The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 58

Psa 58:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "OF DAVID. A MIKTAM". "Michtam" sig "to cut, engrave (Jer 2:22), or write (Exo 17:14)", and hence to remember. The 6 "michtam" psalms are thus "memorial" psalms, of a very personal nature, having the hope of resurrection as a common theme (Psa 16:10,11; 56:13; 57:3; 58:10,11; 59:16; 60:5,12).

HISTORICAL: Psalms 57 and 59 are both definitely about Saul's persecution of David; this suggests the same for 58. Vv 4,5 suggest the "seed of the serpent" described in Psa 52:1-4, another Psa about Saul and his captain Doeg. And the same vv suggest the occasion when David's soothing music failed to mollify the seething jealous soul of Saul (1Sa 18:10). It was true of the entire period which ensued that David, "charming never so wisely", was unable to placate the "deaf adder" Saul (1Sa 24:9-15; 26:18-24). But Al-taschith is the very phrase used by David in 1Sa 26:9 (very different in spirit from the imprecations in this psalm). Perhaps the Psa belongs to a later time when David looked back over the rugged experiences of his outlaw years.

FIGURES OF SPEECH: "The imagery that the Psalmist uses is apt and highly descriptive. It is taken from nature mainly, from widely diverse creatures which we fear and dislike such as snakes, lions, and snails, and from the calamities of mankind such as the miscarrying womb, water in uncontrollable spate, and the savage vortex of the whirlwind" (NPH).

RULERS: "Elem": "congregation" (AV); "in silence" (RV); "ye mighty ones" (RV mg); "gods" (RSV); "rulers" (NEB, NIV) -- cp Psa 82:1,6. The plural ref easily not only to Saul but also to his henchmen, such as Doeg and Abner.

(NT) Whether v 1 should be "congregation" or "mighty ones", the whole Psa is highly appropriate to the Sanhedrin, which successively condemned Jesus and the apostles and Stephen and Paul. In fact, Saul/Paul may be seen on both sides of the fence. In dealing with Stephen, he was the fitting namesake of brutal king Saul; but later, in answer to Stephen's prayer (Act 7:60), he embarks upon a journey of transformation, becoming at last Paul the apostle, suffering along with his brethren. At the trial of Stephen, "they (including Saul) cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears (cp Psa 58:4!), and run upon him (Stephen) with one accord" (Act 7:57).

"Answer, ye rulers: are your judgments just? Do ye decide impartially between man and man?" (NEB). The rhetorical questions clearly demand a negative answer; God's estimate of these "rulers" of Israel is seen in the next 4 vv.

Psa 58:2

YOUR HANDS METE OUT VIOLENCE: "Ye weigh the violence" (AV), as though heaping handfuls of violence into a balance. There is a calculated deliberateness about this. They are the scales of injustice.

Psa 58:3

EVEN FROM BIRTH THE WICKED GO ASTRAY: Ingrained perversity from birth. "A transgressor from the womb" (Isa 48:8). The difference between the righteous David (Psa 51:5) and the most wicked of men is, sadly, one of degree rather than of kind (cp Rom 3:9-20).

FROM THE WOMB THEY ARE WAYWARD: A new-born baby is the very picture of helpless innocence. But these, even as babies, show every sign of malevolent genius. And environment, treading hard on the heels of heredity, increases the pace of their tragic descent into bestiality.

SPEAKING LIES: "Their earliest incoherent noises are black villainy" (WEnj 44).

Psa 58:4

THEIR VENOM IS LIKE THE VENOM OF A SNAKE: It is part of their natural equipment, and they use it with a sudden irresistible efficiency.

A COBRA THAT HAS STOPPED ITS EARS: Evidently, all snakes are deaf, and snake charming is through the motion of the pipe and the piper rather than through any sound.

Psa 58:5

Cp Jer 8:17; Ecc 10:11. These wicked show no vestige of response to any kind of placating gestures. The wicked "harden" their ears (Isa 6:10; Mat 13:15; Act 28:27), and turn them away (Pro 21:13; 28:9).

Psa 58:6

Cp Psa 57:4. This is a particularly graphic and horrifying figure for: 'Reduce them to impotence.' But consider what those teeth would otherwise accomplish!

