Bible Commentaries
Psalms 49

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-20


THIS is a didactic poem, and resembles in some respects Psalms 37:1-40, and Psalms 73:1-28. It deals with the same problem—the contrast between the lot of the righteous man, whom the wicked persecute continually (Psalms 73:5), and these wicked themselves, who are wealthy and prosperous, found families, leave them their wealth, and even "call their lands after their own names" (Psalms 73:6, Psalms 73:10, Psalms 73:11). The problem is solved, more distinctly than anywhere else in the Psalms, by the doctrine of compensation in a future life (verses 15, 19), so that (as Hupfeld says) the psalm "contains a real, though crude and imperfect, theodicy." The wicked man has his good things in this life, and after death evil things, while with the good man the case is exactly the contrary. The date of the psalm is uncertain; but from its style it may be placed between the time of David and that of Hezekiah. The ascription of it to "the sons of Korah" deserves acceptance.

Metrically, the composition divides itself into three portions:

(1) a short prelude, or introduction (verses 1-4);

(2) a strophe, forming the main body of the psalm (verses 5-15); and

(3) a summing-up, or conclusion (verses 16-20).

Psalms 49:1

Hear this, all ye people; rather, all ye peoples. Like Psalms 47:1-9; this psalm is addressed to the nations generally, who are all equally interested in it. The writer regards his mission as not confined to Israel, but extending to the whole of mankind. Give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world; literally, of the fleeting (חלד), of this fleeting, transitory scene.

Psalms 49:2

Both high and low, rich and poor, together. The teaching of the psalm concerns all ranks alike. To the great and rich it will carry warning; to the poor and lowly, consolation.

Psalms 49:3

My mouth shall speak of wisdom (comp. Job 33:3, Job 33:4). It is not his own "wisdom" that the psalmist is about to utter, but a wisdom communicated to him from without, to which he has "to incline his ear" (Psalms 49:4). And the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding; or, of discernment (Kay).

Psalms 49:4

I will incline mine ear to a parable. The psalmist is "like a minstrel who has to play a piece of music put into his hands. The strain is none of his own devising; and as he proceeds, each note awakes in him a mysterious echo, which he would fain catch and retain in memory" (Kay). A "parable" in the Old Testament means any enigmatical or dark saying, into which much metaphor or imagery is introduced, so that it is only φωνᾶν συνετοῖσι. I will open my dark saying upon the harp; i.e. with a harp accompaniment. Music was a help to inspired persons in the delivery of messages which they were commissioned to deliver (see 1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Kings 3:15).

Psalms 49:5-15

The prelude, or introduction, being over, the substance of the "dark saying" is now brought forth. The problem is propounded. On the one hand are the righteous, fallen upon evil days, surrounded by treacherous foes, ever on the watch to do them a mischief (Psalms 49:5); on the other are the wicked, "trusting in their wealth, and boasting themselves in the multitude of their riches" (Psalms 49:6), so opulent that they build houses which they expect to "continue for ever" and proprietors on such a scale that their lands are "called after their names" (Psalms 49:11); and both parties equally short-lived, soon swept away from earth (Psalms 49:10, Psalms 49:12). How is it that God allows all this, and how is man to reconcile himself to it? Simply by two reflections—one, that for the wicked, who have their portion in this life, there is no hope of happiness after death (Psalms 49:14, Psalms 49:17); and the other that "God will redeem the righteous from the power of the grave, and will receive them" (Psalms 49:15).

Psalms 49:5

Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil? i.e. have I reason to fear, or may I trust in God's protection? Are, or are not, the righteous under his care? When the iniquity of my heels; rather, of my supplanters—of those that would trip me up. Shall compass me about; i.e. surround me, lie in wait for me on every side (comp. Psalms 17:10-12).

Psalms 49:6

They that trust in their wealth; rather, even of them that trust in their wealth. The sense runs on from the preceding verse (so Hengstenberg and Professor Cheyne). And boast themselves in the multitude of their riches. Such men are always persecutors of the righteous. They are worldly, carnal, godless.

