These notes are based on the NASB text.
What is the background of Psalm 58?
This psalm is ascribed to David. It is for the choir director and so was set to music. It was to be set to Al-tashheth, which means “Do Not Destroy,” and which some believe to be a tune-indication. It is a mikhtam (which some take to mean “silent prayer”) of David.
Practical Consideration: We should be honest in prayer.
The imprecatory tone and language of this psalm should teach us that we could give honest vent to our emotions to God in prayer. God is neither baffled nor surprised by our emotion in prayer. Better to discuss difficult matters honestly with God in prayer than to give vent to them before men.
58:1 Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
58:2 No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
The word “gods” in verse 1 can be translated “rulers,” “mighty ones,” or “judges.” David addressed those charged with the responsibility of judging fairly and accused them of being unfair. They were sympathetic with the wicked and had no concern for justice. They executed the premeditated plots of their hearts with their hands. They were, in fact, no better than those they judged.
Practical Consideration: We should not be indifferent to injustice and sin.
David was outraged at the injustice he witnessed in his day. He was filled with indignation at those who failed to carry out their judicial responsibilities with fairness. He could not tolerate the venomous activity of the wicked. And so, David took these matters to God in prayer. He asked God to deal swiftly and decisively with the unrighteous and so prove to the faithful the validity of living right.
58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.
58:4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
58:5 So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
Or a skillful caster of spells.
In verses 3-5 David characterized the tyrants of verses 1-2. They are bent on evil from birth and speak only lies. They choose to go astray. They are like deaf snakes, or snakes that cannot be controlled by the spells of the snake charmer. They refuse to listen to any voice of reason. They refuse to listen to God’s Word. They refuse to allow anything to distract them from performing evil. Their behavior is venomous.
58:6 O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord.
58:7 Let them flow away like water that runs off;
When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
58:8 Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
58:9 Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns,
He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
These verses express David’s outrage over the wicked and their activity in the world. Since the wicked are not judged correctly in the courts of men (as per verses 1-2), David turned to God and called upon Him to judge and deal with the wicked and the “gods” or “judges” of verse 1.
On the imprecatory tone found in some of the Psalms, Biblical scholar Derek Kidner comments, “It is only fair to point out that the words wrung from these sufferers as they plead their case are a measure of the deeds which provoked them. . .Here we should notice that invective has its own rhetoric, in which horror may be piled on horror more to express the speaker’s sense of outrage than to spell out the penalties he literally intends.”
[A] “shatter their teeth” – render them defenseless and impotent (see Psalm 3:7)
[B] “break out the fangs” – render them defenseless and impotent
[C] “let them flow away” – disappear like water into sand
[D] “arrows. . .be as headless shafts” – render their attacks harmless and frustrate their plans for evil
[E] “be as a snail which melts away” – make them to disappear
[F] be stillborn due to miscarriage – while it would have been better had they never been born, the thought here is that they may come to an untimely end even as a stillborn child
[G] be extinguished – cut off their evil with suddenness before it heats up
58:10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
58:11 And men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
Surely there is a God who judges on earth!”
The righteous rejoice when God executes His judgment upon the wicked, upon those who have no regard for Him or for their fellow man. When God executes His judgment upon the wicked, the faith of the righteous will be vindicated. They will know that they have not lived righteous lives in vain.
Practical Consideration: Judgment is certain.
Many people sin without regard to the consequences. They sin thinking that they will not be held accountable for their actions. They sin without regard to the law of the harvest. They are emboldened in their sin when they do not experience immediate punishment. Their lifestyle of sin without apparent punishment often causes the righteous to question the value of keeping themselves pure and living according to God’s law. But, payday will come. While the wheels of God’s justice may appear to move slowly, when they come they grind finely.