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ALL the phrases of the title are explained on titles of Psalms iv. xvi. Ivii. The authorship of David is undoubted. This Psalm has no known historic occasion, although its contents show that it refers to a time of bitter persecution. Scott and Clarke both date it B. C. 1061. In it we find Jehovah Lord and Elohim God, on which see on Ps. i. 2 ; iii. 2. 1. Do ye indeed speak righteousness, congregation f do ye judge uprightly, ye sons of men f Chaldee : Does it indeed seem to you that ye speak justice when ye [who are or ought to be] just ones are silent in the time of strife? Judge the sons of men in uprightness ; Amesius : Do ye truly speak justice, band? do ye judge the things, which are right, ye sons of men ? Edwards : Do ye really pronounce righteous sentence? and do ye judge equitably, ye sons of men? Horsley : Are ye in earnest, faction, when ye talk of righteousness, do ye give sentence upriglitly, O ye sous of men ? Hengstenberg : Are ye then indeed dumb, that ye will not speak what is righteous, and judge what is upright, ye children of men ? For righteousness, Waterland has tmdh. For congregation we may read Band, Company, Assembly, Council, literally a sheaf. Patrick supposes it designates Saul's Privy Council. In the Hebrew Bible it nowhere else means assembly. This has led many to think the word should be rendered dumb or silent. If we drop or vary the Masoretic points, this may well be the reading. The change of a letter would then also give ns princes or judges. In thii^ case the sense is given by Alexander in his paraphrase : "Can it be? is it possible? are you really silent, you whose very office is to speak for God, and against the sins of men? See Deut. i. 16, 17." Taking the clauses according to the common version, we may regard them as a bold and unqualified denial of the justice of the accusation> against him. David honors these men by calling them an assembly or council; but \w. also calls them sons of man, either to remind them of their frailty and accountability. or, to let them know that even here their real characters are understood and they are not sons of God. 2. Yea, in heart ye work udckedness. All the time they were sitting as solemn and dignified judges, they were meditating wrong and injury. Their very station should have warned them against injustice, but they intentionally used their position to work vnckedness. Ye weigh [or ponder] the violence of your hands in the earth. What they did, they did deliberately, with malice prei:)ense. Violence, often so rendered, also v:rong, cruelty, injustice, damage, violent dealing, Ps. vii. 16 ; xxvii. 12. It further aggravated their crimes that they did all this injustice in the land of Israel, where
were excellent statutes and ordinances of justice, and Avhere God had presented many and urgent motives to uprightness in all, especially in judges. 3. The wicked are estranged from the womb. For estranged some have alienated, aliens, froward, wicked, strangers to pity. The clause asserts native hereditary denravity. Compare Isa. Ixviii. 8; Eph. ii. 3. Ainsworth: "This noteth man's natural corruption ;" Pool : " The sense is, o wonder they act so unrighteously, for their very natures and principles are corrupt from their birth ; they are the wicked offspring of
600 STUDIES I THE BOOK OF PSALMS. [psalm lviii. einful parents." They go astray so soon as they be hm-n, speaking lies. Estrangement from God is very naturally attended by signs of wickedness towards man, and especially by want of truthfulness. What parent's heart has not ached at infallible evidence of a tendency to falsehood in his offspring? It requires the best precepts and examples, enforced by the highest authority and the most steadfast government to save children and youth from growing up to be arrant liars. 4. Their poison is like the jyoison of a se'tpent. Poison, elsewhere rendered also rage, wrath, fury, anger ; see on Ps. vi. 1, where it is rendered hot displeasure. Here it means venom. The poison of serpents is a 'fiery liquor,' which is soon spread through the system. It is a fit emblem of the deadly malice of violent men. I have seen a man thrown by it in a few minutes into a raging fever, and into dreadful pain. In this verse there may be an allusion also to the old serpent. Rev. xx. 2. These violent men resembled one species of serpent in another respect : They are like the deaf adder that stoppcth her ear. Some have alleged that the stories respecting some kinds of serpents being unaffected by sounds are fabulous. This can hardly be so. The belief is too widely spread in countries where serpents abound. The species here spoken of is the a^. The word here rendered adder occurs six times in the Bible, and is always rendered asj) except here and in Ps. xci. 13 ; and even then the margin gives asp. Other words are rendered adder in Gen. xlix. 17 ; Ps. exl. 3 ; Pr. xxiii. 32. There was no remedy for the poison of the asp. Its bite was fatal in a few minutes. Some modern travellers say that this species of serpent is still found in countries east of the Mediterranean.
5. Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely. Charmers of serpents are still common in India and Egypt. That they possess power over venomous reptiles so as to malce them harmless cannot be denied, for they often exhibit themselves and their serpents. Compare Eccle. x. 11; Jer. viii. 17. But over the asp these men are said to have had no power. The reason given by some is that asps are entirely deaf; by others that though they have hearing, yet to the murmuring noise made by charmers they close their ears ; and by others that they are so venomous that the charmer has no power over them at any time. Which of these is true in natural history the author has no means of determining. The latter is most probable. The import of the passage is that David's enemies were obstinately deaf to all tender appeals, to all the demands of justice, to the dictates of nationality and of conscience. Such a transaction as that recorded in 1 Sam. xxiv. 4-20 ought forever to have terminated the Sauline persecutions. They were not provoked even by imprudence, much less by any crime. 6. Break their teeth, God, in their mouth. On breaking the teeth, see on Ps. iii. 7, The allusion is to rendering beasts of prey powerless by breaking their teeth. This is a very old figure among sacred writers. Job iv. 10. Break otd the great teeth of the young lions, Lord. On young lions see on Ps. xvii. 12; xxxiv. 10. A friend, Avho has spent a quarter of a century in South Africa, informs me that the old lion becomes toothless and clumsy, and has great difficulty in securing his prey, or in eating it, as he has first to tear it to pieces with his claws. Compare Job iv. 11. The prayer of David is that his enemies, though strong and active, may be rendered powerless for mischief and cruelty against him. On the imprecatory form see Introduction, § 6. 7. Let them melt away as waters which run continually. The verbs are in the future. The modern signification of the word melt renders it not so good here as flow or pass away. The same form of the verb is in Job vii. 5 rendered become loathsome. Calvin: Let thorn flow away like waters, let them depart; church of England: Let them fall away like water that runneth apace; Green: Let them waste away like water which nmneth continually ; Chaldee (interpreting) : Let them melt away in their sins like
PSALM Lviii.] STUDIES I THE BOOK OF PSALMS. 60] water, let them flow away from themselves; Septuagint, Ethiopic, Vulgate and Doway : They shall come to nothing, like water running down. When he bendeth his bow to shoot his arroics let them be as cut in jneces. On the mode of bending the bow see on P.S. vii. 13; xi. 2; xxxvii. 14. The reader will notice that in the common version much is supplied by the translators. Rogers: "I am persuaded that some word, the name of something with Avhich the wicked, perishing under the divine vengeance, werf
compared, is lost in the Hebrew." The chief difficulty is in determining what are the antecedents of he and them. The Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Septuagint, Ethiopic. Doway, Jarchi, Venema, Edwards, Horsley, Green and Fry regard he as referring to God, and them to the enemies of David. On the other hand Calvin has: Let them bend their bow, and let their arrows be as broken. In the interpretation thus indicated Amesius, Patrick, Mudge and Hengstenberg concur. Ainsworth, Gill and Alexander mention both with respect, but express no preference for either. As it is very common in Hebrew to pass from the plural to the singular and for theyn read him. there is evidently less difficulty in admitting it to be the wicked who bends his bow; q. d., 'When the wicked bends his bow to shoot the righteous, when he devises mischief against him, shoots out bitter words, and desires to destroy his good name and even his life, let it be as if the string of his bow and his arrows were cut in pieces; let all his wicked designs, words and actions be without effect.' 8. As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass aivay. The word rendered sjiail is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, another word, probably signifying a kind of lizard, being so rendered in Lev. xi. 30, the only other place where the word snail is found in our English Bible. Instead of As a snail, the Syriac, Arabic, Septuagint, Ethiopic, Vulgate, Doway, Horsley and Fry read Like wax. But the Chaldee fairly allows the English translation, and it has been adopted by nearly all modern interpreters. The word melteth is very expressive in application to the snail, which smears its track wherever it goes, and if it continues to move in the open air is soon wasted away. Like the tmtimely birth of a ^voman, that they may not see the sun. Compare Job iii. 16. Calvin: "If we consider the length of time to which in their vain confidence they expected their lives to extend, they may be said to pass out of this world before they have well begun to live." Alexander gives it another turn : " So far from living too long, as I feared, they seem scarcely to have lived at all." 9. Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them aivay as with a whirlwind. both living, and in his wrath. Andex'son : " This verse has been deemed one of the most difficult passages in the Psalter, and has greatly perplexed commentators." Yet the perplexity has not regarded its import, but the method of explaining its figurative language. In attempting to understand it, let us remember that the burning of thorns under a pot is a frequent figure of Scripture; see Ps. cxviii. 12; Ecc. vii. 6. The manifest object of these passages is to teach us how soon the wicKed and their merriment pass away. To this day on the routes of eastern travel the chief fuel in many places is found in the thorns and briars, the furze and stick-weeds that grow in those regions. These burn with great intensity, but their blaze is soon over, for they have very little substance. So the jirophet here predicts that 'the prosperous rage of his foes would soon be extinct,' and that they should be removed even sooner than a fire of thorns would make a pot to boil; yea, that they should be taken atvay as with a whirlwind. This is another allusion well understood in the east; see Pr. i. 27; x. 25 ; Hosea xiii. 3. So we have two figures here, both striking, not
mixed, but closely following each other. Then if we refer living and in wrath to God, we have a good sense. The living God in his wrath shall take them away. This leaves the particle as, or so, or thus, or when, or as it were unexplained. May we not however thus render the whole? 'Before your pot can be heated with a fire 76
602 STUDIES I THE BOOK OF PSALMS. [p3Alm rviir. of thorns, even as by a -whirlwind, so the living God, even as in his wrath, shall take them away.' Grotius gives much the same: Before your pots can perceive or feel the thorns, so likewise shall the anger of God snatch you away, as it were in a whirhvind. Tholuck: "As the tempest of the desert tears away the half-burnt thorns ere the pots can feel their flame." 10. The righteous shall rejoice wheyi he seeth the vengeance. Vengeance, i. e., righteous retribution, vindicating God's government from the charge of not seeing or oaring for what is done on earth, setting David free from their malice, and putting it out of their power to do further mischief. Compare Ps. lii. 6; Ixiv. 10; cvii. 42; Pr. xi. 10. He shall ivash his feet in the blood of the wicked. The allusion is to the battle where the enemy leaves the ground covered with gore, so that when the victor comes he bathes or moistens his feet in blood. The victory of the righteous over the wicked shall in the end be perfect, complete, entire; see Ps. Ixviii. 23; Isa. Ixiii. 3; Rev. xiv. 20. It spoils the figure to put hands for feet in this place, as the Syriac, Arabic, Septuagint, Ethiopic, Vulgate and Doway have done. 11. So that a man [i. e., any man, every man] shall say, Verily there is a reivard for the righteous. The word rendered reward occurs more than one hundred times, and is in all other cases rendered fruit, or in the plural, fruits. Even here the margin \\a.s fruit. But it often signifies reivard in the highest sense, as in Pr. i. 31; Mic. vii. 13. Reivard, like fruit, may signify deserved recompense or appropriate consecpience. Here it is used in the latter sense. And every man shall say. Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth. To judge is to make laws, to rule, and to enforce decisions, as well as to preside in trials and pronounce sentence. In the earth; not merely in heaven as some profanely allege, but in this world and in this life Jehovah reigns. Doctrinal and Practical Remarks. 1. "In all ages wickedness has borne the same leading characteristics." A truthful description of human sinfulness in David's time suits our age, vv. 1-4. 3fen may be changed by divine grace ; but yuan is unchanged. 2. Uprightness and justice are essential qualities in any good character, and in
every government, v. 1. o smooth exterior, no profession of honor and of piety, no deeds of charity can he accepted as substitutes. In rulers want of purity is monstrous. Scott : " Injustice established by law, and decreed by judges, is more malignant than any other." Solomon knew no greater vanity and vexation than when he " saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there." Compare Ecc. V. 8. 