Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Are vanity.—Or, mere breath.
To be laid in the balance.—Literally, in the balances to go up, which may mean in the scales they must go up, i.e., kick the beam. But a slight change in one letter gives the more probable, when weighed in the scales.Psalm 62:9. Surely men of low degree are vanity — Are most vain, impotent, and helpless creatures in themselves. This he delivers as a reason, or argument, to enforce his foregoing exhortation to trust in God, because there was no other person or thing to which they could safely trust. Men of high degree are a lie — That is, deceitful; because unable to perform what by their power and dignity they seem to promise. They raise men’s expectations, and afterward disappoint them, and so deceive those that trust in them. In which sense lying is ascribed to a fountain, Jeremiah 15:18; to wine, Hosea 9:2; and to the olive, Hebrews 3:17, (see the Hebrew,) when they do not give what they promise. Or, a lie may signify, a mere nothing; for a lie has no reality in it.Hosea 6:7. The same antithesis between the two words is found in Isaiah 2:9; Isaiah 5:15. The idea here is, that in the great matters which pertain to us, we cannot depend on men, and that our hope - our trust - must be in God. Of men of the humbler or lower classes, it is said that they are "vanity;" that is, they are like a vain, empty, unsubstantial thing. They cannot help us. It is useless to rely on them when we most need aid.
Men of high degree are a lie - Men of exalted rank, kings, princes, nobles. This does not refer to their personal character, as if they were always false, deceitful, treacherous; but the idea is, that any prospect of protection or aid from men of rank and station - front any power which they wield - is unworthy to be relied on. It is not that which we need; it is not that on which we can depend.
To be laid in the balance - literally, "In the scales to go up;" that is, they are seen to go up, or to show how light they are. They have no real weight; no real value. On the scales or balance, see the notes at Daniel 5:27.
They are altogether lighter than vanity - They are all vain; single or combined, they have no power to save us. The meaning is not that if these two ranks of persons were weighed against each other they would both be found to be vanity; but that it is true of each and every rank of men - high and low - whether single or combined - that, as weighed against our interests and needs, they are nothing. All the kings of the earth with all their hosts of war, all princes and nobles with all that they can summon from the lower ranks of their people, cannot save one soul from death - cannot deliver us from the consequences of our transgressions. God, and God alone, can do this.
10 Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
11 God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.
12 Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: four thou renderest to every man according to his work.
"Surely men of low degree are vanity." Here the word is only again; men of low degree are only vanity, nothing more. They are many and enthusiastic, but they are not to be depended on; they are mobile as the waves of the sea, ready to be driven to and fro by any and every wind; they cry "Hosanna" to, day, and "crucify him" tomorrow. The instability of popular applause is a proverb; as well build a house with smoke as find comfort in the adulation of the multitude. As the first son of Adam was called Abel or vanity, so here we are taught that all the sons of Adam are Abels: it were well if they were all so in character as well as in name; but alas! in this respect, too many of them are Cains. "And men of high degree are a lie." That is worse. We gain little by putting our trust in the aristocracy, they are not one whit better than the democracy; nay, they are even worse, for we expect something from them, but get nothing. May we not trust the elite? Surely reliance may be placed in the educated, the chivalrous, the intelligent? For this reason are they a lie; because they promise so much, and in the end, when relied upon, yield nothing but disappointment. How wretched is that poor man who puts his trust in princes. The more we rely upon God, the more shall we perceive the utter hollowness of every other confidence. "To be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity." Take a true estimate of them; judge them neither by quantity nor by appearance, but by weight, and they will no longer deceive you. Calmly deliberate, quietly ponder, and your verdict will be that which inspiration here records. Vainer than vanity itself are all human confidences: the great and the mean, alike, are unworthy of our trust. A feather has some weight in the scale, vanity has none, and creature confidence has less than that: yet such is the universal infatuation, that mankind prefer an arm of flesh to the power of the invisible but almighty Creator; and even God's own children are too apt to be bitten with this madness.
"Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery." Wealth ill-gotten is the trust only of fools, for the deadly pest lies in it; it is full of canker, it reeks with God's curse. To tread down the poor and silence their cries for justice, is the delight of many a braggart bully, who in his arrogance imagines that he may defy both God and man; but he is warned in these words, and it will be well for him if he takes the warning, for the Judge of all the earth will surely visit upon men the oppression of the innocent, and the robbery of the poor: both of these may be effected legally in the courts of man, but no twistings of the law, no tricks and evasions will avail with the Court of Heaven. "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them." If they grow in an honest, providential manner, as the result of industry or commercial success, do not make much account of the circumstance; be not unduly elated, do not fix your love upon your money-bags. To bow an immortal spirit to the constant contemplation of fading possessions is extreme folly. Shall those who call the Lord their glory, glory in yellow earth? Shall the image and superscription of Caesar deprive them of communion with him who is the image of the invisible God? As we must not rest in men, so neither must we repose in money. Gain and fame are only so much foam of the sea. All the wealth and honour the whole world can afford would be too slender a thread to bear up the happiness of an immortal soul.
