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Psalm 58

Prayer for Vengeance

To the leader: Do Not Destroy. Of David. A Miktam.


Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?

Do you judge people fairly?


No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;

your hands deal out violence on earth.



The wicked go astray from the womb;

they err from their birth, speaking lies.


They have venom like the venom of a serpent,

like the deaf adder that stops its ear,


so that it does not hear the voice of charmers

or of the cunning enchanter.



O God, break the teeth in their mouths;

tear out the fangs of the young lions, O L ord!


Let them vanish like water that runs away;

like grass let them be trodden down and wither.


Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime;

like the untimely birth that never sees the sun.


Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,

whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!



The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done;

they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.


People will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;

surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

3. They are estranged, being wicked from the womb. He adduces, in aggravation of their character, the circumstance, that they were not sinners of recent date, but persons born to commit sin. We see some men, otherwise not so depraved in disposition, who are drawn into evil courses through levity of mind, or bad example, or the solicitation of appetite, or other occasions of a similar kind; but David accuses his enemies of being leavened with wickedness from the womb, alleging that their treachery and cruelty were born with them. 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 proceeding all lengths in iniquity. The stain of original sin cleaves to the whole humanity without exception; but experience proves that some are characterised by modesty and decency of outward deportment; that others are wicked, yet, at the same time, within bounds of moderation; while a third class are so depraved in disposition as to be intolerable members of society. Now, it is this excessive wickedness — too marked to escape detestation even amidst the general corruption of mankind — which David ascribes to his enemies. He stigmatises them as monsters of iniquity.

4. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder 348348     The פתן, phethen, rendered adder, is generally supposed by interpreters to be the kind of serpent called by the ancients the aspic, and to which there are frequent allusions in Scripture. Deuteronomy 32:33; Job 20:14, 16; Isaiah 11:8. It is the בתם, boeten, of the Arabians, which M. Forskal (Descript Anim p. 15) describes as spotted with black and white, about one foot in length, nearly half an inch thick, oviparous, and its bite almost instant death; and which is called “the aspic” by the literati of Cyprus, though the common people give it the name of κουφη, deaf He prosecutes his description; and, though he might have insisted on the fierceness which characterised their opposition, he charges them more particularly, here as elsewhere, with the malicious virulence of their disposition. Some read, their fury; 349349     This is the reading of the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and of Jerome. Sept. “Θυμὸς.” Vulg. and Jeremiah “Furor.” but this does not suit the figure, by which they are here compared to serpents. No objection can be drawn to the translation we have adopted from the etymology of the word, which is derived from heat. It is well known, that while some poisons kill by cold, others consume the vital parts by a burning heat. David then asserts of his enemies, in this passage, that they were as full of deadly malice as serpents are full of poison. The more emphatically to express their consummate subtlety, he compares them to deaf serpents, which shut their ears against the voice of the charmer — not the common kind of serpents, but such as are famed for their cunning, and are upon their guard against every artifice of that description. But is there such a thing, it may be asked, as enchantment? If there were not, it might seem absurd and childish to draw a comparison from it, unless we suppose David to speak in mere accommodation to mistaken, though generally received opinion. 350350     That the serpent tribe may be charmed is a well-attested fact, and one of the most curious and interesting in natural history. It is often mentioned by the Greek and Roman classics, by Hebrew and Arabic writers; to the last of whom the different species of serpents were well known. It is also supported by the testimony of many modern travelers. Some serpents are delighted with the sounds of vocal and instrumental music, and by it may be disarmed of their fury and rendered innoxious, (Ecclesiastes 10:11.) In the East it is not uncommon to make use of pipes, flutes, whistles, or small drums, to draw them from their hiding-places and to subdue their ferocity; and when they are tame ones, the charmer makes them dance and keep time with the notes of music, twists them round his body, and handles them without any harm, although the fangs are not broken or extracted. But in some cases the charmer’s art fails; and, notwithstanding his incantations, the serpent will fasten on the arm, or some other part of the body, and inflict, with its poisoned fangs, a deadly wound, (Jeremiah 8:17.) In this case it “will not listen to the voice of the charmer.” It is not necessary to suppose that the “deaf adder” means a species of serpent naturally deaf, and which it is impossible for the charmer ever to fascinate. Nothing more may be meant but that his incantations sometimes fail of success; that some adders are so stubborn that the sound of music makes no impression upon them; and they are like creatures who are destitute of hearing, or whose ears are stopped. The manner in which the “deaf adder stoppeth its ear” is described by Lochart to be this: — “The reptile lays one ear close to the ground, and with its tail covers the other, that it cannot hear the sound of the music; or it repels the incantation by hissing violently.” So impenetrable are the wicked here represented to be to persuasion: they will not be wrought upon to forsake their wicked courses, and gained to the ways of God, by his most persuasive entreaties. He would certainly seem, however, to insinuate that serpents can be fascinated by enchantment; and I can see no harm in granting it. The Marsi in Italy were believed by the ancients to excel in the art. Had there been no enchantments practiced, where was the necessity of their being forbidden and condemned under the Law? (Deuteronomy 18:11.) I do not mean to say that there is an actual method or art by which fascination can be effected. It was doubtless done by a mere sleight of Satan, 351351     The power which charmers had over serpents was probably ascribed by them to the agency of invisible beings, although it might be the natural effect of the music which they used. whom God has suffered to practice his delusions upon unbelieving and ignorant men, although he prevents him from deceiving those who have been enlightened by his word and Spirit. But we may avoid all occasion for such curious inquiry, by adopting the view already referred to, that David here borrows his comparison from a popular and prevailing error, and is to be merely supposed as saying, that no kind of serpent was imbued with greater craft than his enemies, not even the species (if such there were) which guards itself against enchantment.

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