Psalms 49:7

None of them can by any means redeem his brother. The text is suspected. If we read אַךְfor אָה, with Ewald and Professor Cheyne, the right translation will be, Nevertheless, no man can by any means redeem himself. With all his boasting, the rich man cannot effect his own redemption; nor, however great his wealth, can he give to God a ransom for him; i.e. for himself. "Brother" is not used in the Psalms in the sense of "fellow-man," but only in the literal sense of close blood, relation (Psalms 35:14; Psalms 50:20).

Psalms 49:8

For the redemption of their soul is precious; or, costlytoo costly, i.e; for them, however rich they may be, to be able to effect it (comp. Job 36:18, Job 36:19). And it ceaseth for ever; rather, and one must let that aloes for ever (Cheyne, Kay, Hengstenberg, Revised Version).

Psalms 49:9

That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. This verse is to be closely connected with Psalms 49:7, Psalms 49:8 being parenthetical It describes the effect which the payment of a ransom by the rich, were it possible, might be expected to have.

Psalms 49:10

For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish. The rich man must see that any hope of ransoming himself by means of his wealth, and so escaping death and the grave, is vain, since the law of mortality, which is in operation all around him, is universal. No one is redeemed from death, in the sense of escaping "the first death." Not only do "the fool and the brutish person" perish, but the fate of "the wise" is the same. All die; all quit the earth; all leave behind them everything that they possessed on earth; no one can take with him the gold in which he has trusted (Psalms 49:6); all leave their wealth to others.

Psalms 49:11

Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations. Still, though they know this, the rich and worldly have an idea—an "inward thought"—which they cherish, that they can m a certain sense escape death by founding families and leaving to their children substantial houses, which will keep up the family reputation, and accumulating landed estates, to which they may affix their name, so keeping their memories alive to future ages. They call their lands after their own names (see Genesis 10:2, Genesis 10:4, Genesis 10:6, Genesis 10:22, Genesis 10:23, Genesis 10:29, etc.; and compare the Greek traditions with respect to Hellen, Ion, Achaeus, Pelops, Cadmus, etc.). To call cities after their own names, or the names of their sons, was a still commoner practice of great men in the olden times.

Psalms 49:12

Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not. Against these" inward thoughts" and outward actions, the psalmist simply maintains the ground already taken (Psalms 49:10): "Man, in whatever honour he may be, abideth not"—has but a short time to live. He is like the beasts that perish. He has no more continuance than many of the beasts; like them, he passes from earth.

Psalms 49:13

This their way is their folly; or, their vain conceit (Kay). By "their way" must be understood the course of conduct described in Psalms 49:7-12. Yet their posterity approve their sayings. Their descendants, or those who come after them, notwithstanding the foolishness of their course, adopt their principles and delight in them.

Psalms 49:14

Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them. With the foolish fancies and vain conceits of the ungodly rich men, the psalmist now contrasts the reality. When they die they are "laid in the grave," or "ranged in Hades" (Kay), as sheep in a sheepfold. There is no escape for them. Death is their shepherd; he keeps them, watches over them, tends them, allows none to quit the fold. And the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. When the resurrection morn comes—and no other explanation appears to be possible (see even Cheyne)—it will bring them no release; the righteous will then "have domination over them," and will certainly not set them free (Revelation 21:8). And their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling; rather, and their beauty is for Hades to consume out of its dwelling; i.e. its clay tenement (so Dr. Kay).

Psalms 49:15

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave. Here is the solution of the "dark saying," the key to the" parable." The souls of the righteous will be redeemed, not by themselves, but by God—they will be delivered "from the power of the grave," or rather of Hades; and, while the ungodly are held under by death and the grave (Psalms 49:14), they will be released, and enter upon a higher life. For he shall receive me. As God "took Enoch," when he "was not" (Genesis 4:24)—took him to be with himself—so he will "receive" every righteous soul, and take it home, and give it rest and peace in his own dwelling-place. As Professor Cheyne observes, "It is the weakest of explanations to say that the psalmist rejoices thus in the prospect of mere deliverance from the danger of death. A few years later, and the prospect will return in a heightened form." The fact is that "the poet has that religious intuition which forms the kernel of the hope of immortality." At the same time, we may admit, as Hupfeld argues, that the belief in immortality is "not here stated as a revealed doctrine, but as a presentiment, a deep inward conviction, inseparable from real living faith in a living God."

Psalms 49:16-20

The conclusion "repeats and confirms the general lessons of the psalm." Psalms 49:16 is a categorical answer to the doubt propounded in Psalms 49:5.Psalms 49:17-19; Psalms 49:17-19 are an echo of Psalms 49:14, and at the same time a counterpoise to the views put forth in Psalms 49:6, Psalms 49:11.Psalms 49:20; Psalms 49:20 is a repetition, but with an important modification, of Psalms 49:12.

Psalms 49:16

Be not thou afraid when one is made rich (see Psalms 49:5, Psalms 49:6). There is no ground for fear, nor even for perplexity, when the wicked grow rich and prosper. Their wealth will not ransom their souls (Psalms 49:7-9). They cannot take it with them to another world (Psalms 49:17). They will have no advantage from it there. On the contrary, their misery in another world will be such as to far outweigh any enjoyment which they may have had on earth (Psalms 49:14, Psalms 49:19). When the glory of his house is increased (see Psalms 49:11).

Psalms 49:17

For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away. Nothing in the way of earthly possessions—nothing but the qualities which he has imprinted on his soul, and made part and parcel of himself. The heathen nations, foolishly, were accustomed to bury clothes, and arms, and vessels, and stores of gold with the departed, as though they could take these with them into the other world. The writer of the psalm, and those whom he addressed, were equally aware of the foolishness of such customs. His glory shall not descend after him. Whatever "glory" his wealth has secured to him in this life shall be left behind. He shall be imprisoned in Sheol, with death to shepherd him (Psalms 49:14), and with no hope of returning to the "light" (Psalms 49:19).

Psalms 49:18

Though while he lived he blessed his soul (comp. Psalms 10:3; Luke 12:19). He thought himself happy, and congratulated himself on his good fortune. And men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. A parenthetic remark. Not only do such men congratulate themselves, but the world's applause follows on them. So long as they are well-to-do, and keep themselves in the forefront of the battle of life, they will have "honour, reverence, and troops of friends," who will admire them and flatter them.

Psalms 49:19

He shall go to the generation of his fathers. In the Hebrew it is "thou shalt go," or "it (the soul) shall go;" but the meaning is well expressed by the Authorized Version. However much the wicked man delights in his life, and clings to it, nevertheless he has to die (Psalms 49:10), to join the "generations of his fathers," to go where they have gone before him. And, once in Sheol (Psalms 49:14), they shall never see light. God will redeem the soul of the righteous from the power of Sheol (Psalms 49:15); but the rich ungodly man, and those to whom he goes—men of his sort—shall for evermore not see light.

Psalms 49:20

Man that is in honour, and under. standeth not, is like the beasts that perish. In Psalms 49:12 the writer had said of all men, that they are "like the beasts that perish," which is true in one sense; i.e. in reference to this life. Now, having taken a loftier flight, and embraced in his mental vision the whole life of man, he makes an important qualification of what he had said. All men die; but only those who are "without understanding" die without hope—"like the beasts:" for others there remains the hope enunciated in Psalms 49:15.


Psalms 49:8

Infinite redemption.

"The redemption," etc. The same astonishing spectacle presents itself to this unknown psalmist which so sorely perplexed his brother psalmist, Asaph—"the prosperity of the wicked." But instead of being "envious at the foolish," or finding a painful enigma in their wealth and pride, he summons men of all lands—rich or poor, high or lowly—to listen while he "opens his dark saying," expounds the riddle. The world's pageant is transparent to the prophet's eye. Behind it are eternal realities. The shadow of death dims its glory. Death, like a spectral shepherd, waits by the grave's mouth to gather his flock. What can, then, the rich man's wealth avail (Psalms 49:7-9)? Primarily, then, these words refer to the present life—the impotence of wealth and earthly glory to ward off death. But in Psalms 49:15 clearly "soul" means more than the life that now is—even a life of which this is but shadow and prelude, and a "second death." Following out, therefore, the thought of the text, we have

(1) the infinite value of the soul, and its need of redemption;

(2) the infinite cost at which it has been redeemed;

(3) the infinite issues of the redemption of a soul.

