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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 49

A.M. 2981. B.C. 1023.

“This Psalm,” says 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 scope and design of this discourse are to convince the men of this world of their sin and folly, in setting their hearts upon the things of this world, and so to persuade them to seek the things of a better world; as also to comfort the people of God in reference to their own troubles, and the grief that ariseth from the prosperity of the wicked.” We have the preface, Psalms 49:1-4 . We need not fear the wicked, Psalms 49:5 . They cannot by their riches save either their friends or themselves from death, Psalms 49:6-10 . They cannot secure happiness to themselves either in this world or the world to come, Psalms 49:11-14 . He comforts good men against the fear of death, or of the prosperity of the wicked, Psalms 49:15-20 .

Verses 1-2

Psalms 49:1-2. Hear this, all ye people Hebrew, all people, Jews or Gentiles: for this doctrine is not peculiar to those that are blessed with divine revelation; but even the light of nature bears witness to it, and all the inhabitants of the world are concerned in it. All men may know, and therefore let all men consider, that their riches will not profit them in the day of death. Both low and high, rich and poor together Whether you be men of obscure birth and meaner rank, or persons nobly descended, and in great authority; whether you abound in wealth, or are of the poorer class, you are all alike concerned to attend to my instruction.

Verses 3-4

Psalms 49:3-4. My mouth shall speak of wisdom I shall not treat of trivial things, nor of those I have but slightly considered; but about the most weighty matters, which my mind hath greatly pondered. I will enrich your souls with wisdom, which is better than the wealth of the world, which you covet; and I will teach you how to direct all your actions aright unto that scope at which you aim, the being happy. I will incline mine ear I will hearken to what God by his Spirit speaks to me, and that I will now speak to you. To a parable Which properly is an allegorical speech, but is often taken for an important, and withal dark doctrine or sentence. I will open I will not smother it in my own breast, but publish it to the world. My dark saying So he calls the following discourse, because the thing in question ever hath been thought hard to be understood. “Much of the eastern wisdom consisted in the understanding of parables; and in the interpretation of dark sayings or riddles: the mysterious cover to this kind of wisdom made it the most high-prized accomplishment. And here, when the psalmist was to raise and engage the attention of his audience, he promises that he would speak of those things, in which the highest wisdom was supposed to consist: and, indeed, it must be confessed that, in the composition of this Psalm, he has made use of every art to render it worthy the subject.” Dodd, and Warburton’s Divine Legation.

Verse 5

Psalms 49:5. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil Either, 1st, Of sin; when iniquities of all sorts abound, which is, in many respects, grievous and vexatious to good men. Or, 2d, Of misery; in times of great distress and calamity, either public or private, when wicked men flourish, and good men are oppressed and persecuted. When the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about That is, the violent and injurious practices of my ungodly and malicious enemies, who lay snares for my feet, and seek to trip up my heels, and cause me to fall into sin or into trouble. The words may, with propriety, be rendered, The iniquity of my supplanters; for the word עקבי , gnakeebai, rendered heels, may be, and is, by some learned interpreters, taken for a participle 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 very malicious, but also very deceitful and treacherous, as he everywhere complains. This sense of the words, the reader will observe, is favoured both by the Syriac and Arabic interpreters; the former of whom render the words, the iniquity of my enemies hath compassed me; and the latter thus, When mine enemies shall compass me about. The sense is also agreeable to the main scope of the Psalm, which is to comfort good men against that great trial and stumbling-block, the prosperity of the wicked, and the oppressions and afflictions of the righteous. Bishop Hare translates the verse, “Wherefore should I fear in the days of adversity, when the iniquity of those that lie in wait for me surrounds me?”

Verses 6-9

Psalms 49:6-9. They, &c. The psalmist, having said that good men had no sufficient cause of fear on account of what they might suffer from ungodly men, now proceeds to show that the ungodly had no reason to be secure because of their riches. That trust in their wealth As that which can secure them from calamities. None of them can redeem Either from the first or second death; his brother Whom he would do his utmost to preserve, nor consequently himself; nor give to God The only Lord of life, and the Judge who passes on him the sentence of death; a ransom for him Hebrew, כפרו , cophro, his expiation, or, the price of his redemption, namely, from death. For the redemption of their soul Of their life; is precious Costly, hard to be obtained. And it ceaseth for ever It is never to be accomplished by any mere man, for himself or for his brother. That he should live for ever That he should be excused from dying; and not see corruption Or, the pit, or the grave. These last four verses are well translated by Mudge, thus: “They that trust in their substance, and boast in the abundance of their riches; not one can, in truth, redeem his brother, nor give to God his ransom; (for the ransom of their life is of too high a value, and he is extinct for ever;) so that he should live on continually, and not see the pit.”

Verse 10

Psalms 49:10. For he seeth Every man sees and knows it; it is visible and evident, both from reason and from universal experience; wise men die, &c. All men die, the wise and good, as well as the foolish and wicked; and leave their wealth to others He saith not to sons or kindred, but indefinitely to others, because it is wholly uncertain to whom they shall leave it, 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 of, he knows not how, nor to whom.

