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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 58

Verse 1





The title selected here is that which appears in the American Standard Version. Again we find no convincing evidence capable of denying that the psalm is truly one of those written by David.

This is another of the so-called imprecatory psalms. It expresses a seven-fold curse upon evil men and mentions the rejoicing of the righteous that such a judgment will actually fall upon the wicked. It is only a very foolish, naive, and immature type of `righteous person' who is unable to find in his soul an element of rejoicing and thanksgiving at the Biblical prospect of the final utter overthrow of wickedness.

What that overthrow means, of course, is the punishment and destruction of Satan himself, who fully deserves his appointment in the lake of fire (which we consider metaphorical). Should God allow Satan to continue his career of deception, murder, rape, arson, cruelty, hatred, oppression, etc. in a degree that runs beyond all vocabularies to describe it, and in an intensity that spares no one whomsoever, young, old, innocent, or helpless? Repeat, should God allow that Evil Being unlimited freedom to continue his evil assault upon mankind indefinitely; or should God put the hook in his nose and drag him to the death and destruction that he deserves? This is the great question. God has already told us how it will be answered.

The punishment of the wicked is an incidental thing altogether to the overthrow of Satan. Hell, with all of its implications of terror, described in the Bible under many metaphors, was never designed for evil men, but only for Satan and the fallen angels who supported him. Christ died on Calvary to prevent any man from ever suffering the fate of Satan.

However, until that time when Satan is destroyed, the horrible wretchedness of humanity shall continue to be achieved by Satan's depredations against men. It is the rejoicing in that final victory over Satan that is always meant when the Bible speaks of the righteous rejoicing over the judgment against evil.

Pitiful indeed as the fate of wicked men will be, it must ever be remembered that such was `their choice'; and that no one compelled them to become servants of Satan. Of course, Our Lord taught us to pray for wicked men; and that is fulfilled in every prayer for their conversion.

As for the authorship of this psalm and the occasion when it was written, it appears to us that Delitzsch has a correct understanding of it.

"This Psalm belongs to the times of Absalom; and the language here does not warrant our denying it to David. That it is indeed David who speaks here is to a certain extent guaranteed by Psalms 64 and Psalms 111. The same David who wrote one of them wrote all three."[1]

The paragraphing suggested by Kidner is adequate.

I. Tyrants Addressed (Psalms 58:1-2).

II. Tyrants Described (Psalms 58:3-5).

III. Tyrants Prayed Against (Psalms 58:6-9).

IV. Tyrants Rejoiced Over (Psalms 58:10-11).


Psalms 58:1-2

"Do ye indeed in silence speak righteousness?

Do ye indeed judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?

Nay, in heart ye work wickedness;

Ye weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth."

The first thing the serious Bible student will be concerned about here is the false translation of this place in the RSV, which gives us this for Psalms 58:1, "Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the sons of men uprightly?" The RSV translators did indeed give us an alternative reading which is a thousand times better than their translation, `mighty lords,' instead of `gods' in the first clause.

The error in this translation is seen in the postulations of many commentators who accept `gods' here as a council of pagan deities whom God allowed to rule the nations. The persons addressed in these first two verses are not divine persons at all, despite the assertions of some writers.

The error of this translation is not that the Hebrew word of two consonants (L-M) cannot be so translated; but that such a translation is ridiculous on the face of it. The word can also mean, "rams," "leaders," "mighty lords," "judges," etc. Why should the translators have chosen a word capable of such perverted implications?

The Biblical word "gods" is frequently applied to human authorities, leaders or judges, as in Exodus 21:6; 22:8; Deuteronomy 19:17; and Psalms 82:1,6. to name only a few. The words of Christ have a special application here. When the Pharisees threatened to stone him for saying that he was the Son of God, Jesus replied to them by quoting Psalms 82:6, of which he said, "If he called them gods unto whom the Word of God came (and the Scriptures cannot be broken), how can you say of Him whom the Father sent into the world, `Thou blasphemest,' because I said I am the Son of God?" (John 10:34,35).

We are indeed thankful for those writers who discern what is truly meant here.

These verses are addressed to those who discharge the god-like offices of judges and rulers.[2] "O ye gods," means `mighty ones' in the sense of judges.[3]

The title `gods' is given in flattery and irony.[4]

Despite the various translations which the Hebrew here allows, these persons addressed here are human rulers.[5]

"O ye gods," is an expression of sarcasm directed against unjust judges.[6]

That the unjust persons addressed here are indeed human beings and not "gods" is proved by the parallelism which is such a distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry.

"Do ye judge rightly, O ye sons of men" (Psalms 58:1). This is the second clause of verse one; and the parallelism inherent in the poetry here shows that whoever is addressed in the first clause, it must be someone who is also identified by the phrase "ye sons of men." The RSV translators, of course, changed this also in order to support their error in the first clause. As someone has said, "One poor translation always leads to another."

Now, just "Who were these `mighty lords,' anyway? They were, in all probability the authorities, deputy rulers, and judges of the court of Israel's King David during the days leading up to the rebellion of his son Absalom. However, there are overtones here of the judgment of God against all wicked men.

"Yea, in heart ye work wickedness" (Psalms 58:2). The reign of crooked judges and other evil authorities in high office was confined to no particular period of Israel's history. We might almost say that it was the accepted "modus operandi" of the vast majority of Israel's rulers that reached some kind of a wicked climax during the personal ministry of Christ. Jeremiah designated the whole nation as "a corrupt vine"; Isaiah announced their judicial hardening; and Ezekiel solemnly declared that Israel became worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16).

Verse 3


"The wicked are estranged from the womb:

They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent:

They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear,

Which hearkeneth not to the voice of charmers,

Charming never so wisely."

