Psalm 49

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by the sons of Korah.
1 Hear this, all you peoples. Listen, all you inhabitants of the world, 2 both low and high, rich and poor together. 3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom. My heart shall utter understanding. 4 I will incline my ear to a proverb. I will open my riddle on the harp. 5 Why should I fear in the days of evil, when iniquity at my heels surrounds me? 6 Those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the multitude of their riches— 7 none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give God a ransom for him. 8 For the redemption of their life is costly, no payment is ever enough, 9 that he should live on forever, that he should not see corruption. 10 For he sees that wise men die; likewise the fool and the senseless perish, and leave their wealth to others. 11 Their inward thought is that their houses will endure forever, and their dwelling places to all generations. They name their lands after themselves. 12 But man, despite his riches, doesn’t endure. He is like the animals that perish. 13 This is the destiny of those who are foolish, and of those who approve their sayings. Selah. 14 They are appointed as a flock for Sheol. Death shall be their shepherd. The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. Their beauty shall decay in Sheol, far from their mansion. 15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah. 16 Don’t be afraid when a man is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased. 17 For when he dies he shall carry nothing away. His glory shall not descend after him. 18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul— and men praise you when you do well for yourself— 19 he shall go to the generation of his fathers. They shall never see the light. 20 A man who has riches without understanding, is like the animals that perish.

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Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

Verses 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?

Verses 6–14

Here is a description of the spirit and way of worldly people. A man may have wealth, and may have his heart enlarged in love, thankfulness, and obedience, and may do good with it. Therefore it is not men’s having riches that proves them to be worldly, but their setting their hearts upon them as the best things. Worldly men have only some floating thoughts of the things of God, while their fixed thoughts, their inward thoughts, are about the world; that lies nearest the heart. But with all their wealth they cannot save the life of the dearest friend they have. This looks further, to the eternal redemption to be wrought out by the Messiah. The redemption of the soul shall cost very dear; but, being once wrought, it shall never need to be repeated. And he, the Redeemer, shall rise again before he sees corruption, and then shall live for evermore, Re 1:18. This likewise shows the folly of worldly people, who sell their souls for that which will never buy them. With all their wealth they cannot secure themselves from the stroke of death. Yet one generation after another applaud their maxims; and the character of a fool, as drawn by heavenly Wisdom itself, Lu 12:16–21, continues to be followed even among professed Christians. Death will ask the proud sinner, Where is thy wealth, thy pomp? And in the morning of the resurrection, when all that sleep in the dust shall awake, the upright shall be advanced to the highest honour, when the wicked shall be filled with everlasting shame and contempt, Da 12:2. Let us now judge of things as they will appear in that day. The beauty of holiness is that alone which the grave cannot touch, or damage.

Verses 15–20

Believers should not fear death. The distinction of men’s outward conditions, how great soever in life, makes none at death; but the difference of men’s spiritual states, though in this life it may seem of small account, yet at and after death is very great. The soul is often put for the life. The God of life, who was its Creator at first, can and will be its Redeemer at last. It includes the salvation of the soul from eternal ruin. Believers will be under strong temptation to envy the prosperity of sinners. Men will praise thee, and cry thee up, as having done well for thyself in raising an estate and family. But what will it avail to be approved of men, if God condemn us? Those that are rich in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, have something of which death cannot strip them, nay, which death will improve; but as for worldly possessions, as we brought nothing into the world, so it is certain that we shall carry nothing out; we must leave all to others. The sum of the whole matter is, that it can profit a man nothing to gain the whole world, to become possessed of all its wealth and all its power, if he lose his own soul, and is cast away for want of that holy and heavenly wisdom which distinguishes man from the brutes, in his life and at his death. And are there men who can prefer the lot of the rich sinner to that of poor Lazarus, in life and death, and to eternity? Assuredly there are. What need then we have of the teaching of the Holy Ghost; when, with all our boasted powers, we are prone to such folly in the most important of all concerns!

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