Of the Vanity of Earthly Goods.
To the chief musician, for use in liturgical worship, a psalm for the sons of Korah, a hymn of instruction and consolation written by a member of the family of Korah, to show that mere earthly advantages do not bring lasting good fortune. V. 1. Hear this, all ye people, a solemn call for the most careful attention; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world, all those living in this present time, in this age, which will soon pass away; v. 2. both low and high, the Hebrew distinguishing between the children of ordinary people, mankind in general, and the sons of people out of the ordinary, the excellent, the nobles, rich and poor, together, since all men should be interested in the subject broached here, regardless of station and fortune. V. 3. My mouth shall speak of wisdom, important and ponderous truths; and the meditation of my heart, as brought out in his whole instruction, shall be of understanding, such as goes to the root of matters, such as reveals their principles. V. 4. I will incline mine ear, in the attitude of the most careful attention, to a parable, a proverb and illustration of true wisdom revealed by God Himself; I will open my dark saying, the counsel of God, His providential dealings with men, which often seem to the believers like an inexplicable riddle, upon the harp, that is, he would accompany his explanations by a tune on the zither, his hymn being of a nature that others could also play it and find comfort in its instructions. V. 5. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when misfortune strikes the believer, when the iniquity of my heels, the calamity inflicted by his oppressors, by bad men who abuse their power for such purposes, shall compass me about? It is the old complaint that the wicked surround the just, trying to attack them unawares and to inflict injury upon them. V. 6. They that trust in their wealth, as a means of insuring them lasting happiness, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches, altogether vainglorious in their entire behavior, v. 7. none of them, the subject being generalized to include all men, can by any means redeem his brother, deliver him from the fate which will strike him on account of his sins, nor give to God a ransom for him, all the riches of the world are not sufficient to pay the guilt incurred by even one soul; v. 8. (for the redemption of their soul is precious, too costly to be paid for by anything which mere men may supply, and it ceaseth forever, it is bound to perish, to fail, the debt must remain forever unpaid, and all attempts to settle the indebtedness are futile;) v. 9. that he should still live forever, in an eternal life, without paying the penalty of death, and not see corruption. The passage plainly teaches the impossibility of redemption of any person in the world by the mutual assistance or by the united efforts of men, a fact which brands all so-called religions outside of Christianity as spurious and futile, for they all are unable to cope with the situation, Christianity alone affording a solution, namely, that of the vicarious suffering of Jesus Christ. V. 10. For he, every person in the world, including him whom men try to redeem by their own works, as in the supererogatory nonsense of the papists, seeth that wise men die, the so-called solid citizens of the state are subject to death, likewise the fool and the brutish person in whom the animal desires occupy the first place, perish, and leave their wealth to others. How foolish, then, for the rich to imagine himself to be immortal on account of the wealth with which he impresses others. V. 11. Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever and their dwelling-places to all generations, not subject to misfortune and destruction, so that one generation after the other may pass forward into eternity without witnessing any change in their good fortune; they call their lands after their own names, that is, they celebrate their own names, they see to it that men praise and flatter them on account of their lands, their possessions. V. 12. Nevertheless man being in honor, occupying the highest positions of honor and glory in this world, abideth not, passing away like a lodger who does not even await the full light of morning to continue his journey; he is like the beasts that perish, whose lives are suddenly, without warning, taken away. V. 13. This their way is their folly, it is the way all men fare who have such foolish confidence in themselves and in their riches; yet their posterity approve their sayings, the same thing happens to those who imitate them. Selah. V. 14. Like sheep they are laid in the grave, in spite of their alleged superiority and the greatness of their wealth; death shall feed on them, they are subject to its corruption; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning, the certain triumph of the righteous over the ungodly being a fact very soon, under the conditions brought about by the fulfillment of the Messianic promises; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling, literally, “for their form is to be devoured by the kingdom of death,” out of the dwelling which is theirs; they who proudly thought that they had built for eternity find themselves without a dwelling, their body rotting in the grave, and their memory being forgotten on earth. V. 15. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, redeeming him from the hand or dominion of the realm of death; for He shall receive me, up into the glory of everlasting life. Selah. The believers of the Old Testament, like the Christians today, held the belief in the resurrection of the body and in eternal life with God. The psalmist therefore makes the encouraging application. V. 16. Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased, when men praise him on account of his great wealth; v. 17. for when he dieth, he shall carry nothing away, he must leave all his wealth behind him; his glory shall not descend after him, for nothing is more evanescent than honor before men. V. 18. Though while he lived, he blessed his soul, flattering himself that he was truly happy and trying to enjoy life accordingly, Deut. 29, 18; Luke 12, 19; and men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself, though men praise the wealthy person for enjoying life according to his own lights. V. 19. He shall go to the generation of his fathers, being cut off from the land of the living suddenly; they, all those included in this category, shall never see light, never enjoy the light of everlasting life. And so the poet closes his hymn with an apt conclusion: v. 20. Man that is in honor, enjoying wealth, good fortune, the esteem of men, and understandeth not, continuing in fleshly security, is like the beasts that perish, excluded from the hope of a higher and better life in heaven with God. All believers, therefore, will refrain from being offended by the apparent good fortune of the godless wealthy, knowing that their own happiness is secure in the hands of their heavenly Father.