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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 58

 

 

Verses 1-11

Psalm 58

To the chief Musician, Al-taschith, Michtam of David

Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation?

Do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?

2 Yea, in heart ye work wickedness;

Ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.

3 The wicked are estranged from the womb:

They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent:

They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;

5 Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers,

Charming never so wisely.

6 Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth:

Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord.

7 Let them melt away as waters which run continually:

When he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.

8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of hem pass away:

Like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.

9 Before your pots can feel the thorns,

He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.

10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance:

He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.

11 So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous:

Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Its Contents And Composition.—The position of this Psalm is due not only to expressions in the title, but to the figure of the lion and the mention of teeth. There is no reason to put its composition in a late period, and seek the unjust judges among the heathen (Ewald, Hitzig). The prophets afford sufficient analogies to this complaint respecting domestic administrations of justice (Hupfeld), as it here gushes forth from the indignant soul of 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. A comparison with other Psalm of David, e. g, Psalm 64. and140. shows that such language, especially in the expectation of Divine judgment, is not strange in the mouth of David. 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 endeavored to hide the persecution under the appearance of a righteous judgment (Hengst.); 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 (Knapp, Delitzsch). The reproachful question, which is ironical in form ( Psalm 58:1), and its cutting answer ( Psalm 58:2), are followed by the description of the entire corruption of the accused ( Psalm 58:3-5), and then follows the proclamation of their ruin by Divine judgment which has been implored ( Psalm 58:6-9); and finally the statements of its effects ( Psalm 58:10-11).

Str. I. Psalm 58:1. Do ye truly in silence speak righteousness?—The word אֵלֶם occurs only here and in the title of Psalm 56, and is obscure and doubtful in both places. At any rate it is artificial and without sufficient warrant, to gain the sense of pactum, that is to say, publico jure sancitum by derivation from a word=bind (Maurer), or a vocative with the meaning congregatio to designate the companions of Saul (Kimchi, Calvin [A. V.], et al). The radical meaning Isaiah, “to grow dumb or speechless,” and the juxtaposition of two nouns is not without examples, Psalm 45:4. But which is the most appropriate meaning? The question “Do ye in truth or truly” leads to the doubt whether the addressed are earnest in doing that which is alleged of them and presupposed or is to be required of them, or whether they do it only apparently or not at all; and the parallel clause shows that the question is with reference to the righteous administration of justice and equitable judgment. The form of this parallel clause, however, prevents the question from being regarded as one of astonishment. do you really decree dumb justice? but seems to lead to the question of doubt: do you really speak righteousness (previously) dumb, that is to say: recognize and express in the judicial sentence (the older interpreters, with Geier, J H. Mich, De Wette, Stier). But this is against the position of the word, and already an explanation of the too difficult oxymoron; “do you really speak;” that is to say, give utterance to, or express in words, dumbness of justice? The parallel clause Psalm 58:4 b, likewise leads to the thought that those addressed are dumb, when they should speak, as they are deaf when they should hear. We might therefore be tempted to translate: are you really dumbness, that is to say, entirely dumb? The language would permit this; but what then could be made of the subsequent words? The translations; that you would not speak what is just (Luther, Hengst.), or: Do you speak righteousness? (Geier) are not only harsh but at the same time against grammar and the parallel clause. The same is true of the interpretation: Is righteousness really silent? Then speak it! (Rosenm.) Therefore we are to take it as a question of irony rather than one of direct reproach: Do you truly in silence speak righteousness? (Chald, Hupf.) This oxymoron is at least endurable, and the interpretation agrees with the expected thoughts and the irony of weighing out ( Psalm 58:2 b), better than the direct question which the language admits: Is the righteousness which you should speak, truly, dumb? (Isaki). If the vowel points are to be altered it is better to make itאֲלֹם = ye people (Hitzig) parallel with the vocative “sons of men,” than אֻלָּם, for which rare word אמנם was originally placed upon the margin as a gloss, then came into the text, and is now again to be removed from it in order to get the sense: do you truly speak justice? (Gesenius); or אֵלִם in the sense of a defective orthography of אֵלִים, as Exodus 15:11, or אֵילִם, Numbers 7:77; Numbers 23:29, which then is a designation of the judges addressed, but cannot mean: strong (Tholuck with reference to Joab and his brother) but only: gods (since Houbigant many interpreters besides J. D. Mich, likewise Ewald, Olsh, Delitzsch). It is then admissible to take the sons of men of the following clause as an accusative, and as intentionally used here as Elohim is then used in the final clause as plural. The irony would then be still further strengthened by scornful allusion to the folly and vanity of self-exaltation. But there are very serious objections to regard this word as designating the unjust false judges as gods, for it is without any preparation in the Psalm, and still more would be in a very unusual form of the word.

