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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Psalms 49:13



This is the way of those who are foolish, And of those after them who approve their words. Selah.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Their posterity approve their sayinys - Go the same way; adopt their maxims.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

This their way is their folly - This might be rendered, “This is their way or course of life. It is their folly;” or, such is their folly. On the word “way,” see the notes at Psalm 1:6. The idea is, that it is folly for a man to cherish these hopes; to feel that wealth is of so much importance; to imagine that it can deliver from the grave; to suppose that he can perpetuate his own name, and secure his possessions in his own family upon the earth. And yet the world is still full of people as foolish as were those in the time of the psalmist; people who will not be admonished by the suggestions of reason, or by the experience of 6,000 years in the past. This is one thing in which the world makes no progress - in which it learns nothing from the experience of the past; and as the beaver under the influence of instinct builds his house and his home now in the same way that the first beaver did his, and as the brutes all act in the same manner from generation to generation, accumulating no knowledge, and making no advances from the experience of the past, so it is with people in their desire to grow rich. On other points the world accumulates knowledge, and profits from experience, garnering up the lessons taught by past experiment and observation, and thus becoming wiser in all other respects; but in regard to the desire of wealth, it makes no progress, gains no knowledge, derives no advantage, from the generations of fools that have lived and died in past ages. They now engage in the pursuit of gold with the same zeal, and the same expectation and hope which were evinced in the first ages of the world, and “as if” their own superior skill and wisdom could set at nought all the lessons taught by the past.

Yet their posterity - The coming generation is as confident and as foolish as the one that went before.

Approve their sayings - Margin, “delight in their mouth.” That is, they delight or take pleasure in what proceeds from their mouth; in what they say; in their views of things. They adopt “their” principles, and act on “their” maxims; and, attaching the same importance to wealth which “they” did, seek as “they” sought to perpetuate their names upon the earth.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 49:13

This their way is their folly.

The folly of sin

There can be no greater evidence of the degeneracy of mankind than their fond pursuits after the things which are light and momentary, and their wilful neglect of those which are of the greatest value and concern.

1. It is egregious folly to rely upon false principles, to build upon tottering and deceitful foundations; and yet so doth every vicious person. He discards all principles of right reason and understanding, and steers himself only by those which are apparently false, and have no other bottom than his own deluded fancy.

2. Then it is a high piece of folly to take up and content ourselves with small things, when we may be more welcome to greater, to strive for petty matters, and in the meantime to neglect those of moment, to aim only at base and unworthy ends, when we have high and noble ones to busy ourselves about; and yet this every sinner is apparently guilty of, and thereby betrays his folly. Children and fools pick straws, and tie knots on bulrushes, entertain themselves with trifles and inpertinences, and we may gravely smile at these their follies, and think we can do no less when we take notice of them. But, alas! their sport is our earnest, and their childish toys and rattles are but emblems of men’s serious employments and businesses.

3. He in the accounts of all intelligent persons is no other than a fool, who being left to his liberty and choice, chooses sensual and earthly delights before those that are spiritual and intellectual; and this is the guise of all sinners. Thus the intemperate and luxurious person most vainly esteems the pleasures of the taste and the delights of the palate above the more noble relishes of Divine and heavenly joys, which are the repast of the blessed, and the food of angels. The lascivious person unreasonably values the transitory emotions of his lust and lewd desires before the greater and more cherishing flames of Divine love. The covetous hugs his gold and silver, and broods over his bags with a mighty pleasure, preferring this before that other more generous and noble one of doing good with his wealth, of relieving some poor and comfortless widow, of succouring some fatherless child, of cheering the heart of some good man who is fallen into poverty, and is ready to perish. I appeal to any wise man, whether this be not a greater and more substantial pleasure than the other, whether this will not create a more lasting comfort in a man’s mind. And the same is to be said of all the pleasures which accompany the performance of good and holy actions: they are solid and durable, they are real and substantial, because indeed they are spiritual and Divine. But silly birds will fly to painted grapes; deluded sinners prosecute those delights which are false and counterfeit: they hunt after mere shadows, than which there cannot be a greater evidence of their folly.

