Psalm 49:14
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.
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(14) Like sheep they are laid in the grave.—Rather, like a flock for sheol they are arranged; death is their shepherd. While planning for a long life, and mapping out their estates as if for a permanent possession, they are but a flock of sheep, entirely at the disposal and under the direction of another, and this shepherd is death. Comp. Keble’s paraphrase.

“Even as a flock arrayed are they

For the dark grave; Death guides their way,

Death is their shepherd now.”

The rendering, “feed on them,” is an error. The rest of the verse as it stands is quite unintelligible. Among the many conjectured emendations, the best is (Burgess) to point the verb as the future of yārad, and render, “and the upright shall go down to the grave amongst them (i.e., amongst the ungodly) until the morning” (for the last words compare Deuteronomy 16:4), when in contrast to the wicked they shall see light (Psalm 49:20).

Adopting this emendation, a new force is lent to the next two clauses, which have puzzled modern commentators, as they did the ancient translators (LXX., “their help shall grow old in hell from their glory.”) By a slight change of points and accents, and taking mizbul as a derivative noun equivalent to zebul (so also Grätz), we get, “Their beauty (is) for corruption; sheol (is) its dwelling,” i.e., all, wise and unwise, good and bad, must descend to the under world (Psalm 49:11), so that the upright accompany the wicked thither, and it becomes the dwelling-place of their beauty, i.e., their bodies.



Psalm 49:14
. - Revelation 7:17.

These two verses have a much closer parallelism in expression than appears in our Authorised Version. If you turn to the Revised Version you will find that it rightly renders the former of my texts, ‘Death shall be their shepherd,’ and the latter, ‘The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd.’ The Old Testament Psalmist and the New Testament Seer have fallen upon the same image to describe death and the future, but with how different a use! The one paints a grim picture, all sunless and full of shadow; the other dips his pencil in brilliant colours, and suffuses his canvas with a glow as of molten sunlight. The difference between the two is partly due to the progress of revelation and the light cast on life and immortality by Christ through the Gospel. But it is much more due to the fact that the two writers have different classes in view. The one is speaking of men whose portion is in this life, the other of men who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. And it is the characters of the persons concerned, much more than the degree of enlightenment possessed by the writers, that makes the difference between these two pictures. Life and death and the future are what each man makes of them for himself. We shall best deal with these two pictures if we take them separately, and let the gloom of the one enhance the glory of the other. They hang side by side, like a Rembrandt beside a Claude or a Turner, each intensifying by contrast the characteristics of the other. So let us look at the two-first, the grim picture drawn by the Psalmist; second, the sunny one drawn by the Seer. Now, with regard to the former,

I. The grim picture drawn by the Psalmist.

We too often forget that a psalmist is a poet, and misunderstand his spirit by treating his words as matter-of-fact prose. His imagination is at work, and our sympathetic imagination must be at work too, if we would enter into his meaning. Death a shepherd-what a grim and bold inversion of a familiar metaphor! If this psalm is, as is probable, of a comparatively late date, then its author was familiar with many sweet and tender strains of early singers, in which the blessed relation between a loving God and an obedient people was set forth under that metaphor. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ may have been ringing in his ears when he said, ‘Death is their shepherd.’ He lays hold of the familiar metaphor, and if I may so speak, turns it upside down, stripping it of all that is beautiful, tender, and gracious, and draping it in all that is harsh and terrible. And the very contrast between the sweet relation which it was originally used to express, and the opposite kind of one which he uses it to set forth, gives its tremendous force to the daring metaphor.

‘Death is their shepherd.’ Yes, but what manner of shepherd? Not one that gently leads his flock, but one that stalks behind the huddled sheep, and drives them fiercely, club in hand, on a path on which they would not willingly go. The unwelcome necessity, by which men that have their portion in this world are hounded and herded out of all their sunny pastures and abundant feeding, is the thought that underlies the image. It is accentuated, if we notice that in the former clause, ‘like sheep they are laid in the grave,’ the word rendered in the Authorised Version ‘laid,’ and in the Revised Version ‘appointed,’ is perhaps more properly read by many, ‘like sheep they are thrust down.’ There you have the picture-the shepherd stalking behind the helpless creatures, and coercing them on an unwelcome path.

Now that is the first thought that I suggest, that to one type of man, Death is an unwelcome necessity. It is, indeed, a necessity to us all, but necessities accepted cease to be painful; and necessities resisted-what do they become? Here is a man being swept down a river, the sound of the falls is in his ears, and he grasps at anything on the bank to hold by, but in vain. That is how some of us feel when we face the thought, and will feel more when we front the reality, of that awful ‘must.’ ‘Death shall be their shepherd,’ and coerce them into darkness. Ask yourself the question, Is the course of my life such as that the end of it cannot but be a grim necessity which I would do anything to avoid?

This first text suggests not only a shepherd but a fold: ‘Like sheep they are thrust down to the grave.’ Now I am not going to enter upon what would be quite out of place here: a critical discussion of the Old Testament conception of a future life. That conception varies, and is not the same in all parts of the book. But I may, just in a word, say that ‘the grave’ is by no means the adequate rendering of the thought of the Psalmist, and that ‘Hell’ is a still more inadequate rendering of it. He does not mean either the place where the body is deposited, or a place where there is punitive retribution for the wicked, but he means a dim region, or, if I might so say, a localised condition, in which all that have passed through this life are gathered, where personality and consciousness continue, but where life is faint, stripped of all that characterises it here, shadowy, unsubstantial, and where there is inactivity, absolute cessation of all the occupations to which men were accustomed. But there may be restlessness along with inactivity; may there not? And there is no such restlessness as the restlessness of compulsory idleness. That is the main idea that is in the Psalmist’s mind. He knows little about retribution, he knows still less about transmutation into a glorious likeness to that which is most glorious and divine. But he conceives a great, dim, lonely land, wherein are prisoned and penned all the lives that have been foamed away vainly on earth, and are now settled into a dreary monotony and a restless idleness. As one of the other books of the Old Testament puts it, it is a ‘land of the shadow of death, without order, and in which the light is as darkness.’