I. GOD BESTOWED IN THE BEGINNING AN INFINITE VALUE ON THE SOUL OF MAN. Man was made in the image of God, capable of knowing, loving, obeying, resembling his Maker. His complex nature has its lower side—"of the earth, earthy." His animal frame allies him to the lower creatures (Psalms 49:12, Psalms 49:20). Learned leaders of science in our day are labouring to emphasize this side of humanity. Man, they say, has grown up from lower forms—is but a glorified, highly developed ape. "But there is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8). This spiritual nature laughs to scorn the attempt to class it with "beasts that perish," and claims its Divine birthright (Acts 17:29). Enoch and Abraham, David, Isaiah, John, Paul, had something within them of which there is no trace, no speck or germ, in the lower ranks of life. So, too, has the humblest Christian—nay, the lowest savage, if but his heart will open to the message of God in Jesus.

1. God loves the soulfallen, sinful, at enmity with him though it is, and justly condemned—yea, with infinite love (John 3:16). It is in ruins; but these are the ruins of God's temple. It is lost, but not irredeemably. He has "found a ransom" (cf. Luke 15:24).

2. The greatness of man's nature is proved by the very greatness of his ruin. Only from an exalted height could he fall so terribly. Beasts are not capable of sin. Low, materialistic views of our nature necessarily involve slight views of sin. God's great love, in place of implying indulgence or indifference to sin, is the very measure of his abhorrence, because sin has

(1) defaced his likeness;

(2) robbed him of men's love and trust;

(3) broken his highest law;

(4) destroyed man's happiness.

II. THEREFORE "THE REDEMPTION OF THE SOUL IS PRECIOUS;" AND AT AN INFINITE COST IT HAS BEEN EFFECTED. That there is such redemption the psalmist was assured. The faith of Old Testament saints was no doubt imperfect. The guiding light shone dimly. Yet now and then flashes out a gleam of startling brightness (Job 33:23-28). For us the light shines clear (Matthew 20:28). Cast away from these words—"ransom," "cost," "price," and the like—all narrow (and as it were commercial) associations. Remember the Father not only accepts, but provides, the propitiation; the atonement is his eternal purpose; "the Lamb of God" is "his unspeakable Gift" (1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10).

III. THE ISSUES OF THIS REDEMPTION ARE INFINITE. "It ceaseth for ever;" or else "endures for ever" (Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 10:26; John 10:27, John 10:28; Romans 8:35-39; John 3:18, John 3:19, John 3:36). Every preacher must judge for himself whether to bring into the pulpit one of the most serious controversies of the day—the ultimate fate of those whom Scripture describes as "lost," "perishing." Who would not wish to entertain, if he could, what is called "the larger hope"? But if it is to be realized, it must be by means unrevealed in Scripture, and upon principles and laws contrary to those which in this life form and fix character for good or evil The soul which is hardened in hatred to God and goodness, gnawed with the feverish thirst of depraved appetites, and bound in the fetters of vicious habit, carries within it the elements of a present hell. The danger is real and great, that in peering into the far-off future, beyond the day of judgment, attention should be diverted from such plain warnings as Matthew 10:28; John 8:24.


Psalms 49:1-20

A dark saying: wealth in bad hands.

The author and the date of this psalm are alike unknown. There are, however, matters concerning it of much more importance, which we do know. One of these is that the writer was a believer in God; and that while the dark problems of life perplexed him, as they do and have done so many others, he saw light above and beyond them. Another is that in this psalm we have the words of one who had "inclined his ear" to hear what the great Speaker would say unto him, and what he would have him write. He would not put pen to paper till he received the word from heaven. "Antequam ad alios loquar, prius devote audiam ipse Spiritum Sanctum intus me erudientem." £ "In the words, 'I will incline mine ear to a similitude,' it is plainly implied that the wisdom which the psalmist would communicate is no self-sprung possession, but one that has been acquired by him … he only brought forth what he had learned in the school of God" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). The theme of the psalm is suggested by the fact, so often observed, that much of the world's wealth is in the hands of the ungodly. Concerning it, "in Psalms 37:1-40. David, in Psalms 49:1-20. the sons of Korah, and in Psalms 73:1-28. Asaph, teach the same truth". In dealing therewith we shall portion out the homiletic expositions in three distinct outlines. In this we deal with the darker side of the theme.