"God hath spoken once." So immutable is God that he need not speak twice, as though he had changed; so infallible, that one utterance suffices, for he cannot err; so omnipotent, that his solitary word achieves all his designs. We speak often and say nothing; God speaks once and utters eternal verities. All our speaking may yet end in sound; but he speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast. "Twice have I heard this." Our meditative soul should hear the echo of God's voice again and again. What he speaks once in revelation, we should be always hearing. Creation and providence are evermore echoing the voice of God; "He that hath hears to hear, let him hear." We have two ears, that we may hear attentively, and the spiritual have inner ears with which they hear indeed. He hears twice in the best sense who hears with his heart as well as his ears. "That power belongeth unto God." He is the source of it, and in him it actually abides. This one voice of God we ought always to hear, so as to be preserved from putting our trust in creatures in whom there can be no power, since all power is in God. What reason for faith is here! It can never be unwise to rest upon the almighty arm. Out of all troubles he can release us, under all burdens sustain us, while men must fail us at the last, and may deceive us even now. May our souls hear the thunder of Jehovah's voice as he claims all power, and henceforth may we wait only upon God!
"Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy." This tender attribute sweetens the grand thought of his power: the divine strength will not crush us, but will be used for our good; God is so full of mercy that it belongs to him, as if all the mercy in the universe came from God, and still was claimed by him as his possession. His mercy, like his power, endureth for ever, and is ever present in him, ready to be revealed, "For thou renderest to every man according to his work," This looks rather like justice than mercy; but if we understand it to mean that God graciously rewards the poor, imperfect works of his people, we see in it a clear display of mercy. May it not also mean that according to the work he allots us is the strength which he renders to us? he is not a hard master; he does not bid us make bricks without straw, but he metes out to us strength equal to our day. In either meaning we have power and mercy blended, and have a double reason for waiting only upon God. Man neither helps us nor rewards us; God will do both. In him power and grace are eternally resident; our faith should therefore patiently hope and quietly wait, for we shall surely see the salvation of God. Deo soli gloria. All glory be to God only.Vanity, i.e. most vain, impotent, and helpless creatures in themselves. This he delivers as a reason or argument to enforce his foregoing exhortation; trust in God, because there is no other person or thing to which you can safely trust.
A lie, because they promise much, and raise men’s expectations upon consideration of their great power and dignity, but are not able to perform, and generally deceive those who trust in them; in which respect lying is ascribed to a fountain, Jeremiah 15:18, to wine, Hosea 9:2, to the olive, Habakkuk 3:17, when they do not give what they promise. Isaiah 2:9; See Gill on Psalm 49:2; these are subject to sinful vanity; their thoughts are vain, their affections vain, their minds vain, their conversation vain, sinful, foolish, fallacious, and inconstant. The wicked poor are, generally speaking, of all persons, the most wicked; and therefore, though they are the multitude, they are not to be trusted in. The Arabic version is, they are as a "shadow", fleeting and unstable, no solidity in them; the Syriac version, "as a vapour", that soon passeth away, like the breath of the mouth, and so not to be accounted of;
and men of high degree are a lie; or "sons of men"; of "the great man" (k), as it is rendered in Isaiah 2:9, noblemen, men of high birth, fortune, rank, and quality; these are a "lie", fallacious and deceitful: they talk of their blood, as if it was different from the rest of mankind; but, trace them up to their original, Adam, and it is a lie. All men are made of one blood, Acts 17:26; their riches promise them peace and pleasure, and long life, but do not give those things, Luke 12:16; their honour is fickle and inconstant; they are act in high places, and those are slippery ones; they are brought to desolation in a moment; and if they continue in them till death, their glory does not descend after them, Psalm 49:17; they make promises of great things to those who apply to them, but rarely perform, and are by no means to be confided in. This distinction of high and low degree is observed in James 1:9;
to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity; take a pair of balances, and put men both of high and low degree together in one scale, and vanity in the other, vanity will weigh heaviest; the scale in which men are will go up, as the word (l) here used signifies: they are "in the balances to ascend"; or being put in the balances, they will ascend, and the scale in which vanity is will go down; for, take them altogether, they are "lighter" than that: the word "lighter" is not in the text, but is rightly supplied, as it is by Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and Ben Melech. This last clause, according to the accents, may be best rendered thus; being put "in the balance, they must ascend; they are lighter than vanity together". The Targum is,
"if they should take the sons of men in a balance, and weigh their fates, they themselves would be "lighter" than nothing, as one;''
or than vanity together.
