Psalm 58

A Michtam of David.

Here we have another Michtam psalm of David, like Psalms 56 and 57. As The Companion Bible suggests in Appendix 65 XII, this word has to do with writing, particularly engraving. Since most writing is not engraving, this indicates its importance. It is “set in stone,” as our figure of speech would have it. Rotherham makes it “A Tablet.” Yet we would prefer to refer this to a mark of importance. These psalms are important enough that their truths should be permanently engraved. Thus we should pay particular attention to them and let them have their effect on our minds and hearts.

There is no comment here on the circumstances which led David to write this psalm, but the situation becomes plain enough as we read the psalm.

1. Do you indeed speak righteousness, you silent ones?

David speaks to the silent ones and asks them if they speak righteousness. His implication is clear. These are men who should be speaking righteousness. Instead, however, they are remaining silent, and David is chiding them for it.

Do you judge uprightly, you sons of men?

David’s next question is if these same men judge uprightly? For these men are sons or representatives of men, and as such are in charge of governing matters within the nation. J.B. Rotherham suggests that these men were local rulers whom David found to be in charge when he took the throne from Saul. Otis Sellers thinks these might be men whom David himself had appointed, but who then disappointed him by not representing him well in carrying out their duties. Of course, either one is possible. It depends on when in David’s reign this psalm was written, which we do not know.

At any rate, David expects these rulers to set things in order in an upright manner and to teach righteousness to the people over whom they have control. However, instead he finds that they are indulging in behavior that is just the opposite.

2. No, in heart you work wickedness;

Instead of what David would have hoped to find from men who are ruling over God’s people, he finds that these judges, these rulers who are setting the nation in order, are working wickedness that proceeds from their hearts, their very inner beings.

You weigh out the violence of your hands in the earth.

They carefully ponder their position and dispense the violence of their hands in the earth. The idea is that they use their intelligence to bring about outcomes that are beneficial to them, using violence and misusing their power to do so. This is not at all the type of judge David is looking for in his government. In response, he writes this Psalm against them. He is on the throne now, and though such corruption might have been acceptable or at least overlooked in the days of Eli, Samuel, and Saul before him, David is prepared to do something about it. This Psalm, if you will, puts these men on notice.

3. The wicked are estranged from the womb;

Some have tried to claim that this passage teaches the total depravity of man, that all are completely depraved from the womb. Yet does this actually make sense? Why say “the wicked” are estranged from the womb and go astray, then? Why not say rather that all men are estranged from the womb? Moreover, if we carry this idea into the next statement, it can hardly be stated that a newborn baby speaks lies. A newborn baby cannot speak at all, so certainly it cannot lie! The statements David is making here are about the wicked rulers scattered throughout his realm, to whom he is giving notice that he will no longer tolerate their corruption. He is not speaking of all men.

The statement here seems to be a figure for the fact that as soon as these men are appointed to their positions, they are immediately estranged from justice and righteousness and the way they should go and should have ruled. They immediately show their propensity for corruption. They do not start out well and then slowly get tarnished over time. Instead, they are no fit rulers from the moment they take office.

They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

As soon, again, as they are “born” as holding their office, they go astray. It is not a matter of power corrupting. These people were corrupt before they ever took power. Thus, when they achieved their offices, they immediately went astray from the law and used lies to promote themselves.

4. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent;

These men are poison like the poison of a serpent. The word “poison” can also mean “anger.” These men are like snakes who, in their anger, bite and destroy, if they can, all against whom their anger arises.

They are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear,

They are like a deaf cobra. It is not that they cannot hear, but that they close their ears to all righteousness and justice. Though as judges over God’s nation their ears should be open to God’s laws, rules, and regulations, instead they are deaf to pleas for justice and stop their ears against the cries of the innocent.

5. Which will not heed the voice of charmers,

These men are like serpents who will not heed the voice of charmers. Again, this is the voice of those who speak the word of God, telling of His righteousness and truth, which they reject and will not listen to nor hear.