4. Is it not folly to mind those things only which are present, and to have no eye at all to futurity? Do not sinners merit for this strange improvidence and stupidity to be reckoned among idiots? Nay, do they not deserve for this to be ranged among brute beasts, who mind only what is directly before them, but have no sense of that which is to come? Opposite unto which is the posture of the prudent man, who, Janus-like, is double-faced; he not only entertains his eyes with things that are past and present, but he looks forward to what is future, and dwells on the thoughts of those great things which are to be hereafter. By faith, which is founded on infallible revelation, he expects future treasures, riches, honours and delights; and on this persuasion and hope he despises this vain world, and is resolved never to dote on its gaudy and glittering follies. Not that he bids adieu to society, and turns religion into melancholy and solitude, but he lets not this world gain any great portion of his affections, or divert him from thinking of and preparing for that future state in the other life.

5. Can it be deemed any other than folly and madness to take great pains to purchase the eternal torments of hell, and to fit oneself for the devil? It was complained of at Rome in the days of Nero, and other bloody emperors, that death itself was grown costly, and criminals could not be executed without large fees; but hardened sinners buy their death and damnation at a very dear rate, and yet are never heard to complain of it, which argues their prodigious madness and stupidity.

6. What title but that of “fool” ought to be fastened upon him who, pretending to eternal happiness hereafter, never uses those means which are proportioned to that great end? If the intemperate man knew where a club of the debauched were met together to fill themselves with wine and empty themselves of their reasons and understandings, and knew withal that their reckoning at last must be every man’s blood, and the shot must be paid with their lives, would he not, think you, refrain from that meeting, and be persuaded not to be their comrade for that time? And this very person knows right well that luxury and drunkenness are awarded with no less than everlasting burnings, if the writings of the holy apostles be authentic, as certainly they are. What greater frenzy, then, can men labour under than to be guilty of the commission of sin in such circumstances, when they are convinced that they do amiss, and know that they take the wrong way to happiness, and see beforehand the unavoidable penalty of their misdoings?

7. Is not he to be esteemed a fool or a madman who glories in his shame, and boasts of that which is a real disgrace and reproach to him? Boasting at best is a loud indication of folly, but this is the grossest sort of folly to brag of that which really debaseth us to be proud of that which renders us vile and abominable. He is a fool indeed that makes a mock of sin.

8. It is the utmost degree of folly and frenzy to be confident and secure in the midst of the greatest dangers, and to be wholly unconcerned in that condition which is like to prove most perilous and destructive. This is the case of refractory sinners, and is as great a testimony of folly as can be produced. (J. Edwards, D. D.)

Yet their posterity approve their sayings.--

Disregarded signals

The question is sometimes discussed as to whether it were better to have lived in the first ages of the world, or in these later times. For some reasons, perhaps, it would have been better to have lived in the earlier ages, but we who live in the ends of the world have opportunity to profit by the experience of those who have gone before us. They tried a variety of experiments, and we may be guided by the results which often cost them so much.

I. Let us note and illustrate the fact affirmed by our text. Mr. Romanes, who has specially studied the minds of animals, says that we may infer intelligence in an animal whenever we see it able to profit by its own experience. But is it not the sign of a higher intelligence, the sign of human intelligence, that we are able to profit by the experience of others? Just as when a ship is lost, if it be possible some signal is placed on the fatal spot to apprise other vessels of the danger and to direct them into safe channels, so the merchant, the general, the statesman, consult the signals held forth by history that they may not make shipwreck of fortune, fame, or greatness. And yet our text accusing men of disregarding the lessons of history is painfully true. Whilst as a general rule men are anxious to profit by the experience of their ancestors on questions touching social or material interests, they are not nearly so scrupulous to profit by the moral page of history. Baxter tells how he once saw a man driving a flock of lambs, and something meeting and hindering them, one of the lambs leaped on the wall of a bridge and fell over into the river; whereupon the rest of the flock one by one leaped after it and were nearly all drowned. Thus we men often act blindly, madly.

II. We inquire into the reasons of this strange conduct. How is it men allow themselves in courses which have manifestly proved fatal to their predecessors?