Verse 11

Psalms 49:11. Their inward thought Which they are ashamed to express, but which is yet their secret hope; is, that their houses Either their families, or rather their mansion-houses, as it is explained in the next clause; shall continue for ever To them and theirs in succeeding generations; they imagine, and secretly please themselves in this fancy, that when they can stay no longer in the world, their goodly houses which they have built shall stand for ever, and the places of their abode continue in their family from age to age. They call their lands after their own name Though they cannot be immortal themselves, yet they hope their names, which they put upon their lands, shall never die. “Various are the contrivances,” says Dr. Horne, “of vain men, to have their names written on earth, and to procure, after their deaths, an imaginary immortality, for themselves and their families, in the memory and conversation of posterity; which is not often obtained; and, if obtained, is of no value; when, with less trouble, they might have had their names written in heaven, and have secured to themselves a blessed immortality in the glorious kingdom of their Redeemer.”

Verses 12-13

Psalms 49:12-13. Nevertheless Notwithstanding all these fine fancies; man being in honour Living in all the splendour and glory above mentioned; abideth not Hebrew, בל ילין , bal jalin, shall not lodge for a night; his continuance in the world is as that of a traveller at an inn, who tarries but, or not even, for a night; “so that, if honour and wealth do not soon leave him, he must soon leave them; and, like the brutes around him, return to his earth, never more to be seen, and little more to be thought of.” All his dreams of perpetuating his name and estate shall be confuted by experience. For “families decay, and are extinguished, as well as individuals, and the world itself is to perish after the same example. That such beings, in such a place, should think of becoming glorious and immortal” is astonishing! Horne. This their way Their counsel and contrivance to immortalize their names; or, “their practice of labouring to acquire wealth and greatness, which can be of no service after death, and of endeavouring to perpetuate the possession of the most uncertain things in nature;” is their folly Though to themselves, and many others, it seems to be wisdom, yet it is apparent madness and folly. Yet their posterity approve their sayings “It is a folly which, like many others, is both blamed and imitated.” The word פיהם , pihem, translated, their sayings, is literally, their mouth; but is undoubtedly put for the counsels and suggestions which they give to their offspring concerning these matters; the mouth being often put for the words which come out of it.

Verse 14

Psalms 49:14. Like sheep Which for a season are fed in large and sweet pastures, but at the owner’s pleasure are led away to the slaughter, not knowing, nor considering whither they are going; they are laid in the grave As to their bodies, or placed in the invisible world, (as the word שׁאול , sheol, also signifies,) with respect to their souls. Death shall feed on them The first death shall consume their bodies in the grave, and the second death shall devour their souls. And the upright Good men, whom here they oppressed and abused at their pleasure; shall have dominion over them in the morning In the day of general judgment and the resurrection of the dead. For death being called sleep and the night, (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14; John 9:4,) that time is fitly termed the morning when men awake out of sleep, and enter upon an everlasting day. Dr. Horne’s note here is just and striking: “The high and mighty ones of the earth, who cause people to fear, and nations to tremble around them, must one day crowd the grave, in multitude and impotence, though not in innocence, resembling sheep, driven and confined by the butcher in his house of slaughter. There death, that ravening wolf, shall feed sweetly on them, and devour his long expected prey in silence and darkness, until the glorious morning of the resurrection dawn, when the once oppressed and afflicted righteous, risen from the dead, and sitting with their Lord in judgment, shall have the dominion over their cruel and insulting enemies; whose faded beauty, withered strength, and departed glory shall display to men and angels the vanity of that confidence which is not placed in God.”

Verse 15

Psalms 49:15. But God will redeem my soul Though no man can find out a ransom to redeem himself or his brother, yet God can and will redeem me; from the power of the grave Or, shall preserve me from the power of hell. 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. For he shall receive me Hebrew, יקחני , jikacheeni, shall 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.

Verses 16-17

Psalms 49:16-17. Be not thou afraid That is, discouraged or dejected; when one is made rich, &c. The prosperity of sinners is often matter of fear and grief to good men; partly because their prosperity enables them to do more mischief, and partly because it tends to shake the faith of God’s people in his providence and promises, and to engender suspicions in minds not well informed, as if God did not regard the actions and affairs of men, and made no difference between the good and the bad, and consequently, as if all religion were unprofitable and vain. For he shall carry nothing away 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.

Verses 18-19

Psalms 49:18-19. Though he blessed his soul That is, applauded himself as a wise and happy man. See Luke 12:19. And men will praise thee, &c. As he flatters himself, so he meets with parasites that applaud and flatter him for their own advantage. When thou doest well to thyself When thou dost indulge and please thyself, and advance thy own worldly interest. He shall go to the generation of his fathers The rich worldly man, here spoken of, shall descend into the grave, with respect to his body, and his soul shall enter into the invisible world, 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. They shall never see light Never enjoy the light of the living, or of this life, to which they shall never return; nor the light of the next life, to which they shall never be admitted, but shall be cast into utter darkness, Matthew 8:12.

Verse 20

Psalms 49:20. Man that is in honour, and understandeth not That is, hath not true wisdom to know and consider what he is, and what is his true business and interest in this world, and what use he ought to make of his life, and of all his riches, and honour, and power; and whither he is going, and what course he should take for the attainment 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, a stupid and unreasonable creature, and shall perish like a brute beast made to be taken and destroyed.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 49". Benson's Commentary. 1857.