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Psalms 49:7-12


49:7 Certainly a man cannot rescue his brother; 1 

he cannot pay God an adequate ransom price 2 

49:8 (the ransom price for a human life 3  is too high,

and people go to their final destiny), 4 

49:9 so that he might continue to live 5  forever

and not experience death. 6 

49:10 Surely 7  one sees 8  that even wise people die; 9 

fools and spiritually insensitive people all pass away 10 

and leave their wealth to others. 11 

49:11 Their grave becomes their permanent residence,

their eternal dwelling place. 12 

They name their lands after themselves, 13 

49:12 but, despite their wealth, people do not last, 14 

they are like animals 15  that perish. 16 

1 tn Heb “a brother, he surely does not ransom, a man.” The sequence אִישׁ...אָח (’akh...’ish, “a brother…a man”) is problematic, for the usual combination is אָח...אָח (“a brother…a brother”) or אִישׁ...אִישׁ (“a man…a man”). When אִישׁ and אָח are combined, the usual order is אָח...אִישׁ (“a man…a brother”), with “brother” having a third masculine singular suffix, “his brother.” This suggests that “brother” is the object of the verb and “man” the subject. (1) Perhaps the altered word order and absence of the suffix can be explained by the text’s poetic character, for ellipsis is a feature of Hebrew poetic style. (2) Another option, supported by a few medieval Hebrew mss, is to emend “brother” to the similar sounding אַךְ (’akh, “surely; but”) which occurs in v. 15 before the verb פָּדָה (padah, “ransom”). If this reading is accepted the Qal imperfect יִפְדֶּה (yifddeh, “he can [not] ransom”) would need to be emended to a Niphal (passive) form, יִפָּדֶה (yifadeh, “he can[not] be ransomed”) unless one understands the subject of the Qal verb to be indefinite (“one cannot redeem a man”). (A Niphal imperfect can be collocated with a Qal infinitive absolute. See GKC 344-45 §113.w.) No matter how one decides the textual issues, the imperfect in this case is modal, indicating potential, and the infinitive absolute emphasizes the statement.

2 tn Heb “he cannot pay to God his ransom price.” Num 35:31 may supply the legal background for the metaphorical language used here. The psalmist pictures God as having a claim on the soul of the individual. When God comes to claim the life that ultimately belongs to him, he demands a ransom price that is beyond the capability of anyone to pay. The psalmist’s point is that God has ultimate authority over life and death; all the money in the world cannot buy anyone a single day of life beyond what God has decreed.

3 tn Heb “their life.” Some emend the text to “his life,” understanding the antecedent of the pronoun as “brother” in v. 7. However, the man and brother of v. 7 are representative of the human race in general, perhaps explaining why a plural pronoun appears in v. 8. Of course, the plural pronoun could refer back to “the rich” mentioned in v. 6. Another option (the one assumed in the translation) is that the suffixed mem is enclitic. In this case the “ransom price for human life” is referred to an abstract, general way.

4 tn Heb “and one ceases forever.” The translation assumes an indefinite subject which in turn is representative of the entire human race (“one,” that refers to human beings without exception). The verb חָדַל (khadal, “cease”) is understood in the sense of “come to an end; fail” (i.e., die). Another option is to translate, “and one ceases/refrains forever.” In this case the idea is that the living, convinced of the reality of human mortality, give up all hope of “buying off” God and refrain from trying to do so.

5 tn The jussive verbal form with vav (ו) conjunctive is taken as indicating purpose/result in relation to the statement made in v. 8. (On this use of the jussive after an imperfect, see GKC 322 §109.f.) In this case v. 8 is understood as a parenthetical comment.

6 tn Heb “see the Pit.” The Hebrew term שַׁחַת (shakhat, “pit”) is often used as a title for Sheol (see Pss 16:10; 30:9; 55:24; 103:4).

7 tn The particle כִּי (ki) is understood here as asseverative (emphatic).

8 tn The subject of the verb is probably the typical “man” mentioned in v. 7. The imperfect can be taken here as generalizing or as indicating potential (“surely he/one can see”).

9 tn The imperfect verbal forms here and in the next line draw attention to what is characteristically true. The vav (ו) consecutive with perfect in the third line carries the same force.

10 tn Heb “together a fool and a brutish [man] perish.” The adjective בַּעַר (baar, “brutish”) refers to spiritual insensitivity, not mere lack of intelligence or reasoning ability (see Pss 73:22; 92:6; Prov 12:1; 30:2, as well as the use of the related verb in Ps 94:8).

11 sn Death shows no respect for anyone. No matter how wise or foolish an individual happens to be, all pass away.

12 tc Heb “their inward part [is] their houses [are] permanent, their dwelling places for a generation and a generation.” If one follows the MT, then קֶרֶב (qerev, “inward part”) must refer to the seat of these people’s thoughts (for other examples of this use of the term, see BDB 899 s.v., though BDB prefers an emendation in this passage). In this case all three lines of v. 11 expose these people’s arrogant assumption that they will last forever, which then stands in sharp contrast to reality as summarized in v. 12. In this case one might translate the first two lines, “they think that their houses are permanent and that their dwelling places will last forever” (cf. NASB). Following the lead of several ancient versions, the present translation assumes an emendation of קִרְבָּם (qirbam, “their inward part”) to קְבָרִים (qÿvarim, “graves”). This assumes that the letters bet (ב) and resh (ר) were accidentally transposed in the MT. In this case the first two lines support the point made in v. 10, while the third line of v. 11 stands in contrast to v. 12. The phrase בֵּית עוֹלָם (betolam, “permanent house”) is used of a tomb in Eccl 12:5 (as well as in Phoenician tomb inscriptions, see DNWSI 1:160 for a list of texts) and מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan, “dwelling place”) refers to a tomb in Isa 22:16. Cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV.

13 sn Naming their lands after themselves is a claim of possession.

14 tn Heb “but mankind in honor does not remain.” The construction vav (ו) + noun at the beginning of the verse can be taken as contrastive in relation to what precedes. The Hebrew term יְקָר (yÿqar, “honor”) probably refers here to the wealth mentioned in the preceding context. The imperfect verbal form draws attention to what is characteristically true. Some scholars emend יָלִין (yalin, “remains”) to יָבִין (yavin, “understands”) but this is an unnecessary accommodation to the wording of v. 20.

15 tn Or “cattle.”

16 tn The verb is derived from דָּמָה (damah, “cease; destroy”; BDB 198 s.v.). Another option is to derive the verb from דָּמָה (“be silent”; see HALOT 225 s.v. II דמה, which sees two homonymic roots [דָּמָה, “be silent,” and דָּמָה, “destroy”] rather than a single root) and translate, “they are like dumb beasts.” This makes particularly good sense in v. 20, where the preceding line focuses on mankind’s lack of understanding.

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