[ Psalm 58:2. Ye weigh out.—Perowne: 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.”.—C. A. B.]

Str. II. [ Psalm 58:3. From birth.—Delitzsch: The Scriptures in such passages testify to the fact of experience, that there are men in whom evil has from childhood a truly devilish and selfish character, incapable of loving, for although original sin and guilt are common to all men, yet the former class has them in the most manifold J mixture and forms, as indeed the transmission of sin and the influence of the power of evil and the power of grace, ever working at the same time upon the propagation of the human race, demand; this dualism of human nature is taught especially by the gospel of John.”—C. A. B.]

Psalm 58:4. Poison have they like the poison of a serpent.—This is literally the poison which they have; for the stat. const. demands that אֲשֶׁר should be supplied. Among the serpents the adder is mentioned as the best known of the dangerous ones ( Deuteronomy 32:33) of which it is said in the Orient (vid. the passages in De Wette, Com.) it is dumb, when it will not obey the charmer. The intentional character of this dumbness is mentioned as a stopping up of the ear.[FN11]

Str. III. [ Psalm 58:6. Perowne: “There is an abrupt change in the image employed. As these men are incorrigible in their wickedness, as they cannot be tamed, the Psalmist prays 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,” comp. Psalm 3:7.—C. A. B.]

Psalm 58:7. Let him (namely the enemy) fix his arrows,—(let them be) as though cut off.—It is best not to regard God as the subject, because He has been immediately before directly addressed, and the explanations “until the enemies have become weak,” (Sept.), or donec conterantur (Jerome), ut succidantur et pereant (Isaki), and the like, afford grammatical objections, which disappear when it is referred to the enemies regarded in their unity, whose arrows are designated as without effect, as though they had their points cut off (most interpreters since Kimchi). The treading or bending the bow is transferred to the arrows, as Psalm 64:3.[FN12]

Psalm 58:8. As a snail which in melting passeth away.—The meaning “ snail,” which has its Hebrew name from its apparent melting away in slime, is rendered certain (Chald, Isaki, Kimchi) as against the interpretation wax (most of the older interpreters, Ewald), or torrent (Aben Ezra, Köster).[FN13]Miscarriage of a woman—אֵשֶׁת is here confirmed as a stat. absol.=woman by Deuteronomy 21:11; 1 Samuel 28:7 [although this is usually the stat. const.], as against the interpretation: mole (Chald.), or: fire (Sept.), namely: falls down, so that it is not necessary, by a change of reading, to get the sense of “the hopeless one.”

Psalm 58:10. Before your pots feel the thorn whether fresh or burning.He whirls it away.—The idea here is of the sudden and unexpected destruction of all their plans and all their arrangements for their fulfilment. It is represented in a figure, derived from a frequent occurrence in connection with caravans in the desert. The only striking thing is the sudden address to the wicked, who are spoken of from Psalm 58:3 on, only in the third person. Since, however, they have been already directly addressed ( Psalm 58:1-2), there is no objection to it here. Still less is there any weight to be laid upon the fact that חָרוֹן is used elsewhere of the fire of God’s wrath (Cleric). For since it properly means “burning,” and the words with וֹן were originally accusatives with nun, or adverbs which denote circumstance or condition (Hupfeld), we may have some objection to understand it of cooking meat, or meat already cooked (Hengstenb. after Berl. Bibel and Delitzsch) or of dry wood (Symm, Ewald), but not to understand it of the אטד = black, or buck thorn (rhamnus), already on fire, which flames up quickly and high in the fire, and gives indeed suitable coals for cooking, yet is easily put out by the wind (Œdmann, Vermischte Samml4:99 sq.). On this account, therefore, we understand by the previously mentioned חַיּ that is to say, living, not raw flesh (Calvin, et al.), but fresh thorns, still green (Geier and most interpreters). If the interpretation of the double כְּמוֹ in the sense of sive-sive should be doubted we might translate: when he is still lively, that is to say, fresh (Chald,, Isaki, Kimchi), it will whirl him away as burning wrath. It is however not advisable to give to the word סִירוֹת the meaning “thorns,” instead of “pots” (the ancient versions, Aben Ezra, Isaki, Luther, and many interpreters). For the inaccuracy of the ancient versions: “before your thorns have grown or ripened into the thorn bush” may be avoided it is true, and the words thus interpreted: “before your thorns were observed, a thorn bush was there (Aben Ezra, J. H. Mich,, Knapp, Köster), or: before your thorns observe it, whether fresh or dry He will whirl away the thorn bush (Ewald). But although the singular סיר has a double meaning, yet only the masculine plural form has the meaning of thorns ( Ecclesiastes 7:6), the feminine however: pots, with the exception of Amos 4:2, where, however, the idea of thorn prickle has passed over into that of fish hooks. It is entirely inadmissible to refer the word “alive,” in the second clause, directly to men, who would then be characterized as thorns, and of whom, with an allusion to the ruin of the band of Korah, it would be said: as living, as in the midst of life, He will devour them in wrath (Schegg, after the Sept. and Vulgate). However, it might mean, on the other hand: as often as he revives, so often the burning (Hitzig).[FN14]

Stir. IV. [ Psalm 58:10. He shall bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.—Alexander: “To bathe his feet (or rather his steps) in the blood of others is to walk where their blood is flowing, to tread the battle-field where they have fallen, to gain a sanguinary triumph over them, or rather it is to partake in the triumph of another.” [FN15]—C. A. B.]

Psalm 58:11. Yes, there is a Divinity judging upon earth.—Elohim is construed with the plural as Genesis 20:13; Joshua 24:19; 2 Samuel 7:23 (unchanged in 1 Chronicles 17:21). Yet this is not in accordance with heathen usage (Ewald) or in the mouth of the heathen, who then would be named with אדם (Olsh, Baur) or with a still more direct reference to Psalm 58:1 a, if elim is taken as the proper reading there, in order to characterize the just Hebrew judge who makes the name gods which has been dishonored by unjust Judges, a true designation (J. D. Mich.), or as rendering prominent the true judging God (Hupf.) or the real God elevated above all earthly magnates, Ecclesiastes 5:7 (Delitzsch), in contrast to the false and unjust gods of the earth. There is not the slightest trace of these references and contrasts in the entire Psalm. But the pure grammatical construction (Hitzig) and the sense and context afford the general meaning of Divinity.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. 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 prayer of their subordinates, and the earnest entreaties of their friends not less than to the demands of the law and the voice of duty, honor, and conscience. They then not only misuse the scales of justice entrusted 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.

2. In such conduct there is manifest partly the inherited sinful nature ( Genesis 8:21; Psalm 51:6; Job 14:4; Isaiah 48:8), partly there is presented in them their own hardening of themselves, with which they stop the way of the grace as well as the word of God, increase their readiness to sin as well as their scorn of the means of grace, and hasten the approach of a terrible, unavoidable, and sudden ruin. “What makes human ruin so fearful is the fact, that it rests upon original sin, and is rooted in the innermost depths of the heart.… The contrast is not between those men who are corrupt from the womb, and those who are not, but of those in whom the ruin which is common to all has developed itself without hindrance, and those in whom the development has been checked and interrupted” (Hengst.). Respecting the Doctrine of Original sin in the Old Testament, comp. Kleinert in the Stud, and Krit, 1860, Heft1.

3. The righteous need not despair. They will no more lose the fruit of God-fearing conduct than of their patient endurance of suffering, Isaiah 3:10 sq. But no less sure is the reward of the wicked by just recompense, which even when it is no longer looked upon and enjoyed as vengeance in the meaning of the Old Testament, yet remains just as joyful and comforting to the righteous, because they recognize therein the government of God, who reveals Himself from heaven as a Judge on earth.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

When we follow our inborn nature we ruin ourselves and others.—If some sinners harden themselves in sin even to obduracy, and fear neither God nor men, they yet will not escape their Judges, and will be ruined, together with their plans, before they have made their preparations.—The ungodly are ruined by God’s judgment, it is true, but of their own guilt, and on account of their impenitence.—He who will not hear when God speaks to him, will be obliged to feel when God judges him.—The righteous may lose their rights, but not their fruit.—We can sin not only by speaking, but likewise by silence, and since we injure our fellow-men, bring upon ourselves a severe reckoning.—If the wicked will not hearken to you, you may testify against them, that others may be warned.—Justice, may be violated, perverted, denied, but righteousness cannot perish, for God Himself leads it through to victory.—Men may despise God’s word and deny God’s existence, yet they cannot do away with God’s word or prevent God’s rule upon earth.—God Himself testifies to His existence by delivering and judging.

Starke: God has given us a ready tongue, that we may use it for His glory and the good of our neighbors.—The leaving off from good is soon followed by the commission of evil.—The wickedness and obduracy of many men are so great, that no prayers, warnings, or threatenings will help them.—The blood-thirsty persecutors will be rewarded with blood; for a man will be punished with that with which he transgresses.—If we knew how many thousand devices of the ungodly the Lord brings to naught, before they were fully conceived, and how many arrows He breaks, before they are shot off, we would be astonished at His Wisdom of Solomon, faithfulness, and Omnipotence.

