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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Psalms 58

Verse 1

Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?

Psalms 58:1-11.-Perversity of the unrighteous judges (Psalms 58:1-5); prayer for their overthrow; anticipation of it to the joy of the righteous, (Psalms 58:6-10); God's retributive justice vindicated (Psalms 58:11). The unjust judgments are the persecutions by Saul and his party, under the mask of just judgments for treason (1 Samuel 24:12-15; 1 Samuel 26:10).

On the title, 'Al-tascheet (H516) ... Miktaam (H4387), which connects it with Psalms 57:1-11; Psalms 59:1-17, see the note on Psalms 57:1-11.

Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? The Hebrew for "congregation" [ 'eelem (H482), from 'aalam (H481), to bind together sheaves, Genesis 37:7 ] seems to be used in the title to Psalms 56:1-13 for 'dumbness'-our English, 'tongue-tied.' So Hengstenberg translates here, 'Are ye indeed dumbness (itself) as regards your speaking righteousness? (Deuteronomy 1:16-17.) So a kindred Hebrew word in Psalms 38:13, "dumb (mute)." The mention of deafness in Psalms 58:4-5 corresponds with the mention of dumbness here. These unjust judges are mute when they should speak, deaf when they should hear. Others, on account of the Hebrew accents, construe the sentence, '(Is) indeed justice dumbness? Speak ye out.' But the English version suits the parallelism best, "O congregation" (from the Hebrew to tie together) answering to "O ye sons of men." He first appeals to their own consciences (Psalms 58:1-2); then, perceiving that it is vain to address himself to them, so deaf are they to every appeal, he turns away and speaks of them, (Psalms 58:3, etc.) The "indeed" implies sorrowful and indignant surprise at such a monstrous anomaly, that judges should speak unrighteousness. You profess to be speaking righteousness in your misconstruction of my words (Psalms 56:5; Psalms 57:3) and deeds, as if I were guilty of treason; but I appeal to your consciences. Is it indeed so?

O ye sons of men? Ye are but frail 'children of Adam,' and have therefore to give account to the infinitely higher Judge (Psalms 58:6; Psalms 58:11). In 1 Samuel 26:19 David, by an undesigned coincidence, similarly draws a contrast between the Lord Yahweh and the children of men. "If the Lord have stirred thee up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if they be the children of men, cursed be they before the Lord; because they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord.

Verse 2

Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.

Yea, in heart ye work wickedness - Hebrew 'wickednesses.' "Yea," or also. In Psalms 58:1 he implied that they had not done what they ought to have done: he here says, they have also done what they ought not to have done.

Ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth. Scales and weights symbolize the administration of justice (Job 31:6). 'What ye weigh out is violence, not justice.' The wickedness of the hands stands in contrast to working wickedness in heart (cf. Micah 2:1) in the previous clause.

Verse 3

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

The wicked are estranged from the womb. From his own personal enemies David passes to the innate corruption of the wicked in general. He does not mean that the wicked alone are thus innately corrupt; but he traces their hardened malignity to the original and universal birth-sin (Psalms 51:5) which, in their case, has not been counteracted by grace; whereas in the godly it has been checked, and is daily being more and more subdued.

Verse 4

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;

Their poison. The Hebrew (chamath) means primarily burning heat, as poison inflames the system (James 3:7-8).

They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. The "adder" [ peten (H6620)], or 'asp,' as elsewhere the Hebrew is translated, [ aspis (G785), in Septuagint]. It is the 'haje naja' or cobra of Egypt according to Cuvier. The hearing of all the serpent tribes is imperfect, as all are destitute of a tympanic cavity, and of external openings to the ear. "The deaf adder" is not a particular species. The point of the rebuke is, the pethen (H6620), or "adder" here in question, could hear in some degree, but would not; just as the unrighteous judges, or persecutors of David, could hear with their outward ears such appeals as he makes in Psalms 58:1-2, but would not. The charmer usually could charm the serpent by shrill sounds, either of his voices or of the flute, the serpent's comparative deafness rendering it the more amenable to those sounds which it could hear. But exceptional cases occurred of a "deaf adder" which was deaf only in the sense that it refused to hear, or to be acted on. Also Jeremiah 8:17; cf; Ecclesiastes 10:11. Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' Appendix, suggests that the Hebrew, peten (H6620), comes from a root, to expand the neck [Hebrew, paatan; Greek, puthoon (G4436); Arabic, Baethan]. The Italian Marsi and the Libyan Psylli were expert in snake-taming. Boldness and kindness were probably their art. The words "break their teeth," in Psalms 58:6, are by some referred to the trick of taking out the poison fangs of the serpents; but it refers rather to the teeth of the lions.