I know, of course, that all that is but the imperfect presentation of partially apprehended, and partially revealed, and partially revealable truth. But what I desire to fix upon is that one dreary thought of this fold, into which the grim shepherd has driven his flock, and where they lie cribbed and huddled together in utter inactivity. Carry that with you as a true, though incomplete thought.

Let me remind you, in the next place, with regard to this part of my subject, of the kind of men whom the grim shepherd drives into that grim fold. The psalm tells us that plainly enough. It is speaking of men who have their portion in this life, who ‘trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches . . . whose inward thought is that their house shall continue for ever . . . who call their lands after their own names.’ Of every such man it says: ‘when he dieth he shall carry nothing away’-none of the possessions, none of the forms of activity which were familiar to him here on earth. He will go into a state where he finds nothing which interests him, and nothing for him to do.

Must it not be so? If we let ourselves be absorbed and entangled by the affairs of this life, and permit our whole spirits to be bent in the direction of these transient things, what is to become of us when the things that must pass have passed, and when we come into a region where there are none of them to occupy us any more? What would some Manchester men do if they were in a condition of life where they could not go on ‘Change on Tuesdays and Fridays? What would some of us do if the professions and forms of mental activity in which we have been occupied as students and scholars were swept away? ‘Whether there be knowledge it shall cease; whether there be tongues they shall vanish away,’ and what are you going to do then, you men that have only lived for intellectual pursuits connected with this transient state? We are going to a world where there are no books, no pens nor ink, no trade, no dress, no fashion, no amusements; where there is nothing but things in which some of us have no interest, and a God who ‘is not in all our thoughts.’ Surely we shall be ‘fish out of water’ there. Surely we shall feel that we have been banned and banished from everything that we care about. Surely men that boasted themselves in their riches, and in the multitude of their wealth, will be necessarily condemned to inactivity. Life is continuous, and all on one plane. Surely if a man knows that he must some day, and may any day, be summoned to the other side of the world, he would be a wise man if he got his outfit ready, and made some effort to acquire the customs and the arts of the land to which he was going. Surely life here is mainly given to us that we may develop powers which will find their field of exercise yonder, and acquire characters which shall be in conformity with the conditions of that future life. Surely there can be no more tragic folly than the folly of letting myself be so absorbed and entangled by this present world, as that when the transient has passed, I shall feel homeless and desolate, and have nothing that I can do or care about amidst the activities of Eternity. Dear friend, should you feel homeless if you were taken, as you will be taken, into that world?

Turn now to

II. The sunny landscape drawn by the Seer.

Note the contrast presented by the shepherds. ‘Death shall be their shepherd.’ ‘The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd.’ I need not occupy your time in trying to show, what has sometimes been doubted, that the radiant picture of the Apocalyptic Seer is dealing with nothing in the present, but with the future condition of certain men. I would just remind you that the words in which it is couched are to a large extent a quotation from ancient prophecy, a description of the divine watchfulness over the pilgrim’s return from captivity to the Land of Promise. But the quotation is wonderfully elevated and spiritualised in the New Testament vision; for instead of reading, as the Original does: ‘He that hath mercy on them shall lead them,’ we have here, ‘the Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall be their Shepherd,’ and instead of their being led merely to ‘the springs of water,’ here we read that He ‘leads them to the fountains of the water of life.’

We have to think, first, of that most striking, most significant and profound modification of the Old Testament words, which presents the Lamb as ‘the Shepherd.’ All Christ’s shepherding on earth and in heaven depends, as do all our hopes for heaven and earth, upon the fact of His sacrificial death. It is only because He is the ‘Lamb that was slain’ that He is either the ‘Lamb in the midst of the Throne,’ or the Shepherd of the flock. And we must make acquaintance with Him first in the character of ‘the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,’ before we can either follow in His footsteps as our Guide, or be compassed by His protection as our Shepherd.

He is the Lamb, and He is the Shepherd-that suggests not only that the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ is the basis of all His work for us on earth and in heaven, but the very incongruity of making One, who bears the same nature as the flock to be the Shepherd of the flock, is part of the beauty of the metaphor. It is His humanity that is our guide. It is His continual manhood, all through eternity and its glories, that makes Him the Shepherd of perfected souls. They follow Him because He is one of themselves, and He could not be the Shepherd unless he were the Lamb.

But then this Shepherd is not only gracious, sympathetic, kin to us by participation in a common nature, and fit to be our Guide because He has been our Sacrifice and the propitiation of our sins, but He is the Lamb ‘in the midst of the throne,’ wielding therefore all divine power, and standing-not as the rendering in our Bible leads an English reader to suppose, on the throne, but-in the middle point between it and the ring of worshippers, and so the Communicator to the outer circumference of all the blessings that dwell in the divine centre. He shall be their Shepherd, not coercing, not driving by violence, but leading to the fountains of the waters of life, gently and graciously. It is not compulsory energy which He exercises upon us, either on earth or in heaven, but it is the drawing of a divine attraction, sweet to put forth and sweet to yield to.

There is still another contrast. Death huddled and herded his reluctant sheep into a fold where they lay inactive but struggling and restless. Christ leads His flock into a pasture. He shall guide them ‘to the fountains of waters of life.’ I need not dwell at any length on the blessed particulars of that future, set forth here and in the context. But let me suggest them briefly. There is joyous activity. There is constant progression. He goeth before; they follow. The perfection of heaven begins at entrance into it, but it is a perfection which can be perfected, and is being perfected, through the ages of Eternity, and the picture of the Shepherd in front and the flock behind, is the true conception of all the progress of that future life. ‘They shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth’-a sweet guidance, a glad following, a progressive conformity! ‘In the long years liker must they grow.’

Further, there is the communication of life more and more abundantly. Therefore there is the satisfaction of all desire, so that ‘they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.’ The pain of desire ceases because desire is no sooner felt than it is satisfied, the joy of desire continues, because its satisfaction enables us to desire more, and so, appetite and eating, desire and fruition, alternate in ceaseless reciprocity. To us, being every moment capable of more, more will be given; and ‘to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.’

There is one point more in regard to that pasture into which the Lamb leads the happy flock, and that is, the cessation of all pains and sorrows. Not only shall they ‘hunger no more, neither thirst any more’; but ‘the sun shall not smite them, nor any heat, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ Here the Shepherd carried rod and staff, and sometimes had to strike the wandering sheep hard: there these are needed no more. Here He had sometimes to move them out of green pastures, and away from still waters, into valleys of the shadow of death; but ‘there,’ as one of the prophets has it: ‘they shall lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed.’

But now, we must note, finally, the other kind of men whom this other Shepherd leads into His pastures, ‘They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ Aye! that is it. That is why He can lead them where He does lead them. Strange alchemy which out of two crimsons, the crimson of our sins and the crimson of His blood, makes one white! But it is so, and the only way by which we can ever be cleansed, either with the initial cleansing of forgiveness, or with the daily cleansing of continual purifying and approximation to the divine holiness, is by our bringing the foul garment of our stained personality and character into contact with the blood which, ‘shed for many,’ takes away their sins, and infused into their veins, cleanses them from all sin.

You have yourselves to bring about that contact. ‘They have washed their robes.’ And how did they do it? By faith in the Sacrifice first, by following the Example next. For it is not merely a forgiveness for the past, but a perfecting, progressive and gradual, for the future, that lies in that thought of washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Dear brethren, life here and life hereafter are continuous. They are homogeneous, on one plane though an ascending one. The differences there are great-I was going to say, and it would be true, that the resemblances are greater. As we have been, we shall be. If we take Christ for our Shepherd here, and follow Him, though from afar and with faltering steps, amidst all the struggles and windings and rough ways of life, then and only then, will He be our Shepherd, to go with us through the darkness of death, to make it no reluctant expulsion from a place in which we would fain continue to be, but a tranquil and willing following of Him by the road which He has consecrated for ever, and deprived for ever of its solitude, because Himself has trod it.

Those two possibilities are before each of us. Either of them may be yours. One of them must be. Look on this picture and on this; and choose-God help you to choose aright-which of the two will describe your experience. Will you have Christ for your Shepherd, or will you have Death for your shepherd? The answer to that question lies in the answer to the other-have you washed your robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; and are you following Him? You can settle the question which lot is to be yours, and only you can settle it. See that you settle it aright, and that you settle it soon.


Psalm 49:14. Like sheep — Which for a season are fed in large and sweet pastures, but at the owner’s pleasure are led away to the slaughter, not knowing, nor considering whither they are going; they are laid in the grave — As to their bodies, or placed in the invisible world, (as the word שׁאול, sheol, also signifies,) with respect to their souls. Death shall feed on them — The first death shall consume their bodies in the grave, and the second death shall devour their souls. And the upright — Good men, whom here they oppressed and abused at their pleasure; shall have dominion over them in the morning — In the day of general judgment and the resurrection of the dead. For death being called sleep and the night, (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14; John 9:4,) that time is fitly termed the morning when men awake out of sleep, and enter upon an everlasting day. Dr. Horne’s note here is just and striking: “The high and mighty ones of the earth, who cause people to fear, and nations to tremble around them, must one day crowd the grave, in multitude and impotence, though not in innocence, resembling sheep, driven and confined by the butcher in his house of slaughter. There death, that ravening wolf, shall feed sweetly on them, and devour his long expected prey in silence and darkness, until the glorious morning of the resurrection dawn, when the once oppressed and afflicted righteous, risen from the dead, and sitting with their Lord in judgment, shall have the dominion over their cruel and insulting enemies; whose faded beauty, withered strength, and departed glory shall display to men and angels the vanity of that confidence which is not placed in God.”

49:6-14 Here is a description of the spirit and way of worldly people. A man may have wealth, and may have his heart enlarged in love, thankfulness, and obedience, and may do good with it. Therefore it is not men's having riches that proves them to be worldly, but their setting their hearts upon them as the best things. Worldly men have only some floating thoughts of the things of God, while their fixed thoughts, their inward thoughts, are about the world; that lies nearest the heart. But with all their wealth they cannot save the life of the dearest friend they have. This looks further, to the eternal redemption to be wrought out by the Messiah. The redemption of the soul shall cost very dear; but, being once wrought, it shall never need to be repeated. And he, the Redeemer, shall rise again before he sees corruption, and then shall live for evermore, Re 1:18. This likewise shows the folly of worldly people, who sell their souls for that which will never buy them. With all their wealth they cannot secure themselves from the stroke of death. Yet one generation after another applaud their maxims; and the character of a fool, as drawn by heavenly Wisdom itself, Lu 12:16-21, continues to be followed even among professed Christians. Death will ask the proud sinner, Where is thy wealth, thy pomp? And in the morning of the resurrection, when all that sleep in the dust shall awake, the upright shall be advanced to the highest honour, when the wicked shall be filled with everlasting shame and contempt, Da 12:2. Let us now judge of things as they will appear in that day. The beauty of holiness is that alone which the grave cannot touch, or damage.Like sheep they are laid in the grave - The allusion here is to a flock as "driven" forward by the shepherd; and the meaning is that they are driven forward to the grave, as it were, in flocks, or as a flock of sheep is driven by a shepherd. The word rendered "are laid" - שׁתוּ śatû - is probably not derived from the verb שׁות śûth, or שׁית śı̂yth, as our translators seem to have supposed, but from שׁתת śâthath, to set, or place; and the meaning is, "Like sheep they put them in Sheol, or the grave;" that is, they thrust or drive them down there. In other words, this is "done," without intimating by whom it is done. They are urged forward; they are driven toward the tomb as a flock of sheep is driven forward to the slaughter. Some influence or power is pressing them in masses down to the grave. The word rendered "grave" is "Sheol." It is sometimes used in the sense of the grave, and sometimes as referring to the abode of departed spirits. See Job 10:21-22, note; Psalm 6:5, note. It seems here to be used in the former sense.

Death shall feed on them - The word rendered "feed" here - רעה râ‛âh - means properly to feed a flock; to pasture; then, to perform the office of a shepherd. The idea here is not, as in our translation, "death shall feed on them;" but, death shall rule over them as the shepherd rules his flock. The allusion to the "flock" suggested this. They are driven down to the grave, or to Sheol. The shepherd, the ruler, he who does this, is "death;" and the idea is not that death is a hungry monster, devouring them "in" the grave, but that the shepherd over that "flock," instead of being a kind and gentle friend and protector (as the word "shepherd" naturally suggests), is "death" - a fearful and grim Ruler of the departed. The idea, therefore, is not that of "feeding," specifically, but it is that of ruling, controlling, guiding. So the Septuagint, θάνατος ποιμανεῖ αὐτούς thanatos poimanei autous. The Vulgate, however, renders it, "mors depascet eos;" and Luther, "der Tod naget sie;" death gnaws or feeds on them.

And the upright - The just; the righteous. The meaning of this part of the verse undoubtedly is, that the just or pious would have some kind of ascendancy or superiority over them at the period here referred to as the "morning."

Shall have dominion over them - Or rather, as DeWette renders it, shall "triumph" over them. That is, will be exalted over them; or shall have a more favored lot. Though depressed now, and though crushed by the rich, yet they will soon have a more exalted rank, and a higher honor than those who, though once rich, are laid in the grave tinder the dominion of death.

In the morning - That is, very soon; tomorrow; when the morning dawns after the darkness of the present. See the notes at Psalm 30:5. There is a time coming - a brighter time - when the relative condition of the two classes shall be changed, and when the upright - the pious - though poor and oppressed now, shall be exalted to higher honors than "they" will be. There is no certain evidence that this refers to the "morning" of the resurrection; but it is language which well expresses the idea when connected with that doctrine, and which can be best explained on the supposition that that doctrine was referred to, and that the hope of such a resurrection was cherished by the writer. Indeed, when we remember that the psalmist expressly refers to the "grave" in regard to the rich, it is difficult to explain the language on any other supposition than that he refers here to the resurrection - certainly not as well as on this supposition - and especially when it is remembered that death makes no distinction in cutting down people, whether they are righteous or wicked. Both are laid in the grave alike, and "any" prospect of distinction or triumph in the case must be derived from scenes beyond the grave. This verse, therefore, may belong to that class of passages in the Old Testament which are founded on the belief of the resurrection of the dead without always expressly affirming it, and which are best explained on the supposition that the writers of the Old Testament were acquainted with that doctrine, and drew their hopes as well as their illustrations from it. Compare Daniel 12:2; Isaiah 26:19; Psalm 16:9-10.

And their beauty - Margin, "strength." The Hebrew word means "form, shape, image;" and the idea here is, that their form or figure will be changed, or disappear, to wit, by consuming away. The idea of "beauty," or "strength," is not necessarily in the passage, but the meaning is, that the form or figure which was so familiar among people will be dissolved, and disappear in the grave.

Shall consume in the grave - Hebrew, "in Sheol." The word probably means here "the grave." The original word rendered "consume," means literally to make old; to wear out; to waste away. The entire form of the man will disappear.

From their dwelling - Margin, "the grave being a habitation to every one of them." Septuagint, "and their help shall grow old in the grave from their glory." So the Latin Vulgate. The whole expression is obscure. The most probable meaning is, "they shall consume in the grave, "from its being a dwelling to him;"" that is, to each of them. Sheol, or the grave, becomes a dwelling to the rich man, and in that gloomy abode - that which is now his dwelling - he consumes away. It pertains to that dwelling, or it is one of the conditions of residing there, that all consume away and disappear. Others render it, "so that there is no dwelling or habitation for them." Others, and this is the more common interpretation, "their form passes away, the underworld is their habitation." See DeWette in loc. This last rendering requires a slight change in the punctuation of the original. DeWette, Note, p. 339. The "general" idea in the passage is plain, that the possessors of wealth are soon to find their home in the grave, and that their forms, with all on which they valued themselves, are soon to disappear.

14. Like sheep—(compare Ps 49:12) unwittingly, they

are laid—or, "put," &c.

death shall feed on—or, better, "shall rule"

them—as a shepherd (compare "feed," Ps 28:9, Margin).

have dominion over—or, "subdue"

them in the morning—suddenly, or in their turn.

their beauty—literally, "form" or shape.

shall consume—literally, "is for the consumption," that is, of the grave.

from their dwelling—literally, "from their home (they go) to it," that is, the grave.

14 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.

15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for he shall receive me. Selah.

