Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Col, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
“Psalm 49, Part 2”
Augustine’s comments on Psalm 49 pick up in a second part at verse 14. Here the Psalm speaks of death as the shepherd of some people. Augustine notes that their ”way is a stumbling-block to themselves” and that they “mind only things present, while they think not of things future . . . who think not of any life, but of that which must be called death” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324808). Augustine then makes a slight digression by discussing the nature of death in very interesting terms. “[D]eath is either the separation of the soul from the body or a separation of the soul from God, and that indeed which men fear is the separation of the soul from the body: but the real death, which men do not fear, is the separation of the soul from God” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324816). Death becomes the shepherd of these people because they reject Christ, who is life. For all who believe Christ, the shepherd is life and immortality. Augustine goes so far as to say that in the present time, “In heaven we are by faith” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324823).
Augustine continues to ask why the unrighteous seem to flourish. He notes that the Psalm describes it as being night. Even a small light at night seems bright, or, as Augustine, shifting metaphors, says, a blade of grass in winter seems very green, but it will perish (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324831). In the end, those who trust in Christ, the light of the world, will rise to everlasting life, while those who do not trust Christ, though they appear temporarily alive, will perish. The hope, restated in verse 15, is that “God shall redeem my soul” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324846). Augustine observes this is not an idle or temporary hope, but that it is a hope based on Christ’s descent to hell and ascension to heaven. It is a hope beyond doubt or fear (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324854).
There is a potential fear of the Christian, from verse 16, when confronted with the fact that some have become rich. Possibly the Christian himself worries that he is too rich so must be guilty in the terms used in the Psalm (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324862). Augustine counsels that there is no need for fear. As we seek good things in life, as we seek them for good motives, we have no fear. Those who would oppose us will finally have no eternal profit. We also, if we gain riches, will be no better or worse in eternith (v. 17). Augustine compares this idea to Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In the afterlife the rich man had no gain from his wealth (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324884).
Verse 18 speaks of the earthly blessings which the unbeliever might have. Augustine points out that the blessings of this world are illusory. What the rich have now do not go with them. Again, the rich man in Jesus’ parable was unsatisfied in Sheol. He had not hungered and thirsted for righteousness, so he was not satisfied (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324907). Augustine’s overall conclusion is that righteousness is what God has said it is, and that we are obligated to recognize and pursue it, knowing our eternal reward. To think otherwise, in verse 20, is to be like a beast, lacking sense (Augustine Psalms, loc. 324933).