Psalms 58

PSALM LVIII

David reproves wicked counsellors and judges, who pervert

justice, and stir up the strong against the weak and innocent,

1-5.

He foretells their destruction, and describes the nature of it,

6-9.

The righteous, seeing this, will magnify God's justice and

providence, 10, 11.

NOTES ON PSALM LVIII

The title seems to have no reference to the subject of the

Psalm. See the introduction to the preceding. Ps 57:1 Saul

having attempted the life of David, the latter was obliged to flee

from the court, and take refuge in the deserts of Judea. Saul,

missing him, is supposed by Bishop Patrick to have called a

council, when they, to ingratiate themselves with the monarch,

adjudged David to be guilty of treason in aspiring to the throne

of Israel. This being made known to David was the cause of this

Psalm. It is a good lesson to all kings, judges, and civil

magistrates; and from it they obtain maxims to regulate their

conduct and influence their decisions; and at the same time they

may discern the awful account they must give to God, and the

dreadful punishment they shall incur who prostitute justice to

serve sinister ends.

Verse 1. Do ye indeed speak righteousness] Or, O cabinet seeing

ye profess to act according to the principles of justice, why do

ye not give righteous counsels and just decisions, ye sons of men?

Or, it may be an irony: What excellent judges you are! well do ye

judge according to law and justice, when ye give decisions not

founded on any law, nor supported by any principle of justice! To

please your master, ye pervert judgment; and take part against the

innocent, in order to retain your places and their emoluments.

Saul's counsellors appear to have done so, though in their

consciences they must have been satisfied of David's innocence.

Verse 2. Yea, in heart ye work wickedness] With their tongues

they had spoken maliciously, and given evil counsel. In their

hearts they meditated nothing but wickedness. And though in

their hands they held the scales of justice, yet in their use of

them they were balances of injustice and violence. This is the

fact to which the psalmist alludes, and the figure which he uses

is that of justice with her scales or balances, which, though it

might be the emblem of the court, yet it did not prevail in the

practice of these magistrates and counsellors.

Verse 3. The wicked are estranged from the womb] "This," says

Dr. Kennicott, "and the next two verses, I take to be the answer

of Jehovah to the question in the two first verses, as the 6th,

7th, and 8th, are the answer of the psalmist, and the remainder

contains the decree of Jehovah." He calls these wicked men, men

who had been always wicked, originally and naturally bad, and

brought up in falsehood, flattery, and lying. The part they acted

now was quite in character.

Verse 4. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent] When they

bite, they convey poison into the wound, as the serpent does. They

not only injure you by outward acts, but by their malevolence they

poison your reputation. They do you as much evil as they can, and

propagate the worst reports that others may have you in

abhorrence, treat you as a bad and dangerous man; and thus, as the

poison from the bite of the serpent is conveyed into the whole

mass of blood, and circulates with it through all the system,

carrying death every where; so they injurious speeches and vile

insinuations circulate through society, and poison and blast your

reputation in every place. Such is the slanderer, and such his

influence in society. From such no reputation is safe; with such

no character is sacred; and against such there is no defence. God

alone can shield the innocent from the envenomed tongue and lying

lips of such inward monsters in the shape of men.

Like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear] It is a fact that

cannot be disputed with any show of reason, that in ancient times

there were persons that charmed, lulled to inactivity, or

professed to charm, serpents, so as to prevent them from biting.

See Ec 10:11; Jer 8:17. The prince of Roman poets states the

fact, VIRG. Ecl. viii., ver. 71.

Frigidus in prati cantando rumpitur anguis.

"In the meadows the cold snake is burst by incantation."

The same author, AEn. vii., ver. 750, gives us the following

account of the skill of Umbro, a priest of the Marrubians:-

Quin et Marrubia venit de gente sacerdos,

Fronde super galeam, et felici comptus oliva,

Archippi regis missu, fortissimus Umbro;

Vipereo generi, et graviter spirantibus hydris,

Spargere qui somnos cantuque manuque solebat,

Mulcebatque iras, et morsus arte levabat.

"Umbro, the brave Marubian priest, was there,

Sent by the Marsian monarch to the war.

The smiling olive with her verdant boughs

Shades his bright helmet, and adorns his brows.

