Psalms 58

Psalm 58

Psalm 58. The psalmist calls on God to punish corrupt judges because a vivid display of divine judgment will convince observers that God is the just judge of the world who vindicates the godly.

For the music director; according to the al-tashcheth style;
Heb “do not destroy.” Perhaps this refers to a particular style of music, a tune title, or a musical instrument. These words also appear in the heading to Pss 57, 59, and 75.
a prayer
The precise meaning of the Hebrew word מִכְתָּם (miktam) which also appears in the heading to Pss 16 and 56–57, 59–60 is uncertain. HALOT 582-83 s.v. defines it as “inscription.”
of David.

Do you rulers really pronounce just decisions?
Heb “Really [in] silence, what is right do you speak?” The Hebrew noun אֵלֶם (’elem, “silence”) makes little, if any, sense in this context. Some feel that this is an indictment of the addressees’ failure to promote justice; they are silent when they should make just decisions. The present translation assumes an emendation to אֵלִם (’elim), which in turn is understood as a defectively written form of אֵילִים (’elim, “rulers,” a metaphorical use of אַיִל, ’ayil, “ram”; see Exod 15:15; Ezek 17:13). The rhetorical question is sarcastic, challenging their claim to be just. Elsewhere the collocation of דָּבַר (davar, “speak”) with צֶדֶק (tsedeq, “what is right”) as object means “to speak the truth” (see Ps 52:3; Isa 45:19). Here it refers specifically to declaring what is right in a legal setting, as the next line indicates.

Do you judge people
Heb “the sons of mankind.” The translation assumes the phrase is the object of the verb “to judge.” Some take it as a vocative, “Do you judge fairly, O sons of mankind?” (Cf. NASB; see Ezek 20:4; 22:2; 23:36.)
The particle אַף (’af, “no”) is used here as a strong adversative emphasizing the following statement, which contrasts reality with the rulers’ claim alluded to in the rhetorical questions (see Ps 44:9).
You plan how to do what is unjust;
Heb “in the heart unjust deeds you do.” The phrase “in the heart” (i.e., “mind”) seems to refer to their plans and motives. The Hebrew noun עַוְלָה (’avlah, “injustice”) is collocated with פָּעַל (paal, “do”) here and in Job 36:23 and Ps 119:3. Some emend the plural form עוֹלֹת (’olot, “unjust deeds”; see Ps 64:6) to the singular עָוֶל (’avel, “injustice”; see Job 34:32), taking the final tav (ת) as dittographic (note that the following verbal form begins with tav). Some then understand עָוֶל (’avel, “injustice”) as a genitive modifying “heart” and translate, “with a heart of injustice you act.”

you deal out violence in the earth.
Heb “in the earth the violence of your hands you weigh out.” The imagery is from the economic realm. The addressees measure out violence, rather than justice, and distribute it like a commodity. This may be ironic, since justice was sometimes viewed as a measuring scale (see Job 31:6).

The wicked turn aside from birth;
Heb “from the womb.”

liars go astray as soon as they are born.
Heb “speakers of a lie go astray from the womb.”

Their venom is like that of a snake,
Heb “[there is] venom to them according to the likeness of venom of a snake.”

like a deaf serpent
Or perhaps “cobra” (cf. NASB, NIV). Other suggested species of snakes are “asp” (NEB) and “adder” (NRSV).
that does not hear,
Heb “[that] stops up its ear.” The apparent Hiphil jussive verbal form should be understood as a Qal imperfect with “i” theme vowel (see GKC 168 #63.n).

that does not respond to
Heb “does not listen to the voice of.”
the magicians,
or to a skilled snake-charmer.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths!
Smash the jawbones of the lions, O Lord!
Let them disappear
Following the imperatival forms in v. 6, the prefixed verbal form is understood as a jussive expressing the psalmist’s wish. Another option is to take the form as an imperfect (indicative) and translate, “they will scatter” (see v. 9). The verb מָאַס (maas; which is a homonym of the more common מָאַס, “to refuse, reject”) appears only here and in Job 7:5, where it is used of a festering wound from which fluid runs or flows.
like water that flows away!
Heb “like water, they go about for themselves.” The translation assumes that the phrase “they go about for themselves” is an implied relative clause modifying “water.” Another option is to take the clause as independent and parallel to what precedes. In this case the enemies would be the subject and the verb could be taken as jussive, “let them wander about.”