I. ONE OF LIFE'S MOST PERPLEXING FACTS IS THAT SO MUCH WEALTH SHOULD BE IN BAD HANDS. No observant man can fail to see many illustrations of this. £ The greatness assumed by the rich often overshadows humbler souls. It sets them wondering why God should let so many of his people struggle with poverty while many of the ungodly are rolling in wealth. And, to the eye of sense, it darkens the world's outlook when, while "money answereth all things," the great bulk of it should be possessed by the godless, the selfish, the oppressors, and the vile. The fact creates fear (Psalms 73:5) in the evil day, since those who have the money-power, and are in a sense the lords of the world, use their power unrighteously. So much so that our Lord employs the striking epithet, "the mammon of unrighteousness ' (Luke xvh). Only one hint, indeed, is given, in the word "iniquity" (Psalms 73:5), that these rich men are evil men. "But this seems to be designed, as m our Lord's parable of the rich man and Lazarus, to show that the selfish, proud, boastful use of riches, the mere luxuriousness of wealth, apart from violence or unscrupulousness of conduct, is evil, and finds its end in the outer darkness" £ But let us note—


1. Wealth cannot screen from death (Psalms 73:7, Psalms 73:8, Psalms 73:12). There may be (Leviticus 25:47-55), according to the Law, redemption from poverty; but no brother has any ransom price wherewith to prevent death or to deliver from it. Then, it must be given up altogether.

2. After death the wealth cannot be controlled; it is left to others (Psalms 73:10).

3. The departed one must see corruption (Psalms 73:10).

4. He can carry nothing away (Psalms 73:17; 1 Timothy 6:7). The "rich" one is "bankrupt" at the moment of death.


1. They trust in riches.

2. They boast of their wealth (Psalms 73:6). Yet wealth can never ward off care or sickness.

3. They shut their eyes to their precarious holding of their wealth (Psalms 73:11).

4. They even cherish "inward thoughts" of perpetuity (Psalms 73:11).

5. They make special efforts to perpetuate their honour (Psalms 73:11, Psalms 73:12).

6. They congratulate themselves on their greatness (Psalms 73:18; Luke 12:19). And all the while they are "fools" in wisdom's eye (Psalms 73:13).


1. Like the brutes, they will yet be reduced to silence (Psalms 73:12). £ Their proud boasts will soon be stilled.

2. They will descend to Sheol; i.e. to the realm of the departed, Neither the word "Sheol" nor the word "Hades" contains per se any moral significance, nor does either word convey per se the notion of joy or sorrow. But the connection may give such significance to the words. Such is the case here and in Luke 16:23; in both the thought of evil and of sorrow is conveyed.

3. Death will shepherd them. They will be under him, for him to lead and feed them. What a shepherd—death!

4. Their flesh will consume away; their glory will be gone (Luke 16:14, Luke 16:17, Luke 16:19, Luke 16:20). No light ahead!

5. In the great awakening, "in the morning "—the morning of the resurrection—the upright, whom they despised, shall have dominion over them (LXX; κατακυριεύσουσιν). The lordship was theirs during the night, because of their riches; in the morning that lordship will be transferred to the upright, because of their righteousness (Revelation 2:26, Revelation 2:27). £ Hence, note:

1. There is no reason to fear in the day of evil; for evil itself is in the restraint of infinite Power.

2. Where the world sees cleverness and riches, be it ours to see folly and poverty, if godliness be not also there! "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness."—C.

Psalms 49:1-20

A contrast: unseen wealth.

To those whose character and outlook are depicted in the bulk of this psalm its writer did not belong. He looks on them; he writes of them; but he is not one with them. The emphatic and striking word "but" (Psalms 49:15) indicates what the context shows, that there is a great gulf between him and them. While the wicked ones who are rolling in wealth despise him because of his distance from them on the ground of earthly poverty, he, on the other hand, looks down with pity upon them because of their distance from him, on the ground of his having "a life hidden with Christ in God," and possessions in heaven, where no thief approacheth nor moth corrupteth. And the expositor may well devote his attention to the five lines of contrast indicated in this psalm.

