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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 58

Verses 1-11


A PSALM of condemnation on unrighteous judges. Some suppose the judges to be superhuman beings, entrusted with the government of the earth (Cheyne). Others suggest heathen rulers of Israel, in Babylonia, during the time of the Captivity. But the language is not stronger than that addressed often to native judges (see Isaiah 1:16-25; Isaiah 10:1-4; Jeremiah 5:26-29; Micah 3:9-12, etc.). And there is no reason for rejecting the statement of the "title," that the psalm was written by David. It may either belong to the early years of David's reign, or to the time immediately preceding Absalom's rebellion.

The psalm consists of two strophes and a conclusion. The first strophe is one of five verses, and lays down the grounds of complaint (Psalms 58:1-5). The second, which is one of four verses (Psalms 58:6-9), passes sentence, describing the coming punishment. The conclusion (Psalms 58:10, Psalms 58:11) expresses the righteous man's satisfaction at the result.

Psalms 58:1

Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation! The rendering of elem (אֵלֶם) by "congregation" is contrary to all analogy, and quite untenable. It must either mean "dumb ones," or be a corruption of elim (אֵלִים)—"mighty ones" (comp. Psalms 29:1). In either case it is an epithet applied to the judges of the people, and not to the congregation. Do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men? Both questions are asked in bitter irony, as is clear from the context.

Psalms 58:2

Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; literally, wickednesses, or iniquities. These ye first devise in your heart, and then (see the next clause) carry out with your hands. Ye weigh (or, weigh out) the violence of your hands in the earth. Instead of carefully meting out justice to men, after accurately weighing it in the balance of right and equity, you weigh out to them mere wrong and "violence."

Psalms 58:3

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. This is the language of hyperbole, and is certainly not the profession of the doctrine of original sin. What the psalmist means is that those who ultimately become heinous sinners, for the most part show, even from their early childhood, a strong tendency towards evil. He implies that with others the case is different. Though there may be in them a corruption of nature (Psalms 51:6), yet, on the whole, they have good dispositions, and present a contrast to the ungodly ones whom he is describing.

Psalms 58:4

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent (comp. Psalms 140:3; Song of Sirach 25:15). They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear. The "adder" was supposed to be deaf, on account of its being very difficult to charm. It was thought obstinately to set itself against the charmer, and, as it were, stop its ears against him.

Psalms 58:5

Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers. Serpent charmers are alluded to in Ecclesiastes 10:11 and Jeremiah 6:17. They have at all times been common in the East, as they are still in India; and it is with reason suspected that the magicians of Pharaoh employed the art in their contest with Moses and Aaron. Charming never so wisely; literally, though they bind their spells skilfully.

Psalms 58:6-9

"Description passes into imprecation, with an 'Elohim' emphatically placed first" (Cheyne). Metaphors are accumulated. Menace follow menace. The wrath of God is first invoked upon the evil doers (Psalms 58:6-8); then (Psalms 58:9) coming judgment is announced.

Psalms 58:6

Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth. Serpent charmers sometimes, when they have caught their snake, proceed to beat out the poison fangs with a stone or stick. The psalmist, in the first clause, seems to allude to this practice; in the second, he changes the metaphor, reverting to his favourite image of the young lion (kephir). Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord. The "cheek teeth" (Joel 1:6), or principal fangs on either side, are intended.

Psalms 58:7

Let them melt away as waters which run continually; i.e. "let them waste away, and go to naught, like water, that runs off and accomplishes nothing." When he bendoth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces; i.e. "let the arrows be as though snapped in two, or headless."

Psalms 58:8

As a snail which molteth, lot every one of them pass away; or, "let them be as a snail, which melteth and passeth away" (Revised Version). Snails in Palestine, during dry seasons, often shrink, shrivel up, and disappear from their shells. Like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun; rather, that hath not seen the sun (Professor Cheyne, Revised Version); i.e. "let them be as an abortion" (comp. Job 3:16).

Psalms 58:9

Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath. This "difficult and obscure verse" has been variously explained. Professor Cheyne translates, "Before your pots can feel the thorns, and while your flesh (i.e. the flesh in the pots, on which you are about to feast) is still raw, the hot wrath of Jehovah shall sweep it away." The Revised Version gives the following: "Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them [i.e. the thorns] away with a whirlwind, the green [thorns] and the burning alike." Dr. Kay, "Before your caldrons have felt the thorn fire, even as raw flesh, even so, shall hot fury sweep him away." The general meaning seems to be that before the wicked judges can enjoy the fruits of their wickedness, the fierce wrath of God will come upon them like a tempest, and sweep both them and the produce of their villainy away.

Psalms 58:10, Psalms 58:11

In conclusion, the psalmist expresses the satisfaction of the righteous at the punishment of the unjust judges.