Let them wither like grass!
The syntax of the Hebrew text is difficult and the meaning uncertain. The text reads literally, “he treads his arrows (following the Qere; Kethib has “his arrow”), like they are cut off/dry up.” It is not clear if the verbal root is מָלַל (malal, “circumcise”; BDB 576 s.v. IV מָלַל) or the homonymic מָלַל (“wither”; HALOT 593-94 s.v. I מלל). Since the verb מָלַל (“to wither”) is used of vegetation, it is possible that the noun חָצִיר (khatsir, “grass,” which is visually similar to חִצָּיו, khitsayv, “his arrows”) originally appeared in the text. The translation above assumes that the text originally was כְּמוֹ חָצִיר יִתְמֹלָלוּ(kemo khatsir yitmolalu, “like grass let them wither”). If original, it could have been accidentally corrupted to חִצָּיר כְּמוֹ יִתְמֹלָלוּ (“his arrow(s) like they dry up”) with דָּרַךְ (darakh, “to tread”) being added later in an effort to make sense of “his arrow(s).”

Let them be
There is no “to be” verb in the Hebrew text at this point, but a jussive tone can be assumed based on vv. 6–7.
like a snail that melts away as it moves along!
Heb “like a melting snail [that] moves along.” A. Cohen (Psalms [SoBB], 184) explains that the text here alludes “to the popular belief that the slimy trail which the snail leaves in its track is the dissolution of its substance.”

Let them be like
The words “let them be like” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. The jussive mood is implied from the preceding context, and “like” is understood by ellipsis (see the previous line).
stillborn babies
This rare word also appears in Job 3:16 and Eccles 6:3.
that never see the sun!
Before the kindling is even placed under your pots,
Heb “before your pots perceive thorns.”

Apparently God (v. 6) is the subject of the verb here.
will sweep it away along with both the raw and cooked meat.
Heb “like living, like burning anger he will sweep it away.” The meaning of the text is unclear. The translation assumes that within the cooking metaphor (see the previous line) חַי (khay, “living”) refers here to raw meat (as in 1 Sam 2:15, where it modifies בָּשָׂר, basar, “flesh”) and that חָרוּן (kharun; which always refers to God’s “burning anger” elsewhere) here refers to food that is cooked. The pronominal suffix on the verb “sweep away” apparently refers back to the “thorns” of the preceding line. The image depicts swift and sudden judgment. Before the fire has been adequately kindled and all the meat cooked, the winds of judgment will sweep away everything in their path.

10  The godly
The singular is representative here, as is the singular from “wicked” in the next line.
will rejoice when they see vengeance carried out;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11  Then
Following the imperfects of v. 10, the prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) conjunctive probably indicates a result or consequence of what precedes.
Heb “man.” The singular is representative here.
will say,
“Yes indeed, the godly are rewarded!
Heb “surely [there] is fruit for the godly.”

Yes indeed, there is a God who judges
The plural participle is unusual here if the preceding אֱלֹהִים (’elohim) is here a plural of majesty, referring to the one true God. Occasionally the plural of majesty does take a plural attributive (see GKC 428-29 #132.h). It is possible that the final mem (ם) on the participle is enclitic, and that it was later misunderstood as a plural ending. Another option is to translate, “Yes indeed, there are gods who judge in the earth.” In this case, the statement reflects the polytheistic mindset of pagan observers who, despite their theological ignorance, nevertheless recognize divine retribution when they see it.
in the earth!”
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