Psalm 49:14

"Like sheep they are laid in the grave." As dumb, driven cattle, they are hurried to their doom, and are penned in within the gates of destruction. As sheep that go whither they are driven, and follow their leader without thought, so these men who have chosen to make this world their all, are urged on by their passions, till they find themselves at their journey's end, that end the depths of Hades. Or if we keep to our own translation, we have the idea of their dying peaceably, and being buried in quiet, only that they may wake up to be ashamed at the last great day. "Death shall feed on them." Death like a grim shepherd leads them on, and conducts them to the place of their eternal pasturage, where all is barrenness and misery. The righteous are led by the Good Shepherd, but the ungodly have death for their shepherd, and he drives them onward to hell. As the power of death rules them in this world, for they have not passed from death unto life, so the terrors of death shall devour them in the world to come. As grim giants, in old stories, are said to feed on men whom they entice to their caves, so death, the monster, feeds on the flesh and blood of the mighty. "The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning." The poor saints were once the tail, but at the day-break they shall be the head. Sinners rule till night-fall; their honours wither in the evening, and in the morning they find their position utterly reversed. The sweetest reflection to the upright is that "the morning" here intended begins an endless, changeless, day. What a vexation of spirit to the proud worldling, when the Judge of all the earth holds his morning session, to see the man whom he despised, exalted high in heaven, while he himself is cast away! "And their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling." Whatever of glory the ungodly had shall disappear in the tomb. Form and comeliness shall vanish from them, the worm shall make sad havoc of all their beauty. Even their last dwelling place, the grave, shall not be able to protect the relics committed to it; their bodies shall dissolve, no trace shall remain of all their strong limbs and lofty heads, no vestige of remaining beauty shall be discoverable. The beauty of the righteous is not yet revealed, it waits its manifestations; but all the beauty the wicked will ever have is in full bloom in this life; it will wither, fade, decay, rot, and utterly pass away. Who, then, would envy or fear the proud sinner?

Psalm 49:15

"But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave." Forth from that temporary resting-place we shall come in due time, quickened by divine energy. Like our risen Head we cannot be holden by the bands of the grave; redemption has emancipated us from the slavery of death. No redemption could man find in riches, but God has found it in the blood of his dear Son. Our Elder Brother has given to God a ransom, and we are the redeemed of the Lord: because of this redemption by price we shall assuredly be redeemed by power out of the hand of the last enemy. "For he shall receive me." He shall take me out of the tomb, take me up to heaven. If it is not said of me as of Enoch, "He was not, for God took him," yet shall I reach the same glorious state. My spirit God will receive, and my body shall sleep in Jesus till, being raised in his image, it shall also be received into glory. How infinitely superior is such a hope to anything which our oppressors can boast! Here is something which will bear meditation, and therefore again let us pause, at the bidding of the musician, who inserts a "Selah."

Like sheep; which for a season are fed in large and sweet pastures, but at the owner’s pleasure are put together in close and comfortless folds, and led away to the slaughter, not knowing nor considering whither they are going.

In the grave; or, in hell; for the Hebrew word signifies both.

Death shall feed on them; the first death shall consume their bodies in the grave, and the second death shall devour their souls.

The upright; good men, whom here they oppressed and abused at their pleasure.

In the morning; either,

1. Suddenly, or within a very little time, as this phrase is oft used, as Psalm 30:5 46:5 101:8 113:8. Or,

2. In the day of general judgment, and the resurrection of the dead. For death being called the night, John 9:4, and sleep in many places, that day is fitly compared to the morning, when men awake out of sleep, and enter upon that everlasting day. But whether this or the former be the true meaning of the phrase, it is sufficiently evident the thing here spoken of is not done in this life, but in the next; for,

1. This proposition and privilege being general, and common to all upright persons, is not verified here, it being the lot of many good men to be oppressed and killed by the wicked, as is manifest both from Scripture, as Psalm 44:22 Ecclesiastes 8:14 9:2, and from the experience of all ages of the church.

2. This dominion of the just over the wicked happens after the wicked are laid in their grave, as is here expressed, and consequently supposeth their future life and resurrection; for when one person rules over another, both are supposed to exist or have a being. Nor is there any argument against this sense, but from a vain and absurd conceit which some men have entertained, that the saints in the Old Testament had no firm belief nor expectation of the recompences of the life to come; which is against evident reason, and against many clear places of the Old Testament that cannot without force be wrested to any other sense, and against the express testimony of the New Testament concerning them, Hebrews 11, and in many other places.

Their beauty; or, their form or, their figure, or image; all which come to one, and seems to intimate that all their glory and felicity had in this life was rather imaginary than real, and indeed but a shadow, as it is called, Ecclesiastes 6:12 8:13.

Shall consume, Heb. is to consume, or to be consumed, i.e. shall be consumed; the infinitive verb being here put for the future, as it is Psalm 32:8 Zechariah 3:4 12:10.

From their dwelling i.e. they shall be hurried from their large, and stately, and pleasant mansions, into a close and dark grave. But those words are by divers interpreters rendered otherwise, and that peradventure more truly and fitly to this purpose, word for word,

the grave (or rather hell, as before and this word sheol is confessedly oft used in the Old Testament, but no where more conveniently than here) shall be a dwelling, or for a dwelling, unto him, or them, or every one of them; which in the prophet’s phrase is called dwelling with everlasting burnings, Isaiah 33:14, and in the phrase of the New Testament, to be cast into and abide in the lake of fire and brimstone, Revelation 20:10.

Like sheep they are laid in the grave,.... They are not in life like sheep, harmless and innocent; nor reckoned as such for the slaughter, as the people of God are; unless it be that they are like them, brutish and stupid, thoughtless of death, and unconcerned about their estate after it; and so die and go into the grave, like natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, 2 Peter 2:12; or rather like sheep that have been grazing in good pasture in the daytime, at night are put into a dark and narrow pinfold or pound; so wicked rich men, having lived in great abundance and plenty in the day of life, when the night of death comes, they are put into the dark and narrow grave. And it is further to be observed, that the comparison is not to sheep prepared for slaughter, and killed for food; for these are not laid in a ditch, to which the grave may answer; but, as Junius observes, to those that die of themselves; to rotten sheep, and who are no other than carrion, and are good for nothing but to be cast into a ditch; so wicked men are laid in the grave; but as to be laid in the grave is common to good and bad after death, rather the words should be rendered, "like sheep they are laid in hell" (c); as the word is in Psalm 9:17; a place of utter darkness and misery, where the wicked rich man was put when he died, Luke 16:19;

