To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.
1 Hear this, all peoples;
Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 Both low and high,
Rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom,
And the meditation of my heart shall give understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will disclose my dark saying on the harp.
5 Why should I fear in the days of evil,
When the 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 to God a ransom for him —
8 For the redemption of their souls is costly,
And it shall cease forever —
9 That he should continue to live eternally,
And not see the Pit.
10 For he sees wise men die;
Likewise the fool and the senseless person perish,
And leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inner thought is that their houses will last forever,
Their dwelling places to all generations;
They call their lands after their own names.
12 Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain;
He is like the beasts that perish.
13 This is the way of those who are foolish,
And of their posterity who approve their sayings. Selah
14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave;
Death shall feed on them;
The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;
And their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling.
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave,
For He shall receive me. Selah
16 Do not be afraid when one becomes 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 lives he blesses himself
(For men will praise you when you do well for yourself),
19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers;
They shall never see light.
20 A man who is in honor, yet does not understand,
Is like the beasts that perish.
together (v.2) = alike
wisdom/understanding (v.3) — both plural to indicate fullness and plenty
dark saying (v.4) — riddle, enigma
heels (v.5) = lit. “overreacher,” foes — from the same Hebrew root as the word for “heels” — the idea, I think, is “those who tread on me”
And it shall cease forever (v.8) — “and he shall cease trying forever” — the idea being that he should stop trying to redeem his own soul. It can’t be done no matter how long he tries.
Verses 5-9 represent one of the most specific and concise biblical declarations of the human dilemma — to wit: not only that everyone is under the penalty of sin and in need of redemption from eternal (i.e., spiritual) death (which points are also concisely made in, e.g., Ecclesiastes 7:20; Ezekiel 18:4; Daniel 12:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23), but also that no one is in fact able to pay their own soul’s redemption (v.8; or “redemption price” — much less that of someone else (v.7). — Wechsler, page 138.
though in honor (v.12 and 20) — the idea here seems to be either “despite his wealth,” or “despite his splendor” or … “in spite of his dignity above the rest of creation”
The bleakness of the human dilemma is here highlighted even further by focusing on the way of those who are foolish (v.13) — i.e., those who believe that all the real (i.e., immovable) property that they amass in this life (i.e., the “houses,” “dwelling places,” and “lands” of v.11) will enable their names (also signifying “reputation”) to endure forever, the folly of which thinking was already borne out long ago at Babel, where mankind sought to establish a lasting “name” for themselves with a tower and surrounding city. In the end, their form (v.14; i.e., their souls/spiritual essence) — and any “name” attending thereto — are destined for the terrors of Sheol (v.14) — these “terrors” referring to the fiery torment and despair at the realization of their eternal condemnation attending unbelievers (i.e., “fools” as biblically defined). — Wechsler, page 139.
sheep (v.14) — the idea seems to be that men, like sheep, will be lead to the grave with death as the shepherd
grave (v.14) = Sheol itself is not exclusively for the wicked, but is in fact the Old Testament designation for the temporary place to which the souls of all people — righteous or wicked — go after death. Within Sheol, however ,there is an inviolable distinction between the circumstances, or “place,” of the righteous (i.e., believers) and the wicked (i.e., unbelievers). The wicked, who rejected God’s truth, go to a place in Sheol characterized by “torment” and “flame,” whereas the righteous, who accepted God’s truth, go to a place in Sheol called “Abraham’s Bosom,” which expression connotes peace, rest, and paternal-relational security. — Wechsler, pages 139-140.
in the morning (v.14) — beyond death, in the resurrection
he blesses himself (v.18) — Luke 12:19: And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”
He shall go to the generation of his fathers (v.19) — the idea is that he will join his ancestors in Sheol