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Sunday, September 24th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 58

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-11

Psalms 58:1-11

Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation?

Man in many aspects

The character of depraved men portrayed.

1. Unrighteous in judgment.

2. Wrong in heart.

3. Violent in the treatment of men.

4. Early in apostasy.

5. False in life.

6. Malignant in spirit.

7. Deceitful in heart.

The destruction of wicked men invoked.

1. Their entire destruction.

2. Their quick destruction.

The spirit of righteous men misrepresented. The psalmist utters a calumny in representing them as delighting in blood. If righteous Noah had delighted in the sufferings of his enemies, would he have built an ark? No; righteous men are not men of vengeance, they are not men of blood.

The verdict of all men anticipated. “So that a man shall say, Verily, there is a reward for the righteous.”

1. This is a testimony that often seems to be at variance with the providential government of the human race.

2. This is a testimony that every man sooner or later will be bound by his own conscience to render. Retribution is inevitable--

(1) From the law of causation. We are to-day the result of our conduct yesterday, and the cause of our conduct to-morrow; and thus ever must we reap the works of our own hands.

(2) From the law of conscience. The past works of our hands are not lost. Memory gathers up the fragments of our life; and conscience stings or smiles, according to their character.

(3) From the law of righteousness. There is justice in the universe; and justice will ever punish the wicked and reward the good (Galatians 6:7). (Homilist.)

Faith in righteousness

This is a difficult psalm. It is difficult even to read; the most advanced scholarship can make hardly anything of some of the verses. Besides, the situation which it describes is very foreign to us; and here and there when it expresses delight in the destruction of enemies, the sentiment jars on the Christian sense. Yet it is a psalm of high originality, the poetic imagery being both abundant and uncommon; and it gives such clear expression to the voice of eternal righteousness that it is worth while to make an effort to extend our sympathies widely enough to comprehend it.

The throne of iniquity (Psalms 58:1-5). Perhaps the opening words ought to be as they are given in the margin of the Revised Version, “Is the righteousness ye should speak dumb?” The psalmist is accusing the administrators of justice of bribery. In the second verse, he describes them as weighing out violence in the scales in which justice ought to be weighed. That is, they observed all the solemn forms of justice, but had no regard for the interests of those who could not pay for their verdicts. In the East this has always been, and is at the present day, one of the leading features of an evil time. Justice cannot be procured; the well-doing man is harassed by his wicked neighbours, and has no redress. The effect of this condition of things on the general community is given in Psalms 58:3-5. Society is poisoned in every department. Lying especially is everywhere rife, as it will always be where there is a corrupt administration of justice. Insensibility to the voices of reason and of the spirit is universal. Men are, he says, like the deaf adder, which stoppeth her ear and will not listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he ever so wisely. There have been epochs in history like this--when at the top of society there has been a corrupt court with a profligate aristocracy, and down through all ranks of the people the poison of falsehood and worldliness has been so diffused that there has been apparently no audience for any one speaking for God, and no career for any one wishing to be simple and true. On the small scale, such a situation often exists. The individual finds himself in a position where those above him are false, reckless and profligate; success seems to be obtainable only by lying and selfishness; and a tender conscience has no chance.

The throne of God (Psalms 58:6-9). What is to be done in such a situation? The natural thing is to conform, and this is what the majority in all ages do: being at Rome they act as Rome does. Indeed, without religious conviction it is difficult to see how any one can act otherwise, where sin is strong and tyrannical, occupying all the high places, speaking through the organs of public opinion, and exhibiting to the young hundreds of examples. But it is here the Bible helps us. The writer of this psalm, though surrounded by prosperous wickedness, saw, over against the throne of iniquity, another throne lofty and eternal. It was the throne of the living and righteous God. He fixed his eyes on it till his soul was filled with faith and strength; and then, when he turned his eyes to look again on the images of the evil world’s power, their glory and stability had disappeared, and they looked fleeting and paltry. In a series of striking figures of speech he expresses his disdain of them. They are like toothless lions and fangless serpents (Psalms 58:6); like a torrent which for a moment may seem to be a river, but immediately disappears in the sand (Psalms 58:7); like an abortion; for their plans will come to nothing (Psalms 58:8); they are cooking the flesh of their pleasure in a pot, but, before it is ready for eating, a whirlwind from the desert will carry the fire away (Psalms 58:9).

