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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 58

A.M. 2946. B.C. 1058.

This Psalm was composed, as very many others were, upon the occasion of those wicked calumnies, and unjust censures and sentences, which were passed upon him by Saul and his courtiers. David describes his enemies, Psalms 58:1-5 . Foretels their ruin, Psalms 58:6-9 . Which would be to the comfort of good men; and the glory of God, Psalms 58:10 , Psalms 58:11 .

Verse 1

Psalms 58:1. Do ye indeed speak righteousness? No: you are far from it. You censure me freely without any regard to truth or justice; O congregation The word אלם , eelem, thus rendered, signifies a band, or company of men; and seems to point at Saul’s judges and counsellors, who met together to consult what they should do against David; and probably passed a sentence upon him as guilty of treason and rebellion. O ye sons of men So he calls them, to remind them that they also were men, and must give an account to God for all their hard speeches and unrighteous decrees against him.

Verse 2

Psalms 58:2. Yea, in heart ye work wickedness Or, with your heart, that is, with free choice and consent; with premeditation and design, and with a strong inclination to it, and resolution in it, and not merely by constraint, and out of compliance with Saul, or through surprise and inadvertence. The more there is of the heart in any act of wickedness, the worse it is. Ye weigh the violence of your hands Or, you weigh violence, or injustice, with your hands. The phrase of weighing hath respect to their office, which was to administer justice, which is usually expressed by a pair of balances. So he intimates that they did great wrong under the pretence and with the formalities of justice; and while they seemed exactly to weigh the true proportion between men’s actions and the recompenses allotted to them, they turned the scale, and pronounced an unjust sentence. In the earth Or, in this land, where God is present, and where you have righteous laws to govern you, and you profess better things.

Verse 3

Psalms 58:3. The wicked are estranged From God, and from all goodness; from the womb From their tender years, or, rather, strictly and properly, from their birth: their very natures and principles are corrupt even from their infancy: they are the wicked offspring of sinful parents. They go astray by actual sins, the fruit of their original corruption; as soon as they are born As soon as ever they are capable of the exercise of reason, and the practice of sinning.

Verses 4-5

Psalms 58:4-5. Their poison Their malicious disposition; is like the poison of a serpent Both in itself, being natural, inveterate, and incurable; and also in its effects, which are most pernicious. They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear, &c. They are like that particular species of serpents which suffer not themselves to be charmed from their mischief by any methods whatever: for no arguments, persuasions, or efforts that can be used, can mollify the envenomed malice, or change the disposition of these men. They are deaf to all my counsels, to the dictates of their own consciences, and to the voice of God’s law: nor will they hearken to any instructions, remonstrances, cautions, or advices, however reasonable and proper, excellent or necessary they may be. The psalmist here alludes to a prevailing notion in those countries, that all serpents, except one particular species, might be so influenced by some sort of music or verse as to be disarmed of their rage and power of doing mischief, and rendered gentle and innocent. As to what Dr. Hammond observes from Schindler, that the deaf adder, or viper, here mentioned, is so called, because, being deaf of one ear, it uses to stop the other with dust, or with its tail, to avoid the force of charms or incantations wherewith some species of them were wont to be caught; it seems so improbable as to be hardly worth noticing. For why should the God of nature give any species of creatures two ears, and yet design one of them to be always deaf? To say, as some have done, that it lays one ear upon the ground, and stops the other with dust, or with its tail, would appear more credible. But it seems much more reasonable to suppose, with Dr. Horne, that either a serpent deaf by accident is here intended by the deaf adder, or one of a species naturally deaf; for several such kinds are mentioned by Avicenne, as quoted by Bochart: and a modern writer on the Psalms, cited by Dr. Dodd, asserts that the common adder, or viper here in England, the bite of which is very venomous, is either wholly deaf, or has the sense of hearing very imperfectly; and gives good reasons for his assertion. But, “for my part,” adds Dr. Dodd, “I cannot help conceiving, that the psalmist does not allude to any natural deafness of the adder, (which appears to be a very disputable point,) but to an artificial deafness, arising from its fury; its unwillingness to hear, and to regard any of the usual methods of taming it, when irritated, and in a rage: and, indeed, this seems to be most applicable to the point in comparison.” Certainly, in any of these cases, “the adder might be said, in the language of poetry, to stop her ear from being proof to all the efforts of the charmer.” “Of the charming of serpents,” says Poole, “mention is made both in other places of Scripture, and in all sorts of authors, ancient and modern, Hebrew and Arabic, and Greek and Latin. And particularly the Arabic writers (to whom these creatures were best known) name some sorts of serpents, among which the adder is one which they call deaf, not because they are dull of hearing, but, as one of them expressly says, because they will not be charmed.” The version of the Seventy here is, which will not hear, φονην επαδοντων , the voice of those that sing. And certainly musical sounds were anciently supposed to have the effect of charming or disarming the rage of some kinds of serpents. Bochart quotes several authors to this purpose, and, among the rest, Virgil, (see Æneid, 7. 5:753,) and the elder Scaliger. And Mr. Boyle gives us the following passage from Sir H. Blunt’s Voyage to the Levant: “Many rarities of living creatures I saw in Grand Cairo; but the most ingenious was a nest of four- legged serpents, of two feet long, black and ugly, kept by a Frenchman, which, when he came to handle them, would not endure him, but ran and hid themselves in their hole; but, when he took out his cittern and played upon it, they, hearing his music, came all crawling to his feet, and began to climb up to him, till he gave over playing, then away they ran.”

