Psalm 49:4
I will incline my ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying on the harp.
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(4) I will incline mine ear.—The psalmist first listens, that he may himself catch the inspiration which is to reach others through his song. It was an obvious metaphor in a nation to whom God’s voice was audible, as it was to Wordsworth, for whom nature had an audible voice:

“The stars of midnight shall be dear

To her; and she shall lend her ear

In many a secret place,

Where rivulets dance their wayward round,

And beauty, born of murmuring sound,

Shall pass into her face.”

Parable.—Heb. māshal, root idea, similitude. It is the term used of Balaam’s prophecies, and of the eloquent speeches of Job. Hence here proverb-song (Ewald), since the psalmist intends his composition for musical accompaniment.

Dark saying.—Either from a root meaning to tie, and so “a knotty point;” or to sharpen, and so a sharp, incisive saying. The LXX. and Vulgate have “problem,” “proposition.”

To open the riddle is not to solve it, but to propound it, as we say to “open a discourse.” (Comp. St. Paul’s phrase, “opening and alleging.”) The full phrase is probably found in Proverbs 31:26, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom.’”

49:1-5 We seldom meet with a more solemn introduction: there is no truth of greater importance. Let all hear this with application to ourselves. The poor are in danger from undue desire toward the wealth of the world, as rich people from undue delight in it. The psalmist begins with applying it to himself, and that is the right method in which to treat of Divine things. Before he sets down the folly of carnal security, he lays down, from his own experience, the benefit and comfort of a holy, gracious security, which they enjoy who trust in God, and not in their worldly wealth. In the day of judgment, the iniquity of our heels, or of our steps, our past sins, will compass us. In those days, worldly, wicked people will be afraid; but wherefore should a man fear death who has God with him?I will incline mine ear to a parable - The phrase "I will incline mine ear" means that he would listen or attend to - as we incline our ear toward those whom we are anxious to hear, or in the direction from which a sound seems to come. Compare Psalm 5:1; Psalm 17:1; Psalm 39:12; Isaiah 1:2. On the word rendered "parable" here משׁל mâshâl - see the notes at Isaiah 14:4. Compare Job 13:12, note; Job 27:1, note. The word properly means similitude; then, a sentence, sententious saying, apophthegm; then, a proverb; then, a song or poem. There is usually found in the word some idea of "comparison," and hence, usually something that is to be illustrated "by" a comparison or a story. The reference here would seem to be to some dark or obscure subject which needed to be illustrated; which it was not easy to understand; which had given the writer, as well as others, perplexity and difficulty. He proposed now, with a view to understand and explain it, to place his ear, as it were, "close to the matter," that he might clearly comprehend it. The matter was difficult, but he felt assured he could explain it - as when one unfolds the meaning of an enigma. The "problem" - the "parable" - the difficult point - related to the right use, or the proper value, of wealth, or the estimate in which it should be held by those who possessed it, and by those who did not. It was very evident to the author of the psalm that the views of people were not right on the subject; he therefore proposed to examine the matter carefully, and to state the exact truth.

I will open - I will explain; I will communicate the result of my careful inquiries.

My dark saying - The word used here - חידה chı̂ydâh - is rendered "dark speeches" in Numbers 12:8; "riddle," in Judges 14:12-19; Ezekiel 17:2; "hard questions" in 1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chronicles 9:1; "dark saying" (as here) in Psalm 78:2; Proverbs 1:6; "dark sentences," in Daniel 8:23; and "proverb" in Habakkuk 2:6. It does not elsewhere occur. It means properly "something entangled, intricate;" then, a trick or stratagem; then art intricate speech, a riddle; then, a sententious saying, a maxim; then a parable, a poem, a song, a proverb. The idea here is, that the point was intricate or obscure; it was not well understood, and he purposed "to lay it open," and to make it plain.

Upon the harp - On the meaning of the word used here, see the notes at Isaiah 5:12. The idea here is, that he would accompany the explanation with music, or would so express it that it might be accompanied with music; that is, he would give it a poetic form - a form such that the sentiment might be used in public worship, and might be impressed upon the mind by all the force and power which music would impart. Sentiments of purity and truth, and sentiments of pollution and falsehood also, are always most deeply imbedded in the minds of people, and are made most enduring and effective, when they are connected with music. Thus the sentiments of patriotism are perpetuated and impressed in song; and thus sentiments of sensuality and pollution owe much of their permanence and power to the fact that they are expressed in corrupt verse, and that they are perpetuated in exquisite poetry, and are accompanied with song. Scenes of revelry, as well as acts of devotion, are kept up by song. Religion proposes to take advantage of this principle in our nature by connecting the sentiments of piety with the sweetness of verse, and by impressing and perpetuating those sentiments through associating them with all that is tender, pure, and inspiriting in music. Hence, music, both vocal and that which is produced by instruments, has always been found to be an invaluable auxiliary in securing the proper impression of truth on the minds of people, as well as in giving utterance to the sentiments of piety in devotion.

4. incline—to hear attentively (Ps 17:6; 31:2).

parable—In Hebrew and Greek "parable" and "proverb" are translations of the same word. It denotes a comparison, or form of speech, which under one image includes many, and is expressive of a general truth capable of various illustrations. Hence it may be used for the illustration itself. For the former sense, "proverb" (that is, one word for several) is the usual English term, and for the latter, in which comparison is prominent, "parable" (that is, one thing laid by another). The distinction is not always observed, since here, and in Ps 78:2; "proverb" would better express the style of the composition (compare also Pr 26:7, 9; Hab 2:6; Joh 16:25, 29). Such forms of speech are often very figurative and also obscure (compare Mt 13:12-15). Hence the use of the parallel word—

dark saying—or, "riddle" (compare Eze 17:2).

open—is to explain.

upon the harp—the accompaniment for a lyric.

I will incline mine ear: this is another argument to persuade them to hearken to him: I will hearken what God by his Spirit speaks to me, and that and nothing else will I now speak to you; and therefore it is well worth your hearing. I also shall join with you in attending to it, that whilst I teach you, I myself may learn the same lesson. For as ministers now teach themselves whilst they teach others, so the holy prophets did ofttimes search into and study to find out the meaning of their own prophecies, as appears plainly from 1 Peter 1:10,11. The phrase is thought to be taken from the musicians, who lay their ear close to the instrument when they tune it, and by their ear try how the voice and instrument agree.

To a parable; which properly is a figurative and allegorical speech, but is oft more largely taken for any excellent, and important, and withal dark or difficult, doctrine or sentence: see Numbers 23:7 24:3,15 Psa 78:2, compared with Matthew 13:35.

I will open, i.e. I will not smother it in my own breast, but publish it to the world.

My dark saying; so he justly calls the following discourse, because the thing in question is and ever hath been thought difficult and hard to be understood. I will incline mine ear to a parable,.... In which way of speaking the doctrines of the Gospel were delivered out by Christ, Matthew 13:3. Wherefore the prophet, representing his apostles and disciples, signifies that he would listen thereunto, that he might attain to the knowledge thereof, and communicate it to others;

I will open my dark saying upon the harp; the enigmas, riddles, and mysteries of the Gospel, being understood by the ministers of it, are opened and explained in a very pleasant and delightful manner; they are made clear and evident, and are as a lovely song upon a harp; see Ezekiel 33:32.