1. Men blind themselves to the lessons of history by persuading themselves that variations of time and circumstance will prevent in their case the disastrous consequences which happened to others. No error could be greater than this, none more disastrous. What are circumstances to us? Absolutely nothing in comparison to the principle involved in the act, and whatever may be the surface variations the underlying principle will not fail to assert itself; and lust, pride, greed, vanity, materialism, ambition, thoughtlessness, will produce the fruit of misery and shame and ruin in any body, in any age, and in any place.

2. Men blind themselves to the lessons of history by presuming on their cleverness. It is manifest that specific sinful courses have proved the ruin of myriads, but we to-day meditating the same courses expect to come safely through by virtue of our acuteness. We form the fatal fancy that men perish not because they are wicked, but because they are weak; not because they are sinners, but because they are simpletons. In some parts of the Tyrol where the shooting has been severe, the birds of passage are said to deflect from their usual line of flight so that they may avoid the dangerous districts; but we persist in crossing dangerous places although we know countless numbers have fallen victims to the fowler, and this we do from one generation to another. Darwin tells us that animals learn from experience, imitating each other’s caution, and no animal can be caught long in the same kind of trap. But man is far less cautious. The devil keeps on using a few old traps smelling of the blood of ruined generations, and he has little need either to hide his traps or to change them; the same old baits--thirty pieces of silver, a wedge of gold, a rag of purple, a pretty face, a bottle, are abundantly and sorrowfully successful one age after another. If there is any acuteness about us, let us show it by letting evil things alone.

3. Men blind themselves to the lessons of history by presuming on their strength. “I know where to draw the line, where to pull up, where to put my foot down; they will find no weakness in me.” Men forget that once committed to a downward course they soon acquire a momentum not to be broken, not to be controlled. Some time ago the papers told us about a Californian stage-driver who was dying, and who in his delirium kept on exclaiming, “I am on the down-grade, and I can’t reach the brake.” Many a soul to-day is swinging down the dizzy steep and cannot stop. History teems with warnings. And you need not go to remote days for awakening, convincing examples. “This their way is their folly, yet their posterity fellow in their steps.” Oh I do not join them. Join the noble procession that moves upward, and with them shine as the stars for ever and ever. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Refusing to learn by experience

The power of learning by experience is the special prerogative of man.

1. Birds are endowed with that wondrous thing which we call instinct, about which we know as much when we have so labelled it as we did before; but with all their instinct they have but little power of learning from their own experience. There is no historian amongst them--Done to tell them of the past. So they travel round the same circle, and the last nest of a bird in the millennium shall be the same as the first in Paradise. The lark has never learnt to add one single bar to his carol. As the first did sing when he first broke the stillness of morning, so the last shall warble to the silent night. This power of taking other men’s failures and making them the lamp to guide our feet is reserved for man.

2. It is only when men use this power that it is profitable. The inhabitants of this island began with mud hovels, and they ended with marble palaces! There is Stonehenge, and there is also Westminster Abbey, and what is the cause of the difference?--each generation learning from the other. The wonderful implements for conquering the earth which are now used by agriculturalists are the result of past experience; and the marvellous skill of the medical profession is owing to its members bringing into practice their own knowledge, enriched with that of past ages in respect to medical science. Look at the power which is now possessed of navigating the seas, by means of steam and the mariner’s compass, to that which the ancients possessed. From the rock where one ship is split to pieces is plucked “the flower safety” for others who have to pass that dangerous way.

3. Multitudes fail to use this power of learning from experience in regard to the best, or spiritual things. They ignore past history, and despise the teachings of experience. Though it be proved that a certain way was a foolish one, yet they pursue it. When a young man goes on the path of pleasure you may show him a massive volume filled with the names of young men who have ruined their health by pursuing this path; another volume containing the names of those who have blasted the hope of thousands; and yet another, of those whom this path brought to despondency and they went on the sea of life, no one knows where; but despite of this they will pursue the same road. When the silly moth comes about the flame, how you would like to tell it how many thousands of moths have been killed in the same way; and if it had ears and speech how you would be surprised if it replied to your warning by saying, “Ah! but I am going to try an experiment as to whether I possess fire-proof wings.” (C. Vince.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 49:13". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible


"This their way is their folly;

Yet, after them, men approve their sayings (Selah)

They are appointed as a flock for Sheol;

Death shall be their shepherd;

And the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;

And their beauty shall be for Sheol to consume,

That there be no habitation for it.

But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol;

For he will receive me."

"Their way is folly ... yet men approve their sayings" (Psalms 49:13). Men do not merely approve their sayings, they also approve their ways, their life-style, their attitudes, etc., and eagerly follow in the very patterns rich men have established, futile and foolish though they are.

"For Sheol ... Death shall be their shepherd." Dahood stated that there are no less than five designations for the realm of the dead in this one psalm. He followed the marginal alternative in Psalms 49:9, reading `Pit' instead of `corruption,' commenting that, "This is one of the five poetic names for Sheol in this Psalm."[7] He even translated the words `in honor' as `Mansion,' a sarcastic word for the realm of the dead in Psalms 49:12,20. Our version does not corroborate this.

The figure here is that the wicked shall descend like a great flock of sheep into the nether world, where Death shall be their shepherd!

Addis' summary of these three verses is, "The wicked like the righteous die, but the righteous alone have the prospect of immortality."[8]

"The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning" (Psalms 49:14). We might ask, `What morning'? and Rawlinson gives this answer:

"When the resurrection morning comes - and no other explanation seems possible (see even Cheyne) - it will bring them no release; the righteous will then `have dominion over them,' and certainly shall not set them free (Revelation 21:8)."[9]

In this quotation, Rawlinson could not have meant that in the future life the righteous shall rule over the wicked or that they shall in some way control the wicked, but rather that their right of dominion in whatever the purpose of God may be shall be preferred `over' and above that of the wicked whose destiny is the lake of fire.

"But God shall redeem my soul; from the power of Sheol; For He (God) will receive me" (Psalms 49:15).

Both liberal and conservative scholars alike have tried to surpass each other in extolling the glory and importance of these words:

"Here is the solution to the `parable' and the `dark saying' (Psalms 49:4). The souls of the righteous will be redeemed, not by themselves, but by God. They will be delivered from the power of the grave (or Hades); while the ungodly shall be held under by Death and the grave (Psalms 49:14). The righteous shall be released from Death and will enter upon a higher life."[10]

"Here is the hope of faith that reaches beyond death, and in doing so overcomes death spiritually."[11]

"This is one of the rare references in the Old Testament to a belief in an afterlife."[12]

"Clearly, the writer expected a resurrection from the dead. The notion that God's children in the Old Testament had no hope in the resurrection is simply not the truth."[13]

"Here the psalmist makes one of the few Old Testament confessions of faith in a meaningful afterlife. Others are Psalms 16:10; 73:24; Job 19:25-27; Daniel 12:2-3; and Isaiah 26:19)."[14]

"This is one of the mountain-tops of Old Testament hope."[15]

"The psalmist here says, `I shall have a resurrection from the dead and an entrance into God's glory; and death shall have no dominion over me.'"[16]

"The text here rendered, `He will receive me,' is just as accurately translated, `He will take me.'"[17]

"This is one of the most important verses in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word for `take' (or `receive') here is technical. It is applied in Genesis 5:24 to the translation of Enoch, and in 2 Kings 29f to the translation of Elijah."[18]SIZE>

Such a glorious witness of the Resurrection is, of course, challenged by unbelievers, some of whom have claimed that, "This verse refers only to premature death"; but as Leupold stated, "Such a view scarcely does justice to this text."[19]

Also, Addis cited another device employed to get around what is plainly said here. "They interpret the Psalm as the voice of Israel (the nation); individuals might perish, but not Israel, God's Son. The language here, however, gives no hint of any such personification."[20]

We cite another comment, unfortunately made by a man whom we consider to be a believer; but his comment seems to us to detract from the luster of this marvelous text. Yates wrote: "Psalms 49:15 is one of the clearest evidences of a hint of immortality in the Old Testament."[21]

Indeed, indeed! "A hint of immortality?" This reminds us of an incident that happened in Boston during the gang wars, an event widely publicized in the AP and the UP. A man opened up a bar; and one night several members of a rival `Mob' raided the place, lined up six of the employees in the basement and executed all six with gun fire. In his interview with the police next day, the owner said, "I detect a hint of opposition in this"! In our view that hint resembles the one Kyle Yates mentioned!

A few other die-hards, unwilling to admit what the text here dogmatically declares, speak knowingly of damaged MSS, and defective text. However, Leupold put that type of objection to rest with his declaration, "That type of criticism is greatly exaggerated; true, difficulties exist; but the current translations are reasonably constructed."[22]

Our own personal view is that there was a much more widespread conviction in ancient Israel of the certainty of a resurrection than is usually admitted. The very brief, off-hand manner in which this glorious promise of the resurrection is treated in this psalm can be logically explained as being fully sufficient, no arguments in favor of it being necessary, due to the fact of such a conviction being general among all the people. "It must be that the hope of life with God was more real in Old Testament days than many commentators would allow."[23] That this was the general expectation of all Israel is indeed indicated by Hebrews 11:35. This does not deny that the New Testament light on this subject is far more adequate.

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James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

This their way is their folly,.... This their last end becoming like the beasts that perish, which is the issue and event of all their confidence, ambition, and honour, shows the folly of their lives and conduct: or this their course of life, in trusting to their riches; boasting of their wealth; pleasing themselves with the thoughts of the continuance of their houses and dwelling places to all generations; and calling their lands after their own names; all proclaim their folly. Or, as some render the words, "this their way is their hope" or "confidence"F2כסל למו "est fiducia ipsorum", Cocceius, Gejerus; "stolida fiducia vel spes", Michaelis. ; they place all their hope and confidence in their riches and honour, which is but a vain hope and a foolish confidence;

yet their posterity approve their sayings; they are of the same sentiments with their fathers; they say the same things, and do the same actions; tread in their steps, and follow the same track; though there have been such innumerable instances of the vanity and inconstancy of all worldly riches and grandeur.

Selah; on this word; see Gill on Psalm 3:2.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Gill, John. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

This their way [is] their folly: yet their posterity i approve their sayings. Selah.

(i) They speak and do the same thing that their fathers did.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Though their way is folly, others follow the same course of life.

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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. /*Selah*/.

Way — Their contrivance to immortalize themselves.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

13This their way is foolishness As this verse has been variously rendered, I shall briefly, before giving my own sense of it, state the views which have been taken by others. As the Hebrew word כסל , kesel, which I have translated foolishness, occasionally means the kidneys, some refine upon the term, and consider it to be here taken for fat; as if this imagination of theirs were, so to speak, fat which stupified and rendered their senses obtuse. But this reading is too forced to bear examination. Others read, This their way is their folly; (226) that is, the reason why they pursue such a line of conduct is, that they are destitute of sound judgment; for, were they not utterly devoid of it, and did they possess one spark of intelligence, would they not reflect upon the end for which they were created, and direct their minds to higher objects? I rather conceive the Psalmist simply to mean, that the event proves them to be wholly destitute of wisdom, in placing their happiness upon earthly objects, and brands them, notwithstanding all the pretensions they make to foresight and shrewdness, with ridicule and contempt. And this he states, to show in a more aggravated light the madness of their posterity, who will not be instructed by the fate of their predecessors. The last clause of the verse has also been variously rendered, and I may state the views which have been taken of it by others. The Hebrew verb רצה, ratsah, which I have translated to acquiesce, they render, to walk, and the noun פי, phi, translated mouth or sayings, they take to mean a measure, thus understanding the Psalmist to say, that the children walked by the same rule with their fathers; and they change the letter ב, beth, into כ , caph, the mark of similitude which is sufficiently common in the Hebrew language. This view of the passage comes near to the proper meaning of it. Some conceive that there is an allusion to the beasts of the field; but this is improbable. It seems best to understand with others that the word mouth denotes principles or sayings; and the verb רצה, ratsah, may be taken in its more ordinary and most generally received sense, which implies consent or complacency. I have therefore translated it to acquiesce. The boasted confidence of the ungodly proving vain in the issue, and exposing them justly to ridicule, it argues a monstrous infatuation in their posterity, with this example before their eyes, to set their affections upon the same trifles, and to feel and express themselves exactly in the same manner as those who went before them. If men reflect at all upon the judgments which God executes in the world, we might expect that they would particularly consider his dealings with their immediate predecessors, and when, wholly insensible to the lessons which should be learned from their fate, they precipitate themselves into the same courses, this convincingly demonstrates their brutish folly.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Psalms 49:13 This their way [is] their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

Ver. 13. This their way is their folly] This their fond conceit of an immortality is an egregious folly, fully confuted by every day’s experience; for the longest lived person dies at last, as did (beside the antediluvian patriarchs) Joannes de Ternporibus, armour bearer to Charles the Great, who died A.D. 1139, aged three hundred sixty-one years (Asted’s Chronol. 475). So the old man of Bengala, in the East Indies, who was three hundred and thirty-five years old when he came to the Portugals, from whom, for his miraculous age, he received a yearly stipend till he died (Naucler. Purehas. Pilg., p. 481). He that lived in our days till one hundred and fifty years, or thereabouts, yielded at length to nature; and yet men dote and dream still of an immortality. The first doom that ever was denouneed was death, "Thou shalt surely die"; and the first doubt that ever was made was concerning death, "Ye shall not surely die"; ever since which time there is something of the spawn of that old serpent left in our natures, prompting us to doubt of that whereof there is the greatest certainty; and although every man granteth that he shall die, yet there is scarce any man that futureth not his death, and thinketh that he may live yet, and yet, and so long: this is folly in a high degree, and we should be sensible of it, labouring to become neither fond of life nor afraid of death. &&&Longevity-Long lived men

Yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah] Heb. delight in their mouth, are as wise as their ancestors, tread in their track, take up their inward thoughts, Psalms 49:11, observe the same lying vanities, and so forsake their own mercies, Jonah 2:8. Selah, q.d. O wonderful, for, see the issue of their folly.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



Psalms 49:13. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings.

IT is generally supposed that wisdom pertains chiefly, if not exclusively, to those who are proficients in arts and science: but learning and wisdom are by no means necessarily connected with each other: they may exist separately, each in a high degree: and, in fact, there is nothing more common than to behold persons of the most extensive erudition acting the part of fools in God’s sight, whilst persons destitute of all human acquirements are “walking wisely before him in a perfect way.” Wisdom, properly viewed, is a conformity of the mind and will to the mind and will of God; and it exists precisely in proportion as this conformity exists: the resemblance is wisdom, the deviation folly. Hence we see why David, at the commencement of this psalm, calls, in so solemn a manner, persons of every age and quality to attend to his instructions; and professes to teach them lessons of the profoundest wisdom, when there is not any thing recondite, or any thing uncommon, in the whole psalm. The truths contained in this divine ode are level with every capacity, and therefore might seem to be improperly ushered in with so pompous an introduction: but they are at the root of all practical religion; and they draw a broad line of distinction between those who are wise, and those who are unwise, in the estimation of their God.

The whole subject of the psalm will come properly before us, whilst we consider,

I. The way of worldly men—

It may naturally be expected, that “they who are of the world, should speak of the world,” and seek it as their most desired portion: and they are described as doing so in the psalm before us.

They are altogether engrossed with earthly things—

[Worldly distinction is the one object of their ambition. For this end chiefly both wealth and honour are pursued [Note: ver. 18.]. Having attained these things in a considerable degree, they bless themselves, as possessing somewhat wherein they may trust [Note: ver. 6.], somewhat that will make them happy for a long time to come, and somewhat that shall transmit their names to posterity as worthy of admiration [Note: ver. 11.] — — —]

But “this their way is their folly”—

[Wealth and honour are far from affording the satisfaction that is expected from them: they will not ward off sickness and death, either from ourselves or others [Note: ver. 7–10.]: nor can they follow us into the eternal world [Note: ver. 17.]. The moment we die, as very speedily we all must [Note: ver. 12, 14.], nothing of them remains to us but the fearful responsibility attached to the possession of them. Instead of “profiting us in the day of wrath,” they will rather augment our final condemnation, if they have not been improved for God as talents committed to us. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus we behold the bitter consequences of living only to the flesh: the man who has his good things in this life, will want in the eternal world a drop of water to cool his tongue: “he will never see light,” but be consigned over to the everlasting regions of darkness and despair [Note: ver. 19.]. We wonder not therefore, that the man, who, because he had gotten much, thought of nothing but his temporal enjoyments, “Soul, take thine ease,” is by God himself derided as a fool: “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.”]

Yet, such is the influence of example, that, notwithstanding the folly of such conduct is visible to all, the same is pursued by every succeeding generation—

[No one who considers for a moment the issue of such conduct to those who have gone before them, can doubt the folly of it: for, whatever rank or station men held in this life, or whatever may be said of them now they are gone, what remains to them of their wealth or honour, or what enjoyment have they of their posthumous fame? If we extol them ever so high, they feel no satisfaction; and if we condemn them ever so harsly, they are unconscious of either shame or pain: they are interested in nothing but in the quality of their actions as approved or condemned by their Judge. This we all know; yet no sooner have we a prospect of wealth and honour ourselves, than our desires are as ardent, our expectations as sanguine, and our dependence as unqualified, as that of any who have gone before us. The conviction of their folly only floats in our imagination, but never descends as a, principle into our hearts. We see and blame their folly; yet approve in practice what in theory we condemn.]

As contrasted with this, let us consider,

II. The way which true wisdom prescribes—

In verse 15, the Psalmist gives us that precise view of the subject which he had before characterized as replete with wisdom: “God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for he shall receive me;” that is, Whilst worldly men have no prospects beyond the grave, I look forward to a happy eternity, which shall be the portion of all who truly serve God. Hence then we see what way true wisdom prescribes: it teaches us,

1. To regard this world in its connexion with eternity—

[View this world as the whole state of man’s existence; and they speak well, who say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” But this world is a mere passage to a better; it is an inn, at which we sojourn for a night, in our way to a better country. A person tarrying only for a few hours is not greatly elated, if his accommodations be good; nor greatly depressed, if they be bad. He considers, in either case, that it is not his home; that his comfort or discomfort is very transient; and that it will be time enough to look for unmixed enjoyments, when he shall have reached his Father’s house. Moreover, this world must be considered as a state of preparation for a better; every thing that is done here being an occasion of increased happiness or augmented misery to all eternity. In this view of the world, every pain and every pleasure acquires a new aspect. The things that are so highly prized by ungodly men lose their value; and every thing is esteemed good or bad, according as it quickens or retards us in our Christian course. Hence true wisdom says, “Love not the world [Note: John 2:15-16.],” “neither be of it [Note: John 17:14; John 17:16.];” but “be crucified to it, and let it be as one crucified to you [Note: Galatians 6:14.].”]

2. To follow the footsteps of the saints of old—

[There are those who have gone before us, whose ways were not folly, though they might be esteemed foolish by those who were themselves blinded by Satan. “Abraham went out from his kindred and his country, not knowing whither he went [Note: Hebrews 11:8.]:” Moses refused all the wealth and honour that Egypt could afford, that he might participate in the lot of God’s persecuted and despised people [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.]: many saints “took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance [Note: Hebrews 10:34.]:” Matthew left his lucrative employment to follow Christ [Note: Matthew 9:9.]: Paul suffered the loss of all things for Christ [Note: Philippians 3:8.]; and after having engaged in the Christian course, attended to nothing but his progress in it, straining every nerve to win and secure the prize [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.]. All of these would be thought by the world to carry religion to a very culpable excess: but they acted with consummate wisdom, each in the part he took: they all “chose the good part, which could not be taken away from them.” Let any one who reflects on the present state of these eminent saints, say, whether “their way was folly?” If it was not; if, on the contrary, it accorded with the dictates of true wisdom, then let all not only “approve their sayings,” but imitate their doings also, and “be followers of them, as they were of Christ.”]


1. Guard against the influence of bad example—

[There is nothing urged with greater confidence to deter young persons from a religious course, or to draw them back again to the world, than example. They are told from time to time what such and such persons do; and can this be wrong? But whoever they are who are proposed to us for examples, we have only one question to ask; Did they regulate their conduct according to the revealed will of God? and was it the one labour of their lives to walk as Christ walked? If this was not the case, it signifies not who they were, or what they did: “their way was their folly;” and instead of taking them as examples to follow, we should rather regard them as monuments to warn us against impending ruin. If the number and respectability of the persons be urged, let us remember that to “walk according to the course of this world, is to walk according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” “Christ died to deliver us from this present evil world:” we must therefore leave the broad road that leadeth to destruction, and walk in “the narrow way that leadeth unto life.” True it is, that “if we do well unto ourselves (in advancing our own temporal interests), men will speak good of us [Note: ver. 18.]:” but it is of little consequence what men speak or think: nothing will be of any lasting benefit to us, but the approbation of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-4.].]

2. Cleave to Him who alone is able to redeem our souls—

[If man cannot redeem his brother from temporal death, much less can he the soul from spiritual and eternal death: the price required for that is more than all the creatures in earth or heaven are able to pay [Note: ver. 7–9.]. But Christ has paid the mighty ransom: with his own “precious blood,” he has redeemed us from sin and Satan, from death and hell. Seek him then, and you are richer than ten thousand worlds could make you. In him you have “durable riches, and righteousness.” Go to him, and he will give you “gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich.” After him your desires cannot be too ardent; your expectations from him cannot be too enlarged; your dependence on him cannot be too entire and confident. On that side you need not fear excess. And if the world deride your way as folly, regard it not: they will soon alter their sentiments: the moment they enter into the eternal world, they will know infallibly who were wise and who were fools: and when they meet you at the judgment-seat of Christ, they will say, “We fools counted their life madness:” their reproaches then will be turned upon themselves, and their one subject of lamentation will be, that they “approved the sayings” of a blind ungodly world, instead of the infallible sayings of their God. This is the way to “walk not as fools, but as wise:” and, so walking, you shall surely ere long have the plaudit of your Judge, “Well done, good and faithful servants! enter ye into the joy of your Lord.”]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

This their way, i.e. their counsel and contrivance to immortalize themselves.

Is their folly; though to themselves and some otters it seem to be wisdom, yet in truth it is apparent folly and madness. For they neither obtain that immortal name which they seek and hope for; nor, if they do, doth it yield them any comfort or benefit. Their sayings, Heb. their mouth, i.e. their counsels and suggestions, which they gave them concerning these matters. The mouth is oft put for the words which come out of it, as Numbers 35:30 Job 7:11.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

13. Learning no higher wisdom by observation, their posterity eulogize the example of their fathers and perpetuate their folly.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Goats? Can any of you be so stupid? (Menochius) --- Some of the pagans believed, that their idols delighted in the smell of victims. (Haydock)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Selah. Connecting the fact of Psalms 49:14 with their thought of verses: Psalms 49:11, Psalms 49:12, and explaining the folly of Psalms 49:13. See App-66.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

This their way (is) their folly - "their way," whereby they virtually think themselves immortal, and therefore desire their houses to continue forever, wise as they regard it, "is their folly," as the event shows. Or "way" may be taken as their portion, their lot, as in Psalms 1:6; Psalms 37:5; then translate, 'This (is) their way, (their fate, so there is) folly to them' - i:e., they are by the event convicted of folly.

Yet their posterity approve their sayings - literally, 'delight in their mouth;' i:e., in their maxims of living, especially in their boastful speeches, promising themselves immortality, and "calling their lands after their own names." They have "a mouth speaking great things" (Daniel 7:8; cf. Psalms 73:8).

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(13) This their way—i.e., the folly mentioned in the (amended) preceding verse, and described in Psalms 49:11.

Is their folly—i.e., is a way of folly.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.
Luke 12:20; 1 Corinthians 3:19
approve their sayings
Heb. delight in their mouth.
Jeremiah 44:17; Luke 11:47,48; 16:27,28

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Psalms 49:13". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

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