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In view of the judgments of God about to overwhelm the world, all the inhabitants are warned against the folly of trusting in riches to meet “the days of evil.” The psalm shows the vanity of riches, and the end of those who boast in their wealth. It encourages the godly in an evil day to trust in God, who not only redeems from death, but afterwards receives the soul.
(vv. 1-4) All the inhabitants of this passing fleeting world, whatever their social position, whether rich or poor, are called to hear the wisdom of one who speaks with understanding, or 'discernment.' The psalmist speaks as one who has listened to the voice of God, and is thus able to expound the riddle of life, with all the certainty of inspiration.
(v. 5) The psalmist opens his warning with a word of encouragement for the godly man who finds himself living in an evil day, surrounded by those who seek to trip him up. Why should such fear? The exposure that follows, of the utter vanity of those who confide in their riches, answers this question. For the one who trusts in God there is no fear.
(vv. 6-14) The psalmist proceeds to show the folly of trusting in wealth, and boasting in riches. Man cannot, with all his wealth, redeem his brother from death or secure blessing from God. The redemption of the soul is costly, beyond the wealth of the world; God alone can redeem from death. Man cannot but see one thing is common to all, whether wise, or fools, or brutes - all die, and dying will leave their wealth to others. They may seek to make provision for the continuance of their line, the maintenance of their dwelling places, and the perpetuation of their name. Nevertheless, though man may rise to honour in this life, he cannot abide. Death spoils the plans of man, and proves the folly of their ways, even though the living approve their sayings. In spite of their inward thoughts, expressed in their “sayings,” their wealth is left behind, and their magnificent dwellings shrink down to the narrow grave. Their beauty ends in corruption.
(v. 15) Here then is the answer to the question asked by the poor man who trusts in God. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil?” In contrast to those who trust in riches, the one who trusts in God can say, “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.” The soul redeemed by God will be received by God after death has closed the present life.
(vv. 16-20) Therefore, those who trust in God are not to be afraid when success and earthly prosperity come to the man of the world. Such need not fear that they have made a mistake in trusting God, or that they have missed a great deal that the worldly man enjoys. Let such remember that when the man of the world dies he carries nothing away. He has not been rich toward God. He leaves all behind, and has laid up no treasure for the world to come. Earthly riches and worldly glory cannot follow him to the grave. He may, indeed, have done well for himself, as men speak, in this life, and in consequence be praised by others as a successful man. In the end he dies, even as his fathers have done before him; he sees the light no more and, as far as this world is concerned, has perished like the beasts.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Psalms 49". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent