Psalm 49
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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 Psalm 37. David, in Psalm 49. the sons of Korah, and in Psalm 73. Asaph, teach the same truth" (Fausset, p. 258). 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 (ver. 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" (ver. 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 (vers. 7, 8, 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 (ver. 10).

3. The departed one must see corruption (ver. 10).

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


1. They trust in riches (ver. 6; Mark 10:24).

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

3. They shut their eyes to their precarious holding of their wealth (ver. 11).

4. They even cherish "inward thoughts" of perpetuity (ver. 11).

5. They make special efforts to perpetuate their honour (vers. 11, 12).

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


1. Like the brutes, they will yet be reduced to silence (ver. 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 (vers. 14, 17, 19, 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, 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.

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" (ver. 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. (Ver. 14.) "The upright." This is the word often used to express the character of the people of God, in distinction from the ungodly (Psalm 33:1; Psalm 32:11; Psalm 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 15). "He shall receive me." The same word is used of Enoch, "He was not, for God took him;" and by Asaph, in Psalm 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. (Ver. 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.

I. THE PREACHER, (Vers. 3, 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. (Vers. 1, 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 (ver. 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. (Ver. 7.)

2. The transitoriness of all earthly possessions. (Vers. 10-12.)

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

4. The miserable end of the ungodly rich, as contrasted with the happy end of the righteous. (Vers. 15-20.) Hear, then, the conclusion of the whole matter. "Be not afraid (vers. 5, 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.

Connected with Psalm 16., 17., 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. (Vers. 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. (Vers. 16-18.) Both are only transient possessions, which soon pass away.

3. There is no deliverance for them from the grave. (Vers. 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. (Vers. 5, 6, 16.)

2. They shall ultimately obtain dominion over the wicked. (Ver. 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. (Ver. 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. (Vers. 1-4.) High and low, rich and poor. - S.

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.

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