3. Though our conduct in the presence of our rulers should be humble and meek; yet it need not be mean and servile. ay, we may lawfully and manfully appeal to them when they are prejudiced or violent, and ask for our rights and not a mockery of justice, vv. 1, 2. So did David. So did Chi-ist. So did Paul. Scott : " We may very properly appeal to the consciences of such iniquitous judges, whether indeed they speak righteously, and decide uprightly?" We may say, "Is this the justice you pretend to administer? Is this the countenance which an honest man, and an honest cause may expect from you ? Remember you are mortal and dyiiig, and that you stand upon the same level, before God, with the meanest of those you trample upon, and must yourselves be called to an account and judged." 4. A grand support is a good conscience. With it David could challenge his persecutors, though they were in power, vv. 1, 2. Calvin : " Although tlie whole world be set against the people of God they need not fear, so long as they are supported by a sense of tlicir integrity, to challenge kings and tlieir counsellors, and th<! promiscuous mob of the people. Should the whole world refuse to hear us, \v> must
P8ALM Lviii.] STUDIES I THE BOOK OF PSALMS. 603 learn, by the ex;uni)]e of David, to rest satisfied with the testimony of a good conscience, and with appealing to the tribunal of God." 5. When men ivc'ujh and ponder and meditate their schemes of wickedness, that they may lay deep plots, and provide against all contingencies likely to result iii failure, then they are on the highway to the deepest corruption, the deepest infamy, and the heaviest doom, v. 2. 6. ative depravity is taught in all the Scriptures, not as an excuse for a wicked life, but as the cause of it, v- 3. David says it involved him in his great crime, Ps. li. 5. He here says it was the cause of the wickedness perpetrated against him, v. 3. Calvin : " We all come into the world stained with sin, possessed, as Adam's posterity, of a nature essentially depraved, and incapable, in ourselves, of aiming at anything which is good ; but there is a secret restraint upon most men, which prevents them from going all lengths in iniquity." Scott : " When we behold the effects of natural depravity in the atrocious crimes of others, we should be humbled by recollecting that the principles of them all are in our hearts also." Heugstenberg : " That the inborn depravity is quite general, extending to the whole family of man appears from Gen. viii. 21 ; Ps. li. 5 ; Job xiv. 4." Morison : " The death
and sufferings of infants sufficiently demonstrate the existence of original sin.'* Slade : " While we mourn over the wickedness and the crimes of ungodly men, let us be humbly thankful that it hath pleased our merciful Lord to 'make us differ' from them. We were born with the same corrupt nature as they, inclined ' to go astray and speak lies,' and commit all manner of sin," Dickson : " Men's wicked actions prove the wickedness of their natures." 7. The enmity of the seed of the bond woman to the seed of the free woman is deadly. It is like the poison of a serpent, v. 4. If God prevent not, it kills. 8. When one is made to feel the malice of sinners, as it is sometimes let loose, he will not find the terms of Scripture too strong to express his sense of their virulence, V. 4. Poison of serpents will seem to him mild language. 9. one are so deaf as those who will not hear, vv. 4, 5. This is the ruinous art of sinners, who have the Gospel and continue in sin. They have ears but do not hear. This was the cause of the horrible murder of Stephen, Acts vii. 57, 58. 10. The doom of incorrigible sinners will be as just as it will be dreadful ; because they refuse to hear, or feel, or obey the loudest, sweetest calls that even mercy sends forth, vv. 4, 5. If they know^ not the right, it is because they love not truth. 11. O slanderer! quit thy nefarious and atrocious business. Thy fangs are more deadly than those of the asp, vv. 4, 5. Verily thou art worse than the most evil beasts. God does not hate asps, but he hates thy practices. 12. However affluent and mighty the wicked may now be, God can at any moment make them entirely powerless, v. 6. And he will probably do it much sooner than any one expects. 13. David's faith led him confidently to pray for the defeat of the scliemes of his foes, and as confidently to predict their overthrow, vv. 6-9. He did this when they were in full possession of power and of the resources of the land, with a fair prospect of continuance. Yet he prayed that all this might come to nothing, and he predicted it should come to nothing, and to nothing it came. If our cause is just, let us confide in God, even in the darkest hour. 14. It is as easy for God to scatter all our foes, as it is for him to dissipate the mists of the morning, or to maintain the law, by which heaps of water separate from each other, seeking their own level, and thus entirely losing their power, v. 7. 15. As compared with one another men may be and often are very respectable; but aa compared with God they are as nothing, v. 7. If the sinner draws his bow, God
•504 STUDIES I THE BOOK OF PSALMS. [psalm lviii.
