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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 49

Verse 1

Psalms 49:0.

An earnest persuasion to build the faith of the resurrection, not on worldy power, but on God. Worldly prosperity is not to be admired.

To the chief musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.

Title. מזמרו קרח לבני למנצת lamnatseach libnei korach mizmor. The author of this psalm is not known, nor the particular occasion of it. But it seems to be a meditation on the vanity of riches: and the usual haughtiness of those who possess them: As a remedy for this, it sets before them the near prospect of death, from which no riches can save, in which no riches can avail. The author considers the subjects he is treating, as a kind of wisdom concealed from the world, a mystery, an occult science, with respect to the generality of mankind.

Verse 4

Psalms 49:4. I will incline mine ear to a parable, &c.— 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. He says, he will incline his ear to a parable, and will open his dark saying upon the harp: 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. See Warburton's Divine Legation, and Numbers 21:27.—I will incline or stoop mine ear, refers to the practice of musicians when they tune their instruments, stooping down and listening attentively to the sound.

Verse 5

Psalms 49:5. Wherefore should I fear, &c.— Wherefore should I fear in the days of adversity, when the iniquity of those who lie in wait for me, surrounds me? Bishop Hare. Houbigant renders the last clause, Because trouble surrounds me. The iniquity of my heels, is agreeable to the Hebrew; but the meaning seems to be what the versions above have assigned; "The iniquity of those unjust persons who are at my heels, and are ready to supplant and destroy me."

Verses 6-8

Psalms 49:6-8. They that trust in their wealth, &c.— Some translate it, Confident men boast themselves in their wealth, and in the multitude of their riches: Psalms 49:7. One cannot by any means redeem the other, nor afford any ransom to God for him: Psalms 49:8. For it is of high price to purchase any one's life, that he should subsist for ever. Mr. Mudge's version of this passage is, Psalms 49:6. They that trust on their substance, and boast in the abundance of their riches; Psalms 49:7. Not one can, in truth, redeem his brother, nor give to God his ransom: Psalms 49:8. (For the ransom of their life is of too high a value, and he is extinct for ever;) Psalms 49:9. So that he should live on continually, and not see the pit. Houbigant renders the 8th and 9th verses thus: Psalms 49:8. For the redemption of their soul is precious: Psalms 49:9. But he who ceaseth in this world, shall yet live; though he see the pit, he shall not see it for ever. This he supposes to contain the parable or dark saying mentioned in the 4th verse; and the Psalmist, says he, on account of this hope of immortality set before man, condemns him for his inattention to this immortality, for limiting all his hopes to the present state of existence, and so becoming like the beasts that perish.

Verse 10

Psalms 49:10. For he seeth that wise men die For he seeth the wise die; as well as the fool and stupid, they perish, &c. As much as to say, "If riches could save at all from death, they would do it when in the hands of wise men: but they do not; for they die alike, the wise man and the fool; the former can make no more use of them than the latter." Mudge.

Verse 11

Psalms 49:11. Their inward thought, &c.— Their sepulchre is their dwelling for ever; their abode to all generations: they put their names upon heaps of earth. So the LXX read, which seems to give the easier and more natural sense. The latter part refers to the monumental inscriptions. "There is nothing left but their names, inscribed on heaps of earth." Houbigant, who agrees in this interpretation, renders the latter clause somewhat differently. The sepulchre is their dwelling for ever, the habitation for many generations of those who have had a name upon earth.

Verse 12

Psalms 49:12. Nevertheless, &c.— Yet man, while he is in honour, understandeth or regardeth not; as the beasts are cut off, so is he, Psalms 49:13. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity will run the same way, or approve their doings. See Houb. and Mudge.

Verse 14

Psalms 49:14. Like sheep, &c.— Like sheep they shall be laid in the place of the dead; death shall feed on them; their morning-shepherds rule over them, and their flesh is to be consumed: destruction is to them in their folds. So Houbigant, keeping up the metaphor all through from sheep. The Psalmist seems to consider שׁאול sheol as a place where the deceased were penned up like sheep, for the food of death; while, according to the common interpretation, God would raise up the righteous again, as it were in the morning, after a sort of deathlike suffering, to be masters over these rich wicked men. Particularly, he himself speaks with confidence that God would raise him. There is in Psalms 90:0 somewhat of the same mode of speaking, where the morning is considered as a kind of resurrection for good men after a state of black sufferings. Some think that the phrase, in the morning, signifies only speedily—in a short time. See Psalms 90:14. For my own part, I cannot help preferring Houbigant's interpretation, which, continuing the metaphor, speaks simply of the future punishment of the wicked, when they have departed this life. For those who think otherwise, those passages in the New Testament may well be referred to, where we are assured that the just shall rise and reign with Christ.