The spectacle of justice (Psalms 58:10-11). Not only does the psalmist, inspired by the vision of the eternal throne, foresee that this must be the issue, but he earnestly pleads for it; and he does so on two grounds--that the righteous may obtain the reward of their righteousness, and that all men may see that there is a God that judgeth in the earth. The triumph of injustice can only be temporary. There is a day coming when all the unjust judgments both of corrupt tribunals and of unrighteous society will be reversed. Even now God asserts Himself and vindicates His own; and, when He does so, the instincts of every honest heart must rise up to welcome Him. (J. Stalker, D. D.)

The perversion of justice

Agesilaus, indeed, in other respects was strictly and inflexibly just; but where a man’s friends are concerned, he thought a rigid regard to justice a mere pretence. There is still extant a short letter of his to Hydreius the Carian, which is a proof of what we have said: “If Nicias is innocent, acquit him; if he is not innocent, acquit him on my account; however, be sure to acquit him.” (Plutarch.)

Verse 2

Psalms 58:2

Yea, in heart ye work wickedness.

Sin in the heart

There once sailed from the city of Orleans a large and noble steamer, laden with cotton, and having a great number of passengers on board. While they were taking in the cargo, a portion of it became slightly moistened by a shower of rain that was falling. This circumstance, however, was not noticed; the cotton was stowed away in the hold, and the hatches fastened down. All went well at first, but one day an alarm of fire was made, and in a few moments the whole ship was enveloped in flames. The damp and closely packed bale of cotton had become heated, and it smouldered and got into a more dangerous state every day, until it burst forth into a large sheet of flame, and nothing could be done to “quench” it. Now, that heated cotton, smouldering in the hull of the vessel, is like sin in the heart. Do not let us think lightly of sin, speaking of little sins and big sins, white lies and black lies. Sin is sin in God’s sight, and God hates sin. (N. Jones.)

Verse 4

Psalms 58:4

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear.

A generation of serpents

This verse spends itself on a double comparison; of persons and conditions. The persons compared are men and serpents; the conditions or qualities upon which the similitude stands are poison and deafness. The former whereof is indefinite: “Their poison is as the poison of a serpent,” any serpent. The latter is restrictive: “Their deafness is like the adder,” one kind of serpents.

Poison--there is such a thing as poison; but where to be found? Wheresoever it is, in man who would look for it? God made man’s body of the dust; he mingled no poison with it. He inspired his soul from heaven; he breathes no poison with it. He feeds him with bread; he conveys no poison with it. Whence is this poison? (Matthew 13:27). That great serpent, the red dragon, hath poured into wicked hearts this poison. In this poison there is a double pestilent effect. It is to themselves death; to others a contagious sickness.

1. To themselves. It is an epidemical corruption, dispersing the venom over all parts of body and soul. It poisons the heart with falsehood, the head with lightness, the eyes with adultery, the tongue with blasphemy, the hands with oppression, the whole body with intemperance. It poisons beauty with wantonness, strength with violence, wit with wilfulness, learning with dissension, devotion with superstition. And in all this observe the effect of this poison in themselves. For it doth not only annoy others, but mostly destroy themselves. But the poison of the wicked, whilst it infects others, kills themselves. “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself” (Proverbs 5:22). Their own wickedness, like poison, hath in themselves these three direful effects.

(1) It makes them swell with pride, and blows up the heart as a bladder with a quill. “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?” (1 Samuel 25:10). “Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?” (Job 21:15). Thus the spider, the poisonous vermin, “climbs up to the roof of the king’s palace” (Proverbs 30:28).