I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
4. The poet receives by revelation what he desires to teach. He will bend his ear to listen to the voice of God before he ventures himself to speak to men. Mâshâl, rendered parable, means (1) primarily a comparison, (2) a proverb, as frequently involving a comparison, (3) a parable, as the extension of a proverb, (4) a poem, either contemptuous (Isaiah 14:4) or didactic, as here. Chîdâh, denotes (1) an enigma or riddle (Jdg 14:12 f.; 1 Kings 10:1), (2) a parable or simile (Ezekiel 17:2), (3) any profound or obscure utterance, a problem, dark saying. Both words occur together in Psalm 78:2; Proverbs 1:6; Ezekiel 17:2. The prosperity of the godless was one of the great ‘enigmas of life’ to the pious Israelite, demanding a solution which could only be partially given before the fuller revelation of Christ “brought life and immortality to light.” What he has learned on this perplexing question he will open upon the harp, set it forth in a poem accompanied by music.Verse 4. - I will incline mine ear to a parable. The psalmist is "like a minstrel who has to play a piece of music put into his hands. The strain is none of his own devising; and as he proceeds, each note awakes in him a mysterious echo, which he would fain catch and retain in memory" (Kay). A "parable" in the Old Testament means any enigmatical or dark saying, into which much metaphor or imagery is introduced, so that it is only φωνᾶν συνετοῖσι. I will open my dark saying upon the harp; i.e. with a harp accompaniment. Music was a help to inspired persons in the delivery of messages which they were commissioned to deliver (see 1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Kings 3:15). (Heb.: 48:13-15) The call is addressed not to the enemies of Jerusalem - for it would be absurd to invite such to look round about upon Jerusalem with joy and gladness - but to the people of Jerusalem itself. From the time of the going forth of the army to the arrival of the news of victory, they have remained behind the walls of the city in anxious expectation. Now they are to make the circuit of the city (הקּיף, still more definite than סבב, Joshua 6:3) outside the walls, and examine them and see that its towers are all standing, its bulwark is intact, its palaces are resplendent as formerly. לחילה, "upon its bulwark," equals לחילהּ (Zechariah 9:4), with softened suffix as in Isaiah 23:17; Psalm 45:6, and frequently; Ew. 247, d. פּסּג (according to another reading, הפסיג) signifies, in B. Baba kamma 81b, to cut through (a vineyard in a part where there is no way leading through it); the signification "to take to pieces and examine, to contemplate piece by piece," has no support in the usage of the language, and the signification "to extol" (erhhen, Luther following Jewish tradition) rests upon a false deduction from the name פּסגּה. Louis de Dieu correctly renders it: Dividite palatia, h. e. obambulate inter palatia ejus, secando omnes palatiorum vias, quo omnia possitis commode intueri. They are to convince themselves by all possible means of the uninjured state of the Holy City, in order that they may be able to tell to posterity, that זה, such an one, such a marvellous helper as is now manifest to them, is Elohim our God. He will also in the future guide us.... Here the Psalm closes; for, although נהג is wont to be construed with עלּ in the signification ἄγειν ἐπὶ (Psalm 23:2; Isaiah 49:10), still "at death" [lit. dying], i.e., when it comes to dying (Hengstenberg), or "even unto (על as in Psalm 48:11, Psalm 19:7) death" [lit. dying] (Hupfeld), forms no suitable close to this thoroughly national song, having reference to a people of whom the son of Sirach says (Psalm 37:25): ζωὴ ἀνδρὸς ἐν ἀριθμῷ ἡμερῶν καὶ αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ Ἰσραήλ ἀναρίθμητοι. The rendering of Mendelssohn, Stier, and others, "over death" i.e., beyond death (Syriac), would be better; more accurately: beyond dying equals destruction (Bunsen, Bibelwerk, Th. i. S. clxi.). but the expression does not admit of this extension, and the thought comes upon one unexpectedly and as a surprise in this Psalm belonging to the time before the Exile. The Jerusalem Talmud, Megilla, ch. ii.((fol. 73, col. b, ed. Venet.), present a choice of the following interpretations: (1) עלמוּת equals בּעלימוּת, in youthfulness, adopting which, but somewhat differently applied, the Targum renders, "in the days of youth;" (2) כעילין עלמות, like virgins, with which Luther's rendering coincides: like youth (wie die Jugent); (3) according to the reading עלמות, which the lxx also reproduces: in this and the future world, noting at the same time that Akilas (Aquila) translates the word by ἀθανασία: "in a world where there is no death." But in connection with this last rendering one would rather expect to find אל־מות (Proverbs 12:28) instead of על־מות. עלמות, however, as equivalent to αἰῶνες is Mishnic, not Biblical; and a Hebrew word עלמוּת (עלימוּת) in the sense of the Aramaic עלּימתּ cannot be justified elsewhere. We see from the wavering of the MSS, some of which give על־מוּת, and others עלמוּת, and from the wavering of expositors, what little success is likely to follow any attempt to gain for על־מות, as a substantial part of the Psalm, any sense that is secure and in accordance both with the genius of the language and with the context. Probably it is a marginal note of the melody, an abbreviation for על־מוּת לבּן, Psalm 9:1. And either this note, as in Habakkuk 3:19 למנצּח בּנגינותי, stands in an exceptional manner at the end instead of the beginning (Hitzig, Reggio), or it belongs to the למנצח of the following Psalm, and is to be inserted there (Bttcher, De inferis, 371). If, however, על־מות does not belong to the Psalm itself, then it must be assumed that the proper closing words are lost. The original close was probably more full-toned, and somewhat like Isaiah 33:22.
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