Psalm 49:20
Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Psalm 49:20. Man that is in honour, and understandeth not — That is, hath not true wisdom to know and consider what he is, and what is his true business and interest in this world, and what use he ought to make of his life, and of all his riches, and honour, and power; and whither he is going, and what course he should take for the attainment of true and lasting happiness; is like the beasts that perish — Though he hath the outward shape of a man, yet, in truth, he is a beast, a stupid and unreasonable creature, and shall perish like a brute beast made to be taken and destroyed.

49:15-20 Believers should not fear death. The distinction of men's outward conditions, how great soever in life, makes none at death; but the difference of men's spiritual states, though in this life it may seem of small account, yet at and after death is very great. The soul is often put for the life. The God of life, who was its Creator at first, can and will be its Redeemer at last. It includes the salvation of the soul from eternal ruin. Believers will be under strong temptation to envy the prosperity of sinners. Men will praise thee, and cry thee up, as having done well for thyself in raising an estate and family. But what will it avail to be approved of men, if God condemn us? Those that are rich in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, have something of which death cannot strip them, nay, which death will improve; but as for worldly possessions, as we brought nothing into the world, so it is certain that we shall carry nothing out; we must leave all to others. The sum of the whole matter is, that it can profit a man nothing to gain the whole world, to become possessed of all its wealth and all its power, if he lose his own soul, and is cast away for want of that holy and heavenly wisdom which distinguishes man from the brutes, in his life and at his death. And are there men who can prefer the lot of the rich sinner to that of poor Lazarus, in life and death, and to eternity? Assuredly there are. What need then we have of the teaching of the Holy Ghost; when, with all our boasted powers, we are prone to such folly in the most important of all concerns!Man that is in honor - Man that is in possession of wealth, or that occupies an exalted rank. See the notes at Psalm 49:12.

And understandeth not - That is, who has no proper appreciation of what it is to be a man; of what is his true rank "as" a man; of his relations to God; of his condition as an immortal being - man that values himself only on the fact that he is rich; that lives for this world alone; that regards it as a sufficient distinction that he "is" rich; that degrades his nobler nature in the mere enjoyment of the pleasures of sense - is like the beasts - is in no way elevated above them.

Is like the beasts that perish - They live only for this life. They have no higher nature than that which pertains to the senses, and they live accordingly. The man who, though of exalted rank, lives for this life alone, herein resembles them. See the notes at Psalm 49:12. Alas! what multitudes there are who thus live - whose only aim is to secure the wealth and the honors of this life - who have no more thought of a future state, and who form no more plans in regard to a future world, than do the brutes! For many there are in exalted stations, who are surrounded by all that wealth can give, yet who no more admit the thought of a future world into their hopes and plans than if they had no other endowment than the camel or the ox, and whose conduct in this respect would not be changed if all the higher endowments which constitute the nature of man were withdrawn, and they were at once reduced to the condition of a brute. While, therefore, the main purpose of this psalm is to show that wealth confers no "power" which is to be dreaded - that its possessor, though wicked, cannot permanently injure us, since he must soon pass away by death - the course of thought at the same time teaches us that we should not "desire" wealth as our portion; that we should not live for this, as the main object of life. The possessor of the most ample fortune must soon be laid in the grave. All that he has acquired will pass into other hands, and will be his no more. But he "has" a higher nature. He "may" live in a manner different from the brute that perishes. He "may" act with reference to a higher - an eternal - state of existence; and, when he dies, he "may" leave his earthly inheritance, whether great or small, only to enter on an inheritance that shall he permanent and eternal. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mark 8:36.

20. (Compare Ps 49:12). The folly is more distinctly expressed by "understandeth not," substituted for "abideth not." Understandeth not, i.e. hath not true wisdom, to know and consider what he is, and what his true business and interest in this world is, and what use he should make of his life, and of all his riches, and honour, and power, and whither he is going, and what course to take for the attainmerit of true and lasting happiness.

Is like the beasts that perish; though he hath the outward shape of a man, yet in truth he is a beast, or a brutish, stupid, and unreasonable creature, and he shall perish like a brute beast made to be destroyed, 2 Peter 2:12.

Man that is in honour,.... A wicked man, as the Targum; See Gill on Psalm 49:12;

and understandeth not; from whence his riches and honour, come, and what use he should make of them, and for what end he has them; or that understandeth not spiritual things, which relate to the salvation of his soul; who does not know God in Christ, nor the way of salvation by Christ; nor has any experience of the work of the Spirit of God upon his soul; nor has any spiritual understanding of the doctrines of the Gospel; nor knows himself, his state and condition, and what true happiness is:

is like the beasts that perish; See Gill on Psalm 49:12.

Man that is in honour, and {q} understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.

(q) He condemns man's ingratitude, who having received excellent gifts from God, abuses them like a beast to his own condemnation.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. The refrain of Psalm 49:12, repeated with a significant variation, qualifying the previous statement. It is not the rich and honourable man, as such, who is no better than the cattle that perish; but the rich man who is destitute of discernment, and knows no distinction between false and true riches, reckoning earthly and transitory wealth more precious than spiritual and eternal fellowship with God.

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.



Psalm 49:20(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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