|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
49:1-5 We seldom meet with a more solemn introduction: there is no truth of greater importance. Let all hear this with application to ourselves. The poor are in danger from undue desire toward the wealth of the world, as rich people from undue delight in it. The psalmist begins with applying it to himself, and that is the right method in which to treat of Divine things. Before he sets down the folly of carnal security, he lays down, from his own experience, the benefit and comfort of a holy, gracious security, which they enjoy who trust in God, and not in their worldly wealth. In the day of judgment, the iniquity of our heels, or of our steps, our past sins, will compass us. In those days, worldly, wicked people will be afraid; but wherefore should a man fear death who has God with him?
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).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil,.... This is the principal thing that all are before called to hearken to. This is the wisdom and understanding the psalmist had been meditating upon, and was about to utter; this is the parable he inclined his ear to, and the dark saying he would open; namely, that a saint has nothing to fear in the worst of times; which is a riddle to a natural man. Aben Ezra interprets "the days of evil" of the days of old age, as they are called, Ecclesiastes 12:1, which bring on diseases, weakness, and death; in which a good man has no reason to fear; as that he should want the necessaries of life, since they that fear the Lord shall want no good thing; or that he should not hold out to the end, seeing God, who is the guide of youth, is the staff of old age, and carries to hoary hairs, and will never leave nor forsake; and though the wicked man in old age has reason to be afraid of death and eternity at hand, the saint has not; but may sing, on the borders of the grave, "O death! where is thy sting?" &c. 1 Corinthians 15:55. Also days in which iniquity abounds, and error and heresy prevail, are days of evil; and though the good man may fear he shall be led aside by the ill example of some, or by the craft of others; yet he need not, since the foundation of God stands sure, and he knows them that are his, and will take care of them and preserve them. Moreover, times of affliction and persecution are evil days; see Ephesians 5:16; and such will be the hour of temptation, that shall try the inhabitants of the earth, Revelation 3:10. Yet the righteous man need not fear, since it is always well with him, let his case and circumstances be what they will. Yea, the day of death, and the day of judgment are days of evil to wicked men; and therefore they put them away far from them, Amos 6:3; but believers have reason to rejoice at them, the day of their death being better than the day of their birth; and the day of judgment will be the time of the glorious appearing of Christ to them. It is added,
when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about; that is, the sins of life and conversation; "heels" denote "steps", and the word is sometimes so rendered, as in Psalm 56:6; and "iniquity" intends sin committed in walking; and so designs not original sin, as some have thought, but actual sins and transgressions: and these may be said to "compass the saints about", when they are chastised for them, and so are brought to a sense and acknowledgment of them, and to be humbled for them; and then they have nothing to fear in a slavish way, since these chastisements are not in wrath, or in a way of vindictive justice, or punishment for sin; but the fruits of love and favour. Or the sense may be, when death, the fruit of iniquity, the wages of sin, surrounds and seizes upon me; "in my end", as the Targum; in my last days, at the heel or close of them, I will not fear; the saint has no reason to fear, when he walks through death's dark valley; for death is abolished as a penal evil, its sting is took away, and its curse removed. Some render the words, "when the iniquity of my supplanters shall compass me about" (o); meaning his enemies, who either lay in wait for him privately, and endeavoured to supplant him; or that pursued him closely, and pressed upon his heels, just ready to destroy him; yet even then he signifies he should not fear: and then the sense is the same with Psalm 27:1; to which agree the Syriac and Arabic versions, which render it, "the iniquity of mine enemies"; or, "when my enemies surround me": and it may be literally rendered, when "iniquity surrounds me at my heels" (p); that is, when men, who are iniquity itself, encompass me, are at my heels, ready to seize me, I will not fear.
(o) "iniquitas supplantatorum meorum", Gejerus; "insidiatorum meorum", some in Vatablus. (p) "Iniquitas oppressorum", i.e. "iniquissimi mei oppressores ambiunt me", Gejerus.
The Treasury of David
5 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)
9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 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.
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
"Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?" The man of God looks calmly forward to dark times when those evils which have dogged his heels shall gain a temporary advantage over him. Iniquitous men, here called in the abstract iniquity, lie in wait for the righteous, as serpents that aim at the heels of travellers the iniquity of our heels is that evil which aims to trip us up or impede us. It was an old prophecy that the serpent should wound the heel of the woman's seed, and the enemy of our souls is diligent to fulfil that premonition. In some dreary part of our road it may be that evil will wax stronger and bolder, and gaining upon us will openly assail us; those who followed at our heels like a pack of wolves, may perhaps overtake us, and compass us about. What then? Shall we yield to cowardice? Shall we be a prey to their teeth? God forbid. Nay, we will not even fear, for what are these foes? What indeed, but mortal men who shall perish and pass away? There can be no real ground of alarm to the faithful. Their enemies are too insignificant to be worthy of one thrill of fear. Doth not the Lord say to us, "I, even I, am he that comforteth thee: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?"
Scholars have given other renderings of this verse, but we prefer to keep to the authorised version when we can, and in this case we find in it precisely the same meaning which those would give to it who translate "my heels," by the words, "my supplanters."
What if the good man's foes be among the great ones of the earth! yet he need not fear them. "They that trust in their wealth." Poor fools, to be content with such a rotten confidence. When we set our rock in contrast with theirs, it would be folly to be afraid of them. Even though they are loud in their brags, we can afford to smile. What if they glory "and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches"? yet while we glory in our God we are not dismayed by their proud threatenings. Great strength, position, and estate, make wicked men very lofty in their own esteem, and tyrannical towards others; but the heir of heaven is not overawed by their dignity, nor cowed by their haughtiness. He sees the small value of riches, and the helplessness of their owners in the hour of death, and therefore he is not so mean as to be afraid of an ephemera, a moth, a bubble.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. iniquity—or, "calamity" (Ps 40:12).
of my heels—literally "my supplanters" (Ge 27:36), or oppressors: "I am surrounded by the evils they inflict."
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