I. THERE IS A CONTRAST IN CHARACTER. (Psalms 49:14.) "The upright." This is the word often used to express the character of the people of God, in distinction from the ungodly (Psalms 33:1; Psalms 32:11; Psalms 112:4). The word does not mean "perfection," but true sincerity of spirit, combined with the desire to be right in the sight of God. Three things are included therein:

(1) repentance;

(2) forgiveness;

(3) sanctification.

Where sin is duly acknowledged, forsaken, forgiven, removed, there, in the sight of God, is an upright man. How great the contrast between such and the "fools," however rich the latter may be!

II. THERE IS A CONTRAST IN POSSESSIONS. Such a one can say, "My God!" And he can think and write and speak of God as One who is his Life, his Hope, his Joy, his Friend, his All (Psalms 49:15).

III. THERE IS A CONTRAST IN THE IMMEDIATE OUTLOOK. Instead of being driven at death into the shades of Sheol, he will be received by God (Psalms 49:15). "He shall receive me." The same word is used of Enoch, "He was not, for God took him;" and by Asaph, in Psalms 73:24.

IV. THERE IS A CONTRAST IN THE AFTER-GUARDIANSHIP, Instead of death being their shepherd by feeding on them, Jehovah is their Shepherd, and leads them beside living fountains of water.

V. THERE IS A CONTRAST IN THE FAR LOOK. (Psalms 73:15.) God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; i.e. he will restore me at the resurrection morning. This nature will be completely redeemed—body, soul, and spirit, to be for ever with the Lord.—C.

Psalms 49:14

A vast change: in the morning.

There have been several different views entertained of the state after death. The realm of departed seals was called by the Hebrews Sheol, or the all-demanding world; by the Greeks Hades, or the unknown world. Practically, either word may be used, since the two simply refer to the same realm looked at under different aspects. To the pagan, Sheol (or Hades) was a dim and grim underworld, with no light beyond. To the Hebrews, Sheol was a dim underworld, with the light at the end—"in the awakening" To the Christian, Hades is a realm of perfect rest in Christ, where the righteous are awaiting the resurrection morn. £ And we may now set forth the believer's hopes as to that day in far brighter and more vivid tones than were possible to the psalmists and seers of old.

I. THERE WILL BE A RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. Whether or no the psalmist descried this, we cannot tell; but we do, for Jesus has brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Saviour of the body; and "whosoever liveth and believeth in him shall never die." It will be indeed a glorious "morning" when death shall be swallowed up in victory.

II. JEHOVAH-JESUS WILL THEN BE THE SHEPHERD OF HIS FLOCK. As he was their Shepherd when here, and had guard of them between death and the resurrection, so he will be their Shepherd still, to lead and feed them with his own hand. "The upright" will have no such doleful shepherd as death; they will know nothing of dying. In the loving care of Jesus they will know only life and joy.

III. THEN THOSE WHO HAVE FOLLOWED THE LORD JESUS WILL HAVE THE SUPREMACY. "Many that are last shall be first, and the first last," even within the kingdom. But how much more will this reversal be seen in the case of those who are not in the kingdom at all! Many who were among the great, the high, the noble, of earth will not then be owned by the King; while many a poor but humble Christian, whom the world knew not because it knew him not, will hear a voice saying, "Friend, come up higher." Then many of earth's despised ones shall enter into the presence of the King; they shall sit with him on his throne; and they shall have dominion "in the morning." God will cause "all things" to work together for good to those that love him. Evil may ride high for a time, but it must hide its head at last. And when the wicked are ashamed, the righteous will lift up their heads, for the day of their redemption will have come.—C.


Psalms 49:1-20

Be not afraid.

I. THE PREACHER, (Psalms 49:3, Psalms 49:4.) He is marked by thoughtfulness. He lends his ear in many a secret place to learn wisdom. His inspiration is from above, and he does not speak of himself, but as moved by Divine impulses. What he has gathered by long meditation and experience he gives forth freely for the good of others. His ambition is to make the dark clear, to discern between good and evil, to strip falsehood of its disguises, and to set forth the truth concerning God and human life with all the clearness and charm in his power. Let such a man stand between God and men, and he has a right to be heard.