Verse 5

Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.

Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers - literally, the voice of those whispering in a low, sweet, and soothing tone.

Charming never so wisely - a different Hebrew word from that for "charmers " - literally, 'binding (by a spell).' Saul could hear; for that his conscience was not dead appears from his more than once expressing his conviction that David would succeed to the throne (1 Samuel 24:20-21; 1 Samuel 26:21; 1 Samuel 26:25); yet he continued to resist conscience, as well as David's protestations of his innocence of treason, and Jonathan's intercession.

Verses 6-8

Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.

-Petition rounded on the foregoing description of the malignity of the foe; confident anticipation of the answer (Psalms 58:9-10).

Verse 6. Break their teeth, O God. The Hebrew order brings God into prominence as the Psalmist's only resource against the "sons of men" (Psalms 58:1). 'GOD break their teeth!' Image from ravenous lions, which tear their prey with their teeth (cf. Psalms 3:7).

Break out the great teeth - `the eye-teeth,' which in lions are most formidable; the tusks.

Verse 7. Let them melt away as waters which run continually - Hebrew, '(which) flow away for themselves.' The words 'for themselves' are ironical. This is all that they shall gain for themselves-namely, that they shall flow away.

(When) he bendeth (his bow to shoot) his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces - i:e., let arrows which the enemy aims be as if they were cut, headless, and pointless (cf. Psalms 37:15).

Verse 8. As a snail which melteth, let (every, one of them) pass away. Gesenius takes it, 'As a snail which passes, away into melting'-`which walks dissolution:' which, moistening the way. with its secretion, the further it goes the more it melts away, until it is utterly consumed; but the parallelism, and the balance of the corresponding first and second clauses favour the English version.

(Like) the untimely birth (an abortion) of a woman, (that) they may not see the sun - literally, the wicked die an untimely death. Job 3:16 is before the Psalmist's mind.

Confident anticipation of the answer to his Prayer:

Verse 9

Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.

Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in (his) wrath. He here, as in Psalms 58:1-2, at first addresses the wicked directly ("your") but then turns away from them and speaks of "them." A proverbial phrase, Before your pots' contents can feel the heat of the thorns burning underneath, He will, with a whirlwind, take them (the wicked) away, be the pots' contents, or flesh, raw (living) (Hebrew, chay (H2416)), or be it sodden (not as the English version, "and in His wrath") - literally, glowing (Hebrew, chaarown (H2740)). As the thorns quickly blaze and heat the pot (Psalms 118:12; Ecclesiastes 7:6), the phrase expresses great rapidity. The pots' contents answer to the plans of the wicked against the godly. Before your plans have come to maturity, ripe or unripe ('raw or sodden'), God will with a whirlwind carry you away from all your projects (Job 27:21). Rosenmuller translates, 'He shall, with a whirlwind, take them (the thorns) away, whether green (not yet reached by the fire) or burning.' It often happens to those who travel in a desert that, when they wish to get ready food, their fire is put out by a sudden tempest, and all their preparations are destroyed-an image of the sudden overthrow of all the plans of the wicked before they are matured.

Verse 10

The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.

The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance - (Psalms 52:6; Psalms 107:42.) God's vindication of His righteousness shall fill the righteous with joy.

He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked - figuratively; not that the righteous avenge themselves (1 Samuel 24:12), but they identify themselves with God in His triumph over the ungodly (Revelation 19:14-15; Psalms 68:23).

Verse 11

So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.

So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous. "Verily" - literally, only; it is not otherwise than so. 'There is fruit to the righteous: though for a time piety seems fruitless, it is not really so.

Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth. In the Hebrew "judgeth" is plural, in contrast to the unjust judges, "the sons of men (Psalms 58:1). God exercises on earth the righteous judgment which they withhold.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 58". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.