Psalm 58 – Words to and Against the Wicked Judges
This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” A Michtam of David. The phrase Do Not Destroy may refer to the tune, to David’s determination to not destroy Saul, or to David’s plea that God would not allow him to be destroyed.
We have noted that Michtam indicates golden and that they are golden psalms. Some commentators give an alternate meaning of Michtam, that of engraving. One commentator used that thought to picture David writing or scratching these psalms on the walls of his refuge caves.
“The proper meaning of the root of Michtam is to engrave, or to stamp a metal. It therefore, in strictness, means, an engraving or sculpture. Hence in the Septuagint, it is translatedστηλογραφία [stelographia], an inscription on a column. I would venture to offer a conjecture in perfect harmony with this view. It appears by the titles of four out of these six psalms, that they were composed by David while flying and hiding from the persecutions of Saul. What, then, should hinder us from imagining that they were inscribed on the rocks and on the sides of the caves which so often formed his place of refuge? This view would accord with the strict etymological meaning of the word, and explain the rendering of the Septuagint.” (Jebb, cited in Spurgeon)
A. Speaking to the wicked rulers.
1. (1-2) A challenge to wicked judges.
Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones?
Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men?
No, in heart you work wickedness;
You weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth.
a. Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men: David directed this psalm against those who were rulers or judges in some sense. Some think they were leaders aligned with Saul who passed judgment on the fugitive David, condemning him to a death sentence as a traitor. David challenged these rulers and the uprightness of their decisions.
i. We picture David as a fugitive, perhaps at Adullam Cave. He hears from a messenger that some assembled court of leaders close to King Saul has met and judicially condemned him as a traitor, worthy of death. David is outraged at the injustice of it and proclaims this psalm.
ii. “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.” (Clarke)
iii. John Trapp had his own idea: “David here talketh to Abner and the rest, who, to please Saul, pronounced David a rebel, and condemned him absent for an enemy to the state.” (Trapp)
iv. “The abrupt question of Psalm 58:1 speaks of long pent-up indignation, excited by protracted experience of injustice.” (Maclaren)
v. “Rather than limiting the sense of ‘judge’ to legal disputes, it may be well to be guided by the usage of the same Hebrew root in Psalm 58:11 and in Psalm 98:9b: ‘govern’ or ‘rule.’” (VanGemeren)
vi. David was outraged at corruption, perhaps because he now felt the sting of it. It’s human nature to not care much about government and legal corruption until it personally hurts us.
b. Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones: There is some question about the best way to translate the original here given as silent ones. Taking the text as it is, David challenged those leaders who should have defended him or other innocents but instead stayed silent.
i. “The interrogation, are ye indeed, expresses wonder, as at something scarcely credible. Can it be so? Is it possible? Are you really silent, you, whose very office is to speak for God, and against the sins of men?” (Alexander, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “The problem is that these judges did not speak up for the right course of action when evil was being planned.” (Boice)
iii. Some translations (such as the NIV) follow a different manuscript tradition and translate silent ones as rulers.
c. No, in your heart you work wickedness: After questioning the words and justice of his enemies, David examined their intentions and their actions. Their intention was to work wickedness and in their actions they dispensed violence in the earth.
i. “The Psalmist doth not say, they had wickedness in their heart, but they did work it there: the heart is a shop within, an under-ground shop; there they did closely contrive, forge, and hammer out their wicked purposes, and fit them into actions.” (Caryl, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. David said they weigh out the violence against others; with careful thought and deliberation they gave it out. “As righteous judges ponder the law, balance the evidence, and weigh the case, so the malicious dispense injustice with malice aforethought in cold blood.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-5) A description of the wicked rulers.
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent;
They are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear,
Which will not heed the voice of charmers,
Charming ever so skillfully.
a. The wicked are estranged from the womb: David diagnosed the problem of the judges; they were wicked at the root, in their nature, from birth. David understood this of all humanity including himself (Psalm 51:5).
i. “The description in verses 3ff. is close enough to what is quoted in Romans 3:10ff. to warn the reader that he faces a mirror, not only a portrait.” (Kidner)
ii. “G.K. Chesterson said that the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy that has been empirically validated by thirty-five hundred years of human history.” (Boice)
iii. “Sinful, indeed, we are all by nature, and a birth-blot we bring into the world with us, making us strangers and strayers from God.” (Trapp)
iv. In the next few verses, “Figure is heaped on figure in a fashion suggestive of intense emotion.” (Maclaren)
b. They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies: Their corrupt nature was evident early in life, especially in their words. No one has to teach a child how to lie; with some poetic hyperbole we can say they are born, speaking lies.
i. “To be untruthful is one of the surest proofs of a fallen state, and since falsehood is universal, so also is human depravity.” (Spurgeon)
c. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: The lies are not harmless; they are like poison. The words of judges and rulers have special power to oppress others, and their poison is more deadly. The words of these judges were as dangerous as a deadly, unpredictable cobra.
i. “The wicked are as dangerous as the venomous cobra that bites his trainer when touched and handled by him.” (VanGemeren)
B. Speaking to God who judges the wicked.
1. (6-8) David calls upon God to ruin the wicked.
Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!
Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Let them flow away as waters which run continually;
When he bends his bow,
Let his arrows be as if cut in pieces.
Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes,
Like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
a. Break their teeth in their mouth, O God: David prayed that God would take vengeance on these dangerous judges. The power of serpents and lions was in their fangs; David asked God to take away their deadly bite.
i. “The imprecatory nature of the prayer may seem strange to our ears, but the radical nature of evil requires a response from the God of justice.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “If they have no capacity for good, at least deprive them of their ability for evil.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Fangs: “The great teeth,called the grinders, which are more sharp and strong than the rest, and more used in breaking and tearing what they are about to eat.” (Poole)
b. Let them flow away as waters which run continually: David asked for the rapid and complete dispersion of these men and their power – like a snail which melts as it goes away.
i. “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.” (Clarke)
ii. “A slug does not actually melt away as it moves along the ground leaving its slimy trail behind. But it seems to.” (Boice)
c. Like a stillborn child: With a severe and startling image, David prayed for the death of his enemies, or rather that they had never been born to see the light of day.
i. “Their life comes never to ripeness, their aims are abortive, their only achievement is to have brought misery to others, and horror to themselves. Such men as Herod, Judas, Alva, Bonner, had it not been better for them if they had never been born?” (Spurgeon)
2. (9-11) David’s confidence in God’s judgment.
Before your pots can feel the burning thorns,
He shall take them away as with a whirlwind,
As in His living and burning wrath.
The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,
So that men will say,
“Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
Surely He is God who judges in the earth.”
a. Before your pots can feel the burning thorns: The Hebrew of these lines is difficult but the thought may be that David considered how quickly a bunch of dry thorns burn in a fire under cooking pots. David prayed that God’s judgment would come upon his enemies like a flash of fire.
b. The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance: David thought of the happiness coming to the righteous at God’s judgment on these unjust and oppressive rulers, as if the righteous walked the victorious field of battle with God (his feet in the blood of the wicked).
i. “If it is right in God to destroy, it cannot be wrong in His servants to rejoice that He does. Only they have to take heed that their emotion is untarnished by selfish gratulation, and is not untinged with solemn pity for those who were indeed doers of evil, but were themselves the greatest sufferers from their evil.” (Maclaren)
ii. “It is a sickly sentimentality and a wicked weakness that have more sympathy with the corrupt oppressors than with the anger of God.” (Morgan)
iii. “The imagery of feet in blood portrays the victory (cf. Isaiah 63:1-6; Revelation 14:19-20; 19:13-15), rather than the gruesome picture of people relishing the death of the wicked.” (VanGemeren)
iv. When it comes to rejoicing in God’s victory over those who wickedly oppress others, “The New Testament will, if anything, outdo this language in speaking of the day of reckoning (e.g. Revelation 14:19f.; 19:11ff.), while repudiating carnal weapons for the spiritual war (Revelation 12:11).” (Kidner)
v. “It is hard, but not impossible, to take all that is expressed in the psalm, and to soften it by some effluence from the spirit of Him who wept over Jerusalem, and yet pronounced its doom.” (Maclaren)
c. Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely He is God who judges the earth: David desired the world to see there was a moral order under God where righteousness is rewarded and wickedness is judged. He longed for the justice that these wicked rulers denied.
i. “All men shall be forced by the sight of the final judgment to see that there is a God, and that he is the righteous ruler of the universe. Two things will come out clearly after all – there is a God and there is a reward for the righteous.” (Spurgeon)
ii. A reward for the righteous: “Yes, child of God, there is a reward for thee. It is not in vain that thou hast washed thy hands in innocency. But it will not come in the coinage or honour of this age, else it would be evanescent and perishable. God is already giving thee of the eternal and divine – peace, joy, blessedness; and one day thou shalt be fully vindicated.” (Meyer)
©2019 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission