Psalm 58 -- THE DOOM OF THE GODLESS

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Sodom and Gomora

Sodom and Gomora


Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Tom Lowe

PSALM 58


Title: THE DOOM OF THE GODLESS
(To the choirmaster; Altaschith {2], Michtam of David, according to Due Not Destroy.)

Theme: An imprecatory prayer against the enemy

Psalm 58 (KJV)

1 Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?
2 Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
5 Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
6 Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord.
7 Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.
8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
9 Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.
10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.


Introduction

Psalm 58 is classified as an imprecatory psalm {1], chiefly because of the sixfold curse in verses 6-9. In it, David is calling for judgment, but not because of some personal wrong done to him. It is rather the failure of the rulers to administer justice, and the abuse of judicial power. They were silent when they should speak up. (Doesn’t that sound like today’s politicians.) Their judgments are neither honorable nor reasonable, and some are down-right immoral. Evil in heart, they lie in word. The poem calls for public vindication of God’s righteous judgment. A holy God cannot tolerate evil. This truth must be so clearly proved that none can doubt. It is to this end that David pleads for justice.

Psalm 58 is also another of David’s michtam psalms, one written to be engraved upon the mind and conscience. This psalm carries a footnote addressing it to the chief Musician; it is to be incorporated into the repertoire of the temple choir. And, as in the previous two psalms, it carries the words al-taschith, “destroy not!” With all these signals flashing we can be sure that this is an important intersection as we journey through the psalms.

The tune recommended for this psalm is entitled “Do Not Destroy.” That seems odd, when, at first glance, it would appear that the psalmist is imploring God to do the very opposite. But what this psalm offers us is a deep insight into the meaning of God’s perceptive far-sighted rule (government).

It is impossible to say when David wrote it. Some think it was just after he had ascended the throne that he realized just how corrupt the administration of justice in Israel really was. With his passion for justice the stories of judicial arrogance, dishonesty and oppression that filled his ears must have made his blood boil.

Some think David wrote this psalm during the Absalom rebellion. Absalom had stolen the hearts of the men of Israel by pretending to be far more concerned for their social welfare than David was and by promising the people that, when he came to the throne, he would see to it that the wheels of justice moved swiftly, smoothly, and sympathetically. All the time he was devising the most monstrous crimes, many of which he executed during that brief time when he sat upon the throne.

But others believe the psalm was written when David was being hunted by Saul and that it expresses David’s deep contempt for the way Saul was handling the affairs of the kingdom—setting in judgment on others while he violated every principle of judgment.

There is yet another opinion which holds that the psalm was probably written late in David’s exile, or very early in his reign in Hebron and may have grown out of his pondering the mess he had inherited from his father-in-law (King Saul).

One reason there is so much difficulty with the date is because the subject matter deals with a perennial problem: the unjust judge and corruption in the courts—a theme that touches us today.


(58:1-5) David begins with an explosion of righteous indignation at what he sees and at what he personally has experienced. He starts off with a question, and who is asking it? I believe it is God who is speaking, using the pen of David. He paints a vivid picture of rampant evil in verses 1-5.

Commentary

1 Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?

The psalmist is deeply disturbed by the miscarriage of justice throughout the world. He asks these pagans rhetorical questions, which are uttered in scornful tones. The psalmist scoffs at the thought that such “judges” may be the fountain of any “justice,” for their reign on the earth only enhances the way to oppression. The psalmist enquires, “Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye the sons of men?” Everyone already knew the answer was no. The judges are addressed as “ye the sons of men” to remind them that, in spite of their high and mighty ways, in spite of their godlike powers they are only men after all. There is a higher judge to whom ultimately they must render an account, a high court before which they, in turn, will have to appear. David is serving notice that, as God’s representative, he is opening a court of inquiry right now.

“O congregation” signifies a band or company of men, and seems to point at Saul’s judges and counselors; who met together to consult about what they should do against David, and probably passed a sentence upon him, “guilty as charged” of treason and rebellion. The expression should be understood to mean “O you judges” or “O you mighty ones” (Amp. OT). “You god’s” (RSV) is misleading. The statement is not made to divinities but to men charged with the responsibility of administering justice (“sovereign rulers”), yet corrupt in spite of all their declarations of righteousness—silent when they should have spoken up on behalf of righteousness.

He calls this group “sons of men,” either (1), to indicate their contempt and opposition to the sons of God, or good men, or (2), to remind them that they too were men, and must give an account to God for all their slanderous speeches and unrighteous decrees against him.

(58:2-5) It doesn’t take David long to see through them. He has suffered so long at their hands. If, as some think, this psalm was written when David first came to the throne, the men who had legislated against him might well have trembled, for he now has them in his power. But David does not act as they acted; they will get a fair trial. David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells them just what kind of a trial they can expect. The abuse of power is one thing he will not tolerate.

He goes right to the heart of the matter.


2 Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.

That is exactly what injustice is— “wickedness.” “Yea, in heart ye work wickedness.” “In heart”; or, with your “heart,” that is, with free choice and consent, and in compliance with Saul’s wishes. In their hearts, they have concocted all sorts of crookedness. Then their “hands” have dealt out the violence that their hearts had planned—wrong in the heart leads to the violence of the hands. The land is filled with perversion of justice. Moreover, the “wickedness” was deep and ingrown, a matter of the heart. Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and the Old Testament prophet said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” The unjust judge is a wicked man. God has no other word for it. It is not a question of weakness but the wickedness rooted in an evil heart.

“Ye weigh the violence of your hands” means, “You weigh out” oppression and injustice instead of righteousness and equity. Justice, from time immemorial, has been pictured as a blindfolded woman holding scales in one hand—balancing evidence and impartiality; weighing both sides—and a sword in the other. It is an appropriate symbol. David points to the scales. He says: “Ye weigh the violence;” that is to say, they did it with a great deal of craft and caution and they called it justice. There is a bitter irony in the picture of the judges using the scales of justice to dish out injustice of the worst kind—violence.

In those years when David fled from Saul, injustice had become ingrown. It was the cornerstone of Saul’s domestic policy to hunt and kill David. It says much for David’s survival techniques that for two or three decades he was able to avoid Saul’s attacks.

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