(i) "filii Adam", Musculus, Michaelis; "nati plebeio homine", Junius & Tremellius; "plebeii", Gejerus; "sons of base men", Ainsworth. (k) "nati praestante viro", Junius & Tremellius; "sons of noble men", Ainsworth. Vid. Schindler. col. 214. (l) "ascendant", Pagninus, Cocceius; so Musculus, Junius & Tremellius, &c.Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)9. Surely] Lit., as before, only. Nought but vanity are men, (nought but) a lie are great men. Only a mere breath which vanishes, an imposture which deludes those who trust them, are all men, whatever may be their rank. For the phrases bnç âdâm, bnç îsh, ‘low’ and ‘high,’ see Psalm 49:2. In Psalm 4:2 Absalom’s followers are termed bnç îsh: waverers would be influenced by seeing the number of leading men on his side. The same phrase nought but vanity is used in Psalm 39:5; Psalm 39:11, to describe the transitoriness and unsubstantiality of man, but the point is wholly different.
to be laid in the balance &c.] In the balances they will go up, they are altogether of vanity. They spring from and consist of mere breath (Isaiah 41:24): put them in the scale, it flies up, for they have no weight or substance. The rendering ‘lighter than vanity’ is possible but less probable.
9–12. Trust in God, I say, and not in man or in material force. God’s strength and love are the guarantee for the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous.Verses 9-12. - "Here the psalmist becomes didactic" (Professor Cheyne). He encourages the faithful, and warns the wicked, by the declaration that men of every sort "are but vanity" - have no strength, no permanence - while power belongs only to God. Those who "oppress" and "rob" are, consequently, not to be feared - there is no strength in riches - God alone determines the issues of things. Unto him belongs mercy, or loving kindness - a quality which leads him not only to forgive men their transgressions, but to "reward" them, when, by his assisting grace, they have done good works. Verse 9. - Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie; rather, only vanity - or, nought but vanity - are men of low degree; common men, as we call them - mere sons of Adam. This is too evident for dispute; but, in the view of the psalmist, this is not the worst. "Men of high degree" (beney ish) are no better - they are "a lie" - an unreality - a fading, false illusion. To be laid in the balance; rather, in the balance, they go up (Hupfeld, Ewald Hitzig, Revised Version). They are altogether lighter than vanity; or, altogether made out of vanity (Kay); i.e. there is no substance, no solidity, in them. 2 Samuel 12:7-13) can be distinctly recognised and felt in what is now happening to him. אך (yea, only, nevertheless) is the language of faith, with which, in the face of all assault, established truths are confessed and confirmed; and with which, in the midst of all conflict, resolutions, that are made and are to be firmly kept, are deliberately and solemnly declared and affirmed. There is no necessity for regarding דּוּמיּה (not דּומיּה), which is always a substantive (not only in Psalm 22:3; Psalm 39:3, but also in this instance and in Psalm 65:2), and which is related to דּוּמה, silence, Psalm 94:17; Psalm 115:17, just as עליליּה, Jeremiah 32:19, is related to עלילה, as an accus. absol.: in silent submission (Hupfeld). Like תּפּלּה in Psalm 109:4, it is a predicate: his soul is silent submission, i.e., altogether resigned to God without any purpose and action of its own. His salvation comes from God, yea, God Himself is his salvation, so that, while God is his God, he is even already in possession of salvation, and by virtue of it stands imperturbably firm. We see clearly from Psalm 37:24, what the poet means by רבּה. He will not greatly, very much, particularly totter, i.e., not so that it should come to his falling and remaining down. רבּה is an adverb like רבּת, Psalm 123:4, and הרבּה, Ecclesiastes 5:19.
