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Superscription.—“To the Chief Musician, Al-taschith.” see introduction to Psalms 57:0. “Michtam of David.” See Introduction to Psalms 56:0. Moll: “This complaint respecting domestic administrations of justice gushes forth from the Psalmist in a threatening language, which is almost obscure owing to bold and mingled figures of speech. It is like a torrent which plunges over every hindrance, foaming and raging. We may certainly credit this original poet with a richness of figures and changes in their use, as well as in the turns of language and of thought, in accordance with particular circumstances and feeling. Yet we lack sufficient evidence to show whether the composition occurred in the time of Saul, who was at the same time David’s judge and persecutor, who endeavoured to hide the persecution under the appearance of a righteous judgment; or in the time of Absalom, who made the administration of justice a means of stealing from David the hearts of the people, whilst he pretended to be impartial.”
It seems to us probable that this Psalm, like Psalms 56, 57, , 59, relates to the Sauline persecutions. The similarity in the superscriptions and the character of the contents support this view.
THE HISTORY OF HUMAN WICKEDNESS
In dealing with these wicked judges, whom he addresses in the early portion of the Psalm, David gives us a general description of the origin, progress, and destiny of human wickedness.
I. Wickedness in its root. “The wicked are estranged from the womb,” &c. An innate estrangement of the heart from God is the root from which the wickedness of men springs. The doctrine of original sin rests on an awful fact. Moral qualities are transmissible. We enter upon life with tendencies to evil. In some natures these tendencies are terrible in their activity and strength. In this light David regards his enemies. “The most lovely infant that is ushered into being,” says Dr. Cumming, “has within it by nature the germs of those elements which feed the flames of bell, and leaven its forlorn inmates with their direst misery. It has in its own heart the embryo of that Upas tree, which distils upon humanity on earth, and on humanity in hell, its death-drops; and so living are the seeds, and so congenial is the soil, that, unless overborne by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the appliances of the Gospel, they will inevitably spring up and flourish.”
II. Wickedness in its manifestation.
1. In the mal-administration of justice (Psalms 58:1-2). The exact meaning of these verses is somewhat obscure. The rendering of the first clause of the first verse in the A. V. is certainly incorrect. Alexander translates: “Are ye, indeed, dumb, when ye should speak righteousness!” Conant: “ ‘Do ye, of a truth, in silence, speak righteousness?’ A bitter sarcasm. Is it with silence that ye perform the office of speech, dumb when ye ought to speak, and declare the right?” Perowne, on the latter clause of Psalms 58:2, remarks, “This is said sarcastically. Ye pretend, indeed, to hold the balance of justice, and nicely to weigh out to each his just award, but violence is the weight with which ye adjust the scales.” Moll: “It is very bad when those persons and magistrates, who are appointed to administer justice, instead of pronouncing judgment, are silent, and are dumb to the prayers of their subordinates and the earnest entreaties of their frends, not less than to the demands of the law, honour, and conscience. They then not only misuse the scales of justice intrusted to them in an irresponsible manner, to the injury of their fellow-men, but they are likewise hypocrites and liars, since they violate justice at the very time that they pretend to exercise it, and in this manifest their serpent-like nature.” Here, then, are three counts in the indictment against these judges.
(1) They were silent when they ought to have declared for righteousness.
(2) Their hearts were bent on wickedness.
(3) Under the pretence of justice they did evil. Thus in the place of judgment there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness there was iniquity.
2. In falsehood. “Speaking lies.” This is a manifestation of wickedness from which David suffered much, and which, in various forms, has been widely prevalent in the whole history of human wickedness.
3. In malice. “Their poison is like the poison of a serpent.” Their spirit was malignant, and their utterances were spiteful, cruel, and deadly.
III. Wickedness in its full development. “Like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.” It is not the adder which stoppeth the ear, but the wicked. What is already deaf by nature has no need to stop its ear. We may read the clause, “As a deaf adder, he stoppeth his ear.” By means of stopping their ears the wicked make themselves like the deaf adder. (On serpent charming, see “The Land and the Book,” by Dr. Thomson, p. 154, and Barnes and Lange, in loco.) As there are serpents which cannot be charmed, so there are men who will yield to no good influence. They harden themselves against the grace of God, and close their ears against His Word, and strengthen themselves in wickedness, and so prepare themselves for a terrible and inevitable ruin. It is not simply that the tendency to evil with which they were born has developed itself, but it has developed itself unchecked, and without any obstruction, and the influences which have been brought to bear upon them to lead them to resist that development they have resisted, and the aids which have been offered to them to enable them to do so, they have rejected. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” In this way that which at first was merely a tendency to evil becomes an irresistible despot. “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.” “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.” We see this stopping of the ears and hardening of the heart in the disregard of those who eagerly pursue wickedness—
