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To the chief Musician, Al-taschith, Michtam of David.
The psalm is a bold and earnest rebuke of unjust rulers and judges; men who not only bartered justice for bribes, but perverted judgment from personal hatred. The fearless and impassioned style is characteristically Davidic, and the execrations must be considered as a prayer to despoil such rulers of power and office, now that reformation was hopeless. The psalm evidently belongs to the Sauline period, as the Al-taschith and the imagery indicate, and for the same reason has its present place in the psalter. The matter fails into four divisions: Psalms 58:1-2, an address to the judges themselves; Psalms 58:3-5, a statement of their evil conduct and obstinate wickedness; Psalms 58:6-9, a solemn execration; Psalms 58:10-11, the salutary effect of their public punishment, and of the vindication of the righteous.
TITLE: Al-taschith The second of this designation: see title of Psalms 57:0.
Michtam See title of Psalms 16:0
1. Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation Much perplexity and doubt attend the rendering of this clause. The difficulty lies in the
אלם , translated in the vocative, “O congregation.” Its verbal root signifies, to bind, to grow dumb, as if tongue-tied; and the noun signifies dumbness, silence, and so it is used in Psalm lvi, title, the only other place of its occurrence. Our English Version derives the idea of “congregation” from the signification to bind, which is not satisfactory. The address is not to the “congregation,” but to the judges. No light of criticism has hitherto given a smooth sense to the passage. If we retain the word in question, and not, as many, throw it out as an interpolation, we may retain the radical sense to bind, and consider the judges or leaders of the nation addressed as binders of the people by their oppressive decrees, or as confederates arrayed against justice; or, rejecting the wordas an interpolation, read, “Do ye indeed decree justice?” ( Delitzsch;) or, “Are ye indeed dumb [when] ye [should] speak righteousness [and] judge equitably?” Alexander. It would seem safer to just criticism to retain the word in the text.
2. Yea, in heart Here is the seat of all iniquity. They sinned, not from ignorance, but from disposition and intention.
Ye weigh Ironically spoken. They professed to use equity and truth as weights in the scale of justice, but instead, they weighed violence. On “weigh” see note on Psalms 78:50. The “violence of” their hands, is “violence” which they themselves have wrought out by using, in their administration, tricks and devices instead of the forms of justice.
In the earth In the land; that is, publicly in all the kingdom. What the “heart” secretly devised, the hands fabricated into plans and written decrees, which become public law.
3. Estranged from the womb Alienated from God and his righteousness from birth. The same doctrine of original or birth sinfulness is taught in the next member. Sin thus springs from the depth of our nature, and is the fruit of the unregenerate heart. See on Psalms 51:5; Isaiah 48:8. Speaking lies Falsehood is here put down as the characteristic of all sin, as truth is for the genus of piety, Psalms 51:6
4. Their poison All sin is of the nature of poison, but the sin of these men was like the poison of a serpent, active and deadly.
The deaf adder The פתן ( pethen) is here described as being untamable by charming, and in Psalms 91:13, as dangerous to the traveller. See note on Psalms 140:3. The pethen is supposed to be the same as the asp of Scripture, or Egyptian cobra. As to the deafness, all serpents of the same species do not yield alike to the charmer. “Several of the serpent tribe [of Hindostan] are believed to be either quite deaf, or very dull of hearing. I have frequently come close up to these reptiles, but they did not make any effort to move out of the way. They lurk in the path, and the victim on whom they pounce will expire within a few minutes after he is bitten.” Roberts. Serpents generally are comparatively dull of hearing, but it is the special temper of malignity in some more than others, not natural deafness, which resists the charmer, and this is the point of the metaphor.
5. Charmers From which it appears that the art of serpent charming was known in David’s day. The object was to render them tractable and harmless. See Ecclesiastes 10:11; Jeremiah 8:17. The art is still practised in Egypt and the East as a profession, for amusement, and for dislodging serpents from houses.