II. THE AUDIENCE. (Psalms 49:1, Psalms 49:2.) The call is to all people, for all are interested. Hearing is demanded, for without hearing all speech is vain. It is through hearing that the mind, the conscience, and the affections are reached, and that faith and all the good things which follow, come. Changes there have been, and changes there will be. The old order gives place to the new. But the subject propounded here is for all time. Rich and poor alike would do well to hear and to consider wisely what the preacher has to say; for it not only has the ring of truth, but it is backed by the experience of the ages.

III. THE DISCOURSE. The subject is propounded (Psalms 49:5). It is implied here that the wicked may become rich, and that they may even use their wealth in ways unjust and oppressive. Might and good fortune are at their command. They pursue their selfish and unholy schemes unchecked. God seems to leave them to do their pleasure. The stronger the hope of the godly that judgment will come, the greater their perplexity at its delay. Here is a dark riddle, which presses heavily on many a heart, and which has often, in evil times, constrained the cry of the psalmist: "Why?" But light will arise to the righteous. We are taught to look at things as in the presence of God, discerning between truth and falsehood, and discovering that, in spite of all the outward shows and splendour of the ungodly, their inward state is wickedness, their prosperity is folly, and their end is death—death without God and without hope. Whereas the godly, though they have their trials, have peace; though they may have little of this world's goods, are rich toward God, and rejoice in the consciousness of a life which will conquer death, and of a hope of glory strong as truth is strong, pure as Christ is pure, and eternal as the eternal God. The arguments by which these truths are enforced are weighty and powerful.

1. The impotence of wealth in the great emergencies of life. (Psalms 49:7.)

2. The transitoriness of all earthly possessions. (Psalms 49:10-12.)

3. The degradation of human character through covetousness and pride. (Psalms 49:13, Psalms 49:14.)

4. The miserable end of the ungodly rich, as contrasted with the happy end of the righteous. (Psalms 49:15-20.)

Hear, then, the conclusion of the whole matter. "Be not afraid" (Psalms 49:5, Psalms 49:16). The lessons which this old seeker after truth has set forth are elsewhere in Holy Scripture, and especially in the teaching of our Lord and his apostles, expounded and enforced with a clearness which leaves no excuse for ignorance, and with a charm which should win the conviction of all hearts. As we read the Sermon on the Mount, as we study the parables of the rich fool and of the good Samaritan, and as we grasp the great verities of the Gospels and the Epistles, our faith grows in strength and our courage in fervour, and looking unto Jesus, and to the joy set before us, we are able to say to ourselves, in the most evil times, "Be not afraid."—W.F.


Psalms 49:1-20

The issues of life.

Connected with Psalms 16:1-11; Psalms 17:1-15; the writer stands face to face with the great problem of the time—the prosperity of the wicked. The two chief causes which forced the conviction of a hereafter on the later Hebrews were a deep dissatisfaction at the prosperity of the wicked and the misfortunes of the righteous in the world; and the earnest longing of the soul for a more perfect communion with God than was possible in the present life; for they could not but believe that God's promises to the righteous would be made good. The subject of this psalm is that the issues of life show the difference between the lot of the righteous and the wicked.


1. Their riches cannot purchase a ransom from death. (Verses 7-9.) Money may bribe men, but not God, nor death.

2. They cannot carry their riches or their glory with them when they die. (Verses 16-18.) Both are only transient possessions, which soon pass away.

3. There is no deliverance for them from the grave. (Verses 11-14.) The grave is their everlasting habitation, where all their beauty consumes away.


1. To be fearless and undaunted in respect to the evil devices of the wicked. (Verses 5, 6, 16.)

2. They shall ultimately obtain dominion over the wicked. (Verse 14.) All the best and devoutest minds have never doubted that good shall at length triumph over evil.

3. Redemption from the grave, from Sheol, into a life with God. (Verse 15) "No more momentous struggle ever swayed the heart of man than that which first led him to suspect himself to be immortal."

III. THESE GREAT ISSUES ARE WORTHY THE STUDY OF ALL. (Verses 1-4.) High and low, rich and poor.—S.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 49". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.