This blog continues my translation with comment of the second book of Psalms, that is psalms 42 -72.
Hear this, all you peoples!
Pay attention, you dwellers on earth!
Common people and nobility together,
Rich and poor alike!
My mouth will speak wise words;
My mind will whisper its intelligence.
I will consider a dark truth;
I will open up my parable on the harp.
Why should I be afraid in evil days
when I am corralled by the crimes of my enemies
secure in their wealth and proud of their profits?
No prince can buy himself back
or pay God the price of his life;
for life is expensive to redeem
and it ends completely.
Will he live forever and not see the Pit?
No, even the wise must die,
and the fools and the brutes will perish together
leaving their wealth to others.
The grave is their long home,
their dwelling place from generation to generation
though they named lands with their own name.
Mortals do not abide in magnificence
but are cut off like beasts,
like sheep they are destined for Sheol,
and Death shall be their shepherd.
They shall go down swiftly to the grave
and their form shall wither away;
Sheol shall be their residence.
But God will buy back my life from the grip of Sheol
for he will fetch me.
Do not be in awe when a prince becomes rich
when the splendour of his household increases;
for in his death he will take nothing with him
his splendour will not go down after him.
Though he pampers his soul while he lives,
and though people praise you when you better yourself
He will go to the generation of his fathers
who will never again see light.
Mortals cannot abide in magnificence
but like beasts they are cut off.
At a first look, this psalm only tells us the commonplace truth that “you can’t take it with you,” but a closer look reveals some matters of interest.
1. The author is aware of the distinction in his society between the “children of Adam”, the common people and the children of the Noble Man, the aristocracy. Although ancient Israel may have been small and economically poor in comparison with the great powers of the region, it had its own hierarchies of wealth and power. The psalm addressed to all, but is explicitly critical of the wealthy.
2. The author assumes that the wealthy will follow their own interests and commit crimes against the common people, such as himself.
3. He does not dhowever, think that the wealthy enjoy any true advantage, nor does he encourage the common people to be envious. Rather he reminds the wealthy that they are to die, like everyone.
4. The wealthy get their own way by payment; in the case of our mortality however, no payment can do the job. Prisoners, slaves and criminals could be redeemed, bought back, from their new owners, but God who consigns lives to Sheol, the place of exhausted human shadows, cannot be paid ramsom money.
5. Death takes everyone regardless of social rank or personal qualities. Even a wise person such as the psalmist is not exempt. In view of the author’s confidence in God’s rescue, this insistence on the universality of death, should be noted. The power of death exposes the folly of too much reliance on wealth. However splendid the households of the rich, the grave is their long home. They may have risen to be rulers, shepherds of the people, but Death will be their shepherd.
6. The bald announcement that God will redeem the psalmist from Sheol, is neither elaborated nor explained. Some scholars have seen it as a interpolation by a later hand. Still, given that by the time of Jesus, the Phariseees had come to believe in resurrection, we should be prepared to find earlier signs of this faith. Christian readers will notice that in spite of redemption from death being described as costly, God achieves this redemption.
7. The perspective of the psalm on human life, nevertheless, does not change: it remains dismissive of human pride. The word “kabod” glory or magnificence, is not refused to human achievement, but its frailty is twice noted.
8. In this psalm, the expected contrast with the life of godly virtue is not presented; its wisdom is focused on the folly of trust in wealth and status. It is a wisdom still relevant.