His charms in peace the furious serpent keep,

And lull the envenomed viper's race to sleep:

His healing hand allayed the raging pain;

And at his touch the poisons fled again."

PITT.

There is a particular sect of the Hindoos who profess to bring

serpents into subjection, and deprive them of their poison, by

incantation. See at the end of this Psalm. See Clarke on Ps 58:11.

Verse 5. Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers] The old

Psalter translates and paraphrases these two verses curiously:-

Vulg. Furor illis secundum similitudinem serpentis; sicut

aspidis surdae et obturantis aures suas: Quae non exaudiet vocem

incantantium et venefici in cantantis sapienter.

Trans. Wodes (madness) til thaim aftir the liking of the neddir,

as of the snake doumb and stoppand her eres.

Paraph. Right calles he tham wod, (mad,) for that hafe na

witte to se whider that ga: for that louke thair eghen, and rennys

till the are thaire wodness til clumsthed that wil noght be turned

as of the snake that festis (fastens) the ta ere til the erth, and

the tother ere stoppis with hir taile: Sua do thai that thai here

not Godis word; that stope thair eris with luf of erthli thing

that thai delite thaim in; and with thair taile, that es with all

synnes, that that will noght amend.

Trans. The whitk salle noght here the voyce of charmand, and of

the venim in akare of charmand wisli.

Paraph. This snake stopis hir eres that she be noght broth to

light; for if she herd it, she come forth sone, he charmes swa

wysli in his craft. Swa the wikkid men wit noght here the voyce of

Crist and his lufers that are wys charmes; for thi wild (would)

bring them till light of heven. Wyt ye well (know) that he (i.e.,

Christ) lufes noght charmars and venim makers but be (by) vices

of bestes, he takes lickening of vices of men.

It seems as if there were a species of snake or adder that is

nearly deaf; and as their instinct informs them that if they

listen to the sounds which charmers use they shall become a prey;

therefore they stop their ears to prevent the little hearing they

have from being the means of their destruction. To this the Old

Psalter refers. We have also an account of a species of snake,

which, if it cast its eye on the charmer, feels itself obliged to

come out of its hole; it therefore keeps close, and takes care

neither to see nor be seen. To this also the Old Psalter alludes;

and of this fact, if it be one, he makes a good use.

Verse 6. Break their teeth] He still compares Saul, his

captains, and his courtiers, to lions; and as a lion's power of

doing mischief is greatly lessened if all his teeth be broken, so

he prays that God may take away their power and means of pursuing

their bloody purpose. But he may probably have the serpents in

view, of which he speaks in the preceding verse; break their

teeth-destroy the fangs of these serpents, in which their poison

is contained. This will amount to the same meaning as above. Save

me from the adders-the sly and poisonous slanderers: save me also

from the lions-the tyrannical and blood-thirsty men.

Verse 7. Let them melt away as waters] Let them be minished away

like the waters which sometimes run in the desert, but are soon

evaporated by the sun, or absorbed by the sand.

When he bendeth his bow] When my adversaries aim their envenomed

shafts against me, let their arrows not only fall short of the

mark, but he broken to pieces in the flight. Some apply this to

GOD. When he bends his bow against them, they shall all be

exterminated.

Verse 8. As a snail which melteth] The Chaldee reads the verse

thus: "They shall melt away in their sins as water flows off; as

the creeping snail that smears its track; as the untimely birth

and the blind mole, which do not see the sun."

The original word shablul, a snail, is either from

shebil, a path, because it leaves a shining path after it by

emitting a portion of slime, and thus glaring the ground; and

therefore might be emphatically called the pathmaker; or from

yashab to dwell, be, in, lul, a winding or

spiral shell, which is well known to be its house, and which it

always inhabits; for when it is not coiled up within this shell,

it carries it with it wheresoever it goes. See Bochart. These

figures need no farther explanation.

Verse 9. Before your pots can feel the thorns] Ye shall be

destroyed with a sudden destruction. From the time that the fire

of God's wrath is kindled about you, it will be but as a moment

before ye be entirely consumed by it: so very short will be the

time, that it may be likened to the heat of the first blaze of dry

thorns under a pot, that has not as yet been able to penetrate the

metal, and warm what is contained in it.

A whirlwind] Or the suffocating simoon that destroys life in an

instant, without previous warning: so, without pining

sickness-while ye are living-lively and active, the whirlwind of

God's wrath shall sweep you away.