Verse 18

Psalms 49:18. Though while he lived, &c.— Houbigant, after many of the ancient versions, renders this, Though in life he indulges himself, and will praise thee so long as thou shalt do well to him, Psalms 49:19. Yet shall he go, &c. Mudge gives nearly the same sense with this version: Though whilst he lived he felicitated his soul, and men praised thee, that thou usedst thyself well. His gloss is, "Though he lived ever so luxuriously, and men talked of him as one who vixit dum vixit bene, lived well as long as he lived." The change of the number in our version, as well as in this of Mudge, appears very aukward, unless we are to suppose it a clause of general admonition thrown in by the Psalmist, signifying, "that so long as you live in a state of luxury and opulence, indulging your bodily appetites, you will always find flatterers and parasites sufficient to applaud you."

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Psalmist, with solemnity, introduces his important discourse, and calls upon all, both high and low, to attend the lessons of instruction that he was about to deliver. The one that they might know the vanity of their possessions; the other, that they might be content in the want of them, nor envy those who enjoyed them. His subject was concerning the truest wisdom, and he spoke after deep meditation: his discourse might indeed appear to the world parabolical and dark; but he desired so to incline his own ear to divine teaching, that he might be enabled to make the matter clear to others, and with his harp engage, by pleasing harmony, the ears of others to listen to his song. Note; (1.) The poor need as much be warned against envy and discontent, as the rich against pride and worldly confidence. (2.) Divine subjects should be spoken of with great thought and seriousness. (3.) What we inculcate on others, we must recommend by our own practice. (4.) Music answers its original design when employed to convey, or imprint, the sentiments of Divine wisdom.

2nd, Having engaged attention, he begins to open his parable. He describes,
1. The security of gracious souls, and intimates how unspeakably superior that is to all worldly wealth. In the days of affliction they are delivered from all distressing fear, with which worldly men are overwhelmed; and even in death and judgment, when iniquity compasseth about the sinner, and riches profit not in the day of wrath, every faithful soul shall be confident in the pardoning love of a reconciled God. Note; A sense of God's love, and the near prospect of glory, are infinitely more precious than thousands of gold and silver.

2. The insufficiency of worldly riches to ransom a brother from the hand of death, or disease, or to save his soul from hell. No gifts can bribe or secure from the arrest of God's messengers; no riches profit in the day of wrath, to suspend the sentence, or prevent its execution. The soul is too precious to be purchased by corruptible things, such as silver and gold: if the blood of Jesus, and the redemption which is in him, be neglected, all other price is fruitless; and the sinner perishes for ever.
3rdly, Two reasons are here further urged, why the faithful should endure want in patient hope, and neither fear nor envy the prosperity of the proud.
1. Because in death the soul of the faithful believer has hope: for the Lord will redeem him from the power of the grave, and receive him into his everlasting arms of love: the same Jesus who has paid the price of his redemption, will assuredly raise him up at the last day.
2. Because the end of the proud and ungodly is terrible. In the present dispensation of God's providence, indeed, they are frequently seen to flourish; their riches flow in like a river; their families increase; their names are respected; they bless themselves, as if they had heaven's favour, and say, Soul, take thine ease; whilst others foolishly follow their example, and encourage the deceit; praising their worldly wisdom, and admiring them as the truly happy men. Such general approbation, and apparent prosperity, might be apt to awaken the envy, or excite the fears, of the righteous. But there is no cause for either: this big-swoln worm is dust of the earth, and returning quickly to the grave: thither, neither his riches, honour, nor fame can descend: among his fathers his sepulchre will be found; and, when once he has left the light of this sun, the outer and eternal darkness must receive him, without one glimpse of hope or joy for ever. Such is the miserable end of the proud man, who neglects the concerns of eternity for the vanities of time; and, stupid as the beasts which perish, understandeth not the things that make for his everlasting peace. Note; (1.) We must not take our estimation of men from their own vaunts, or the world's admiration, but from the word of God. Many a joyous sinner, many a great character in the earth, whom man blesses, is a wretch in prospect, and under the curse of God. (2.) It is not what we have in this world but what we carry with us into the next, that constitutes the true riches. How unspeakably richer is the poor soul which goes to treasure incorruptible in heaven, than he who leaves behind him of earth's dross thousands and millions! (3.) They only are wise who consider their latter end; and they the most arrant fools, who forget it. (4.) The state of the most loathsome animal is infinitely preferable to that of the brutish sinner: the one dies, and is no more; the other, after a life of sinful madness, enters upon an eternity of misery.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 49". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.