Psalm 49:5
Why should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) Should I fear?—Here the problem is stated not in a speculative, but personal form. The poet himself feels the pressure of this riddle of life.

When the iniquity of my heels.—The Authorised Version seems to take “heels” in the sense of footsteps, as Symmachus does, and “when the evil of my course entangles me,” is good sense, but not in agreement with the context. Render rather, when iniquity dogs me at the heels, i.e., when wicked and prosperous men pursue him with malice. This is more natural than to give the word heel the derived term of supplanter; the sense, too, is the same. There is no direct reference to Genesis 3:15, though possibly the figure of the heel as a vulnerable part, and of wickedness lying like a snake in the path, may have occurred to the poet. The Syriac, however, suggests a different reading, “malice of my oppressors.”

Psalm 49:5. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil — Either, 1st, Of sin; when iniquities of all sorts abound, which is, in many respects, grievous and vexatious to good men. Or, 2d, Of misery; in times of great distress and calamity, either public or private, when wicked men flourish, and good men are oppressed and persecuted. When the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about — That is, the violent and injurious practices of my ungodly and malicious enemies, who lay snares for my feet, and seek to trip up my heels, and cause me to fall into sin or into trouble. The words may, with propriety, be rendered, The iniquity of my supplanters; for the word עקבי, gnakeebai, rendered heels, may be, and is, by some learned interpreters, taken for a participle of that verb which signifies to supplant, or trip up the heels, or circumvent; from whence Jacob had his name. And this character fitly agrees to David’s enemies, who were not only very malicious, but also very deceitful and treacherous, as he everywhere complains. This sense of the words, the reader will observe, is favoured both by the Syriac and Arabic interpreters; the former of whom render the words, the iniquity of my enemies hath compassed me; and the latter thus, When mine enemies shall compass me about. The sense is also agreeable to the main scope of the Psalm, which is to comfort good men against that great trial and stumbling-block, the prosperity of the wicked, and the oppressions and afflictions of the righteous. Bishop Hare translates the verse, “Wherefore should I fear in the days of adversity, when the iniquity of those that lie in wait for me surrounds me?”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?Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil - This verse is designed evidently to state the main subject of the psalm; the result of the reflections of the author on what had been to him a source of perplexity; on what had seemed to him to be a dark problem. He "had" evidently felt that there was occasion to dread the power of wicked rich men; but he now felt that he had no ground for that fear and alarm. He saw that their power was short-lived; that all the ability to injure, arising from their station and wealth, must soon cease; that his own highest interests could not be affected by anything which they could do. The "days of evil" here spoken of are the times which are referred to in the following phrase, "when the iniquity of my heels," etc.

When the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about - It would be difficult to make any sense out of this expression, though it is substantially the same rendering which is found in the Vulgate and the Septuagint. Luther renders it "when the iniquity of my oppressors encompasses me." The Chaldee Paraphrase renders it, "why should I fear in the days of evil, unless it be when the guilt of my sin compasses me about?" The Syriac renders it, "the iniquity of "my enemies." The Arabic, "when my enemies surround me." DeWette renders it as Luther does. Rosenmuller, "when the iniquity of those who lay snares against me shall compass me around." Prof. Alexander, "when the iniquity of my oppressors (or supplanters) shall surround me." The word rendered "heels" here - עקב ‛âqêb - means properly "heel," Genesis 3:15; Job 18:9; Judges 5:22; then, the rear of an army, Joshua 8:13; then, in the plural, "footsteps," prints of the heel or foot, Psalm 77:19; and then, according to Gesenius (Lexicon) "a lier in wait, insidiator."

