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Psalms 49:14-15

Context

49:14 They will travel to Sheol like sheep, 1 

with death as their shepherd. 2 

The godly will rule 3  over them when the day of vindication dawns; 4 

Sheol will consume their bodies and they will no longer live in impressive houses. 5 

49:15 But 6  God will rescue 7  my life 8  from the power 9  of Sheol;

certainly 10  he will pull me to safety. 11  (Selah)

1 tn Heb “like sheep to Sheol they are appointed.” The verb form שַׁתּוּ (shatu) is apparently derived from שָׁתַת (shatat), which appears to be a variant of the more common שִׁית (shiyt, “to place; to set”; BDB 1060 s.v. שָׁתַת and GKC 183 §67.ee). Some scholars emend the text to שָׁחוּ (shakhu; from the verbal root שׁוּח [shukh, “sink down”]) and read “they descend.” The present translation assumes an emendation to שָׁטוּ (shatu; from the verbal root שׁוּט [shut, “go; wander”]), “they travel, wander.” (The letter tet [ט] and tav [ת] sound similar; a scribe transcribing from dictation could easily confuse them.) The perfect verbal form is used in a rhetorical manner to speak of their destiny as if it were already realized (the so-called perfect of certitude or prophetic perfect).

2 tn Heb “death will shepherd them,” that is, death itself (personified here as a shepherd) will lead them like a flock of helpless, unsuspecting sheep to Sheol, the underworld, the land of the dead.

3 tn The prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) consecutive carries the same force as the perfect verbal form in v. 14a. The psalmist speaks of this coming event as if it were already accomplished.

4 tn Heb “will rule over them in the morning.” “Morning” here is a metaphor for a time of deliverance and vindication after the dark “night” of trouble (see Pss 30:5; 46:5; 59:16; 90:14; 143:8; Isa 17:14). In this context the psalmist confidently anticipates a day of vindication when the Lord will deliver the oppressed from the rich (see v. 15) and send the oppressors to Sheol.

5 tn Heb “their form [will become an object] for the consuming of Sheol, from a lofty residence, to him.” The meaning of this syntactically difficult text is uncertain. The translation assumes that צוּר (tsur, “form”; this is the Qere [marginal] reading; the Kethib has צִירָם [tsiram, “their image”]) refers to their physical form or bodies. “Sheol” is taken as the subject of “consume” (on the implied “become” before the infinitive “to consume” see GKC 349 §114.k). The preposition מִן (min) prefixed to “lofty residence” is understood as privative, “away from; so as not.” The preposition -ל (lamed) is possessive, while the third person pronominal suffix is understood as a representative singular.

6 tn Or “certainly.”

7 tn Or “redeem.”

8 tn Or “me.” The Hebrew term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh) with a pronominal suffix is often equivalent to a pronoun, especially in poetry (see BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 4.a).

9 tn Heb “hand.”

10 tn Or “for.”

11 tn Heb “he will take me.” To improve the poetic balance of the verse, some move the words “from the power of Sheol” to the following line. The verse would then read: “But God will rescue my life; / from the power of Sheol he will certainly deliver me” (cf. NEB).

sn According to some, the psalmist here anticipates the resurrection (or at least an afterlife in God’s presence). But it is more likely that the psalmist here expresses his hope that God will rescue him from premature death at the hands of the rich oppressors denounced in the psalm. The psalmist is well aware that all (the wise and foolish) die (see vv. 7-12), but he is confident God will lead him safely through the present “times of trouble” (v. 5) and sweep the wicked away to their final destiny. The theme is a common one in the so-called wisdom psalms (see Pss 1, 34, 37, 112). For a fuller discussion of the psalmists’ view of the afterlife, see R. B. Chisholm, Jr., “A Theology of the Psalms,” A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 284-88.



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