can easily cut his arrows in pieces. If he heaps up wealth, God can blow upon it, and it vanishes. In his most assiduous labors he is often as a partridge that sitteth upon eggs and hatcheth them not. Luther: "The enemies of God and truth plan, plot and breathe out dreadful things ; but like a mighty flame, where there is no more fuel left to feed it, their fury ends in nothing." Calvin: "Let us not cease to pray, even after the arrows of our enemies have been fitted to the string, and destruction might seem inevitable." 16. After all their vaporing and vaunting, the wicked are alike snails and abortions, V. 8. Compare Eccle. viii. 12, 13. 17. The destruction of the wicked is awfully sudden, as by a whirhoind, v. 9. Compare Prov. xxix. 1 ; 1 Thess. v. 3. This is righteous. It could not be otherwise. They would not be warned. Morison : " In the midst of their oppressive and impious career the tokens of divine judgment may overtake them, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." Clarke : " From the time that the fire of God's wrath is kindled about you, it will be but as a moment before ye be entirely consumed by it." Dickson : " Howsoever the ungodly hope to procure for themselves good cheer by their works of iniquity, and rejoice awhile in their hopes, yet before they find any ripe satisfaction by their ill deeds, suddenly they are destroyed." 18. The victory of the righteous over all who oppose their salvation will be so perfect, that it is now one of the greatest exercises of faith simply to believe that the sons of God shall wet their feet with the blood of all their foes, v. 10. The victory of David over Saul, of Elijah over Ahab, of the martyrs over the persecuting emperors was complete without their lifting a finger. 19. It is impossible for good men to refrain from rejoicing at the defeat of the malicious schemes of ungodly men, even though it involves the ruin of many, v. 10. Compare Ex. xiii. Isa. xiv. But this rejoicing must not spring from malice, nor from gratified impatience. It must be that God is honored, innocence vindicated, wickedness put down, and the cause of truth rendered triumphant. 20. However things may seem to be here, in the end all will be so well with the righteous that he himself shall rejoice in it, v. 10. Compare Isa. iii. 10. o man serves God for nought. 21. God has a government on earth, v. 11. "If no sin were punished here, we might be tempted to think there was no God, or that he was not just. And if all sin were adequately punished how could we believe in the divine mercy?" 22. A great end of judgments is attained when God is glorified and sinners are
brought to confess his righteousness and authority, v. 11. Compare Isa. xxvi. 9. 23. O ye righteous, lift up the head. Give thanks at the remembrance of God's holiness, mercy and providence. Your redemption draweth nigh. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven. The more you are rubbed by affliction here, the brighter you will shine hereafter. 24. And, sinner, wilt not thou think on thy ways? Because they are sinful, they are dark, dangerous and dismal. They lead to hell. They lead no where else. O! it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. "All nature cannot furnish images adequate !y to represent the dreadful doom that awaits you, if you die in your sins." Oh that you were wise!
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