Verse 20. "Man that is in honour " - The rich and honourable man who has no spiritual understanding, is a beast in the sight of God. The spirit of this maxim is, A man who is in a dignified official situation, but destitute of learning and sound sense, is like a beast. The important place which he occupies reflects no honour upon him, but is disgraced by him. Who has not read the fable of the beautifully carved head? It was every thing that it should be, but had no brains.
This verse has been often quoted as a proof of the fall of man; and from yly yalin, (in ver. 12,) which signifies to lodge for a night, it has been inferred that Adam fell on the same day on which he was created, and that he did not spend a single night in the terrestrial paradise. Adam, who was in a state of glory, did not remain in it one night, but became stupid and ignorant as the beasts which perish. But we may rest assured this is no meaning of the text.
ANALYSIS OF THE FORTY-NINTH PSALM
The doctrine taught by this Psalms is the following: That rich men be not proud of their wealth, nor poor men dejected nor humbled at their mean estate, since all men are mortal and it is not the wealth of the one can make them happy, nor the poverty of the others can make them unhappy, there being another life by which the condition of both is to be judged.
The Psalm has three parts: -
I. An exordium or preface: ver. 1-4.
II. The matter proposed, debated, and argued, ver. 5-16.
III. The advice or admonition given, ver. 16-20.
I. In the exordium: -
1. He calls together his auditory: "All people, all nations, low, high, rich, and poor;" because what he speaks concerns all.
2. Then he calls them to be attentive. "Hear, give ear."
3. He labours to make them teachable, by commending the matter of which he treats; they are not frivolous, but weighty and important things:
1."My mouth shall speak of wisdom," &c. I will speak of what I know, and speak so that others may understand.
2."I will incline my ear." I will teach you nothing but what I teach myself.
3. It is a parable which I am about to deliver, and will require all your attention.
4.That it may be brought to your ear with more delight, I shall accompany it with the harp: "I will open my dark saying upon the harp."
II. Having now assembled his congregation; endeavoured to make them attentive, docile, and well-disposed, lest any should suppose that he was envious at the prosperity of the wicked, or had so little trust in God that he lived in terror of his adversaries; he says, "Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, though the iniquity of my supplanters surrounds me?" He had no reason thus to fear; but the wealthy and ambitious had. And this he demonstrates two ways: for he takes away happiness from the one, ver. 6-15, and places happiness in the other, ver. 16. 1. They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches, are not happy, ver. 6. For wealth will not deliver in the evil day.
1. It will save no man's life: "None of them (the rich men) can redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him." God will not be bribed to save any man's life.
2. It will save no man's soul. The ransom required for that is more valuable than any thing the earth can produce.
3. Suppose he was wise, and a long-lived man, yet he must die at last: "For he seeth that wise men die; likewise the fool, and the brutish."
4. Which sufficiently shows the vanity of their riches:
1. They leave them. 2. They leave these great riches. 3. They leave them to others; sometimes to children, but often to strangers, such as they thought never would have entered into their labours.
5. "Their thoughts are vain." For, 1. "Their inward thoughts are that their houses shall continue," &c. 2. To this end, "They call their lands after their own names;" they not only study to be rich, but they are vain-glorious also.
But their study is, 1. Vanity. 2. Folly.
1. Vanity: "Nevertheless, man being in honour, abideth not;" a change there will be, and the most glorious man will be like the beasts that perish.
2. Folly: "This their way is their foolishness." A great foolery to place their chief good in riches; yet their posterity act in the same way, tread in their steps, and pant after riches and honours.
To correct this propensity, he lays before them certain considerations relative to their future condition: -
1. "Like sheep they are laid in the grave." That is their common condition; like sheep they are fatted for slaughter.
2. "Death shall feed on them." The second death; for, like Dives, they shall be burned in hell; and the fire that cannot be extinguished shall feed upon their souls and bodies.
3. In the morning of the resurrection, the "upright shall have power over them." The righteous shall shine like the sun, when they shall be Christ's footstool. The godly shall be placed on the right hand, and seated on thrones to judge them; when they shall be seated on the left, and be condemned.
4. "Their beauty shall consume in the grave." Their riches, power, and glory, shall wax old as doth a garment: "For the figure of this world passeth away." Therefore the rich of this world, and the possessors of great glory, are not happy. He therefore sets down the happy man: the man who trusts in God, and lives to him, he is happy in life, notwithstanding his afflictions, and he shall be happy for ever.
Therefore he says, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave," &c.
1. He shall redeem me. All good men's souls.
2. Not from the grave, for die we must; but from the hand, that is, the dominion and power, of death: "Death shall not reign over them." 3. The reason is, For he shall receive me- adopt me into his family, and make me a partaker of the Divine nature.
III. On these considerations, relative to good and bad men, and their different conditions, he admonishes the good that they be not troubled at the prosperity of the wicked: "Be not thou afraid," &c.
1. Not at the great wealth of the rich: "Be not afraid when one is made rich." 2. Not at the glory and honour of the mighty: "Nor when the glory of his house is increased." And he repeats the former reason: "For when he dieth, he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him." Their happiness, such as it was, was only momentary.
This he amplifies: Be it granted that they flattered themselves, and were flattered by others.
1. "Though while he lived he blessed his own soul."Soul, take thy ease," &c.
2. Though men will praise thee, and sound in thy ears, Well done! "so long as thou doest well to thyself," - heapest up riches, and followest after honour.
1. A mortal thou art, short-lived as all that went before thee: "He shall go to the generation of his fathers." And, 2. If wicked, be cast into utter darkness: "They shall never see the light." 3. Surely any man, however rich, however great, who understands not thus much, must be a beast; and with this sentiment concludes the Psalm; and it is doubled that it may be remembered: "Man who is in honour, and understandeth not is like the beasts that perish." Even while he lives, without this understanding, his life is little more than the life of the beast.