New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Psa 58:1

For the Chief Musician. To the tune of Do Not Destroy. A poem by David-
This Psalm is a criticism of corrupt judges and leadership. Such criticism of Israel's judges is common in the prophets (Is. 1:16-25; Is. 10:1-4; Jer. 5:26-29; Mic. 3:9-12). So it could refer to the situation in Israel at the time of Saul or perhaps during Absalom's brief reign. But the Psalm may well have been reused regarding the corrupt leadership of Babylon over the exiles, or of the corrupt Jewish leadership within Babylon.

Do you indeed speak righteousness, silent ones? Do you judge blamelessly, you sons of men?-
The sin of keeping silence in the face of others' oppression is perhaps the most common sin of omission. So many who have struggled against abusive regimes have come to this conclusion- that the real abusers were all the good people who remained silent and thus empowered abusive regimes. "Do ye indeed in silence speak righteousness?" (Ps. 58:1 RV). Speaking and acting righteously whilst keeping silent about others' abuse is not righteousness. But "silent ones", Heb. elem, may be an intentional parody of elohim, mighty ones, a term also used for Israel's judges, who were intended to reflect the judgment of the elohim above.

Psa 58:2

No, in your heart you plot injustice. You measure out the violence of your hands in the earth-
David again comes over as (overly?) confident of knowing the hearts of men. It could be argued that he believed that works reflect thoughts, as the Lord also taught, and therefore reasoned back from actions to thoughts. Instead of measuring out justice, they measured out violence.

Psa 58:3

The wicked go astray from the womb. They are wayward as soon as they are born, speaking lies-
This is not true in real time. But for timeless God, this is His perspective on them. Likewise in other cases He expresses His timelessness in ways which men can only understand as predestination. Or we could simply understand this as hyperbole, an exaggerated statement to the effect that the wicked go wrong from their youth. Or it could be that David is imputing too much sin to his enemies. See on :5.

He clearly refers here to a category of people, "the wicked", and not to all humanity. So it cannot be used as any proof that all human beings are like this from birth. We must remember that whatever we posit about human nature generally, we are saying about the Lord Jesus. For He shared our nature completely, and yet was holy, harmless and undefiled (Heb. 7:26).


Psa 58:4

Their poison is like the poison of a snake; like a deaf cobra that stops its ear-
David presents these people as the seed of the serpent of Gen. 3:15, abusing the seed of the woman, the righteous. Solomon speaks of the wicked within Israel as stopping their ears at the cry of the poor (Prov. 21:13 s.w.). He is alluding to how David his father had complained that the judges of Israel were like cobras who stopped their ear to the voice of charmers, refusing the voice of God's word (Ps. 58:4 s.w.). Connecting the ideas, the cry of the poor is the cry of God's word to us; our response to them is our response to them.

Psa 58:5

which doesn’t listen to the voice of charmers, no matter how skilful the charmer may be-
Cobras are not actually deaf, but they can appear deaf to attempts to charm them with words and sounds. This provides some balance to the hyperbole of :3. The wicked are given the chance to respond to God's word, but refuse it- and so their biographies appear to be consistently wicked even from their youth. 'Not listening to the voice' is the phrase so often used of Israel's refusal to listen to God's voice (s.w. Ps. 81:11; 106:25; Jer. 3:13 etc.). Even those who are snakes can be charmed by God's word- if they unstop their ears.

Psa 58:6

Break their teeth, God, in their mouth. Break out the great teeth of the young lions, Yahweh-
Lions are symbolic of Israel's Gentile enemies, as well as of the leadership of Judah in Ez. 19:3-6. God's apostate people are often likened to Gentiles; hence the double symbolism of the lion, representing both them and also the Gentiles.

Psa 58:7

Let them vanish as water that flows away. When they draw the bow, let their arrows be made blunt-
This could be asking for the judgments of the corrupt judges and leadership to be somehow rendered powerless. But again we note with concern that instead of wishing their repentance and salvation, David seems quite obsessed with wishing their condemnation. Whereas God has no joy at all in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33:11). In the Hezekiah context we note that the only other usage of the phrase "vanish as water" is in Is. 8:6.

Psa 58:8

Let them be like the path of a snail which melts and passes away, like the stillborn child, who has not seen the sun-
The idea may be that the snail appears to be melting into nothing during its very path through life; and this was how it was with the wicked. This idea is developed in :9; judgment is in essence now.

Psa 58:9

Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns, he will sweep away the green and the burning alike-
This suggests that David expected the time of judgment to come very soon. Divine judgment was to come as a whirlwind from the desert, suddenly sweeping away the kindling which desert travellers had made to heat their pots. He saw his enemies as kindling burning, some of it green and not good kindling; but before they could generate much heat, they were to be swept away in judgment. This implies that they were as it were on fire already; the essence of judgment is going on now. Cheyne offers: "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".

Psa 58:10

The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked-
Again it seems that David's reveling in the blood of the condemned is out of step with the God who takes no pleasure [cp. 'rejoicing'] in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33:11). It was perhaps because of David's attitude to "blood" rather than simply his shedding of blood which disqualified him from building the temple; God was not pleased with this attitude (1 Chron. 22:8).

Psa 58:11

so that men shall say, Most certainly there is a reward for the righteous. Most certainly there is a God who judges the earth-
David here looks ahead to the day of final judgment. But again as noted on :10, we wonder at his logic; he appears to think that rejoicing in the death of the wicked therefore implies there is a great reward for the righteous. Grace seems not to factor, neither the awareness that the righteous have done what the wicked have done, and are saved by grace through faith rather than their works.