Both low and high, rich and poor, together.
Verse 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.
My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.
Verse 3. - My mouth shall speak of wisdom (comp. Job 33:3, 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" (ver. 4). And the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding; or, of discernment (Kay).
I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
Verse 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).
Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
Verses 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 (ver. 5); on the other are the wicked, "trusting in their wealth, and boasting themselves in the multitude of their riches" (ver. 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" (ver. 11); and both parties equally short-lived, soon swept away from earth (vers. 10, 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 (vers. 14, 17); and the other that "God will redeem the righteous from the power of the grave, and will receive them" (ver. 15). Verse 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. Psalm 17:10-12).
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
Verse 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.
None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
Verse 7. - None of them can by any means redeem his brother. The text is suspected. If we read אַך for 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 (Psalm 35:14; Psalm 50:20).
(For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
Verse 8. - For the redemption of their soul is precious; or, costly - too costly, i.e., for them, however rich they may be, to be able to effect it (comp. Job 36:18, 19). And it ceaseth for ever; rather, and one must let that aloes for ever (Cheyne, Kay, Hengstenberg, Revised Version).
That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
Verse 9. - That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. This verse is to be closely connected with ver. 7, ver. 8 being parenthetical It describes the effect which the payment of a ransom by the rich, were it possible, might be expected to have.
For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
Verse 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 (ver. 6); all leave their wealth to others.
Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
Verse 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, 4, 6, 22, 23, 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 (Genesis 4:17; Genesis 11:31; Exodus 1:11; 'Records of the Past,' vol. 1. p. 14; vol. 3. pp. 45, 92, 112; vol. 7. pp. 32, 39, etc.).
Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
Verse 12. - Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not. Against these" inward thoughts" and outward actions, the psalmist simply maintains the ground already taken (ver. 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.
This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
Verse 13. - This their way is their folly; or, their vain conceit (Kay). By "their way" must be understood the course of conduct described in vers. 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.
Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
Verse 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).
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
Verse 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 (ver. 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."
Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
Verses 16-20. - The conclusion "repeats and confirms the general lessons of the psalm." Ver. 16 is a categorical answer to the doubt propounded in ver. 5. Vers. 17-19 are an echo of ver. 14, and at the same time a counterpoise to the views put forth in vers. 6, 11. Ver. 20 is a repetition, but with an important modification, of ver. 12. Verse 16. - Be not thou afraid when one is made rich (see vers. 5, 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 (vers. 7-9). They cannot take it with them to another world (ver. 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 (vers. 14, 19). When the glory of his house is increased (see ver. 11).
For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
Verse 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 (see the author's 'Herodotus,' vol. 3. pp. 59-62, end notes 9, 1, 2). 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 (ver. 14), and with no hope of returning to the "light" (ver. 19).
Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.
Verse 18. - Though while he lived he blessed his soul (comp. Psalm 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.
He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.
Verse 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 (ver. 10), to join the "generations of his fathers," to go where they have gone before him. And, once in Sheol (ver. 14), they shall never see light. God will redeem the soul of the righteous from the power of Sheol (ver. 15); but the rich ungodly man, and those to whom he goes - men of his sort - shall for evermore not see light.
Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
Verse 20. - Man that is in honour, and under. standeth not, is like the beasts that perish. In ver. 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 ver. 15.