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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 58


psa 58:0

Cry for Vengeance upon Those Who Pervert Justice

Their teeth, said Psa 57:1-11, are spear and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword; Psa 58:1-11 prays: crush their teeth in their mouth. This prominent common thought has induced the collector to append the one Michtam of David, to be sung altashcheth, to the other. Psa 58:1-11, however, belongs to another period, viz., to the time of Absalom. The incomparable boldness of the language does not warrant us in denying it to David. In no one Psalm do we meet with so many high-flown figures coming together within the same narrow compass. But that it is David who speaks in this Psalm is to a certain extent guaranteed by Psa 64:1-10 and Psa 140:1-13. These three Psalms, of which the closing verses so closely resemble one another that they at once invite comparison, show that the same David who writes elsewhere so beautifully, tenderly, and clearly, is able among his manifold transitions to rise to an elevation at which his words as it were roll along like rumbling thunder through the gloomy darkness of the clouds, and more especially where they supplicate (Psa 58:7) or predict (Psa 140:10) the judgment of God.

The cumulative use of כּמו in different applications is peculiar to this Psalm. Its Michtam character becomes clearly defined in the closing verse.

Psalms 58:1

psa 58:1

The text of Psa 58:2 runs: Do ye really dictate the silence of righteousness? i.e., that before which righteousness must become silent, as the collector (cf. Psa 56:1) appears to have read it (אלם = אלּוּם, B. Chullin 89a). But instead of אלם it is, with Houbigant, J. D. Michaelis, Mendelssohn, and others, to be read אלם (= אלים, as in Exo 15:11), as an apostrophe of those who discharge the godlike office of rulers and judges. Both the interrogative האמנם (with ŭ as is always the case at the head of interrogative clauses), num vere, which proceeds from doubt as to the questionable matter of fact (Num 22:37; Kg1 8:27; Ch2 6:18), and the parallel member of the verse, and also the historical circumstances out of which the Psalm springs, demand this alteration. Absalom with his followers had made the administration of justice the means of stealing from David the heart of his people; he feigned to be the more impartial judge. Hence David asks: Is it then really so, ye gods (אלים like אלהים, Psa 82:1, and here, as there, not without reference to their superhumanly proud and assumptive bearing), that ye speak righteousness, that ye judge the children of men in accordance with justice? Nay, on the contrary (אף, imo, introducing an answer that goes beyond the first No), in heart (i.e., not merely outwardly allowing yourselves to be carried away) ye prepare villanies (פּעל, as in Mic 2:1; and עולת, as in Psa 64:7, from עולה = עולה, Ps 92:16, Job 5:16, with ô = a + w), in the land ye weigh out the violence of your hands (so that consequently violence fills the balances of your pretended justice). בּני אדם in Psa 58:2 is the accusative of the object; if it had been intended as a second vocative, it ought to have been בּני־אישׁ (Psa 4:3). The expression is inverted in order to make it possible to use the heavy energetic futures. בּארץ (mostly erroneously marked with Pazer) has Athnach, cf. Psa 35:20; Psa 76:12.