Verse 10. The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the

vengeance] He shall have a strong proof of the Divine providence,

of God's hatred against sinners, and his continual care of his

followers.

He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.] This can

only mean that the slaughter would be so great, and at the same

time so very nigh to the dwelling of the righteous, that he could

not go out without dipping his feet in the blood of the wicked.

The Syriac, Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, Arabic, and

Anglo-Saxon, read hands instead of feet. Every thing that is

vindictive in the Psalms must be considered as totally alien

from the spirit of the Gospel, and not at all, under our

dispensation, to be imitated. If the passage above be really

vindictive, and it certainly will admit of the interpretation

given above, it is to be considered as not belonging to that state

in which the Son of man is come, not to destroy men's lives, but

to save.

Verse 11. So that a man shall say] That is, people, seeing these

just judgments of God, shall say, There is a reward ( peri,

fruit) to the righteous man. He has not sown his seed in vain; he

has not planted and watered in vain: he has the fruit of his

labours, he eats the fruit of his doings. But wo to the wicked, it

is ill with him; for the reward of his hands has been given him.

He is a God that judgeth in the earth] There is a God who does

not entirely defer judgment till the judgment-day; but executes

judgment now, even in this earth; and thus continues to give such

a proof of his hatred to sin and love to his followers that every

considerate mind is convinced of it. And hence arise the

indisputable maxims: "There is, even here, a reward for the

righteous;" "There is a God who, even now, judgeth in the earth."

I have seen Indian priests who professed to charm, not only

serpents, but the most ferocious wild beasts; even the enraged

elephant, and the royal tiger! Two priests of Budhoo, educated

under my own care, repeated the Sanscrit incantations to me, and

solemnly asserted that they had seen the power of them repeatedly

and successfully put to the test. I have mislaid these

incantations, else I should insert them as a curiosity; for to

charms of the same nature the psalmist most undoubtedly alludes.

The term chober, which we translate charmer, comes from

to join, or put together; i.e., certain unintelligible words

or sentences, which formed the spell.

I once met with a man who professed to remove diseases by

pronouncing an unintelligible jingling jargon of words oddly

tacked together. I met with him one morning proceeding to the cure

of a horse affected with the farcin. With a very grave countenance

he stood before the diseased animal, and, taking off his hat,

devoutly muttered the following words; which, as a matter of

peculiar favour, he afterwards taught me, well knowing that I

could never use them successfully, because not taught me by a

woman; "for," said he, "to use them with success, a man must be

taught them by a woman, and a woman by a man." What the genuine

orthography may be I cannot pretend to say, as I am entirely

ignorant of the language, if the words belong to any language: but

the following words exactly express his sounds:-

Murry fin a liff cree

Murry fin a liss cree

Ard fin deriv dhoo

Murry fin firey fu

Murry fin elph yew.

When he had repeated these words nine times, he put on his hat

and walked off, but he was to return the next morning, and so on

for nine mornings successively, always before he had broken his

fast. The mother of the above person, a very old woman, and by

many reputed a witch, professed to do miracles by pronouncing, or

rather muttering, certain words or sounds, and by measuring with

a cord the diseased parts of the sick person. I saw her practice

twice: 1st, on a person afflicted with a violent headache, or

rather the effects of a coup de soleil; and, 2ndly, on one who had

got a dangerous mote or splinter in his eye. In the first case she

began to measure the head, round the temples, marking the length;

then from the vertex, under the chin, and so up to the vertex

again, marking that length. Then, by observing the dimensions,

passed judgment on the want of proportion in the two

admeasurements, and said the brain was compressed by the sinking

down of the skull. She then began her incantations, muttering

under her breath a supplication to certain divine and angelic

beings, to come and lift up the bones, that they might no longer

compress the brain. She then repeated her admeasurements, and

showed how much was gained towards a restoration of the

proportions from the spell already muttered. The spell was again

muttered, the measurements repeated, and at each time a comparison

of the first measurement was made with the succeeding, till at

last she said she had the due proportions; that the disease, or

rather the cause of it, was removed; and that the operations were

no longer necessary.

