This psalm appears to be a violent denunciation of the judges in the land.  Its origin and date are unknown.

לַמְנַצֵּחַ אַל־תַּשְׁחֵת לְדָוִד מִכְתָּם׃   58:1

Psal. 58:1   A lyric poem of David's for the leader al-tashheth:

For my remark about the term al-tashheth, see the preceding psalm.  It seems rather odd that if the term refers to a melody, that this psalm should be sung to the same melody as the last one.  They are quite different in theme and content.

הַאֻמְנָם אֵלֶם צֶדֶק תְּדַבֵּרוּן מֵישָׁרִים תִּשְׁפְּטוּ בְּנֵי אָדָם׃   58:2

Psal. 58:2   Would you indeed speak in righteous silence,

                               equitably judge the children of humankind,

אַף־בְּלֵב עוֹלֹת תִּפְעָלוּן בָּאָרֶץ חֲמַס יְדֵיכֶם תְּפַלֵּסוּן׃   58:3

Psal. 58:3   though inwardly you would construct injustice,

                              weigh out the violence of your hands on the earth?

זֹרוּ רְשָׁעִים מֵרָחֶם תָּעוּ מִבֶּטֶן דֹּבְרֵי כָזָב׃   58:4

Psal. 58:4   The wicked become estranged out of the womb;

                               speakers of falsehood go astray out of the belly.

What is the psalmist saying here?  That the wicked are born evil?  Or that the wicked are shaped by their experiences as soon as they are born?  Or is this merely a typical biblical exaggeration?  Wow!  I can’t answer that.  But I suspect the truth is that some people are genetically inclined to violence and mischief, while others are influenced by their experience and their peers, even at a relatively young age.

חֲמַת־לָמוֹ כִּדְמוּת חֲמַת־נָחָשׁ כְּמוֹ־פֶתֶן חֵרֵשׁ יַאְטֵם אָזְנוֹ׃   58:5

Psal. 58:5   Their venom is the same as serpent venom;

                               like a deaf viper he can stop up his ear,

אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יִשְׁמַע לְקוֹל מְלַחֲשִׁים חוֹבֵר חֲבָרִים מְחֻכָּם׃   58:6

Psal. 58:6   who would not listen to the sound of charmers,

                               of a most deceptive binder of spells.

What does this verse (and the last) mean?  I make it to be another example of poetic exaggeration -- such judges are so deaf they would not even listen to very pleasing voices.  However, the prevailing opinion seems to be that the charmers and binders of spells are the judges’ collective conscience.

אֱלֹהִים הֲרָס־שִׁנֵּימוֹ בְּפִימוֹ מַלְתְּעוֹת כְּפִירִים נְתֹץ יְהוָה׃   58:7

Psal. 58:7   O God, break their teeth in their mouth,

                                break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord.

יִמָּאֲסוּ כְמֹו־מַיִם יִתְהַלְּכוּ־לָמֹו יִדְרֹךְ (חִצֹּו) [חִצָּיו] כְּמֹו יִתְמֹלָלוּ׃   58:8

Psal. 58:8   Let them stream like water;

                                let them walk about by themselves.

                     Should any release his arrows,

                                let it be as if their tips were cut off.

The word in the parentheses, translated as his arrows, should be spelled in the plural, but is singular.  The correction is in the brackets.

כְּמוֹ שַׁבְּלוּל תֶּמֶס יַהֲלֹךְ נֵפֶל אֵשֶׁת בַּל־חָזוּ שָׁמֶשׁ׃   58:9

Psal. 58:9   Like a melting snail might move,

                               the miscarried infant of a woman,

                      they do not behold the sun.

בְּטֶרֶם יָבִינוּ סִּירֹתֵיכֶם אָטָד כְּמוֹ־חַי כְּמוֹ־חָרוֹן יִשְׂעָרֶנּוּ׃   58:10

Psal. 58:10   Before your pots can sense thorn,

                               He will sweep away green and burning alike.

This verse seems to be an allusion to a desert scene wherein the dwellers gather thorns for a fire to prepare their meal.  But the Lord will sweep away the fuel in a windstorm before the pots feel the flame.  Thus the judges are the thorns.  An obscure and elaborate metaphor!

יִשְׂמַח צַדִּיק כִּי־חָזָה נָקָם פְּעָמָיו יִרְחַץ בְּדַם הָרָשָׁע׃   58:11

Psal. 58:11   Any righteous one shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;

                                he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.

וְיֹאמַר אָדָם אַךְ־פְּרִי לַצַּדִּיק אַךְ יֵשׁ־אֱלֹהִים שֹׁפְטִים בָּאָרֶץ׃   58:12

Psal. 58:12   And a man would say, “Indeed the fruit is for the righteous;

                                surely there are judges judging on the earth.”

Here’s a rare plural word relating to Elohim, the participle translated as judging.  The word is שֹׁפְטִים, which is spelled in its plural form.  It might also be interpreted as an adjective, making the last part of the verse come out as “... surely there are judging judges on the earth.”  Either way, because of the plural form for the word for judging, the word usually translated as God is presumed to here mean judges, a relatively rare translation for the holy term.


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Psalms 58