death shall feed on them: or "rule them" (d); as shepherds rule their flocks, in imitation of whom kings govern their subjects; the same word is used of both; and so death is represented as a king, or rather as a tyrant reigning over the sons of men; even over kings and princes, and the great men of the earth, who have reigned over others; see Romans 5:14; or "shall feed them" (e), as the shepherd feeds the sheep; not by leading them into green pastures, into the Elysian fields; but where a drop of water cannot be obtained to cool the tongue; into utter darkness, where are weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; into the apartments of hell, and habitations of devils, to be guests with them, and live as they do: or "shall feed on them"; as the wolf on the sheep, devouring their strength, and consuming their bodies, Job 18:13; but as this is no other than what it does to everyone, rather the second, or an eternal death, is here meant; the wrath of God, the worm that is always gnawing, eating, and consuming, and never dies;

and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; the upright are such to whom the uprightness or righteousness of Christ is shown or imputed, and who have right spirits renewed, and principles of grace and holiness formed in them, and walk uprightly in their lives and conversations; these, in the morning of the resurrection day, when Christ the sun of righteousness shall arise, when the light of joy and gladness, shall break forth upon his coming, at the beginning of the day of the Lord, which will last a thousand years; they, the dead in Christ, rising first, shall, during that time, reign with him as kings and priests; when the wicked, being destroyed in the general conflagration, shall become the footstool of Christ, and be like ashes under the soles of the feet of his people; and the kingdom, the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the saints; see 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Daniel 7:27; and though this is a branch of the happiness and glory of the people of God, yet it is here mentioned as an aggravation of the misery of the wicked, who, in another state, will be subject to those they have tyrannized over here;

and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling; or "their form" (f) and figure; diseases often destroy the beauty of a man, death changes his countenance, and makes a greater alteration still; but the grave takes away the very form and figure of the man; or, as it is in the "Keri", or margin of the Hebrew text, "and their rock shall consume" (g); that is, their riches, which are their rock, fortress, and strong city, and in which they place their trust and confidence; these shall fail them when they come to the grave, which is "their dwelling", and is the house appointed for all living: and seeming it is so, rather this should be understood of "hell" (h), which will be the everlasting mansion of wicked men, and in which they will be punished in soul and body for ever; though rather the sense is, "when their rock", that is, Christ, shall come "to consume the grave", and destroy its power; when he, I say, shall come "out of his habitation", heaven, then shall the righteous have the dominion, 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

(c) "in inferno", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Gejerus, Michaelis; so Ainsworth. (d) "reget eos", Vatablus. (e) "Pascet eos", Musculus, Tigurine version, Gejerus, Cocceius. (f) "figura eorum", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus; "forma eorum", Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (g) "auxilium eorum", Sept. V. L. Eth. Ar. "robur illorum", Musculus; "petra illorum", Cocceius. (h) "infernus", Musculus, Junius & Tremellius, Gejerus, Michaelis; so Ainsworth.

{k} Like sheep they are laid in the grave; {l} death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the {m} morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

(k) As sheep are gathered into the fold, so shall they be brought to the grave.

(l) Because they have no part of life everlasting.

(m) Christ's coming is as the morning, when the elect will reign with Christ their head over the wicked.

14. Like sheep are they put into Sheol;

Death shepherdeth them;

And the upright have dominion over them in the morning,

And their form shall Sheol consume, that it have no more habitation.

What becomes of the wicked? They are driven down to Sheol like a flock of sheep, mere animals that they are (Psalm 49:12); there Death is their shepherd: the king of terrors rules them at his will. They perish in the night, and in the morning the righteous awake, triumphant over their fallen oppressors. The night of trouble is over; the morning of deliverance has dawned (Psalm 30:5). But what is meant by ‘the morning’? Not, as yet, the resurrection morning; but the morning of the day which Jehovah is making, in which “all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be as stubble … and ye shall tread down the wicked, for they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I do make, saith the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:3): a day in the history of the world corresponding to the day when the restored Israel “shall rule over their oppressors” (Isaiah 14:2). Comp. Psalm 104:35, and Psalms 37.

The precise meaning of the last line is doubtful and the text possibly corrupt. Their form, or perhaps, their beauty, is delivered up to Sheol to consume: a poetical way of expressing that their bodies moulder in the grave: all that made such a brave show upon earth has no more existence, no longer needs any abode. Possibly we should make a slight change in the text, and render, Their form shall be consumed, Sheol shall be their habitation. Cp. A.V. marg.

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). Psalm 49:14(Heb.: 49:14-21) Second part of the discourse, of equal compass with the first. Those who are thought to be immortal are laid low in Hades; whilst, on the other hand, those who cleave to God can hope to be redeemed by Him out of Hades. Olshausen complains on this passage that the expression is abrupt, rugged, and in part altogether obscure. The fault, however, lies not, as he thinks, in a serious corruption of the text, but in the style, designedly adopted, of Psalms like this of a gloomy turn. זה דרכּם refers back to Psalm 49:13, which is the proper mashal of the Psalm: this is their way or walk (דּרך as in Psalm 37:5, cf. Haggai 1:5). Close upon this follows כּסל למו (their way), of those (cf. Psalm 69:4) who possess self-confidence; כּסל signifies confidence both in a good and bad sense, self-confidence, impudence, and even (Ecclesiastes 7:25) in general, folly. The attributive clause is continued in Psalm 49:14: and of those who after them (i.e., when they have spoken, as Hitzig takes it), or in a more universal sense: after or behind them (i.e., treading in their footsteps), have pleasure in their mouth, i.e., their haughty, insolent, rash words (cf. Judges 9:38). If the meaning were "and after them go those who," etc., then one would expect to find a verb in connection with אחריהם (cf. Job 21:33). As a collateral definition, "after them equals after their death," it would, however, without any reason, exclude the idea of the assent given by their contemporaries. It is therefore to be explained according to Job 29:22, or more universally according to Deuteronomy 12:30. It may seem remarkable that the music here strikes in forte; but music can on its part, in mournfully shrill tones, also bewail the folly of the world.