Psalms 58:3

psa 58:3

After this bold beginning the boldest figures follow one another rapidly; and the first of these is that of the serpent, which is kept up longer than any of the others. The verb זוּר (cogn. סוּר) is intentionally written זור in this instance in a neuter, not an active sense, plural זרוּ lar, like בּשׁוּ, טבוּ. Bakius recognises a retrospective reference to this passage in Isa 48:8. In such passages Scripture bears witness to the fact, which is borne out by experience, that there are men in whom evil from childhood onwards has a truly diabolical character, i.e., a selfish character altogether incapable of love. For although hereditary sinfulness and hereditary sin (guilt) are common to all men, yet the former takes the most manifold combinations and forms; and, in fact, the inheriting of sin and the complex influence of the power of evil and of the power of grace on the propagation of the human race require that it should be so. The Gospel of John more particularly teaches such a dualism of the natures of men. חמת־למו (with Rebia, as in Joh 18:18) is not the subject: the poison belonging to them, etc., but a clause by itself: poison is to them, they have poison; the construct state here, as in Lam 2:18; Eze 1:27, does not express a relation of actual union, but only a close connection. יאטּם (with the orthophonic Dagesh which gives prominence to the Teth as the commencement of a syllable) is an optative future form, which is also employed as an indicative in the poetic style, e.g., Psa 18:11. The subject of this attributive clause, continuing the adjective, is the deaf adder, such an one, viz., as makes itself deaf; and in this respect (as in their evil serpent nature) it is a figure of the self-hardening evil-doer. Then with אשׁר begins the more minute description of this adder. There is a difference even among serpents. They belong to the worst among them that are inaccessible to any kind of human influence. All the arts of sorcery are lost upon them. מלחשׁים are the whisperers of magic formulae (cf. Arabic naffathât, adjurations), and חובר חברים is one who works binding by spells, exorcism, and tying fast by magic knots (cf. חבר, to bind = to bewitch, cf. Arab. ‛qqd, ‛nn, Persic bend = κατάδεσμος, vid., Isaiah, i. 118, ii. 242). The most inventive affection and the most untiring patience cannot change their mind. Nothing therefore remains to David but to hope for their removal, and to pray for it.

Psalms 58:6

psa 58:6

The verb הרס is used much in the same way in Psa 58:7 as ἀράσσειν (e.g., Iliad, xiii. 577, ἀπὸ δὲ τρυφάλειαν ἄραξεν), which presents a similar onomatope. The form ימּאסוּ is, as in Job 7:5, = ימּסּוּ. The Jewish expositors, less appropriately, compare צנאכם, Num 32:24, and בּזאוּ = בּזזוּ, Isa 18:2, Isa 18:7; שׁאסיך, Chethb, Jer 30:16, and ראמה, Zac 14:10, more nearly resemble it. The treading (bending) of the bow is here, as in Psa 64:4, transferred to the arrows (= כּונן, Psa 11:2): he bends and shoots off his arrows, they shall be as though cut off in the front, i.e., as inoperative as if they had no heads or points (כּמו as in Isa 26:18). In Psa 58:9 follow two figures to which the apprecatory "let them become" is to be supplied. Or is it perhaps to be rendered: As a snail, which Thou causest to melt away, i.e., squashest with the foot (תּמס, as in Psa 39:12, fut. Hiph. of מסה = מסס), let him perish? The change of the number does not favour this; and according to the usage of the language, which is fond of construing הלך with gerunds and participles, and also with abstract nouns, e.g., הלך תּם, הלך קרי, the words תּמס יהלך belong together, and they are also accented accordingly: as a snail or slug which goes along in dissolution, goes on and dissolves as it goes (תּמס after the form תּבל form בּלל

(Note: In the Phoenician, the Cyprian copper mine Ταμασσός appears to have taken its name from תמס, liquefactio (Levy, Phnizische Studien, iii. 7).)).

The snail has received its name from this apparent dissolving into slime. For שׁבּלוּל (with Dag. dirimens for שׁבלוּל) is the naked slimy snail or slug (Targum, according to ancient conception, זחיל תּבללא "the slimeworm"), from שׁבלל, to make wet, moist.

(Note: "God has created nothing without its use," says the Talmud, B. Shabbath 77b; "He has created the snail (שׁבלול לכתית) to heal bruises by laying it upon them:" cf. Genesis Rabba, ch. 51 init., where שׁבלול is explained by לימצא, סיליי, כיליי, κογχύλη, σέσιλος, limax. Abraham b. David of Fez, the contemporary of Saadia, has explained it in his Arabico-Hebrew Lexicon by אלחלזון, the slug. Nevertheless this is properly the name of the snail with a house (נרתיק), Talmudic חלּזון, and even at the present day in Syria and Palestine Arab. ḥlzûn (which is pronounced ḥalezôn); whereas שׁבלול, in conformity with the etymon and with the figure, is the naked snail or slug. The ancient versions perhaps failed to recognise this, because the slug is not very often to be seen in hot eastern countries; but שׁבלול in this signification can be looked upon as traditional. The rendering "a rain-brook or mountain-torrent (Arabic seil sâbil) which running runs away," would, to say nothing more, give us, as Rosenmller has already observed, a figure that has been made use of already in Psa 58:8.)