(2) It makes them swill; the poison of sin is such a burning heat within them, that they must still be drinking.

(3) It makes them burst (Acts 1:18). This is the catastrophe of a wicked life. “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (James 1:15).

2. To others. You see how fatal the poison of the wicked is to themselves. The hurt it doth to others consists in outward harming, in inward defiling them. Outwardly.

Their poison breaks forth in the injuries of all about them. They spare neither foreigner nor neighhour. There be little snakes in Babylon, that bite only foreigners, and not inhabitants. Pliny writes of scorpions in the hill Carla, that when they sting only wound the natural-born people of the country; but bite strangers gently or not at all. These, like fools, not only strike them that are nearest, but beteem their poison to the overthrow of all. Such a one cannot sleep except he have done mischief; nay, he dies, if others do not die by him. Inwardly.--Their poison doth most hurt by infection. Their poison is got by touching--he that toucheth pitch shall be defiled: by companying with them (Proverbs 1:14); by confederacy; by sight--the very beholding of their wickedness causes it in others.

Their persons--We have spoken of their poison. They are said to be as serpents (Matthew 23:33; Ezekiel 2:6).

1. There are mystical serpents.

2. There are the dart-like serpents (Acts 28:1-31.). He is the angry man, the hasty, furious one, who flies upon another with a sudden blow.

3. The great serpent of all, the devil (Revelation 12:3). Faith in Christ can alone put him to flight. For the remedy of this poison (see John 3:14), and further let there be repentance. (Thomas Adams.)

The deafness of sinners

We do not know what revelations have been made. We do not know but the air is full of messengers and messages. If a million bands were playing near a man and he was stone deaf, he would not hear the music. A blind man might stand amidst uncounted myriads of flowers on the Grand Prairie in Illinois, and not know that there was a flower there. And you may be utterly blind and deaf to the messengers and messages of the higher life, because you are not in that state of development by which you may perceive them. (Henry Ward Beecher.)

Verse 10

Psalms 58:10

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

Satisfaction in the destructive providences of God

That is a terrible picture. It expresses not only the dreadful amen, dance of blood, but also the satisfaction of the “righteous” at its being shed. There is an ignoble and there is a noble and Christian satisfaction in even the destructive providences of God. It is not only permissible but imperative on those who would live in sympathy with His righteous dealings and with Himself, that they should see in these the manifestation of eternal justice, and should consider that they roll away burdens from earth and bring hope and rest to the victims of oppression. It is no unworthy shout of personal vengeance, nor of unfeeling triumph, that is lifted up from a relieved world when Babylon falls. If it is right in God to destroy, it cannot be wrong in His servants to rejoice that He does. Only they have to take heed that their emotion is untarnished by selfish gratulation, and is not untinged with solemn pity for those who were indeed doers of evil, but were themselves the greatest sufferers from their evil. It is hard, but not impossible, to take all that is expressed in the psalm, and to soften it by some effluence from the spirit of Him who wept over Jerusalem, and yet pronounced its doom. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The rejoicing of the righteous at thy overthrow of the wicked

Hearing a whole quire of birds chirping merrily together, my curiosity was excited to inquire into the occasion of their convocation and merriment, when I quickly perceived a dead hawk in the bush, about which they made such a noise, seeming to triumph at the death of an enemy. I could not blame them for singing the knell of one who, like a cannibal, was wont to feed upon their living bodies, tearing them limb from limb, and scaring them with his frightful appearance. Over this bird, which was so formidable when alive, the most timid wren or titmouse did not now fear to chirp and hop. This occurrence brought to my mind the case of tyrants and oppressors. When living, they are the terror of mankind; but when dead, they are the objects of general contempt and scorn. “When the wicked perish, there is shouting” (Proverbs 11:10). The death of Nero was celebrated by the Romans with bonfires and plays; birds ate the naked flesh of Pompey; Alexander lay unburied thirty days; but a useful and holy life is generally closed by an honourable and lamented death.

