Psalm 50:4
He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) He shall call.—Better, He calls. The poet actually hears the summons go forth calling heaven and earth as witnesses, or assessors (comp. Micah 6:2), of the judgment scene. (Comp. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Micah 1:2; 1 Maccabees 2:37.)

Israel, politically so insignificant, must have been profoundly conscious of the tremendous issues involved in its religious character to demand a theatre so vast, an audience so august.

50:1-6 This psalm is a psalm of instruction. It tells of the coming of Christ and the day of judgment, in which God will call men to account; and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of judgement. All the children of men are concerned to know the right way of worshipping the Lord, in spirit and in truth. In the great day, our God shall come, and make those hear his judgement who would not hearken to his law. Happy are those who come into the covenant of grace, by faith in the Redeemer's atoning sacrifice, and show the sincerity of their love by fruits of righteousness. When God rejects the services of those who rest in outside performances, he will graciously accept those who seek him aright. It is only by sacrifice, by Christ, the great Sacrifice, from whom the sacrifices of the law derived what value they had, that we can be accepted of God. True and righteous are his judgments; even sinners' own consciences will be forced to acknowledge the righteousness of God.He shall call to the heavens from above - He will call on all the universe; he will summon all worlds. The meaning here is, not that he will gather those who are in heaven to be judged, but that he will call on the inhabitants of all worlds to be his witnesses; to bear their attestation to the justice of his sentence. See Psalm 50:6. The phrase "from above" does not, of course, refer to the heavens as being above God, but to the heavens as they appear to human beings to be above themselves.

And to the earth - To all the dwellers upon the earth; "to the whole universe." He makes this universal appeal with the confident assurance that his final sentence will be approved; that the universe will see and admit that it is just. See Revelation 15:3; Revelation 19:1-3. There can be no doubt that the universe, as such, will approve the ultimate sentence that will be pronounced on mankind.

That he may judge his people - That is, all these arrangements - this coming with fire and tempest, and this universal appeal - will be prepatory to the judging of his people, or in order that the judgment may be conducted with due solemnity and propriety. The idea is, that an event so momentous should be conducted in a way suited to produce an appropriate impression; so conducted, that there would be a universal conviction of the justice and impartiality of the sentence. The reference here is particularly to his professed "people," that is, to determine whether they were truly his, for that is the main subject of the psalm, though the "language" is derived from the solemnities appropriate to the universal judgment.

4. above—literally, "above" (Ge 1:7).

heavens … earth—For all creatures are witnesses (De 4:26; 30:19; Isa 1:2).

Either to heaven and earth themselves, and so it is a figure called prosopopoeia; or to the inhabitants of them, all angels and men, whom he calls in for witnesses and judges of the equity of his present proceedings. Compare Deu 4:26 Deu 31:28 32:1. That he may judge his people, to wit, in their presence and hearing. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth,.... To hear what he shall say, when he will no longer keep silence; and to be witnesses of the justice of his proceedings; see Isaiah 1:2. The Targum interprets this of the angels above on high, and of the righteous on the earth below; and so Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and Ben Melech, explain it of the angels of heaven, and of the inhabitants of the earth;

that he may judge his people; not that they, the heavens and the earth, the inhabitants of either, may judge his people; but the Lord himself, as in Psalm 50:6; and this designs not the judgment of the whole world, nor that of his own covenant people, whom he judges when he corrects them in love, that they might not be condemned with the world; when he vindicates them, and avenges them on their enemies, and when he protects and saves them; but the judgment of the Jewish nation, his professing people, the same that Peter speaks of, 1 Peter 4:17.

He shall call to the heavens from above, and to {e} the earth, that he may judge his people.

(e) As witnessing against the hypocrites.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. He shall call to the heavens from above] Better, in continuation of the preceding verse, Let him call to the heavens above. The object of the summons is ‘that he may judge his people.’ Heaven and earth, the whole world of nature, are summoned to be witnesses of the judgement, for they are far older than man, and have watched the whole course of Israel’s history. Cp. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 4:32; Deuteronomy 31:28; Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Micah 1:2; Micah 6:1-2. The poetical idea finds a strange equivalent in the conception of modern science that every action is recorded by a corresponding physical change, so that Nature is in truth a witness to the actions of man[25].

[25] See Babbage, Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, ch. 9., “On the Permanent Impression of our Words and Actions on the Globe we inhabit.”Verse 4. - He shall call to the heavens from above; rather, to the heavens above; i.e. to the inhabitants of heaven - the holy angels. And to the earth (comp. ver. 1). That he may judge his people. Heaven and earth are called upon to come together, and furnish a fit audience before which the judgment may proceed. (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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