In the second figure, the only sense in which נפל אשׁת belong together is "the untimely birth of a woman;" and rather than explain with the Talmud (B. Med katan 6b) and Targum (contrary to the accents): as an abortion, a mole,

(Note: The mole, which was thought to have no eyes, is actually called in post-biblical Hebrew אשׁת, plur. אישׁות (vid., Keelim xxi. 3).)

one would alter אשׁת into אשׁה. But this is not necessary, since the construct form אשׁת is found also in other instances (Deu 21:11; Sa1 28:7) out of the genitival relation, in connection with a close coordinate construction. So here, where בּל־הזוּ שׁמשׁ, according to Job 3:16; Ecc 6:3-5, is an attributive clause to נפל אשׁת (the falling away of a woman = abortions), which is used collectively (Ew. 176, b). The accentuation also harmonizes here with the syntactic relation of the words. In Psa 58:10, אטד (plural in African, i.e., Punic, in Dioscorides atadi'n) is the rhamnus or buckthorn, which, like רתם, the broom, not only makes a cheerful crackling fire, but also produces an ash that retains the heat a long time, and is therefore very useful in cooking. The alternative כּמו - כּמו signifies sive, sive, whether the one or the other. חי is that which is living, fresh, viz., the fresh, raw meat still having the blood in it, the opposite of מבשּׁל (Sa1 2:15); חרון, a fierce heat or fire, here a boiling heat. There is no need to understand חרון metonymically, or perhaps as an adjective = charrôn, of boiled meat: it is a statement of the condition. The suffix of ישׁערנּוּ, however, refers, as being neuter, to the whole cooking apparatus, and more especially to the contents of the pots. The rendering therefore is: whether raw or in a state of heat, i.e., of being cooked through, He (Jahve) carries it away as with a whirlwind. Hengstenberg rightly remarks, "To the raw meat correspond the immature plots, and to the cooked the mature ones." To us, who regard the Psalm as belonging to the time of Absalom, and not, like Hengstenberg, to the time of Saul, the meat in the pots is the new kingship of Absalom. The greater the self-renunciation with which David at that time looked on at the ripening revolt, disclaiming all action of his own, the stronger the confidence with which he expected the righteous interposition of God that did actually follow, but (as he here supposes possible) not until the meat in the pot was almost done through; yet, on the other side, so quickly, that the pots had scarcely felt the crackling heat which should fully cook the meat.

Psalms 58:10

psa 58:10

Finally, we have a view of the results of the judicial interposition of God. The expression made use of to describe the satisfaction which this gives to the righteous is thoroughly Old Testament and warlike in its tone (cf. Psa 68:24). David is in fact king, and perhaps no king ever remained so long quiet in the face of the most barefaced rebellion, and checked the shedding of blood, as David did at that time. If, however, blood must nevertheless flow in streams, he knows full well that it is the blood of the partisans of his deluded son; so that the men who were led the further astray in their judgment concerning him, the more inactive he remained, will at last be compelled to confess that it does really repay one to be just, and that there is really one higher than the high ones (Ecc 5:7[8]), a deity (אלהים) above the gods (אלים( sdog) who, though not forthwith, will nevertheless assuredly execute judgment in the earth. אך here, as in Job 18:21; Isa 45:14, retains its originally affirmative signification, which it has in common with אכן. אלהים is construed with the plural (Ges. 112, rem. 3), as is frequently the case, e.g., Sa2 7:23 (where, however, the chronicler, in Ch1 17:21, has altered the older text). This is not because the heathen are speaking (Baur), but in order to set the infinite majesty and omnipotence of the heavenly Judge in contrast with these puffed-up "gods."

Next: Psalms Chapter 59