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Psalms 49:7-9

Context

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 

Psalms 49:15

Context

49:15 But 7  God will rescue 8  my life 9  from the power 10  of Sheol;

certainly 11  he will pull me to safety. 12  (Selah)

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 Or “certainly.”

8 tn Or “redeem.”

9 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).

10 tn Heb “hand.”

11 tn Or “for.”

12 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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