6. Break their teeth The allusion is to the custom of extracting the poisonous fangs of the serpent in order to render it harmless and abate the malignity of its nature. This is still practised, though not in every case, according to the writers quoted by Hengstenberg, (Egypt and the Books of Moses.)
Great teeth of the young lions The allusion changes from the fangs of serpents to the great teeth of lions, by which they tear their prey. The imagery is startling. “Young lions” ( כפירים , kephereem) are those in full vigour of youth, and hence more active to destroy; distinguished from גור , ( goor,) a sucking lion, Ezekiel 19:2-3; and from לביא , ( lahbee,) the great or stout lion, stronger but less active, Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:24; and from לישׁ , ( layeesh,) an old lion enfeebled by age and perishing for lack of prey, Job 4:11; Isaiah 30:6. The sense of the apparently harsh language of this verse is, according to the known import of the metaphors, that as his enemies could not be diverted or appeased, God would disarm them, break their power to envenom or destroy. See the allusions explained Job 29:17; Proverbs 30:14; Joel 1:6. It was not against them personally that the plea was entered, but against their power as officers of government and organized conspirators and persecutors.
7. Melt away as waters The allusion is to winter torrents, and the momentary streams occasioned by showers, which suddenly and totally disappear, having no permanent source of supply, so deceiving the expectation of the traveller and the shepherd as a reliance for animal use. Comp. Job 6:15-20. So deceitful and transient is the prosperity of the wicked!
He bendeth his bow Literally, he treadeth his arrows, as Psalms 64:4, that is, he bends his bow by placing his foot upon it, with the arrow placed upon the string. A description of a mighty bow.
Cut in pieces Cut in two, or the head of the arrow cut off to render it powerless of effect. Thus futile as a broken arrow from the bow of the mighty shall be the plans and purposes of the haters of God.
8. As a snail which melteth “Referring to the well-known habits of the snail, which boldly comes forth from its shell, blind to all danger, and runs out its feelers to the utmost length, but quickly withdraws them at the slightest touch, and rapidly and timidly retreats within its fortress. The snail, moreover, is so frail that it may be crushed by its most insignificant enemy, and aptly illustrates the utter impotency of the proudest and mightiest of the wicked.” VAN LENNEP, Bible Lands, p. 322
9. Thorns The atad, or southern buckthorn, (the Rhamnus paliurus of Linnaeus,) noted, like the retem or broom shrub of the desert for its crackling flame and hot fire, and much used as fuel. See Ecclesiastes 7:6. Called also “Christ’s thorn,” from a tradition that it was the same that furnished the mock crown for our Saviour. The figure of the text supposes a robber-feast over recent success, where all are abandoned to wild, delirious merriment, such as is narrated in 1 Samuel 30:16. In the preparations for the feast the catastrophe comes. The sense is given by Perowne: “As a sudden whirlwind in the desert sweeps away the thorns which have been gathered for cooking before the caldron has grown hot, so shall the wicked and all their incomplete designs be swept away by the wrath of God.” On the whirlwind of the desert, see note on Psalms 83:13.
Living This is the usual signification of חי , ( hhah’y,) but as applied to meat, it may signify raw meat in opposition to that which is cooked, as in 1 Samuel 2:15, which develops the point of the metaphor, namely, that though the fire was built in a calm atmosphere, the whirlwind should be so sudden as to sweep away the meat while yet raw in the pot, together with the fire of thorns and the entire “cooking apparatus.”
10, 11. These verses present the acquiescence of the righteous in the just judgment of the wicked, and the happy deliverance of the godly.
Vengeance Judicial justice.
Wash his feet in the blood The figure of a battle field is supposed, where the wicked are wholly defeated, and in the pursuit the righteous, in passing over the ground occupied by the routed foe, and all along the pursuit, wet their feet in their blood. The language is harsh, suited to primitive times, but simply denotes the total discomfiture of the wicked. So also such passages as Deuteronomy 32:42-43; Psalms 68:23; Jeremiah 46:10.
A reward… a God that judgeth The moral end of all the language and figures of the psalm must be qualified by, and is realized in, these words: There is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 58". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter