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Psalm 58

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Prayer for the Punishment of the Wicked
MT Intro
For the choir director; set to Al-tashheth. A Mikhtam of David.
The Just Judgment of the Wicked Curse Upon Enemies A Prayer for God to Punish the Wicked The Judge of Earthly Judges
58:1-5 58:1-2 58:1-2 58:1-2 58:1-2
  58:3-5 58:3-5 58:3-5 58:3-5
58:6-9 58:6-8 58:6-9 58:6-9 58:6-8
  58:9-11     58:9-11
58:10-11   58:10-11 58:10-11  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This Psalm is addressing unrighteous judges and their unfair, self-seeking motives.

 

B. These leaders (i.e., rams) are described as being sinful from birth (cf. Ps. 51:5, i.e., eastern hyperbole).

 

C. God's judgment rightly falls on these religious pretenders with graphic violence.

 

D. The righteous rejoice that God acts against evil and corruption. He will reign in righteousness over a new world one day!

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 58:1-5
 1Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
 Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
 2No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
 On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
 3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
 These who speak lies go astray from birth.
 4They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
 Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
 5So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
 Or a skillful caster of spells.

58:1 There is some question about how to translate the first line. It is obviously in a synonymous parallel relationship with line two.

NASB"O gods"
NKJV"you silent ones"
NRSV"you gods"
NJB"divine as you are"
JPSOA"O mighty ones"
REB"you rulers"

The UBS Text Project (p. 268) gives the term "silently" a "B" rating (some doubt) and suggests a translation like, "Is it really a silence of righteousness you speak?", i.e., do you really speak in order to conceal by silence the righteousness?

The MT has אלם, which could relate to BDB 48 (silence) or BDB 18 III (mighty lords). Whichever it is, it must parallel "the sons of men" in line two. So it cannot refer to "gods," but civic leaders (i.e., judges, cf. Psalm 82; Exod. 22:8-9; Deut. 1:17; 2 Chr. 19:6) from the root "ram" (BDB 17, cf. Exod. 15:15; 2 Kgs. 24:15; Ezek. 17:13; 31:11; 32:21; 34:17).

The LXX, Peshitta, and Vulgate change the vowels to form an adversative, "Do you then truly speak righteousness?"

58:2-5 These verses reveal the true nature of these leaders.

1. work unrighteousness in your heart, Ps. 58:2

2. weigh out the violence of your own hands

3. estranged from the womb (see full note at Ps. 51:5; this is eastern hyperbolic imagery, not theology)

4. speak lies all their lives

5. have the venom of a serpent

6. refuse to be charmed (lit. "whisper") — BDB 538, KB 527, here used of snake charmers. The people of the ANE thought the sound of a flute (or voice) quieted a snake but today we know it was the rhythmic movement of the flute itself, not the sound).

The theological thrust is that they wilfully refuse to listen to God or those they adjudicate.

I do not think "charmed" should be equaled with sorcery here but cultural snake acts for public entertainment.

58:2 "on earth" In this context this refers to the land of Israel, not the earth. See Special Topic: Land, Country, Earth at Ps. 1:2. Remember only context can determine word meaning!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 58:6-9
 6O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
 Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord.
 7Let them flow away like water that runs off;
 When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
 8Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
 Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
 9Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
 He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.

58:6-9 This strophe is a prayer for God's (both Elohim and YHWH used) judgment on these judges in graphic, descriptive phrases.

1. shatter their teeth — BDB 248, KB 256, Qal imperative ("teeth" and "fangs"; parallel in Joel 1:6)

2. break out "lit. "tear out") the fangs (BDB 1069) of the young lions — BDB 683, KB 736, Qal imperative (#1 and #2 are parallel; may judgment occur for the very place where they sin [i.e., in their words/verdicts])

3. let them flow away like runoff water — BDB 549, KB 541, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense

4. let their arrows be ineffective (Hebrew idiom uncertain, but seems to refer to their unjust verdicts and accusations)

5. let them be like a snail (BDB 117, only here in the OT) which melts away (BDB 588, this form found only here in the OT, "dissolve" is BDB 587) as it goes along — BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperfect; the assumed "to be" verb is used in a jussive sense

6. let them be like the miscarriages of a woman who never sees the sun — BDB 302, KB 301, Qal perfect (though not imperfect the immediate concept demands it is used in a jussive sense)

The problem in understanding exactly what is being said in verse 8 is that the parallelism between "snail" and "a miscarriage" is faulty, but how is uncertain. The term in the second line is far more certain than "snail" and "melt away." The NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 30, suggests "snail" be understood as "a miscarriage."

7. this is a difficult verse in Hebrew (AB does not even attempt to translate it). There have been several suggestions. The basic point is that the needed heat for the cooking pot is blown away before it can heat the food (i.e., even fast-starting kindling).

Just like the previous lines of poetry, these imperfects seem to be used in a jussive sense to connect to the prayer request imperatives of verse 6.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 58:10-11
 10The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
 He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
 11And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
 Surely there is a God who judges on earth!"

58:10-11 It has always bothered modern interpreters that the Psalms call for such violent judgment against the writer's enemies. One way to view this is that these enemies are attacking God as they unfairly attack His people. So the already stated judgment (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30) rightfully falls on them. Therefore, it is not a call for vengeance or vindictiveness but justice and the fulfillment of God's words, so that all will see there is a Righteous God in Israel (cf. Deut. 32:34-43; Ps. 79:10; 94:1-11; 149:7-9).

Verse 10b is an ANE hyperbole for military victory (cf. Ps. 68:23).

58:11 I agree with the NET Bible that the Qal active participle, masculine, plural is a plural of majesty, referring to YHWH's righteous judgment.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Who does this Psalm address?

2. Does verse 3 teach the doctrine of original sin?

3. What spiritual truth is verse 4b communicating?

4. Explain the lack of synonymous parallelism in verse 8.

5. Do verses 10-11 teach a spirit of revenge? Why or why not?