Verse 6

Psalms 58:6. Break their teeth, O God Their power and instruments of doing mischief. “The mention of teeth here, with the relative their, most probably first refers to those of the adder or serpent, immediately foregoing, whose poison and noxious power are in their teeth; and the way to disarm serpents is to deprive them of their teeth. They who keep serpents tame usually do this by putting to them a piece of red cloth, in which they love to fix their teeth, and so draw them out. This mention of teeth fairly introduces that which follows concerning the lions, whose power of doing mischief with them is more violent; and so signifies the open and riotous offender; as the serpent’s teeth may imply the more secret and indiscernible wounds of the whisperer or backbiter: which yet are as dangerous and destructive as the former; by the smallest prick killing him on whom they fasten.” Dodd.

Verse 7

Psalms 58:7. Let them melt away as waters, &c. As waters arising from melted snow, or great showers, or some other extraordinary cause, which at first run with great force and noise, and throw down all that stands in their way, but are suddenly gone, and run away, and vanish, and return no more. When he Saul, or any, or every one of mine enemies, as appears from the foregoing or following words; bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows Taking his aim at the upright in heart; let them That is, his arrows, be cut in pieces Let them be like arrows broken, while a man is shooting them. Let them fall at his feet, and never come near the mark.

Verse 8

Psalms 58:8. As a snail melteth Which thrusts forth itself, and seems to threaten with its horns, but is quickly dissolved. For it wastes by its own motions, in every stretch it makes, leaving some of its moisture behind, which, by degrees, must needs consume it, though it makes a path to shine after it. Like the untimely birth of a woman Which dies as soon as it begins to live, and never sees the sun.

Verse 9

Psalms 58:9. Before your pots can feel the thorns That is, the heat of a fire of thorns made under them, which they soon do, as it is a quick fire, and burns violently while it lasts; he shall take them away Namely, mine enemies; so speedily, with such a hasty and destructive flame; as with a whirlwind That is, violently and irresistibly; both living, and in his wrath Hebrew, כמו חי כמו חרון , chemo chi, chemo charon, as living, as wrath, or, as it were alive, as it were with fury. “The intention of the psalmist is to express both the quickness and terribleness of the destruction of the wicked. They were to be taken away suddenly, or rapidly, before the pots could feel the soon kindling and vehement fire of thorns. They were to be taken off by some terrible catastrophe, like the furious burning of thorns, to which the wrath of God is frequently compared.”

Verse 10

Psalms 58:10. The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance The vengeance of God upon the enemies of his church. That is, he shall rejoice when he sees the blessed effects of it; the vindication of God’s honour, and the deliverance of himself, and all good men. The pomp and power, the prosperity and success of the wicked, are often a discouragement to the righteous. It weakens their hands, and is sometimes a strong temptation to them to call in question the wisdom and equity of the dispensations of divine providence; but when they see the judgments of God taking away the wicked, and just vengeance taken on them, although but in part, for the mischief they have done to the people and cause of God, they rejoice in the satisfaction thereby given to their faith in God’s providence, and in his justice and righteousness in governing the world. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked There shall be so great a slaughter of his enemies, that he might, if he pleased, wash his feet in their blood. It is an allusion to a great conqueror, who, upon “returning with a complete victory from the slaughter of his enemies, dips his feet in their blood as he passes over their carcasses.” Bishop Patrick.

Verse 11

Psalms 58:11. So that a man shall say, &c. These administrations of Divine Providence shall be so evident and convincing, that not only good men shall be sensible thereof, but any man that sees them; yea, even such as were apt to doubt of God’s providence shall, upon this eminent occasion, be ready to exclaim, Now I see that religion is not a vain and unprofitable thing, and that there is a God who at present observes and governs, and, when he sees fit judges the inhabitants of the earth; and will hereafter judge the whole world in righteousness, and recompense every man according to his works.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 58". Benson's Commentary. 1857.