Psalm 49:14, so full of eschatological meaning, now describes what becomes of the departed. The subject of שׁתּוּ (as in Psalm 73:9, where it is Milra, for שׁתוּ) is not, as perhaps in the case of ἀπαιτοῦσιν, Luke 12:20, higher powers that are not named; but שׁוּת (here שׁתת), as in Psalm 3:7, Hosea 6:11; Isaiah 22:7, is used in a semi-passive sense: like a herd of sheep they lay themselves down or they are made to lie down לשׁאול (thus it is pointed by Ben-Asher; whereas Ben-Naphtali points לשׁאול, with a silent Sheb), to Hades equals down into Hades (cf. Psalm 88:7), so that they are shut up in it like sheep in their fold. And who is the shepherd there who rules these sheep with his rod? מות ירעם. Not the good Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), whose pasture is the land of the living, but Death, into whose power they have fallen irrecoverably, shall pasture them. Death is personified, as in Job 18:14, as the king of terrors. The modus consecutivus, ויּרדּוּ, now expresses the fact that will be realized in the future, which is the reverse side of that other fact. After the night of affliction has swiftly passed away, there breaks forth, for the upright, a morning; and in this morning they find themselves to be lords over these their oppressors, like conquerors, who put their feet upon the necks of the vanquished (the lxx well renders it by κατακυριεύσουσιν). Thus shall it be with the upright, whilst the rich at their feet beneath, in the ground, are utterly destroyed. לבּקר has Rebia magnum, ישׁרים has Asla-Legarme; accordingly the former word does not belong to what follows (in the morning, then vanishes...), but to what precedes. צוּר or ציר (as in Isaiah 45:16) signifies a form or image, just as צוּרה (Arab. tsûrat) is generally used; properly, that which is pressed in or pressed out, i.e., primarily something moulded or fashioned by the pressure of the hand (as in the case of the potter, יצר) or by means of some instrument that impresses and cuts the material. Here the word is used to denote materiality or corporeity, including the whole outward appearance (φαντασία, Acts 25:23). The לו which refers to this, shows that וצוּרם is not a contraction of וצוּרתם (vid., on Psalm 27:5). Their materiality, their whole outward form belonging to this present state of being, becomes (falls away) לבלּות שׁאול. The Lamed is used in the same way as in היה לבער, Isaiah 6:13; and שׁאול is subject, like, e.g., the noun that follows the infinitive in Psalm 68:19; Job 34:22. The same idea is obtained if it is rendered: and their form Hades is ready to consume (consumturus est); but the order of the words, though not making this rendering impossible (cf. Psalm 32:9, so far as עדיו there means "its cheek"), is, however, less favourable to it (cf. Proverbs 19:8; Esther 3:11). בּלּה was the most appropriate word for the slow, but sure and entire, consuming away (Job 13:28) of the dead body which is gnawed or destroyed in the grave, this gate of the lower world. To this is added מזּבל לו as a negative definition of the effect: so that there no longer remains to it, i.e., to the pompous external nature of the ungodly, any dwelling-place, and in general any place whatever; for whatever they had in and about themselves is destroyed, so that they wander to and fro as bare shadows in the dreary waste of Hades. To them, who thought to have built houses for eternity and called great districts of country after their own names, there remains no longer any זבל of this corporeal nature, inasmuch as Hades gradually and surely destroys it; it is for ever freed from its solid and dazzling shell, it wastes away lonesome in the grave, it perishes leaving no trace behind. Hupfeld's interpretation is substantially the same, and that of Jerome even is similar: et figura eorum conteretur in infero post habitaculum suum; and Symmachus: τὸ δὲ κρατερὸν αὐτῶν παλαιώσει ᾴδης ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκήσεως τῆς ἐντίμου αὐτῶν.

Other expositors, it is true, solve the riddle of the half-verse in a totally different way. Mendelssohn refers צוּרם to the upright: whose being lasts longer than the grave (survives it), hence it cannot be a habitation (eternal dwelling) to it; and adds, "the poet could not speak more clearly of the resurrection (immortality)."

(Note: In the fragments of a commentary to his translation of Psalms, contributed by David Friedlnder.)

A modern Jewish Christian, Isr. Pick, looked upon in Jerusalem as dead, sees here a prediction of the breaking through of the realm of the dead by the risen One: "Their Rock is there, to break through the realm of the dead, that it may no longer serve Him as an abode."

(Note: In a fugitive paper of the so-called Amen Congregation, which noo unhappily exists no longer, in Mnchen-Gladbach.)