In the case of the diseased eye, her manner was different. She

took a cup of clean pure water, and washed her mouth well. Having

done so, she filled her mouth with the same water, and walked to

and fro in the apartment (the patient sitting in the midst of the

floor) muttering her spell, of which nothing could be heard but a

grumbling noise. She then emptied her mouth into a clean white

bason, and showed the motes which had been conveyed out of the

patient's eye into the water in her mouth, while engaged in

muttering the incantation! She proffered to teach me her

wonder-working words; but the sounds were so very uncouth, if not

barbarous, that I know no combination of letters by which I could

convey the pronunciation.

Ridiculous as all this may appear, it shows that this

incantation work is conducted in the present day, both in Asia and

Europe, where it is professed, in precisely the same manner in

which it was conducted formerly, by pronouncing, or rather

muttering certain words or sounds, to which they attach

supernatural power and efficiency. And from this came the term

spell: Anglo-Saxon [A.S.], a word, a charm, composed of such

supposed powerful words; and [A.S.] wyrkan spell signified among

our ancestors to use enchantments.

ANALYSIS OF THE FIFTY-EIGHTH PSALM

David deprecates the danger that hung over his head from Saul

and his council.

The Psalm is divided into three parts:-

I. A sharp invective, or reprehension of his enemies, Ps 58:1.

II. An imprecation, or denunciation of God's judgment on them,

Ps 58:6-9.

III. The benefits that from thence redound to the righteous,

Ps 58:10, 11.

I. 1. David begins with an apostrophe, and figures it with an

erotesis, which makes his reproof the sharper. 1. "O

congregation;" O ye counsel of Saul. 2. "Do you indeed speak

righteously?" 3. "Do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?" By

which he intimates that indeed they do neither.

2. Which in the next verse he affirms in plain terms, and brings

home to their charge: "Yea in heart you work wickedness; you weigh

the violence of your hands in the earth;" heart and hand are bent

to do evil, which the words, well considered, do exaggerate. 1.

They were iniquities, a plurality of them. 2. It was their work.

3. Their hearty work. 4. Their handy work. 5. Weighed out by their

scale of justice. 6. Which, indeed, under the colour of justice,

was but violence. 7. And it was in this earth-in Israel, where no

such thing was to be done.

3. This, their wickedness, he amplifies, both from their origin

and progress:-

1. The root of it was very old; brought into the world with

them: 1. "The wicked are estranged from the womb:" from God and

all goodness. 2. "They go astray:" from their cradle they take the

wrong way. 3. "As soon as they be born, speaking lies:" from their

birth inclined to falsehood.

2. And in this their falsehood they are malicious and obstinate.

1. Malicious. The poison of their tongue is like the poison of a

serpent, innate, deadly. 2. Obstinate. For they will not be

reclaimed by any counsel or admonition: They are like the deaf

adder that stoppeth her ear, which refuseth to hear the voice of

the charmer, "charm he never so wisely."

II. Their wickedness, malice, and obstinacy, being so great, he

now prays against and devotes them to God's judgment. He prays, in

general, for their ruin, esteeming them no better than lions.

Saul, the old lion; and his council, lions' whelps.

1. To God he turns his speech; and prays against their means to

hurt, whether near or afar off.

2. And thence, against their persons: "O God, break their teeth

in their mouth; break out the great teeth of the lions." O Lord,

remove their strength; their nearest instruments to hurt, to

destroy: "O God, when they purpose to harm us, let it be in vain;

when he bends his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in

pieces."

Thus let it fall to their arms: but as for their persons:-

1. "Let them melt away as waters." Great brooks, that run with

great force from the mountains, and overrun for a little while the

valleys; but run quickly into the channels, and thence to the sea,

and are swallowed up.

2. Let them be as a snail that melts in her passage, and leaves

a slimy track behind, which yet quickly passeth away. So let them

be like a snail, which, when its shell is taken off, grows cold

and dies.

3. Let them be "like the untimely fruit of a woman, that they

may not see the sun."

4. "Before your pots can feel the thorns"-ere they do mischief,

"He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living and in

his wrath."

III. The benefits which, from his judgment upon the wicked,

shall flow to the righteous.

1. Joyfulness: "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the

vengeance."

2. Amendment. Being warned thus, "He shall wash his footsteps in

their blood." Their slaughter shall be great; and he shall be near

it, yet unhurt.

3. Confirmation of their faith, and giving glory to God: "So

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

doubtless; there is a God that judgeth in the earth."

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