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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Scott: Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms
Psalms 49

 

 

Verses 1-20

Psalm 49:1-20. Title. The author of this psalm is not known. " But whosoever composed it, ... it is likely that " he had in his eye, the unreasonable thirst of mankind after riches, and their insolence and haughtiness, when they " have acquired them; which, it is possible, was a great " discouragement to some pious but poor people in those " times : and therefore ... he indited this psalm to check " that vanity, by setting death before their eyes." Bp. Patrick.

It is not improbable that David wrote the Psalm , and gave it to the sons of Korah; though the title may mean, as many think, that it was written by some of the sons of Korah. (Note, 46: title.)

V:1- 4. The Psalmist, in these verses, sublimely introduced his subject, by demanding an audience, from the whole human race, to a message which he would deliver unto them from God : and his important and universally interesting instruction, being written in the sacred scriptures, has already been proposed to innumerable multitudes, and will at length be heard by all the inhabitants of the earth, whether of noble or ignoble birth, whether riclior poor. (Notes, Psalm 1:4-6; Psalm 78:2. Deuteronomy 32:1-2. Matthew 13:34-35.) As the prophet of God, he had first inclined his ear to his divine instructor : and finding the subject difficult, (because of the corrupt prejudices, aversion, and ineptitude of the mind of man to spiritual things,) and to require the closest attention, in order to a right understanding and explanation of it; he had carefully meditated on it before he spoke : and then he had formed it into poetry, and set it to music; that sacred melody might be the vehicle of weighty instruction. (Marg. Ref.)

All ye people. (1) (plural): including all nations inhabiting the whole earth, as well as Israel. Both low and high. (2) The sons of Adam, or Prayer of Manasseh , as fallen, mean and low, and the sons of the noble, valiant, and distinguished among men. My dark saying. Note, 1 Kings 10:1-2.

V:5. The old translation seems to give the true sense of this verse: "Wherefore should I fear in the evil days, " when iniquity shall compass me about, as at mine heels." ," What cause is there, that I should be troubled with fears, " and cares, and anxiety of mind, in calamitous times, " when the iniquity of those who endeavour to supplant " me hath surrounded me on all sides, and left me no way " to escape them ?" Bp. Patrick. In the judgment of the best critics, among whom is Bishop Lowth, the word, rendered as a substantive " my heels," is a participle signifying " my supplanters." " The purport of the question is " plainly this Why should I give way to fear and despondency, in the time of calamity, when the wickedness of " my wealthy and powerful adversaries compasses me about, "to supplant and overthrow me?" Bp. Home.

When the consequences of a man"s sins overtake him, and he has no way to escape, he may well fear : but the believer has no occasion to fear the power or subtlety of his most malicious persecutors. (Marg. Ref.)

V:6 , 7. (Notes, Psalm 52:6-7; Psalm 62:8-10. Job 31:24-28. Jeremiah 9:23-24. Mark 10:17-31; Mark 5:24. 1 Timothy 6:17-19.) A ransom. (7) That Isaiah , an atonement, or expiation : for this is the literal meaning of the word ). (Note, 1 Peter 1:17-21.) Those, who glory and trust most in their riches, cannot with all their wealth satisfy divine justice, so as to ransom their nearest relative or best beloved friend from death, to which he is sentenced by the righteous Governor of the world : much less can they deliver his soul from hell. (Note, Matthew 16:24-28.

P. O21-28.)

V:8. Precious.] " Rare, or not to be found, as prophecy was precious in the days of Eli, 1 Samuel 3:1. The price of redemption, whether of the life or soul, was too nigh for any mere man to pay : so that the ancient fathers referred the verse to Christ, in this sense, " No man can " redeem his brother, he alone excepted, who is also God." (Marg. Ref.) Even a Jewish interpreter " understands these words of the King Messiah, who, having died for " the redemption of his brethren, afterwards liveth for " ever, as was predicted by Isaiah , Isaiah 53: 10. Bossuet, quoted by Bp. Home.

V:9. As long as the world endureth this will be a " vain endeavour. Let him attempt it, if he please, upon " himself. Can he prolong his own life, . . . that it shall be * perpetuated and never dissolved ? " Bp. Patrick. (Notes, Proverbs 10:2-3. Ecclesiastes 8:8. Luke 16:22-23.) And if even this be a vain attempt, who can redeem or save his own immortal soul from the awful sentence of eternal punishment ? See corruption.] Note, Psalm 16:8-11 .

V:10. Every man may see, that the wise and learned of the world die, in the same manner as the foolish and stupid : and those, who have prospered in heaping up wealth, leave it all behind; perhaps to those for whom they never intended it, and who rejoice at their death.

(Notes, Psalm 92:6-7. Ecclesiastes 2:12-23; Ecclesiastes 5:13-17; Ecclesiastes 9:13. Luke 12:15-21.)

V:1- 1 . Various are the contrivances of vain men, to " have their names written on earth, and to procure, after " death, 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 secured " to themselves a blessed immortality in the kingdom of their Redeemer." Bp. Home. (Notes, Genesis 4:16-17; Genesis 11:1-4. 1 Samuel 15:12. 2 Samuel 18:17-18.)

V:12. The word (j-y) rendered " abideth," signifies to lodge all night. Man"s continuance in the world, or in honour and distinction, resembles a traveller"s lodging at an inn, whence he removes in the morning; or is even still more precarious and transient. So soon must wealth and honour be relinquished, and the most honourable men die like the beasts that perish; except as distinguished by an immortal soul, and a future state of righteous retribution. (Note, 20. Psalm 73:18-22. Ecclesiastes 3:18-21; Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. Hebrews 9:27-28.)

V:13. Some render the first clause, "This their way is " their confidence," meaning a rash and presumptuous confidence. " So close does this folly stick to mankind, that " they that succeed in their possessions make no benefit of " this observation; but are as very fools as themselves, and " tread in the steps of those that went before them." Bp. Patrick. Indeed, ungodly men from age to age, not only copy the example, but imbibe the principles, and adopt the maxims, of those who went before them in this path, as admired dictates of wisdom.

(Notes, Matthew 6:22-23. Luke 16:14-15. 1 Corinthians 3:18-23.)

V:14. The most powerful and prosperous are soon carried into the grave, as sheep into the slaughter-house. There death feeds upon them, in silence and darkness, till the morning " of the resurrection : then the upright, even poor oppressed believers will have the dominion over their haughtiest persecutors. The grave will consume all the power, glory, and beauty of the wicked, which they possessed in their splendid earthly habitations; and meanness, deformity, and contempt will be their portion : while " the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom " of their Father." The word, repeatedly translated the grave, is often rendered hell, and probably means the unseen state, whether of body or soul. (Note, Psalm 16:8-11.)

Christ"s coming is as the morning, when the elect shall " reign, with Christ their Head, over the wicked. Then all the beauty, splendour, and external decorations, which the most admired of the ungodly and affluent displayed in their palaces, will appear withered and gone; and they will be in all respects loathsome and contemptible.

(Notes, 1 Corinthians 15:39-54. Philippians 3:20-21. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. P0. Malachi 3:1-18. close.)

V:15. When the believer dies, his soul, redeemed by the Saviour"s blood, is received by him to glory; the life of his body shall also be restored; it shall be redeemed from the power of the grave, refined, and rendered incorruptible, and glorious. The Psalmist in this verse expresses a full confidence, both that his soul would be preserved from hell, and his body raised from the grave; being received by the Lord to be for ever with him. (Notes, Psalm 31:5; Psalm 73:23-28. Luke 23:39-43, John 14:2-3. Acts 7:54-60. 2 Timothy 1:11-12.) If this be left out, or indeed not distinctly and fully taken into the account, what does the solemn exordium of the psalm introduce ?

(Note, 1 -4.) For no other important distinction between the righteous and the wicked, in respect of happiness, is mentioned, or even intimated.

V:16 , 17 Be thou not troubled, nor dismayed, ... " whosoever thou art that hearest or readest this, when thou " seest a worldly man grow very rich, and great honours " heaped on his family; which enables and emboldens him " perhaps to use the meaner sort contemptuously." Bp. Patrick. (Notes, Psalm 37:1-9; Psalm 73:2-14.)

When he dies, " nothing shall attend him, but his shroud to the " grave, and his works to the judgment-seat. View him * in this light, which is the proper light to view him in, and " he will cease to be the object of fear or envy." Bp. Home. (Note, 1 Timothy 6:6-10.)

Worldly men count wealth and magnificence their glory : ( Genesis 31:1 :) but holiness, being the moral image of God, is the true glory of our rational nature; and this will accompany us to heaven.

V:18. Prosperous sinners count themselves happy, and promise themselves much enjoyment for many years to come; and such is mankind, that those who succeed in ambitious or covetous pursuits, or who live in luxury and splendour, will be sure to find foolish and selfish admirers and flatterers. (Notes, 1 Samuel 25:3-6; 1 Samuel 5:6. Esther 5:9-14. Acts 12:20-23.) " Who will commend thee too, if thou wilt imitate him " (the luxurious worldly man in indulging thine own appetite, and denying nothing to thyself and companions : but doing no good to anybody else.

Bp. Patrick.

V:19. " The soul shall go, &c." (Marg.) Death will convey one generation after another from the light of this world; and how awful are the words, " They shall not see " light for ever!" (Notes, 2 Peter 2:17. Jude 1:11-13.) This fully proves, that the Psalmist was assured, the righteous would " see light" after death, and for ever. (Note, Psalm 36:5-9.)

V:20. He who in prosperity has no understanding to use the gifts of God to his glory, but abuses them in wickedness, willingly renounces the grand distinction between a rational creature, and the beasts that perish. As to this world, he gratifies his appetites and inclinations, and dies, as they do but " after death is the judgment." (Note, 12.)

PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.

The important truths, which relate to the eternal state of the righteous and the wicked, are equally interesting to all the inhabitants of the earth, " both high and low, ricli " and poor, together." Blessed be God, they are plainly proposed to us in his holy word; and had it not been for man"s dislike to such subjects, they would have been universally heard and understood. " At the call of folly, what " multitudes are always ready to assemble ! But Wisdom of Solomon , " eternal and essential Wisdom of Solomon , crieth without; she lifteth " up her voice in the streets; and who is at leisure to attend her heavenly lectures ? The " mouth " of Jesus " always " spake of wisdom; " but few regarded him : the " meditation of his heart " was ever " of understanding; " " but it was accounted madness." Bp. Home. We should, however, still endeavour to illustrate and enforce these important instructions, by every method which can soften prejudice, or gain attention: especially by shewing their influence on our own hearts, in mortifying covetousness, ambition, envy, and discontent, and all selfish and sensual passions; in raising us above the fear of Prayer of Manasseh , and rendering us constant and cheerful in doing the will and professing the truth of God, amidst the successful enmity of persecutors or oppressors. How general, yet how absurd and infatuated, is it, for men to boast of their riches, and trust in them ! to pursue them as the one thing needful, if they have a prospect of acquiring them; and to repine and murmur, if they have not ! Yet it is most evident, that wealth can neither prolong the life, nor save the soul, of the possessor, or of his most beloved relative : and laid not the ransom of the death of Christ intervened, the body of every sinner must have finally been left in the grave, and his soul in hell; for " the redemption was too precious" to be otherwise effected, and " must have been " let alone for ever." And as we see that neither wealth nor worldly wisdom will exempt any man from dying; and that all such acquisitions must shortly be relinquished for ever; how vain are all our anxious cares and labours ! What good will it do any Prayer of Manasseh , to have his name perpetuated on earth, when he has no name in the registers of heaven ? Thus foolish are the thoughts and ways of ungodly men. Yet one generation after another applauds their maxims : and the character of a fool, as drawn by heavenly wisdom itself, continues the favourite model for imitation, in the judgment of a vast majority even of professed Christians! (Note, Luke 12:15-21.) Death alone can convince men in general of the folly of laying up treasures upon earth : and were there no future state, the most wealthy and honourable would soon be leveled with the beasts that perish : but in the prospect of the resurrection and of eternity, the most prosperous of the wicked are infinitely more wretched and base. In this light, let the believer view the riches and the children of this world, that he may not be tempted to envy or impatience, or to fear evil consequences to himself and to the church of God, when sinners grow rich and honourable. Soon will they die, and carry nothing away with them of all their splendour and magnificence. Though they foolishly congratulate themselves, and others applaud them, as having done well for themselves; yet they are going to " the " generation of their fathers, and shall never see light; " for to them " is reserved the blackness of darkness for " ever." But the real Christian, when he dies, is for ever delivered from sin and sorrow; his soul is received to glory; his body shall be redeemed from the grave, and raised incorruptible and glorious. His inheritance is in heaven; and in the resurrection, he will sit in judgment on those who here oppressed and persecuted him.

(Notes, 1 Corinthians 6:1-6. Revelation 3:20-22.) And is there a rational creature, who can prefer the lot of the rich sinner to that of poor Lazarus ? (Notes, Luke 16:19-31 :) yet is not this more than brutish stupidity universal to the human race, if left to themselves ? What need then have we of revelation and of the teaching of the Holy Spirit; when, with all our boasted powers, we are prone to such infatuation, in the most important of all concerns ! O Lord, deliver us from the love of the world, and teach us to set our affections on things above ! (Note, Colossians 3:1-4.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Scott, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 49:4". Thomas Scott: Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations on the book Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsp/psalms-49.html. 1804.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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