Psalms 58:10

The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance. As the good man is pained when he sees the ungodly prosper, so he cannot but feel a certain satisfaction and pleasure when punishment overtakes him. Dante says—

"O Signor mio, quando saro io lieto

A veder la vendetta, che nascosa

Fa dolce l'ira tua nel suo segreto?"

('Purg.,' 20:94-96.)

He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked (comp. Psalms 68:24; Isa 63:1-19 :35. It is observable that David, personally, was too indulgent, rather than too severe, towards offenders.

Psalms 58:11

So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous. God's righteous judgment being seen in the punishment of the wicked, men will no longer doubt of the ultimate reward of the godly. God must, by his very nature, be more inclined to reward goodness than to punish wickedness. Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth; rather, verily there is a God, etc. (see Revised Version). Elohim is joined with a plural here, because the speakers are men generally, not only Israelites.


Psalms 58:1-11

Unjust judges.

There is a contrast in this psalm between the unjust judges of the earth, and God the righteous Judge of all men (Psalms 58:1, Psalms 58:2, and Psalms 58:11). "Do ye really, O ye gods, speak righteousness? Do ye in uprightness judge the children of men? Nay, in heart ye work iniquities, in the land ye weigh out the violence of your hands" (Delitzsch). This indignant protest is just. Judges have often been false to their trust. They have prostituted their power to selfish ends. They have increased instead of diminished the evils of society, and made confusion worse confounded by their wicked deeds. There are signal examples of this in the Bible, and though the lines have fallen unto us, in these last days, in pleasant places, our fathers, in the days of Bonner and Jeffries and Claverhouse, and in days of persecution, suffered grievously. But how different is it with God the Judge of all the earth! His judgments are all righteous. Even the wicked cannot complain. In their punishment they only receive, as their own consciences testify, "the just reward of their deeds." Our attention is specially concentrated on the wicked.

I. THEIR CHARACTER IS PORTRAYED. (Verses 1-5.) Character is a growth. No man becomes of a sudden either very bad or very good. There is gradation—"first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." We are shown wickedness in its germ. It has its source in a bad heart—a heart not right with God. From within it works toward without. Evil may for a time be concealed or held in check, but it is sure to show itself. People may be worse than they seem. God only knows the evil that lies hidden and rooted in the heart. Then we see wickedness in its development. It has been said that "tongue sins are our first transgressions." But how quickly do we proceed from "lies" to other and more flagrant forms of wickedness! The more the will of the flesh is indulged, the stronger it becomes. The poison spreads through all the veins.

"The soul grows clothed by contagion,
Imbodies and imbrutes, till she quite lose
The Divine property of her first being."


Then cometh the consummation. All checks and warnings and remonstrances are in vain. Men become "more deaf than adders to the voice of true decision." Like Saul, they choose the evil instead of the good. Like Rehoboam, they persist in their sins. Like Ahab, they sell themselves to work iniquity. Like Israel, they harden their hearts against all teaching and rebuke, till in the end there is no remedy (2 Chronicles 36:16).

II. THEIR JUDGMENT IS PREDICTED. (Verses 6-11.) God is long suffering and merciful. How excellent his counsels! how tender his rebukes I how gracious his calls to repentance! But when evil men knowingly and obstinately persist in their evil ways, judgment must be done. The psalmist adds image to image to strengthen the argument, and to set forth the more vividly the awful doom of the wicked.

1. Judgment, is required in the interests of humanity. In all good governments there are laws for the protection of society. If evil doers will not repent, they must be restrained. Their power to do injury must be stopped.

2. Besides, judgment is demanded in accordance with righteousness. There is nothing arbitrary in the procedure. Even evil must be dealt with fairly.

3. Judgment also is necessary for the vindication of Goers truth. There is a moral necessity why it should be "ill with the wicked." "God is not a man, that he should lie."

"But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last.
Gather'd like scum, and settled to itself,
It shall be in eternal restless change,
Self-fed and self-consumed; if this fail,
The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble."




Psalms 58:1-11

A bold protest against unrighteous judges.


1. Wicked within and, without. (Psalms 58:1, Psalms 58:2.) In heart and deed.

2. Wicked by nature and by habit. (Psalms 58:3.) Go astray all their lives.

3. Incorrigible. (Psalms 58:4.) Like the adder that will not be turned by the voice of the charmer.

II. THEIR PUNISHMENT. (Psalms 58:6-11.)

1. They shall be rendered powerless in their designs. (Psalms 58:6-9.) All the figures in Psalms 58:6-9 mean this.

2. They shall become the objects of God's righteous vengeance. (Psalms 58:9, Psalms 58:10.)

3. The victims of their wickedness shall see their overthrow, and rejoice in it. (Psalms 58:10, Psalms 58:11.) They shall rejoice that there is a God that judgeth among men.—S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 58". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.