Verily there is a reward for the righteous.--

The character of the righteous

What are the personal attributes that go to make up, constitute, and distinguish a righteous character before God?

It has Christ for its groundwork. Being “over all God blessed for ever,” His life was not derived from, nor dependent on, any other. His life was not only innocent of every transgression, in thought, word, and deed; but He was “Jesus Christ the Righteous.” He neglected no duty, personal, relative, or official. His life was a service; His death was a sacrifice--of propitiation for the sins of the world.

It has faith for its principle, or instrument of appropriation. Is faith, then, in itself, a meritorious, or deserving act or exercise? No more than the outstretching of the arm, the opening of the hand to receive Christ, or of the opening of the eye to look to Him, or the moving of the feet to come to Him. It is simply the instrument, the graciously furnished, and Divinely appointed instrument, the only Divinely appointed instrument, or organ, by which the sinner receives, and becomes united to “Christ the righteousness of God.” “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.”

It has the heart for its seat. Justification is a change of state, by which we are freed from condemnation; sanctification is a change of nature, by which we are brought into resemblance and communion with Him. The one indicates a relative change in relation to the law; the other, a real and personal change in God’s sight. By the one, we receive a title to the promised recompense of reward; by the other, we are “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”

It has the life for its evidence. A man is not certainly known by what he says, but he is known by what he does, and does habitually in every condition and relation of life. (G. Robson.)

A reward for the righteous

What are the discriminating features which distinguish the righteous.

1. In describing the righteous, we must distinguish them--

(1) From the great mass of mankind, from the world that “lieth in wickedness” (Romans 3:10).

(2) From mere moralists, who trust in themselves that they are righteous, and despise others (Romans 10:3).

2. In describing the righteous, we characterize them.

(1) By the genuineness and spirituality of their faith. Righteous men are men of faith (Hebrews 11:3-7). Righteousness is obtained by faith (Romans 4:3; Romans 4:5; Romans 4:18; Romans 4:20; Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6). But faith must have an object; this is the Lord Jesus Christ, who became sin for us.

(2) By the rectitude and purity of their principles.

(3) By the consistency of their conduct.

What is that reward to which the righteous are entitled?

1. A gracious and voluntary reward (Romans 6:23; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:17).

2. Distant and remote.

3. Suitable and proportionate.

4. Glorious and eternal, and therefore worthy of its Author. In the descriptions of this reward we remark two things; a complete freedom from all evil, both moral and natural, and from all possibility of evil; and the eternal enjoyment of all the good of which their natures are capable.

What evidences have we for crediting the assertion in the text?

1. The character of God. He is a being of infinite goodness, and His goodness will incline Him to reward the righteous. He is a being of infinite justice, and His justice prompts Him to render to every man according to his works.

2. The positive declarations of Scripture (Genesis 15:1; Matthew 19:28-29; Hebrews 11:6; Revelation 22:14).

3. The general consent of mankind. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

A full reward

A military gentleman ones said to an excellent old minister in the north of Scotland, who was becoming infirm, “Why, if I had power over the pension list, I would at once have you on a pension of half-pay for your long and faithful services.” He replied, “Ah, my friend, your master may put you off with half-pay, but my Master will not serve me so meanly; He will give me full pay. Through His grace and favour I expect a full reward, and nothing less will content me.” (The Quiver.)

Verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth.--

God’s dealings with mankind

The present appearances of things are apt to make wrong impressions on our minds, respecting God’s dealings with mankind. Though we may see the wicked in prosperity and the righteous in affliction, we should ever keep in mind, that prosperity is no sign of God’s favour, and that affliction is no necessary sign of His displeasure; and therefore, amidst the changes and vicissitudes of life, let us be on our guard against false and hasty reasonings, with regard to God’s dealings with mankind.

A day will come, when the truth will be seen and acknowledged by all, that “verily there is a reward for the righteous; doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth.” While we reflect upon these things, as certain and true, it is most important to inquire particularly into the nature of this judgment, and of this reward. The Bible gives us full instruction in this matter. It tells us, that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good”; and that God “will render to every one according to his works.” (J. S. Pratt.)

The marks of a moral and judicial government

The general laws and constitution of nature exhibit the justice, as well as the wisdom of God. As there is an evident subservience of the general frame of the world to the benefit of human life, and such various provisions in nature to answer the Divine intentions of producing knowledge, virtue, and happiness in mankind; as numberless proofs of wisdom and benevolence appear throughout the whole; here is the strongest presumption in favour of the Divine justice; and it is most irrational to imagine that injustice can find place in a plan or constitution of so much wisdom and goodness.

In consequence of that constitution of things which His creative wisdom hath established, and which shows undeniably the goodness of His intentions, there are certain measures of Divine justice in continual execution, for the punishment of vice and the encouragement of virtue. Here begins the moral government of God; and the marks or proofs, by attending to which, we may be convinced that there is verily a God that judgeth in the earth. The subordinations of human society are appointed by the Author of nature for the purposes of His governing justice, civil and domestic government, etc. We may further trace the footsteps of Divine justice in the natural resentments of mankind against the perpetrators of wicked actions; who thereby expose themselves to a general indignation or contempt; for the passions and affections of men, even of vicious men, naturally rise in favour of virtue and detestation of vice in others. There is an order, also, in the constitution of the human body, for the punishment of some vices. As those crimes which are most injurious to society are generally punished, by the public resentments of that society which they injure; so those vices that are of a personal nature find their own punishment nearer home. Finally, there is the most certain and effectual provision of nature, far the punishment of wickedness and the reward of virtue, in the frame of the human mind. There is as it were a tribunal of justice erected in every man’s own heart, where conscience sits as judge, to whose approving or condemning sentence men are continually exposed, and most of all in the seasons of retirement and reflection.

These measures of Divine justice are more extensive than men generally apprehend or believe. The stings of conscience are often keen and piercing to the inmost soul; the passions of vice are corroding, and destroy mental quiet and repose; the resentments of society, the disaffection of friends and relatives, are galling to the heart; the terror of human laws is grievous and burdensome; and infamy, disease and death, the frequent effects of debauchery and villainy, cannot be thought slight punishments. Now, though wicked persons may avoid some of these punishments, yet it is hardly possible that any criminal in the world can escape them all. The internal peace and pleasure which arise from innocence and conscious virtue are little esteemed or considered; nor are the troubles and pains, which ensue from guilt, in the natural course of things, much regarded as proofs of Divine justice.

The particular instances which appear to the contrary are but exceptions to that general order established in nature. The tyranny and persecution which have raged in the world for a succession of ages, by which the best of men have been the most inhumanly treated, present the darkest scene that ever was beheld in the world, in respect to the providence and justice of the Supreme Governor. But these persecutions were the means of trying and exercising the probity and piety of numbers of men, and of producing the noblest harvest of genuine virtue. It may be reasonably thought that it was in order to this end Divine Providence permitted such an amazing tyranny to rise, prevail, and continue. In this view the Holy Scriptures teach us to look upon such scenes, and thus to reconcile them with the justice of an over-ruling Providence.

To vindicate the perfect justice of the Divine government, to give proper consolation to the minds of good men, and to raise virtue to the highest excellence and stability, recourse must be had to the doctrine of a future life; and in this point the Gospel-revelation is abundantly sufficient to give entire satisfaction, and to support all good men under the severest trials. (S. Bourn.)

The righteousness of God’s government of men

It was a saying of Solon, the Athenian law-giver, that a republic walks upon two feet; one being just punishment for the unworthy, the ether due reward for the worthy. If it fail in either of these, it necessarily goes lame.

Psalms 59:1-17

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 58". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-58.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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