There is some difficulty about the ἅπαξ λεγομ. תּהותתוּ .לןדו (Psalm 62:4). Abulwald, whom Parchon, Kimchi, and most others follow, compares the Arabic hatta 'l-rajul, the man brags; but this Arab. ht (intensive form htht) signifies only in a general way to speak fluently, smoothly and rapidly one word after another, which would give too poor an idea here. There is another Arab. htt (cogn. htk, proscindere) which has a meaning that is even better suited to this passage, and one which is still retained in the spoken language of Syria at the present day: hattani is equivalent to "he compromised me" ( equals hataka es-sitra ‛annı̂, he has pulled my veil down), dishonoured me before the world by speaking evil concerning me; whence in Damascus el-hettât is the appellation for a man who without any consideration insults a person before others, whether he be present or absent at the time. But this Arab. htt only occurs in Kal and with an accusative of the object. The words עד־אנה תהותתו על־אישׁ find their most satisfactory explanation in the Arab. hwwt in common use in Damascus at the present day, which is not used in Kal, but only in the intensive form. The Piel Arab. hwwt ‛lâ flân signifies to rush upon any one, viz., with a shout and raised fist in order to intimidate him.
(Note: Neshwn and the Kms say: "hawwata and hajjata bi-fulân-in signifies to call out to any one in order to put him in terror (Arab. ṣâḥ bh);" "but in Syria," as Wetzstein goes on to say, "the verb does not occur as med. Jod, nor is hawwata there construed with Arab. b, but only with ‛lâ. A very ready phrase with the street boys in Damascus is Arab. l-'yy š' thwwt ‛lı̂, 'why dost thou threaten me?' ")
From this הוּת, of which even the construction with Arab. ‛lâ, together with the intensive form is characteristic, we here read the Pil. הותת, which is not badly rendered by the lxx ἐπιτίθεσθε, Vulgate irruitis.
In Psalm 62:4 it is a question whether the reading תּרצּחוּ of the school of Tiberias or the Babylonian תּרצּחוּ is to be preferred. Certainly the latter; for the former (to be rendered, "may you" or "ye shall be broken in pieces, slain") produces a thought that is here introduced too early, and one that is inappropriate to the figures that follow. Standing as it still does under the regimen of עד־אנה, תרצחו is to be read as a Piel; and, as the following figures show, is to be taken, after Psalm 42:11, in its primary signification contundere (root רץ).
(Note: The reading of Ben-Asher תּרצּחוּ is followed by Aben-Ezra, Kimchi, and others, taking this form (which could not possibly be anything else) as Pual. The reading of Ben-Naphtali תּרצּחוּ is already assumed in B. Sanhedrin 119a. Besides these the reading תּרצּחוּ without Dag.) is also found, which cannot be taken as a resolved Piel, since the Metheg is wanting, but is to be read terotzchu, and is to be taken (as also the reading מלשׁני, Psalm 101:5, and ויּחלקם, 1 Chronicles 23:6; 1 Chronicles 24:3) as Poal (vid., on Psalm 94:20; Psalm 109:10).)
The sadness of the poet is reflected in the compressed, obscure, and peculiar character of the expression. אישׁ and כּלּכם (a single one-ye all) stand in contrast. כּקיר וגו, sicut parietem equals similem parieti (cf. Psalm 63:6), forms the object to תּרצּחוּ. The transmitted reading גּדר הדּחוּיה, although not incorrect in itself so far as the gender (Proverbs 24:31) and the article are concerned (Ges. 111, 2, a), must apparently be altered to גּדרה דחוּיה (Olshausen and others) in accordance with the parallel member of the verse, since both גּדרה and גּדר are words that can be used of every kind of surrounding or enclosure. To them David seems like a bent, overhanging wall, like a wall of masonry that has received the thrust that must ultimately cause its fall; and yet they rush in upon him, and all together they pursue against the one man their work of destruction and ruin. Hence he asks, with an indignation that has a somewhat sarcastic tinge about it, how long this never-satiated self-satisfying of their lust of destruction is meant to last. Their determination (יעץ as in Isaiah 14:24) is clear. It aims only or entirely (אך, here tantummodo, prorsus) at thrusting down from his high position, that is to say from the throne, viz., him, the man at whom they are always rushing (להדּיח equals להדּיחו). No means are too base for them in the accomplishment of their object, not even the mask of the hypocrite. The clauses which assume a future form of expression are, logically at least, subordinate clauses (EW. 341, b). The Old Testament language allows itself a change of number like בּפיו instead of בּפיהם, even to the very extreme, in the hurry of emotional utterance. The singular is distributive in this instance: suo quisque ore, like לו in Isaiah 2:20, ממּנּו, Isaiah 5:23, cf. Isaiah 30:22, Zechariah 14:12. The pointing יקללוּ follows the rule of יהללו, Psalm 22:27, ירננו, Psalm 149:5, and the like (to which the only exceptions are הנני, חקקי, רננת).
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