Von Hofmann's interpretation (last of all in his Schriftbeweis ii. 2, 499, 2nd edition) lays claim to a more detailed consideration, because it has been sought to maintain it against all objections. By the morning he understands the end of the state or condition of death both of the righteous and of the ungodly. "In the state of death have they both alike found themselves: but now the dominion of death is at an end, and the dominion of the righteous beings." But those who have, according to Psalm 49:15, died are only the ungodly, not the righteous as well. Hofmann then goes on to explain: their bodily form succumbs to the destruction of the lower world, so that it no longer has any abode; which is said to convey the thought, that the ungodly, "by means of the destruction of the lower world, to which their corporeal nature in common with themselves becomes subject, lose its last gloomy abode, but thereby lose their corporeal nature itself, which has now no longer any continuance:" "their existence becomes henceforth one absolutely devoid of possessions and of space, ["the exact opposite of the time when they possessed houses built for eternity, and broad tracts of country bore their name."] But even according to the teaching of the Old Testament concerning the last things, in the period after the Exile, the resurrection includes the righteous and the unrighteous (Daniel 12:2); and according to the teaching of the New Testament, the damned, after Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire, receive another זבול, viz., Gehenna, which stands in just the same relation to Hades as the transformed world does to the old heavens and the old earth. The thought discovered in Psalm 49:15, therefore, will not bear being put to the proof. There is, however, this further consideration, that nothing whatever is known in any other part of the Old Testament of such a destruction of Shel; and לבלּות found in the Psalm before us would be a most inappropriate word to express it, instead of which it ought to have been לכלּות; for the figurative language in Psalm 102:27; Isaiah 51:6, is worthless as a justification of this word, which signifies a gradual wearing out and using up or consuming, and must not, in opposition to the usage of the language, be explained according to עב and בּלי. For this reason we refrain from making this passage a locus classicus in favour of an eschatological conception which cannot be supported by any other passage in the Old Testament. On the other side, however, the meaning of לבּקר is limited if it be understood only of the morning which dawns upon the righteous one after the night of affliction, as Kurtz does. What is, in fact, meant is a morning which not merely for individuals, but for all the upright, will be the end of oppression and the dawn of dominion: the ungodly are totally destroyed, and they (the upright) now triumph above their graves. In these words is expressed, in the manner of the Old Testament, the end of all time. Even according to Old Testament conception human history closes with the victory of good over evil. So far Psalm 49:15 is really a "riddle" of the last great day; expressed in New Testament language, of the resurrection morn, in which οἱ ἅγιοι τὸν κόσμον κρινοῦσι (1 Corinthians 6:2).

With אך, in Psalm 49:16 (used here adversatively, as e.g., in Job 13:15, and as אכן is more frequently used), the poet contrasts the totally different lot that awaits him with the lot of the rich who are satisfied in themselves and unmindful of God. אך belongs logically to נפשׁי, but (as is moreover frequently the case with רק, גּם, and אף) is, notwithstanding this relation to the following member of the sentence, placed at the head of the sentence: yet Elohim will redeem my soul out of the hand of Shel (Psalm 89:49; Hosea 13:14). In what sense the poet means this redemption to be understood is shown by the allusion to the history of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) contained in כּי יקּחני. Bttcher shrewdly remarks, that this line of the verse is all the more expressive by reason of its relative shortness. Its meaning cannot be: He will take me under His protection; for לקח does not mean this. The true parallels are Psalm 73:24, Genesis 5:24. The removals of Enoch and Elijah were, as it were, fingerposts which pointed forward beyond the cheerless idea they possessed of the way of all men, into the depth of Hades. Glancing at these, the poet, who here speaks in the name of all upright sufferers, gives expression to the hope, that God will wrest him out of the power of Sheפl and take him to Himself. It is a hope that possesses not direct word of God upon which it could rest; it is not until later on that it receives the support of divine promise, and is for the present only a "bold flight" of faith. Now can we, for this very reason, attempt to define in what way the poet conceived of this redemption and this taking to Himself. In this matter he himself has no fully developed knowledge; the substance of his hope is only a dim inkling of what may be. This dimness that is only gradually lighted up, which lies over the last things in the Old Testament, is the result of a divine plan of education, in accordance with which the hope of eternal life was gradually to mature, and to be born as it were out of this wrestling faith itself. This faith is expressed in Psalm 49:16; and the music accompanies his confidence in cheerful and rejoicing strains.

After this, in Psalm 49:17, there is a return from the lyric strain to the gnomic and didactic. It must not, with Mendelssohn, be rendered: let it (my soul) not be afraid; but, since the psalmist begins after the manner of a discourse: fear thou not. The increasing כבוד, i.e., might, abundance, and outward show (all these combined, from כּבד, grave esse), of the prosperous oppressor is not to make the saint afraid: he must after all die, and cannot take hence with him הכּל, the all equals anything whatever (cf. לכּל, for anything whatever, Jeremiah 13:7). כּי, Psalm 49:17, like ἐάν, puts a supposable case; כּי, Psalm 49:18, is confirmatory; and כּי, Psalm 49:19, is concessive, in the sense of גּם־כּי, according to Ew. 362, b: even though he blessed his soul during his life, i.e., called it fortunate, and flattered it by cherished voluptuousness (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18, התבּרך בּנפשׁו, and the soliloquy of the rich man in Luke 12:19), and though they praise thee, O rich man, because thou dost enjoy thyself (Luke 16:25), wishing themselves equally fortunate, still it (the soul of such an one) will be obliged to come or pass עד־דּור אבותיו. There is no necessity for taking the noun דּור here in the rare signification dwelling (Arabic dâr, synonym of Menzı̂l), and it appears the most natural way to supply נפשׁו as the subject to תּבוא (Hofmann, Kurtz, and others), seeing that one would expect to find אבותיך in the case of תבוא being a form of address. And there is then no need, in order to support the synallage, which is at any rate inelegant, to suppose that the suffix יו-takes its rise from the formula אל־אבתיו (נאסף) בּוא, and is, in spite of the unsuitable grammatical connection, retained, just as יחדּו and כּלּם, without regard to the suffixes, signify "together" and "all together" (Bttcher). Certainly the poet delights in difficulties of style, of which quite sufficient remain to him without adding this to the list. It is also not clear whether Psalm 49:20 is intended to be taken as a relative clause intimately attached to אבותיו, or as an independent clause. The latter is admissible, and therefore to be preferred: there are the proud rich men together with their fathers buried in darkness for ever, without ever again seeing the light of a life which is not a mere shadowy life.

The didactic discourse now closes with the same proverb as the first part, Psalm 49:13. But instead of בּל־ילין the expression here used is ולא יבין, which is co-ordinate with בּיקר as a second attributive definition of the subject (Ew. 351, b): a man in glory and who has no understanding, viz., does not distinguish between that which is perishable and that which is imperishable, between time and eternity. The proverb is here more precisely expressed. The gloomy prospect of the future does not belong to the rich man as such, but to the worldly and carnally minded rich man.

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