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Psalm 58:6-9

6. Break their teeth, O God! in their mouth: break the jaws of the lions. 7. Let them flow away like waters, let them depart: let them bend their bow, and let their arrows be as broken. 352352     There is nothing in the original for, “Let their arrows be;” it is a supplement made by Calvin in the French version. There is some difficulty in the last member of the verse. Many interpreters refer it to God, who bends his bow against the ungodly. This agrees with the Septuagint, Vulgate, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic versions. But Symmachus and others refer it to ungodly men, who study, indeed, to hurt the godly, but without effect. “This seems,” says Dathe, “to be the most natural connection: in the 6th verse the sacred writer addresses God himself in the second person; and there is here described the unsuccessful issue of the endeavors of the wicked against the righteous.” “I am persuaded,” says Rogers, “that some word, the name of something with which the wicked, perishing under the Divine vengeance, were compared, is lost in the Hebrew.” — Book of Psalms in Hebrew, volume2, p. 213. 8. Let him vanish like a snail, which melts away; like the untimely birth of a woman, which does not see the sun. 9. Before your pots 353353     “Ou, vos espines.” — Fr. marg. “Or, your thorns.” can feel the fire of the thorns, a whirlwind shall carry him away, like flesh yet raw.


6. Break their teeth, O God! in their mouth 354354     “Break their teeth in their mouth” is most probably a continuation of the metaphorical illustration taken from serpents and adders immediately before, whose poison is contained in a bag at the bottom of one of their teeth, and who are disarmed by being deprived of this tooth which conveys the poison. This the charmer sometimes does after he has brought them out of their retreats by music. When the serpent makes its appearance, he seizes it by the throat, draws it forth, shows its poisoned fangs, and beats them out. To this beating out there seems to be here an allusion. “This mention of teeth,” says Hammond, “fairly introduces that which follows concerning the lion, whose doing mischief with that part is more violent and formidable, and so signifies the open, riotous invader, the violent and lawless person; as the serpent’s teeth, the more secret, indiscernible wounds of the whisperer or backbiter, which yet are as dangerous and destructive as the former, by the smallest puncture killing him on whom they fasten.” From this part of the psalm he assumes the language of imprecation, and solicits the vengeance of God, whose peculiar prerogative it is to repel oppression and vindicate injured innocence. It is necessary, however, that we attend to the manner in which this is done. He does not claim the judgment or patronage of God to his cause, until he had, in the first place, asserted his integrity, and stated his complaint against the malicious conduct of his enemies; for God can never be expected to undertake a cause which is unworthy of defense. In the verse before us, he prays that God would crush the wicked, and restrain the violence of their rage. By their teeth, he would intimate that they resembled wild beasts in their desire to rend and destroy the victims of their oppression; and this is brought out more clearly in the latter part of the verse, where he likens them to lions The comparison denotes the fury with which they were bent upon his destruction.

In the next verse, and in the several succeeding verses, he prosecutes the same purpose, employing a variety of apt similitudes. He prays that God would make them flow away like waters, that is, swiftly. The expression indicates the greatness of his faith. His enemies were before his eyes in all the array of their numbers and resources; he saw that their power was deeply rooted and firmly established; the whole nation was against him, and seemed to rise up before him like a hopeless and formidable barrier of rocky mountains. To pray that this solid and prodigious opposition should melt down and disappear, evidenced no small degree of courage, and the event could only appear credible to one who had learnt to exalt the power of God above all intervening obstacles. In the comparison which immediately follows, he prays that the attempts of his adversaries might be frustrated, the meaning of the words being, that their arrows might fall powerless, as if broken, when they bent their bow. Actuated as they were by implacable cruelty, he requests that God would confound their enterprises, and in this we are again called to admire his unshaken courage, which could contemplate the formidable preparations of his enemies as completely at the disposal of God, and their whole power as lying at his feet. Let his example in this particular point be considered. Let us not cease to pray, even after the arrows of our enemies have been fitted to the string, and destruction might seem inevitable.