1. To the remonstrances and entreaties of men, even of their best friends.
2. To the invitations of Divine mercy, and the warnings of Divine judgment.
3. To the Divine influence working in and through their own conscience. All these they disregard. Saul is a conspicuous and terrible example of this. Men wilfully close their eyes against the light, and blindness supervenes; they wilfully stop their ears against Divine voices, and deafness results. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
IV. Wickedness in its consummation. “Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth,” &c. (Psalms 58:6-9). “There is,” says Perowne, “an abrupt change in the image employed. As these men are incorrigible in their wickedness, as they cannot be tamed, the Psalmist prays to God to destroy their power for mischief; but instead of continuing the figure of the serpent charmer, who robs the serpent of his poison, he suddenly represents them as young lions, whose teeth he would see broken that they may no longer devour.” In this portion of the Psalm we see the destination of wickedness.
1. The power of the wicked shall be destroyed. “Break their teeth,” &c. “The young lions” are not the whelps, but those who are youthful in vigour and strength. God will break the power of wickedness. “The arms of the wicked shall be broken.”
2. The plans of the wicked shall be defeated. “When he bendeth,” &c. The Hebrew here is difficult. Hengstenberg translates: “He takes aim with his arrows, as if they were cut in pieces.” Conant: “He will fit his arrows, they shall be as if severed.” The idea, doubtless, is, that the arrows of the wicked would be without effect as though they had their points cut off. “The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought,” &c.
3. The end of the wicked shall be failure and ruin.
(1) Here are the ideas of wasting and failure as the end of the wicked. “Let them melt away as waters which run continually. As a snail which melteth,” &c. (On the metaphor of the snail, see Tristram’s “Natural History of the Bible,” p. 295, quoted in Lange.) Wickedness tends to failure. Sin is truly a missing of the mark. The life of the wicked shall pass away like an abortion (Psalms 37:35-36).
(2) Here is the idea of dread ruin as the end of the wicked. “Before your pots,” &c. Another difficult verse. A more correct translation would be, “Before your pots feel the thorn, whether fresh or burning; He will sweep it away as with a tempest.” “Whether fresh or burning” we take as applying to the thorns. Perowne: “The general sense of this difficult verse seems to be this: As a sudden whirlwind in the desert sweeps away the thorns which have been gathered for cooking almost as soon as they have been set on fire, and before the cauldron has grown hot, so shall the wicked, and all their yet incomplete designs, be swept away by the wrath of God.” The ruin of the wicked is here represented as (α) sudden (1 Thessalonians 5:3). (β) Irresistible, “as with a whirlwind” (Proverbs 14:32). Such is the dread consummation to which wickedness tends.
V. Wickedness as viewed in its ultimate aspects. The consummation of wickedness affords—
1. Satisfaction to the righteous. “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance,” &c. Alexander: “To bathe his steps in the blood of others is to walk where their blood is flowing, to tread the battlefield where they have fallen, to gain a sanguinary triumph over them, or rather, to partake in the triumph of another.” The righteous rejoice that wickedness does not triumph, but is defeated, destroyed. “The Lord reigneth.”
2. Conviction to men in general. “And men will say, Verily, there is fruit for the righteous,” &c. When the ultimate aspects of wickedness are seen men will be convinced that the moral government of the world is in the hands of a righteous God. Even in the present state of affairs events are frequently conducted to such issues that men cannot resist the conclusion that “there is a God that judgeth in the earth.”
1. Learn the danger of following the bias of our nature apart from the grace of God. “When we follow our inborn nature we ruin ourselves and others.”
2. Rejoice that the bias of our nature to evil may be changed. By the grace of God we may “be renewed in the spirit of our mind,” &c. (Ephesians 4:23-24).
3. Let those who are pursuing evil turn from it to Jesus Christ and to life ere it reaches its dread consummation (Isaiah 55:6-7; Ezekiel 33:11).
4. Learn to take a comprehensive view of the divine dealings with men. By so doing we shall be likely correctly to understand the ways of God.
5. Cultivate a strong and constant faith in the exercise and rectitude of the Divine administration in human affairs.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 58". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26