Psa 58:7

LET THEM: The repeated "Let them..." (vv 7,8) is a translation of a Heb imperative which, in these cases, takes the same form as the future tense, and can therefore be read: "They shall melt away... they shall be as cut in pieces... etc." Thus it expresses not so much a desire to see these judgments as a conviction that God will deal with the wicked in this way. Yet this leaves v 6 untouched: "Break their teeth, O God" -- however figurative this might be.

VANISH LIKE WATER THAT FLOWS AWAY: Like a stream running away into parched soil and being soaked up without a trace. "The ice-chilled winter of man's rule melting away before the spring and summer of the kingdom of God" (NPH). Or, "the wadi filled with the violence of raging storm waters after a flash flood... but in another hour only a trivial trickle remains" (HAW).

WHEN THEY DRAW THE BOW, LET THEIR ARROWS BE BLUNTED: "When he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces" (AV). The wicked straining his bow to full stretch to pierce God's servant with his arrow, and at the crucial moment the angel of the Lord with drawn sword slashes him to pieces. "Cut in pieces" (AV) is not a translation so much as a guess! The words may mean either "circumcise themselves" or "express themselves in speech", both of which are also quite difficult. The LXX evidently had a different Heb original, one which suggests "quench", as in Eph 6:16, where "to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" is a probable allusion to this passage.

Psa 58:8

LIKE A SLUG MELTING AWAY: The snail shell appears to adhere securely to the rock, yet when pried away there is only a dried-up deadness within.

LIKE A STILLBORN CHILD: As a miscarriage terminates before it has reached full life, so may these wicked (who can never be anything but defective beings anyway) be terminated before their full capacity for evil matures. AV has "an untimely birth": In 1Co 15:8 Paul (the first "Saul"! -- who persecuted the ecclesia: v 9) -- applies this figure of speech to himself, as though implying that at his first encounter with Jesus (cp, perhaps, 2Co 5:16), during the ministry (Luk 20:16?) -- when he should have come to a "new birth" -- he instead was "stillborn"!

MAY THEY NOT SEE THE SUN: As Paul was made "blind" just before his conversion! In a sense, "Saul" "died" (like an "abortion"), and only then was "Paul" the apostle "born".

Psa 58:9

"Before your pot can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind" (AV). The pot is set on to boil. Under it is a tangle of thorny stems, a very volatile kindling used in the desert; it has just been lit (Ecc 7:6,7; cp Isa 33:12; 2Sa 23:6,7). But before the dried thorns can blaze sufficiently for cooking to begin, there comes a sudden blast of wind which scatters them and extinguishes their flame.

THE WICKED WILL BE SWEPT AWAY: "As with a whirlwind" (AV). The Jews after destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Psa 58:10

"The righteous (one) shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked" (AV). After a long journey the washing of one's feet is a marvelous relief. But this journey has been through a great battlefield, and the traveler -- vanquishing all his enemies as he goes -- wades through their blood. The judgments in this Psa are yet to be fully accomplished. When they are, Christ (and the saints) will be directly and personally involved. Consider, along these lines, Psa 149:5-9; Isa 63:1-6; Mal 4:3; Rev 14:19,20; 18:20,24; 19:11.

Psa 58:11

SURELY THE RIGHTEOUS STILL ARE REWARDED: For the righteous there will be fruit now, in spiritual peace and contentment. And an unimaginable abundance of fruit in that future day, when the righteous are given the right to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Rev 2:7; 22:1,2). That fruit will be received with yet greater joy, because it will be the final harvest of the "seed" of faith, sown in tears over long years by God's children (Psa 126:5,6).

SUBSCRIPTION: "FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. TO THE TUNE OF 'DO NOT DESTROY' ": "Al taschith" (AV). The SUBSCRIPTIONion of Psa 56, 57, 58, 74. In each case the psalmist is in a tight corner and is praying for his life. This exact phrase comes in 1Sa 26:9, suggesting that background for the psalm. (Cp also Deu 9:26: "Destroy not thy people"; and Isa 65:8: "Destroy it -- ie the cluster of grapes, or the remnant of Israel -- not.") But, beyond question, the entire tone of it fits 1Sa 21:10-15 much better.

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