Charming ever so skillfully.

Though God’s statutes and judgments are spoken ever so skillfully and plainly and made to be heard by men like these, yet still these judges refuse to hear them, stopping their ears against them. They do not want to hear God’s truth. They do not want to open their hearts to His righteous ways. They are like stubborn snakes, refusing to respond when called upon to do so.

6. Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!

David calls on God to break out the teeth of these men in their mouth! He is changing the picture of these men from snakes to lions, as we see in the next line. This sounds quite harsh, until we remember that they were using these teeth to devour their fellow men. Worse, they were using these teeth to devour the innocent who came to them for justice. No wonder, then, that David calls on God to knock out the teeth that they were using to twist justice and harm the innocent so unmercifully.

Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!

He repeats his previous sentiment, calling on the LORD to break out the fangs of these young lions. The fact that David describes them as “young” might indicate that they were recent appointments, which would fit his complaint that they were corrupt from the day they took office. David seeks to reform the government of Israel by following the LORD’s righteous standards, yet these men recently promoted to office show no tendency but to maintain a culture of injustice and corruption. Thus David calls on the LORD to take all their power away from them.

Imagine what such officials might have thought when they heard this psalm, written by their king! Surely they must have realized that he would be moving against them to take away their power and put more Godly rulers in their places. This psalm surely put such godless men on notice.

When David comes to power again, this time in the Kingdom of God to come, he will again act to clean up the mess on earth, only this time with the much greater power of God working in the Kingdom he will complete the task fully, something which he could not do in the past. As Psalm 101:8 says of that time, “Early I will destroy all the wicked of the land, That I may cut off all the evildoers from the city of the LORD.

7. Let them flow away as waters which run continually;

David wishes to see these men flow away like continuously running waters. We all know that the water passing below us in a stream or river runs on and soon is far away from us. So David wants to see wicked judges flow away from him until they are far from him. Again, this will come to pass in full in the kingdom of God, when all the wicked will be cut off from the earth at last. Then, all rulers will be required to be righteous. Using your office only to benefit yourself will come to an end.

When he bends his bow,

David speaks of him bending his bow. This, of course, is to shoot arrows. What the arrows are is revealed in Psalm 64:3, where it says of the wicked, that they “bend their bows to shoot their arrows—bitter words.” Thus we learn that the arrows of wicked men are their bitter words which they speak against the good and blameless. These wicked rulers in Psalm 58 are also bending their bows and preparing to send forth their bitter words against all who are Godly and who do what is right.

Let his arrows be as if cut in pieces.

David calls on God to let his arrows be as if cut in pieces, or cut down like grass. Thus their arrows are destroyed, cut down, and miss their mark. David wants the LORD to see to it that the bitter words of these wicked rulers miss their mark, and as their king he will be working toward this outcome as well. David is declaring himself as the enemy of all such corrupt and deceitful rulers.

8. Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes,

David expresses to God his wish that these wicked men be like a snail which melts away as it goes. We realize that a snail’s skin and mucus membranes are semi-permeable, so water passes easily in and out of a snail. This is why a snail moving along the ground will seem to leave a “slime trail” behind it. If a snail is too long on land in a dry condition, it will seem to melt away, or at least to shrivel up as it leaves its body fluids behind it. David wishes to see these wicked men be like such a snail, melting away as they go.

Like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun.

David calls again on God to let these wicked rulers be like a stillborn child of a woman. Such a child never sees the sun, for it is already dead when born. So when these rulers come to take their newly-gained positions in government, he would like to see them immediately destroyed and not given a chance to do mischief and work corruption in the name of law and government.

9. Before your pots can feel the burning thorns,

People in David’s day would often use the thorns as a fire starter. These would catch fire very quickly, and make quite a crackling sound at the same time. Since the thorns would burn quickly and produce heat, it would not take very long at all for a pot above burning thorns to feel the heat. So David is assured that in no time at all God will take away these wicked rulers.