8. Let him vanish like a snail, which melts away The two comparisons in this verse are introduced with the same design as the first, expressing his desire that his enemies might pass away quietly, and prove as things in their own nature the most evanescent. He likens them to snails, 355355     The original word for snail occurs only in this instance in the whole Bible. The LXX. render it ὡσεὶ κηρὸς, as wax, and the Syriac and Vulgate follow them. But the Chaldee reads “as a reptile,” interpreting the word as meaning some creeping thing, which affords an eminent example of melting, and this seems to apply to the snail, which, in its progress from its shell, leaves a slime in its track till it altogether melts away and dies. Comp. Job 3:16 and it might appear ridiculous in David to use such contemptible figures when speaking of men who were formidable for their strength and influence, did we not reflect that he considered God as able in a moment, without the slightest effort, to crush and annihilate the mightiest opposition. Their power might be such as encouraged them, in their vain-confidence, to extend their schemes into a far distant futurity, but he looked upon it with the eye of faith, and saw it doomed in the judgment of God to be of short continuance. He perhaps alluded to the suddenness with which the wicked rise into power, and designed to dash the pride which they are apt to feel from such an easy advance to prosperity, by reminding them that their destruction would be equally rapid and sudden. There is the same force in the figure employed in the end of the verse where they are compared to an abortion. If we consider the length of time to which they contemplate in their vain-confidence that their life shall extend, 356356     “Si reputamus quantum temporis inani fiducia devorent,” etc. Literally, “If we consider how much time they devour in their vain-confidence,” etc. The French version adheres to this translation of the mere words. “Si nous regardons combien ils devorent de temps par leur vaine confiance.” We have hazarded the more free translation given in the text, because this seems one of those instances where the brevity of the Latin idiom demands explanation, in order that the idea may be intelligible in any other language. they may be said to pass out of this world before they have well begun to live, and to be dragged back, as it were, from the very goal of existence.

9. Before your pots can feel the fire of your thorns. Some obscurity attaches to this verse, arising partly from the perplexed construction, and partly from the words being susceptible of a double meaning. 357357     This verse has been deemed one of the most difficult passages in the Psalter, and has greatly perplexed commentators. Bishop Horsley reads —
   “Before your pots feel the bramble,
In whirlwind and hurricane he shall sweep them away.”

   He supposes that the language is proverbial, and that the Psalmist describes the sudden eruption of the divine wrath; sudden and violent as the ascension of the dry bramble underneath the housewife’s pot. Walford reads —

   “Before your cooking vessels feel the fuel;
Both the green and the dry a whirlwind shall scatter.”

   The passage is supposed by this author and others to contain an allusion to the manners of the Arabs, who, when they want to cook their food, collect bushes and brambles, both green and withered, with which they kindle a fire in the open air. But before their culinary vessels are sensibly afflicted with the heat, a whirlwind not unfrequently arises and scatters the fuel. And this strikingly expresses the sudden and premature destruction of the wicked. Fry gives a somewhat different explanation. He reads —

   “Sooner than your vessels can feel the blazing thorn,
The hot blast shall consume them, as well the green as the dry.”

   And he observes, that “שער, or סער, no doubt expresses the action of the hot wind of the desert.” This wind is eminently destructive, and has not unfrequently been known to entomb and destroy whole caravans. Sidi Hamet, describing his journey across the great desert to Tombuctoo with a caravan consisting of above one thousand men and four thousand camels, relates that, “after travelling upwards of a month they were attacked by the Shume, the burning blast of the desert, carrying with it clouds of sand. They were obliged to lie for two days with their faces on the ground, only lifting them occasionally to shake off the sand and obtain breath. Three hundred never rose again, and two hundred camels also perished.” — (Murrays Discoveries in Africa, volume 1, pp. 515, 516.) Estius gives this sense: “Before your thorns shall arrive to their full growth into a bush, the rage of a tempest shall snatch them away, as it were, in the flower of their age and growing to maturity.” The words כמו-חי, kemo-chai, which Calvin renders flesh yet raw, are used in this sense in Leviticus 13:16, and 1 Samuel 11:15
Thus the Hebrew word סירות, siroth, signifies either a pot or a thorn. If we adopt the first signification, we must read, before your pots feel the fire which has been kindled by thorns; if the second, before your thorns grow to a bush, that is, reach their full height and thickness. What, following the former sense, we have translated flesh yet raw, must be rendered, provided we adopt the other, tender, or not yet grown. But the scope of the Psalmist in the passage is sufficiently obvious. He refers to the swiftness of that judgment which God would execute upon his enemies, and prays that he would carry them away as by a whirlwind, either before they arrived at the full growth of their strength, like the thorn sprung to the vigorous plant, or before they came to maturity and readiness, like flesh which has been boiled in the pot. The latter meaning would seem to be the one of which the passage is most easily susceptible, that God, in the whirlwind of his anger, would carry away the wicked like flesh not yet boiled, which may be said scarcely to have felt the heat of the fire.

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