Psalm 49:10-12

10. For he shall see that wise men die, the fool and the brutish person shall perish together, and shall leave their wealth to strangers. 11. Their inward thought is their houses for ever,1 and their dwelling-places to all generations; they have called out their names upon the earth. 12. And man shall not abide in honour; he has become like the beasts: they perish.


10. For he shall see that wise men die. I consider the ninth and tenth verses to be connected, and that it is the intention of the Psalmist to censure the folly of those who dream of spending an eternity in this world, and set themselves seriously to establish a permanent settlement in it, though they cannot but see their fellow-creatures cut down daily before their eyes by the stroke of death. It is a common proverb, that experience teaches fools, and they may be looked upon as something worse who will not lay to heart their mortality, when surrounded by so many convincing illustrations of it. This seems obviously to be the connection. These infatuated enemies of God, as if he had said, cannot fail to perceive that death is the universal lot of mankind, that the wise are equally liable to it with the foolish; and yet they persist in the imagination that they will remain here always, and will live as if they were never to quit with this world! They see what happens to others, that all, without exception or discrimination, are involved in the common mortality; and they must observe how often it happens that wealth passes into the hands of strangers. The word Myrxa, acherim, I translate strangers, rather than others; for although it may be extended to successors of any kind, yet I think that the Psalmist here supposes the case of wealth passing into the hands of those who are not our natural and lawful heirs, and cannot be considered in any sense as representing us. Many not only die, but die childless, and their name becomes extinct, which is an additional ingredient of bitterness in the cup of the worldling. And yet all these affecting lessons of experience are entirely lost upon them, and they still in their secret thoughts fondly cherish the idea of living here for ever. The Hebrew word brq, kereb, means the middle of anything; but it is taken metaphorically to signify the heart, or inward parts of the man. Here it denotes that their secret thoughts are occupied with an imaginary eternity which they hope to enjoy upon earth. Another and more ingenious interpretation has been suggested by some, that as the word occasionally means a tomb, the Psalmist may here be satirising those who think to perpetuate their memory after death by rearing expensive mausoleums.2 This view of the words is strained and unnatural; and what immediately follows proves that the other is the most correct, when it is added, that worldly men call out their names upon the earth; that is, make every exertion in their power to win reputation amongst their fellow-creatures. Their desire should be to have their names written in the book of life, and to be blessed before God and his holy angels; but their ambition is of another kind -- to be renowned and extolled upon earth. By the expression, calling out, it is insinuated that the fame of ungodly men is but an empty sound. Some interpreters prefer reading, They have called their lands by their own names,3 that they might leave some monument of themselves to posterity. But what the Psalmist seems chiefly to insist upon is, that they are wholly bent upon earthly renown.

12. And man shall not abide in honor. Having exposed the vain and delusory nature of the fancies entertained by the ungodly, he next shows that however fondly they may cherish them, they must experience the same fate with the beasts of the field. It is true that there is a great difference, so far as the soul is concerned, between man and the brute creation; but the Psalmist speaks of things as they appear in this world, and in this respect he was warranted to say of the ungodly that they die as the beasts. His subject does not lead him to speak of the world to come. He is reasoning with the children of this world, who have no respect to another, and no idea of a farther happiness than that which they enjoy here. He accordingly ridicules their folly in conceiving of themselves as privileged with exemption from the ordinary lot of humanity, and warns them that death will soon be near to humble their presumptuous thoughts, and put them on a level with the meanest of the lower creatures. This I prefer to the more ingenious interpretation which some would put upon the words, that they reduced themselves to the level of beasts by not recognising the true dignity of their nature, which consists in the possession of a never-dying soul. The Psalmist's great aim is to show the vanity of the boasting of the wicked, from the nearness of death, which must join them in one common fate with the beasts of the field. The last word in the verse gives the reason why the ungodly may be compared to the beasts -- they perish. It matters little whether or not we consider the relative rsa, asher, as understood, and read, that perish.

1 "C'est, ils ne pensent a autre chose si non comment ils pourront faire durer leurs maisons." -- Fr. marg. "That is, they think of nothing else but how they shall be able to make their houses continue for ever."

2 The reading of the Septuagint is, "Kai< oiJ ta>foi aujtw~n ojiki>ai aujtw~n eijv to<n aijw~na." "And their sepulchres are their houses for ever." The Vulgate, Syriac, and Chaldee, also read "sepulchres." Kennicott supposes that the authors of these versions must have read Mrbq, kaberam, their graves, instead of Mbrq, kirbam, their inward part. The text as it stands admits of a good sense. Some eminent critics, however, are disposed to think that the reading of the ancient versions is the true one.

3 Some also read the verse thus, "Their grave is their house for ever, their dwelling-place through all generations, though their names are celebrated over countries."


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