Renschel: Sins of carelessness and neglect are likewise great sins.—Frisch: Many, who have thirsted for blood have perished in their own blood.—Tholuck: God does such signs that we may see that, although He has given much power to mortals, yet no one can deprive Him of His sceptre.—Taube: Being dumb to the grace of God, they are dumb to the judgment of God.—The first blessing that a man receives when He has committed his cause to God in prayer, is that he gains another view of the cause in the light of God.

[Matt. Henry Let none wonder that these wicked men dare do such things, for wickedness is bred in the bone with them; they brought it into the world with them, they have in their natures a strong inclination to it, they learned it from their wicked parents, and have been trained up in it by a bad education.—Barnes: Men everywhere approve of the just administration of law, even though it consigns the transgressor to prison or to death; and it is a matter of gratification to ail who love law and order when a righteous government is maintained; when wickedness is checked; when justice is administered in a community.—Spurgeon: It is not in your music, but in the sinner’s ear that the cause of failure lies, and it is only the power of God that can remove it.—Every unregenerate man is an abortion. He misses the true form of God-made manhood; he corrupts in the darkness of sin; he never sees or shall see the light of God in purity, in heaven.—Two things will come out clearly after all—there is a God, and there is a reward for the righteous.—C. A. B.]

Footnotes:

FN#11 - Lane. Mod. Egyptians, chap20. “The charmer professes to discover, without ocular perception, (but perhaps he does so by a peculiar smell), whether there be any serpents in a house; and if there be, to attract them to him; as the fowler, by the fascination of his voice, allures the bird into his neat.… He assumes an air of mystery, strikes the walls with a short palm stick, whistles, makes a clucking noise with his tongue, and spits upon the ground, and generally says, ‘I adjure you by God, if ye be above, or if ye be below, that ye come forth: I adjure you by the Great Name if ye be obedient, come forth; and if ye be disobedient die! die! die!’—The serpent is generally dislodged by his stick, from a fissure in the wall, or drops from the ceiling of the room.” Thomson, in the Land and the Book, p155, says, that “there are some serpents which the charmer cannot subdue; and instances are related in which they have fallen victims to their daring attempts to conquer these deaf and obstinate cockatrices.” Tristram, Nat. History of the Bible, p272, refers this clause of the Psalm to the fact that “there are some species of serpent not amenable to the charmer’s art, or that there are individuals of the ordinary cobra which defy all his attempts to soothe them.—C. A. B.]

FN#12 - It is better to translate here fix or fit as the Hebrew דּרךְ means to tread or trample, in the wine press, the threshing-floor, or the bow in spanning it with the foot, and the treading thus passed over naturally into fixing the arrows by treading the bow, which the A. V. paraphrases by “bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows,” whilst Perowne translates directly shoot and Alexander bend his arrows.—C. A. B.]

FN#13 - This metaphor is thus explained by Tristram, Nat. History of the Bible, p295 sq. “The snails of all species in the Holy Land are in the habit, not of hybernating in winter, as they do in our colder climate, but of shutting themselves into their shells and remaining dormant during the dry season. Few snails can remain long in an active state without moisture. In order to prevent the evaporation of the moisture of the body, all those molluscs which have a thin or semi-transparent shell, secrete themselves in dry weather under stones like the shellless snails or slugs, or else among moss, and under leaves, and many species also in the earth. … But notwithstanding the care they take to secrete themselves, the heat often dries them up, either by a long continued drought, or by the sun’s ray’s penetrating to their holes. Thus we find in the Holy Land myriads of snailshells in fissures, still adhering by the calcareous exudation round their orifice to the surface of the rock, but the animal of which is utterly shrivelled and wasted, ‘melted away,’ according to the expression of the Psalmist.”—C. A. B.]

FN#14 - 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 caldron has grown hot (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:6), so shall the wicked, and all their yet incomplete designs, be swept away by the wrath of God.”—C. A. B.]

FN#15 - Hupfeld regards it as a figure of speech indicating the quantity of the blood that has been shed. He compares the corresponding expressions in Psalm 68:23, where the feet are washed in blood; Job 29:6, where the feet, are washed in mills and brooks of oil; Job 20:17, where brooks of honey and milk are mentioned. “It here indicates the greatness of the vengeance; usually of that taken by the party himself, but here since it is not his own act but that of God, and is merely beheld, it can only be a symbolical expression of the internal participation therein, or the satisfied feeling of revenge.” He compares Deuteronomy 32:42 sq.; Isaiah 46:23 sq, etc.—C. A. B.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 58:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-58.html. 1857-84.

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