Perhaps there is in the word the idea of craft; of lying in wait; of taking the advantages - from the verb עקב ‛âqab, to be behind, to come from behind; and hence to supplant; to circumvent. So in Hosea 12:3, "in the womb he held his brother by the heel" (compare Genesis 25:26). Hence, the word is used as meaning to supplant; to circumvent, Genesis 27:36; Jeremiah 9:4 (Hebrew, Jeremiah 9:3) This is, undoubtedly, the meaning here. The true idea is, when I am exposed to the crafts, the cunning, the tricks, of those who lie in wait for me; I am liable to be attacked suddenly, or to be taken unawares; but what have I to fear? The psalmist refers to the evil conduct of his enemies, as having given him alarm. They were rich and powerful. They endeavored in some way to supplant him - perhaps, as we should say, to "trip him up" - to overcome him by art, by power, by trick, or by fraud. He "had" been afraid of these powerful foes; but on a calm review of the whole matter, he came to the conclusion that he had really no cause for fear. The reasons for this he proceeds to state in the following part of the psalm.

5. iniquity—or, "calamity" (Ps 40:12).

of my heels—literally "my supplanters" (Ge 27:36), or oppressors: "I am surrounded by the evils they inflict."

5 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?

6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:

8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)

9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.

11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.

12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.

Psalm 49:5

"Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?" The man of God looks calmly forward to dark times when those evils which have dogged his heels shall gain a temporary advantage over him. Iniquitous men, here called in the abstract iniquity, lie in wait for the righteous, as serpents that aim at the heels of travellers the iniquity of our heels is that evil which aims to trip us up or impede us. It was an old prophecy that the serpent should wound the heel of the woman's seed, and the enemy of our souls is diligent to fulfil that premonition. In some dreary part of our road it may be that evil will wax stronger and bolder, and gaining upon us will openly assail us; those who followed at our heels like a pack of wolves, may perhaps overtake us, and compass us about. What then? Shall we yield to cowardice? Shall we be a prey to their teeth? God forbid. Nay, we will not even fear, for what are these foes? What indeed, but mortal men who shall perish and pass away? There can be no real ground of alarm to the faithful. Their enemies are too insignificant to be worthy of one thrill of fear. Doth not the Lord say to us, "I, even I, am he that comforteth thee: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?"

Scholars have given other renderings of this verse, but we prefer to keep to the authorised version when we can, and in this case we find in it precisely the same meaning which those would give to it who translate "my heels," by the words, "my supplanters."

Psalm 49:6

What if the good man's foes be among the great ones of the earth! yet he need not fear them. "They that trust in their wealth." Poor fools, to be content with such a rotten confidence. When we set our rock in contrast with theirs, it would be folly to be afraid of them. Even though they are loud in their brags, we can afford to smile. What if they glory "and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches"? yet while we glory in our God we are not dismayed by their proud threatenings. Great strength, position, and estate, make wicked men very lofty in their own esteem, and tyrannical towards others; but the heir of heaven is not overawed by their dignity, nor cowed by their haughtiness. He sees the small value of riches, and the helplessness of their owners in the hour of death, and therefore he is not so mean as to be afraid of an ephemera, a moth, a bubble.

Psalm 49:7

continued...

He speaks in his own person, because he had now said that he would incline his ear, Psalm 49:4, i.e. learn and practise what he was teaching others; but his meaning is more general, that there is no sufficient cause why he or any good man should fear; which is to be understood of excessive or immoderate and prevailing fear, causing dejection or despondency, or distrust of God’s providence and goodness, or discontent with his condition; in which sense men are bid not to fear, Genesis 1:19 Matthew 28:5, compared with Mark 16:6. Thus Genesis 45:5, Be not grieved, to wit, inordinately; for otherwise they ought, and he would have had them to grieve for their sin. Thus to lead a man into temptation, Matthew 6:13, is to suffer him to be overcome by it, by comparing 1 Corinthians 10:13. And the object or cause of this forbidden fear is double; the one, the afflictions of good men, here following; the other, the prosperity of the ungodly, as it is declared Psalm 49:16, and of which he begins to treat in the very next verse, and continues the discourse of it to the end of the Psalm.

In the days of evil; either,

1. Of sin; when iniquity of all sorts abounds; which is many ways grievous and vexatious to every good man. Or,

2. Of misery; in times of great distress and calamity, either public or private, when wicked men flourish, (of which he speaks in all the rest of the Psalm,) and good men are oppressed and persecuted.

The iniquity of my heels; by which he understands either,

1. His afflictions; which he might justly call the punishment of his sinful actions; for iniquity is commonly put for the punishment of it, and the heels are put for a man’s footsteps, and metaphorically for one’s ways or actions, as Psalm 56:6 89:51. Or,

2.

The iniquity, i.e. the violent and injurious designs and practices of his ungodly and malicious enemies, who, as he here saith,

did compass him about; whereby he notes their prosperous success against him, and his being endangered and vexed by them, as this phrase implies, Job 16:13 Psalm 17:9,11 22:12 140:9 Habakkuk 1:4; and withal their intention and endeavour to vex and persecute and destroy him, as this phrase is used, Psalm 17:9 22:12,16, and in many other places. This sense is favoured both by the Syriac and Arabic interpreters; whereof the former renders the words thus, the iniquity of mine enemies hath compassed me, and the latter thus, when mine enemies shall compass me about; and by the main scope of the Psalm, which is to comfort himself and other good men against that great scandal of the prosperity of the wicked, and the oppressions and miseries of the righteous. But all the difficulty is why or how he calls this the iniquity of his heels. For the clearing whereof, it is humbly proposed to consideration, that this genitive case, of my heels, seems to note not the efficient or meritorious cause of this iniquity, or punishment of it, but the object about which this iniquity is exercised; as nouns in the genitive case are frequently taken. Thus the spoil of the poor, Isaiah 3:14, is not that spoil which was made by them, but upon them; and the violence of the children of Judah, as it is in the Hebrew text, Joel 3:19, is that which was done against them, as we truly translate it. See also Daniel 4:27 Matthew 10:1 Acts 4:9. In like manner here,

the iniquity of my heels, is the iniquity wherewith they compass and seek to trip up my heels; for we shall find David oft speaking of the malicious practices of his enemies, with respect to his heels, feet, or steps. So he tells us they pierced his hands and feet, Psalm 22:16, they compassed, and marked, and prepared a net for his steps, Psalm 17:11 56:6 57:6; as Jeremiah also complains of his enemies, that they hid snare for his feet, Jeremiah 18:22. And therefore it is not strange that the iniquity of his enemies is here noted to be exercised about his heels or footsteps as this word signifies; either because they did malignantly observe all his steps or ways, that they might find occasion to load him with reproaches in order to his ruin; or because they purposed to trip up his heels, or to overthrow his goings, as he complains, Psalm 140:4. Besides, the words may be rendered, the iniquity of my supplanters; for the Hebrew word rendered heels may be, and is by some learned interpreters taken for a particle of that verb, which signifies to supplant or trip up the heels, or circumvent, from whence Jacob had his name And this character fitly agrees to David’s enemies, who were not only most malicious, but also very deceitful and treacherous, as he every where complains. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil,.... This is the principal thing that all are before called to hearken to. This is the wisdom and understanding the psalmist had been meditating upon, and was about to utter; this is the parable he inclined his ear to, and the dark saying he would open; namely, that a saint has nothing to fear in the worst of times; which is a riddle to a natural man. Aben Ezra interprets "the days of evil" of the days of old age, as they are called, Ecclesiastes 12:1, which bring on diseases, weakness, and death; in which a good man has no reason to fear; as that he should want the necessaries of life, since they that fear the Lord shall want no good thing; or that he should not hold out to the end, seeing God, who is the guide of youth, is the staff of old age, and carries to hoary hairs, and will never leave nor forsake; and though the wicked man in old age has reason to be afraid of death and eternity at hand, the saint has not; but may sing, on the borders of the grave, "O death! where is thy sting?" &c. 1 Corinthians 15:55. Also days in which iniquity abounds, and error and heresy prevail, are days of evil; and though the good man may fear he shall be led aside by the ill example of some, or by the craft of others; yet he need not, since the foundation of God stands sure, and he knows them that are his, and will take care of them and preserve them. Moreover, times of affliction and persecution are evil days; see Ephesians 5:16; and such will be the hour of temptation, that shall try the inhabitants of the earth, Revelation 3:10. Yet the righteous man need not fear, since it is always well with him, let his case and circumstances be what they will. Yea, the day of death, and the day of judgment are days of evil to wicked men; and therefore they put them away far from them, Amos 6:3; but believers have reason to rejoice at them, the day of their death being better than the day of their birth; and the day of judgment will be the time of the glorious appearing of Christ to them. It is added,

when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about; that is, the sins of life and conversation; "heels" denote "steps", and the word is sometimes so rendered, as in Psalm 56:6; and "iniquity" intends sin committed in walking; and so designs not original sin, as some have thought, but actual sins and transgressions: and these may be said to "compass the saints about", when they are chastised for them, and so are brought to a sense and acknowledgment of them, and to be humbled for them; and then they have nothing to fear in a slavish way, since these chastisements are not in wrath, or in a way of vindictive justice, or punishment for sin; but the fruits of love and favour. Or the sense may be, when death, the fruit of iniquity, the wages of sin, surrounds and seizes upon me; "in my end", as the Targum; in my last days, at the heel or close of them, I will not fear; the saint has no reason to fear, when he walks through death's dark valley; for death is abolished as a penal evil, its sting is took away, and its curse removed. Some render the words, "when the iniquity of my supplanters shall compass me about" (o); meaning his enemies, who either lay in wait for him privately, and endeavoured to supplant him; or that pursued him closely, and pressed upon his heels, just ready to destroy him; yet even then he signifies he should not fear: and then the sense is the same with Psalm 27:1; to which agree the Syriac and Arabic versions, which render it, "the iniquity of mine enemies"; or, "when my enemies surround me": and it may be literally rendered, when "iniquity surrounds me at my heels" (p); that is, when men, who are iniquity itself, encompass me, are at my heels, ready to seize me, I will not fear.

(o) "iniquitas supplantatorum meorum", Gejerus; "insidiatorum meorum", some in Vatablus. (p) "Iniquitas oppressorum", i.e. "iniquissimi mei oppressores ambiunt me", Gejerus.

Wherefore should I {b} fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?

(b) Though wickedness reigns and enemies rage, seeing God will execute his judgments against the wicked at a suitable time.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. in the days of evil] Or, of the evil man: when evil or evil men seem to have the upper hand, uncontrolled by any divine law of righteousness. Cp. Psalm 94:13.

when the iniquity of my heels &c.] Apparently this means, when his own false steps and errors of conduct surround him and threaten to prove his ruin. But apart from the strangeness of the expression, this meaning does not suit the context. It is better to render with R.V.,

When iniquity at my heels compasseth me about,

when the injustice of wealthy neighbours dogs his footsteps and threatens to trip him up. But better still is the rendering of R.V. marg., which gives a clear sense, and a good connexion with Psalm 49:6,

When the iniquity of them that would supplant me compasseth me about,

Even of them that trust … riches?

He is in danger from wealthy and unscrupulous neighbours, who are eager to trip him up and get him into their power. Cp. Jeremiah 9:4.

5–12. The limits to the power and the possession of wealth.Verses 5-15. - The prelude, or introduction, being over, the substance of the "dark saying" is now brought forth. The problem is propounded. On the one hand are the righteous, fallen upon evil days, surrounded by treacherous foes, ever on the watch to do them a mischief (ver. 5); on the other are the wicked, "trusting in their wealth, and boasting themselves in the multitude of their riches" (ver. 6), so opulent that they build houses which they expect to "continue for ever" and proprietors on such a scale that their lands are "called after their names" (ver. 11); and both parties equally short-lived, soon swept away from earth (vers. 10, 12). How is it that God allows all this, and how is man to reconcile himself to it? Simply by two reflections - one, that for the wicked, who have their portion in this life, there is no hope of happiness after death (vers. 14, 17); and the other that "God will redeem the righteous from the power of the grave, and will receive them" (ver. 15). Verse 5. - Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil? i.e. have I reason to fear, or may I trust in God's protection? Are, or are not, the righteous under his care? When the iniquity of my heels; rather, of my supplanters - of those that would trip me up. Shall compass me about; i.e. surround me, lie in wait for me on every side (comp. Psalm 17:10-12). (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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