Psalm 58

Psalm 58[a]

The Judge of Unjust Rulers

1 For the director.[b] According to “Do not destroy.” A miktam of David.

2 O you rulers,[c] do you render justice?
Do you judge your people impartially?
3 No! You devise wickedness in your hearts,[d]
and your hands bring about violence on the earth.
4 The wicked have gone astray right from the womb;
from birth these liars have taken the wrong path.[e]
5 Their venom is like that of a serpent;
they are as deaf as an asp that stops its ears
6 so as not to hear the voice of the charmer
no matter how skillful the spells he casts.[f]
7 O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of these lions, O Lord.[g]
8 [h]Cause them to vanish like water that drains off;
make them wither like grass that is trampled.[i]
9 Let them melt like a snail[j] that oozes into slime
or like a stillborn child that will never see the sun.
10 Before they sprout thorns[k] like brambles or thistles,
may your whirlwind sweep them away.
11 The righteous will rejoice
when he sees that justice has been done,
and he will bathe his feet
in the blood[l] of the wicked.
12 Then the people will say,
“There is truly a reward for the righteous;
there is a God who dispenses justice on the earth.”

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 58:1 This is one of the so-called imprecatory (or cursing) psalms (see note on Ps 35) that call upon God to mete out justice to enemies. In their thirst for justice, the authors of these psalms use hyperbole (or overstatement) in order to move others to oppose sin and evil. Such impassioned expressions may seem vengeful to a Western audience not used to the diatribes and curses of Easterners. And the joy exhibited over the justice to be meted out seems ferocious to us. However, we must realize above all that the psalmists were desiring only true justice, a justice that could not be derailed, denied, or mocked—because it was God’s justice.
    The psalmist and all Israel regard judges as well as rulers to be divine beings (see Pss 45:7; 82:6; Ex 21:6; Deut 19:17), for judging, like ruling, is a power of God. This psalm wars against those who pervert such a divine power.
    The early Church applied this psalm to the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (see Mt 26:57-68 par).
  2. Psalm 58:1 For the director: these words are thought to be a musical or liturgical notation. According to “Do not destroy”: see note on Ps 57:1. Miktam: see note on Ps 16:1.
  3. Psalm 58:2 Rulers: literally, “gods”: see introduction.
  4. Psalm 58:3 Hearts: see note on Ps 4:8.
  5. Psalm 58:4 The evil ways of the wicked (see Ps 10) are theirs from birth.
  6. Psalm 58:6 The roles of charmers and enchanters are frequently alluded to in the Old Testament (see Deut 18:11; Eccl 10:11; Isa 3:3; Jer 8:17).
  7. Psalm 58:7 The psalmist regards teeth as weapons of the mouths by which the wicked harass the righteous (see Ps 57:5), so he begs God to destroy them.
  8. Psalm 58:8 See notes on Pss 58; 35.
  9. Psalm 58:8 Make them wither like grass that is trampled: the meaning of the Hebrew is unclear. Another translation likens the psalmist’s foes to archers who shoot blunted arrows. “When they ready the bow, let their arrows be blunted.”
  10. Psalm 58:9 Snail: the ancients believed that snails dried up in the sun and evaporated.
  11. Psalm 58:10 The meaning of the Hebrew for this verse is uncertain. Another translation given is: “Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns— / whether they be green or dry— / the wicked will be swept away.” This accords with the fact that twigs from wild bushes (thorns) were used to start quick fires for cooking (see Ps 118:12; Eccl 7:6).
  12. Psalm 58:11 Bathe his feet in the blood: a vivid expression indicating complete victory over one’s foes that was common in the Near East (see Ps 68:24; Isa 63:1-6).

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