He shall take them away as with a whirlwind,

God shall catch them up and take them away as a whirlwind catches up and scatters debris. Think of how quickly a whirlwind catches up the dust or small, light items. That is how quickly he is picturing these corrupt rulers being taken away.

As in His living and burning wrath.

He does this as in His living and burning wrath. God has no desire for corrupt and dishonest men to have anything to do with His government. All at once He will take away such people in His wrath, and will see to it that they will have no position, nor anything else, in His glorious kingdom.

10. The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;

The result of these wicked ones being taken away will be rejoicing on the part of the righteous. It is always a sorrow to righteous men when their rulers show no inclination toward justice. When this time comes, they will be most glad to see that a just reward has fallen on the corrupt rulers who so richly deserve it.

He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked,

Of course this is a figure, for blood would not be a good substance to literally wash your feet in. Perhaps we might get the idea of gloating over their bodies, but I do not think this is the right picture. In the hot and dusty climate of Israel the common footwear in the hot months of summer were open sandals which allowed the feet to keep cool. The feet would get dirty quickly in such footwear, however, and so it was common courtesy to wash a guest’s feet when he came into your house. Yet washing the feet was also a sign of arriving at your destination and settling down there to rest and relax. Therefore the figure here seems to be that the righteous will settle himself down and relax once wicked and corrupt rulers are destroyed and are no longer a problem. Imagine how much more peaceful and what a better place to live any nation would be wherein only good, honest, and righteous rulers were able to hold positions over men! This is how the righteous wash their feet in the blood of wicked rulers: they settle down to a happier and more peaceful existence once these troublesome elements are at last removed.

11. So that men will say,

Once this much better life under better rulers is realized, those who see it will comment on it in the following way. The ones speaking here are called adam, or simply common men, descendants of our first father Adam.

“Surely there is a reward for the righteous;

They will comment that there is a reward for the righteous. This is not always the way it is when there are wicked and corrupt rulers. Often times there is a reward for the wicked schemer. Often the righteous finds his cause perverted and his integrity taken advantage of. Yet this will not be the case once all wicked rulers are put down. Then even the common man will see that righteousness earns a reward. Honesty may not always appear to be the best policy in our day, yet in that day there will be no doubt.

Surely He is God who judges in the earth.”

Men will see at that time that the reason things are now so different is that there is a God Who judges in the earth. Of course, this would point us to the time when God will reign on earth in His Kingdom.

Bullinger in The Companion Bible suggests another translation here would be: “There is a God,” judges in the earth will say. If this is the case, then the point here is that the judges of earth will no longer discount God and live only for their own gain, but instead will acknowledge God and so will live for His good and His glory in all they do. This is what will result in righteous rulers holding sway on earth. Even in our recent experience we have found that rulers who are atheists who deny that there is a God at all have been responsible for mass murder on the largest scale that history has ever seen, men like Hitler, Stalin, and Zedong. Even wicked rulers are restrained somewhat by a belief in God. Yet those who freely acknowledge God in all they do will naturally be led to work righteousness.

Again, this was David’s intention for his own day and how he tried to set up his government in Israel. He might have met with some success in doing this, but of course his success was ultimately limited. The final fulfillment of this psalm and when it will be gloriously and universally true will be in the Kingdom of God to come, when at last God will judge the earth, removing all wicked rulers and setting only righteous rulers who acknowledge Him in place. What a change that will be! How good it will be to see corrupt and selfish rulers put down at last!

To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.”

This is another Psalm dedicated to the Chief Musician for public use. It is labeled “Do Not Destroy,” for the wicked rulers should take note and learn not to so corruptly destroy the righteous, whereas when righteous rulers are set up they will never be destroyed as long as they serve God faithfully and truly. Thus “Do Not Destroy” is a good label to put on this Psalm.