itself perhaps, yet productive of a divine cheerfulness. There is a mystery and a meaning in music we can never either expound or explore; and it is felt that those natures, which are the greatest burden and mystery to themselves, find most the solace of song in the combinations of all great sounds; we have known this, it is not always that in joyfulness of heart we sing. The girl oppressed by some great trial or loss, as she bends over her needle, or goes about her house-work, will sing; and while she singe, finds unconsciously that her song has been her medicine, and has given to her relief. I have known a woman, disappointed and forsaken, flying to her piano; her fingers rushing over the keys have given liberation to her spirit, and the chords opened the sealed well of tears, and the rains descended, and the floods came. And something like this is a very general experience. Hence we have poetry for all cultured people, and hymns for holy people; and do we not know what it is to become happy while we sing? Good it is sometimes to utter the dark saying to the harp rather than to others; it composes, allays, and tranquillises the mind while we utter it.”—E. P. Hood.
CONCLUSION. Let us learn how to deal with our dark sayings. Seek light and help in worship. Devotion will illuminate the mind. Intellectual difficulties will vanish before the religious fervour of a grateful and reverent heart.
THE FOOLISH WAY OF WEALTHY WORLDLINGS
I. The characteristics of their way. Their way is marked by—
1. “Trust in their wealth.” They place confidence in their riches as the source of all good to them, and the means by which all their wants may be supplied and all their desires gratified. “How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”
2. Boasting in their wealth. “Boast themselves in the multitude of their riches.” They pride themselves in the extent of their possessions. “Many years ago Judge B. resided in New Jersey. His family was considered the most aristocratic in the town; and not unfrequently some of its members would give their acquaintances to understand that this was their opinion also. On a certain occasion a fishing-party was made up among the ladies. Mrs. Judge B. was one of the number. While fishing, the subject of losing property was discussed. Mrs. B. paused a little, and slipped a splendid gold ring from her finger, and dropped it into the lake, remarking as she did so, that it was ‘as impossible for them to become poor as it was for her to recover that ring.’ The party returned to their homes, and Mrs. B. gave her fish to the servants. Not long after, the cook came into the sitting-room and showed to Mrs. B. a gold ring that she had taken from one of the fish. The ring dropped into the lake was recovered. Mrs. B., who was so confident that she could never become poor, died a pauper in Elizabethtown, Nova Scotia; and her husband, the judge, died a pauper also in an adjoining town.”—Dict. of Illus.
3. Fancied power to retain wealth. “Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue for ever,” &c. (Psalms 49:11). They calculated that they should retain their possessions until death, and then transmit them to their children. There are few wealthy persons who realise the uncertain tenure by which they hold their possessions. The great majority seem to regard themselves, not as stewards, but as proprietors of their possessions, and as able to retain or dispose of them as they please.
II. The folly of their way. “This their way is their folly.” Their folly is seen in—
1. Their inability to retain their wealth. All men must die, “and leave their wealth to others.” “
(1) They cannot continue with it, nor will it serve to procure them a reprieve.
(2) They cannot carry it with them, but must leave it behind them.
(3) They cannot foresee who will enjoy it when they have left it; they must leave it to others, but to whom they know not, perhaps to a fool (Ecclesiastes 2:19), perhaps to an enemy.”—M. Henry. “Riches,” says Gataker, “though they have great eagles’ wings, to fly away from us while we are here in this world, yet have not so much as little sparrows’ wings to fly after us and follow us when we go hence. We brought nothing into this world, neither shall we carry anything hence.” Even before the rich man passes away from this world, his riches may pass away from him. A storm at sea, a spark of fire, a flood, &c., may transform him into a beggar. How foolish, then, to trust and glory in wealth!
2. The limitation of the power of wealth. The wealthiest man has no power
(1) to turn aside the stroke of death even from his dearest friend. “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” The wealthiest of men is unable to prolong by an hour the life that is most dear to him. “ ‘Redeeming, he cannot redeem;’ that is, according to Hebrew usage, he cannot possibly do it; it cannot be done.” “What folly is it to trust to that, and boast of that, which will not enable us so much as for one hour to respite the execution of the sentence of death upon a parent, a child, or a friend that is to us as our own soul!” The wealthiest man has no power
(2) to turn aside the stroke of death from himself. “Wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person.” “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.” It is said that a queen of England, knowing that her death was at hand, cried, “A million of money for a moment of time,” and cried in vain.
(3) Wealth has no power to favourably affect the condition of its possessors after death. “Like sheep they are laid in the grave,” &c. (Psalms 49:14). When death comes to them, all their possessions and honours must be relinquished finally and for ever. Then the superiority of the portion of the upright will be apparent. All the strength and beauty of wealthy worldlings shall be consumed; but “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” He who, when upon earth, was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day,” could not obtain so much as a drop of cold water in hell. How great, then, is the folly of putting our trust in and making our boast of our wealth! And yet, notice how continuous this folly is. “This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings.” In this folly there is a sad successiveness. The children tread in the footsteps of their fathers. “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.”
And now turning our attention from the wealthy worldling to “the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him,” two remarks are justified.
First: The godly man has no reasonable cause to fear the power of the wealthy worldling. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?” It is difficult to get any reasonable meaning out of the last clause as it is rendered in our version. We take it that the word here rendered “heels”—עָקֵב is from the verb עָקב, and signifies a persecutor or lier-in-wait; and so we should translate, “When the iniquity of liers-in-wait compass me about.” See Fuerst’s Lexicon. The Psalmist was exposed to danger by reason of the crafty designs of his wealthy enemies; but why should he fear them? With all their wealth, how powerless were they! What could they do to him, they who were weak mortals like himself? They were leaning on a broken reed, and boasting in a shadow. He had no reason to fear them; for his trust was in the Lord Jehovah, in whom is everlasting strength.
Second: The portion of the godly man is far superior to that of the wealthy worldling. “The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.… God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for He shall receive me.” The superiority of the portion of the upright consists in this—
1. They shall not be held in Sheol. God will rescue them from the power of the grave. They shall arise to a life of blessedness.
2. They shall be received by God. God will receive His people into glory, both soul and body, at the resurrection. So shall they ever be with the Lord.
This superiority will soon be made manifest. “In the morning,” i.e. in a little time. The night will speedily pass away, and “in the morning” the vanity of the portion of wealthy worldlings and the excellence of the portion of the godly will be clearly manifested.
1. My rich brother, “trust not in uncertain riches;” but use thy wealth wisely, and it shall prove a blessing to thyself and to others.
2. My poor brother, do thou neither envy nor fear the power of wealthy worldlings; but rejoice in thine own inalienable and blessed portion.
I. The subject of redemption. To acquire right views of the importance of redemption as to its subject, we may glance at the powers, the affections, and the duration of the soul.
1. Its powers.
(1) It is endowed with the faculty of knowledge. Paul tells us that knowledge is a feature of the image of God. The object of redemption is not mere matter, but an intelligent being, the only being on this earth capable of apprehending the discoveries which God has made of Himself.
(2) It is endued with the power of choice. Man is a moral agent; he acts under the influence of moral motives; he is not the creature of chance; he is not willingly the prey of accident; he has the power, to a certain extent, of controlling his circumstances. He is, further, capable of knowing and of loving God, and of becoming like God.
2. Its affections. The soul has lost the image of God. The temple is in ruins, and the Great Inhabitant gone. It is utterly corrupt, polluted, debased, at enmity against God. It is the prey of every bad passion, of every polluting affection; consequently its tendency is to misery; and unless it be redeemed, it will be miserable for ever.
3. Its duration. The soul of man will live for ever, and through the eternity of its existence, it must either be a happy spirit before the throne of God, or a hopeless outcast from His heaven.
II. The price of its redemption. How vast the price paid for the redemption of the soul! The precious blood of Christ. Had the whole creation been consumed in one mighty conflagration as the price of redemption, it would have been as nothing compared with this. How precious the price of redemption! The Deity became “enshrined in man—not changed into a man, but most mysteriously united to a man; the price of redemption was His blood. This price was given (1 John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:18-19).
III. The period of its accomplishment is limited. “It ceaseth for ever.” How infinitely precious is time! It is in time only that the redemption of the soul can be ensured. The value of one opportunity of hearing the Gospel is unspeakably great.—M. A., from Sketches of Sermons.
MEN OF THE WORLD WHO HAVE THEIR PORTION IN THIS LIFE
I. Men who have their portion in this life must resign it at death. We have here—
1. Man possessing wealth and honour. “One is made rich, the glory of his house is increased.” By means of wealth man is able to surround himself with all the luxuries and ornaments produced by nature and by man. “The rich have many friends,” who fawn upon and flatter them, and extol their state and their doings. In these days many men speedily, from small beginnings, grow rich and pompous, and fond of display.
2. Man rejoicing in wealth and honour. “In his life he blessed His soul.” He is like the rich man described by our Lord, who said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much good laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool,” &c. Oh, the awful degradation of manhood when a man calls upon his soul to find its chief good in material possessions! In answer to the inquiry, “Who will show us any good?” such men are so far from saying, “Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us,” that they point you to their well-filled barns or their vast estates. Yet it is true that “He aims too low who aims beneath the skies.”
3. Man praised because of his wealth and honour. “Man will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself.” “This is the sentiment of all the children of this world, that those do best for themselves that do most for their bodies, by heaping up riches, though, at the same time, nothing is done for the soul, nothing for eternity.” Low-natured people abound who court and fawn upon the man of wealth. Mean sycophants are ever ready obsequiously to flatter the “men of the world, who have their portion in this life.”
4. Man compelled to relinquish his wealth and honour. “When he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him” “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.” To the man who elects to have his portion in this life it may be said in the future state, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.” “What disarrays like death? It defaces the fascination of the beautiful. It withers the strength of the mighty. It snatches the store of the rich. Kings are stripped of trapping, trophy, treasure: ‘Their glory shall not descend after them.’ ”—R. W. Hamilton.
II. Men who have their portion in this life when they depart hence are gathered to their moral ancestors. “He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.” They depart to their own place and their own company. “Under the generation of the fathers,” says Hengstenberg, “are here to be understood, not so much the corporeal ancestors of the ungodly, as his predecessors in wickedness.” And M. Henry: “His worldly wicked fathers, whose sayings he approved, and whose steps he trod in.” They dwell in a dark and melancholy realm “They shall never see light”—i.e., they shall never have the least glimpse of any joy or comfort. They are banished into the outer darkness.
III. Men who have their portion in this life degrade their being. “Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” How unspeakable is the degradation of a spiritual and immortal being, created in God’s image and redeemed by Christ’s blood, when he lives for this life only, the life of the senses merely! “Many there are,” says Barnes, “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.” M. Henry: “It is better to be a beast than to be a man that makes himself like a beast.”
1. To those who have wealth, but not godliness. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
2. To those who have godliness, but not wealth. “It is a temptation,” says Dickson, “which shaketh the faith of the godly sometimes, when they see the flourishing prosperity of the wicked and their own daily affliction; but this should not move the godly, nor make them suspect themselves to be in a wrong course and the ungodly in a better way: ‘be not thou afraid when one is made rich.’ ” Your portion is incomparably superior to that of the most wealthy and distinguished of those who have their portion in this life. “The end of the wicked shall be cut off. But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 49". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany