on Psalms 49 :20
Man that is in honor - The rich and honorable 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 honor 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 ילין yalin, (in Psalm 49:12), 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.
on Psalms 49 :20
Man that is in honor - Man that is in possession of wealth, or that occupies an exalted rank. See the notes at Psalm 49:12.
And understandeth not - That is, who has no proper appreciation of what it is to be a man; of what is his true rank "as" a man; of his relations to God; of his condition as an immortal being - man that values himself only on the fact that he is rich; that lives for this world alone; that regards it as a sufficient distinction that he "is" rich; that degrades his nobler nature in the mere enjoyment of the pleasures of sense - is like the beasts - is in no way elevated above them.
Is like the beasts that perish - They live only for this life. They have no higher nature than that which pertains to the senses, and they live accordingly. The man who, though of exalted rank, lives for this life alone, herein resembles them. See the notes at Psalm 49:12. Alas! what multitudes there are who thus live - whose only aim is to secure the wealth and the honors of this life - who have no more thought of a future state, and who form no more plans in regard to a future world, than do the brutes! For many there are in exalted stations, who are surrounded by all that wealth can give, yet who no more admit the thought of a future world into their hopes and plans than if they had no other endowment than the camel or the ox, and whose conduct in this respect would not be changed if all the higher endowments which constitute the nature of man were withdrawn, and they were at once reduced to the condition of a brute. While, therefore, the main purpose of this psalm is to show that wealth confers no "power" which is to be dreaded - that its possessor, though wicked, cannot permanently injure us, since he must soon pass away by death - the course of thought at the same time teaches us that we should not "desire" wealth as our portion; that we should not live for this, as the main object of life. The possessor of the most ample fortune must soon be laid in the grave. All that he has acquired will pass into other hands, and will be his no more. But he "has" a higher nature. He "may" live in a manner different from the brute that perishes. He "may" act with reference to a higher - an eternal - state of existence; and, when he dies, he "may" leave his earthly inheritance, whether great or small, only to enter on an inheritance that shall he permanent and eternal. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mark 8:36.
on Psalms 49 :20
49:20 Understandeth not - Hath not true wisdom. The beasts - Though he hath the outward shape of a man, yet in truth he is a beast, a stupid, and unreasonable creature.