A brutish man knows not; neither does a fool understand this.
In this psalm we have a contrast between the animal and the spiritual life, the latter exulting in God, uttering His praise, receiving His thoughts, studying His works; the former cleaving to the earth, wallowing in the dust, with no ambition that soars higher than the husks which it eats, or the roof of the sty which it occupies. "A brutish man." It is originally a compound expression — "a brute-man." It is a degrading epithet, and it is employed in common daily life.
I. MAN'S NATURE IS VERY CLOSELY ALLIED TO THAT OF THE ANIMAL. It is difficult to define the boundary between instinct and reason. The mental faculties of man and of the animals run in parallel lines to a point high up on the scale, Where the difference begins. Animals serve man, and should be treated justly, considerately, kindly.
II. THE DEGRADATION OF MAN TO THE LEVEL OF THE ANIMAL.
1. When he is ruled by appetite, not by conscience. A man will sometimes attempt to justify his avarice, his pride, his vindictiveness, his sensuality by saying that he is only following the lead of passions which God has implanted in him; that the light which "leads astray is light from heaven," that God has created the appetite in his nature. Yes; but God never intended it to rule or lead; He intended it to serve, to be under the control of reason and conscience and religious principle.
2. When he eats and drinks, and does not worship. Training may produce a great change in animals; education may turn the stolid rustic into an intelligent, cultured scholar; but there is something greater than any advantage which education may confer — that is, the capacity of union and communion with God of lifting up the soul to the Most High. And yet there are some who ignore this, who cast this pearl before the swine of evil passions, darken the window that looks heavenwards, nail the shutters over it, so that not a ray of light can reach the spirit; go down, down to the animal, as if there were no God, no worship, no adoration, no gratitude. The altar is in ruins; and the man has become as the brute.
3. Because he is working blindly. Take a man who is bent on acquiring wealth, who sacrifices everything on the altar of Mammon; he is shrewd, quick to take advantage of the favourable breeze, successful, makes his "pile," as they say. Is he working blindly? Yes, blindly; he has never discerned the meaning of what he is doing, he has never appraised the course at its right value, never estimated its bearing, its consequences to his moral nature; he is like a mole, scratching and burrowing in the dust, with no eye for the broad universe, and the light of God that floods it. And there is no thought of the future. He degrades himself to an equality with the brute, forgetting that while the beast "goes downwards to the earth," the spirit of man "goeth upward," and that man shall receive in another state "according to that he hath done in the body, whether it be good or bad."
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS DEGRADATION.
1. He has no eye for the greatest and noblest in life. Just as the eyes and the light, the air and the lungs correspond to each other, so it is with beauty and taste, science and intellect, friends and affection. And there is a spiritual faculty by which we discern spiritual things. The brutish man represses, restrains, stifles this faculty; resists the Spirit of God, who would quicken, direct, enlarge it.
2. He does not, then, value his nature, as God values it. He has degraded himself to a level with the swine; he has no sense of sonship, no feeling of spiritual dignity, he has gone down and down to the mire. Happy is he if he comes to himself, if in a sane moment the animal is cowed, and the angel asserts itself, and the ragged swineherd says, "I will arise and go to my Father."
3. He has no resources in time of suffering and trouble. God is a stranger — he dreads the thought of God — would fain hope that God does riot exist. He is like the brute; he has nothing to fall back upon. Very different is the experience of the spiritual man. Trouble comes; but he sees God in it. The tempest gathers; but "His way is in the whirlwind," etc. The deep, full, bitter cup is presented — but it has been mingled by a Father's love. The bear deprived of her whelps can only rage and moan; the brutish man bereaved of his children can only curse and rebel; the godly man, missing his loved ones in the gloom of the gorge of death, can say (Job 1:21).
( J. Owen.)
Parallel VersesKJV: A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.