"They are estranged from the womb" (Psalms 58:3). Those who see this verse as teaching total hereditary depravity find what is absolutely not in it. "The words `total,' `hereditary,' and `depravity' are not in the Bible, not even in one in a place, much less all three together"![7]

"They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies" (Psalms 58:3). "This, of course, is literally impossible; and those who use this verse to argue for infant depravity surely miss the author's poetic point."[8]

What is meant here is simply that the total lives of the wicked are evil, their very earliest activities having given evidence of it. "The most inventive affection and the most untiring patience cannot change the minds of such wicked men. Nothing remains, therefore, for David, except to pray for their removal."[9]

Leupold pointed out that there is a close connection between Psalms 58:2 and Psalms 58:3. In Psalms 58:2, he addressed them as men open to reason; but in Psalms 58:3, having recognized their stubborn perversity in evil, he refrains from further reasoning with them, and begins to speak "Of them, rather than to them."[10]

"They are like the deaf adder" (Psalms 58:4). The metaphor here is that of a poisonous serpent which cannot be charmed. "It pictures an evil person so intent upon wickedness that he cannot be dissuaded."[11]

The whole point of Psalms 58:3-5 is that the wicked men addressed are already hardened in sin and that the hope of changing them is nil. It is an exercise in futility to pray for the inveterate enemies of God who are intent only upon destruction.

Verse 6


"Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth:

Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Jehovah.

Let them melt away as water that runneth apace:

When he aimeth his arrows, let them be as though they were cut off

Let them be as a snail which melteth and passeth away

Like the untimely birth of a woman that hath not seen the sun.

Before your pots can feel the thorns,

He will take them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike."

This prayer against the hardened and unrepentant wicked men of this passage reveals a seven-fold curse upon them.

1. Break their teeth (Psalms 58:6).

2. Break out (pull) the teeth of lions (Psalms 58:6).

3. Let them melt away as water that runs off (Psalms 58:7).

4. His arrows ... let them be cut off (Psalms 58:7).

5. Let them be as a snail that melteth (Psalms 58:8).

6. Let them be like an aborted fetus (Psalms 58:8)

7. Let their `pot' be carried away by a tornado (Psalms 58:9).

We have paraphrased these, but we have retained the meaning. These are some of the boldest and most dramatic statements in the Bible; and they adequately describe the judgment that God will at last execute upon the incorrigibly wicked.

Some have thought the reference to a snail's melting away was due to an ancient mistaken opinion that the snail's slimy trail destroyed him; but we think this might be a reference to the fact that ordinary salt sprinkled upon a snail literally dissolves him; and it is foolish to believe that the ancients did not know this or to think that the psalmist might not here have referred to it.

The metaphor of the "pot" in Psalms 58:9 is difficult, due to the various translations proposed. "The `pot' here is the means by which the enemies of the psalmist mature their plans; but Yahweh sweeps it all away with a tempest."[12] As we might say, "They cooked up all kinds of schemes which God frustrated."

Rawlinson wrote, "The general meanings seems to be that before the wicked judges can mature their plans the wrath of God will come upon them like a tempest and sweep both them and the product of their villainy away."[13]

The other judgmental curses here seem to us as rather obvious. Every one of these metaphors means exactly the same thing. "All wicked men shall become the objects of God's righteous judgment upon them."[14]

Verse 10


"The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance:

He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked;

So that men shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous!

Verily there is a God that judgeth the earth."

"The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance" (Psalms 58:10). Let it be noted who does the rejoicing here. It is "the righteous." This indicates that Christian people should not hesitate to pray for the victorious triumph of righteousness and truth over wickedness and falsehood; and that they should rejoice when their prayers are answered.

That it is wrong for righteous people to pray for the victory over evil and evil men is one of the great misunderstandings of our era. The saints in heaven itself are eagerly awaiting the vengeance of God to fall upon human wickedness.

"I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth" (Revelation 6:9,10).

There is no way to escape the conviction that these citizens of heaven itself were eagerly anticipating the vengeance of God upon their enemies and that they would be pleased when it should finally occur. Sinful attitude? Certainly not. Merely an intelligent one.

We are glad that a number of scholars we have consulted have understood this:

"The time must come when God will no longer tolerate evil. A strong moral sense pervades these words. That `God will judge' is a necessary fact in the preservation of society. The joy is not that men will be punished, but that God will be vindicated."[15]

"It is a total misunderstanding of these verses to assume that there is some kind of unwholesome `gloating' here, or some kind of an ungodly bloodthirstiness."[16]

"These verses express vehemently the profound satisfaction that shall be experienced "by the righteous," the redeemed people of God when they finally see evil visibly crushed and removed."[17]

"All the righteous shall at last say, `Amen' to the condemnation of the wicked; and we shall hear no questionings of God's dealings with the impenitent. All the angels of heaven must have shouted with joy at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah."[18]

"The joy over the destruction of the wicked is because they are God's enemies, and their overthrow shows that God reigneth."[19]

"Verily there is a God that judgeth the earth" (Psalms 58:11). The terrors of the French Revolution reached their climax under the diabolical leadership of Maximilien Francois Marie Isidore de Robespierre. Thousands of innocent people were mercilessly guillotined, until at last, when he himself was awaiting the guillotine, having sustained a loosened jaw from a gunshot wound, and having it bound with a cloth over the top of his head, one of the citizens of Paris gazed upon him and said, "Yes, yes, Robespierre, there is a God"! This event is mentioned in the book by Loomis, "Paris in the Terror."

Robespierre had denied the existence of any God except his nebulous "God of Nature," to which so-called deity he had himself installed as High Priest at the top of a pyramid, clad in a robin's-egg blue shirt and chartreuse britches. His infidelity called for the remark mentioned above. His execution by guillotine in 1794 ended the "Terror."

"Yes there is a God"!

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 58". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.